Eulogy: Two hearts

At long last, I am publishing the eulogy Patrick wrote for Dad’s memorial service, which was held on Monday, June 10, 2019.

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On display during calling hours and the celebration of Dad’s life: Pat made the quilt as a gift for Dad’s 75th birthday. The family photo was taken during a Caldwell family vacation at Bald Head Island several summers ago. The piece at right was a gift to Dad upon his retirement from Ohio State’s medical center. The cane lying across the front of the stand was made for Dad by a grateful patient.

We Caldwells didn’t trust ourselves to get through a eulogy, so Patrick was recruited. He labored over it for hours and hours with just a few days to prepare. After the service, a friend asked me if I had written it, because I am a writer. But no, this comes straight from Patrick’s heart and mind and affection for Dad. And we thought it was perfect.

Two Hearts

I’m here to try to tell a story. This is my story.

We are here to remember and honor James Hudson Caldwell, MD. He was born March 27, 1939, in Bellaire, Ohio. His parents were Robert M. and Goldie Caldwell. He has a brother, Bob.

He graduated from Shadyside High School and earned his undergrad and medical degree at THE Ohio State University. He skipped grades between elementary and high school and he completed his undergraduate degree in 3 years. He was a gastroenterologist at The Ohio State University Medical Center

In Columbus, Ohio, on Dec. 22, 1956, Colo the gorilla became the world’s first gorilla born in a zoo setting…

That’s quite a transition.

In the early 1970s, Colo was having GI issues. A call for help and James Caldwell came to the rescue — imagine a shirt with a colon shaped into an S.

Colo was the first gorilla born in captivity and Dr. James Caldwell was the first physician to perform a GI procedure on a gorilla — in Columbus, Ohio, U.S., North America, the world, etc.

Emily remembers that the procedure occurred in the grass: Colo, Dad, and a zookeeper. As the anesthesia began to wear off, Colo gave a little squeeze of Dad’s arm. OK, I THINK IT IS TIME TO END THIS PROCEDURE.

Although he was accomplished academically and professionally, this man saved the life of a gorilla!

He shared with me that one of his greatest regrets was not making the Ohio State University Marching Band as an undergrad. His gait made it difficult for him to march, so he didn’t make the cut.

I’m somewhat surprised that this incident did not lead him to study orthopedics for a few years, just for the fun of it.

He served in the U.S. Air Force in Grand Forks, North Dakota. He was a longtime model train enthusiast.

I also grew up in a small town that had a rail line running through it. So I grew up, possibly like Dad: Windows open in the summer. I would hear, late at night, the sound of the train, coming from somewhere, but also moving on.

That sound, for me, will always take me to that time. The sounds of trains are evocative for me.

Jim was, however, the practical environmentalist: trains and light rail can be an efficient and carbon-neutral form of mass transportation. But he also dreamt of the Caldwell Memorial Monorail that would connect campus and downtown.

I think trains also took him back…

He was a loving husband, father, grandfather, and father-in-law.

For those of you who did not know me in the 1980s or 1990s, I used to have hair…a lot of hair. In 1988, when I first met Dad — Karl Marx, Albert Einstein, Bozo the Clown. I wanted to be Marx. I knew I would never be Einstein. But I think Jim — Dad — probably thought BOZO. And looking back, I can’t disagree.

After college, Emily and I spent some time apart. Emily went to Maine to work as a journalist. She covered George Bush Sr. in Kennebunkport, Maine. (I think her work on the “recycle-gate” controversy led to Bush Sr. being only a one-term president. Ask her about it.)

I went to Kentucky for grad school to study sociology.  The sociology department once gave me an award for having the hair that was most similar to Bart Simpson’s hair. I was still struggling.

Then in early 1994, two hearts began the process of bringing Emily and me back together. They were not our hearts. Jim had a heart transplant. My dad, a quadruple bypass and valve replacement.

We reconnected over our fathers’ hearts.

Later in 1994, Emily and I  got engaged. I’m certain that I spent time with Dad and Pat before our wedding in 1995, but it was at our wedding that I knew Jim loved me.

While Dad was a conversationalist, in 1995, he could be a bit circumspect when it came to verbally expressing emotion. So he expressed his emotions through his actions.

I was crying a bit during our wedding, and couldn’t get to a tissue or handkerchief. I think this touched Jim.

We were married in a barn, on a little stand in the middle. Families facing each other…the Hatfields and Corleones.

When I came off of the stand, he caught me and held me. I will always remember that hug and the love I felt in that moment.

From then on, I was lucky enough to have a second father in Jim.

I had a dad in Ohio in addition to my dad who ended up living in that state up north (O-H…) [Yes, attendees responded with I-O.]

I think Dad appreciates that response.

My mom still roots for the Bucks.

Dad was a Master Gardener.
Dad enjoyed a good meal.
Fish Fest became a Christmas Eve tradition.

At the end of the Fish Fest, at the end of any meal or any visit, we would say it was time to leave and never go. Dad would start another story or continue with the story he was telling.

We always had more to say, more stories to share. We just wanted to spend a few extra moments together. Even when it was time to go, we wanted to hear one more story.

Dad was born in a small Ohio town.
He loved trains.
He helped save the life of a gorilla and the lives of actual people.
He loved gardening and the environment.
He was always on the lookout for a new restaurant and a good meal.
He gave a great hug.
He was a loving husband, father, grandfather, friend.

He will always be with us when we tell our stories of him.

 

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Dad’s heart

Dad BHIA girl can get greedy, and become disillusioned, when her dad has a heart transplant in 1994 and is still around to celebrate his heart day every Feb. 24 for 25 years. And then celebrates his 80th birthday. I considered 2019 a good year for my dad, James H. Caldwell, MD. His birthday was on a Wednesday in March, so we planned to whoop it up in his honor in July at Bald Head Island, our beloved Caldwell family vacation spot. We will still observe that birthday and celebrate his remarkable life in late July. His seat will be empty, but he will be with us.

Dad died at around 9 p.m. Wednesday, June 5, at Ohio State’s Ross Heart Hospital. He had been hospitalized for 10 days for what began as a GI bleed. Multiple tests failed to identify the source of the bleed, and it eventually stopped after he was taken off his blood thinner. He experienced a slowed heart rate during one test, leading to some electrophysiology testing and procedures. His last procedure, to check for clots in his atrium (no clots found), was successfully completed Wednesday afternoon. He’d be in for observation for two days and home by the weekend. And then, disaster struck, in what we assume was a pulmonary embolism, or perhaps a massive heart attack.

Being in the hospital meant Dad was missing valuable late spring outdoor time. A lover of gardening for as long as I’ve been alive, he became a Master Gardener through OSU Extension over the many months of his recovery after his heart transplant. The house he and his wife Pat have lived in since 1991 has an enormous yard with room for vast perennial beds and a sizable vegetable garden — one of its major selling points. Poor Dad could never convince me to love gardening. I like the cosmetic and culinary results but I hate the work. But he had tomatoes and peppers that were ready for planting, pronto, and I was tasked with getting that done. I took it seriously, following his instructions and the layout he had drawn on a scrap piece of paper. “Lord help me if they don’t thrive,” I joked in a text to my siblings.

I enjoyed sending text updates over the past week to my brothers and sisters, who live in Seattle, Iowa, Grand Rapids, Cleveland and Brooklyn. The news about his health was always pretty good. Dad lost his temper one day with the medical staff because he was frustrated with the poor communication among the various teams working on his care – two different heart services and the GI service. His spirited response conveyed he had energy, an improvement over his weakness from anemia when he entered the hospital. And yet, for a long time he was what I describe as fragile, physically. Immunosuppression drugs take a toll on the human body, and he had osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, stress fractures, muscle detachments, renal failure and I don’t even know what else. He had a bad infection last summer that set him back further, but, as a very compliant physical therapy patient, he rebounded nicely.

With Mom, whose death I anticipated for 10 years, I found myself surprised about how devastatingly sad I was when she died, considering I wanted her suffering to end. Dad has been fragile for many years, but was always fine with minimizing acknowledgment of his physical limits. So all of our conversations at the hospital over the past 10 days were characterized by an expectation that he would go home, take some time to regain strength, get back to the garden and ride in the car with me and Patrick for the trip to Bald Head Island. And so, his death was unexpected. And of course, I am devastatingly sad, while I am also so grateful that he lived as long as he did.

Dad was a master diagnostician, an educator, an intellectual, a conversationalist and storyteller, a lover of classical music, a foodie, an avid consumer of news and information, and, since the early 2000s, a progressive political activist. He and Pat were devoted to each other, and spent very little time apart over the course of their long marriage. And he leaves a legacy in his kids who, along with our families, are smart, talented — musicians, writers, poets, scholars (we all have postsecondary educations) — thoughtful, temperamental, driven by conviction, funny and a little bit (or a lot) cynical, and, like Dad, have a healthy appetite for delicious food and all of the joys, big and small, that life has to offer.

Guest post

Caregiving blogs are, themselves, terminal in nature. So far, I have not opted often to write here instead about grief or some other kind of remembrance. My friend Misti Crane did not know Bonnie, but she knows mourning the loss of a mother and she knows writing. She published the below post on Medium, and I asked if I could include it as a Momsbrain guest post. I’m so glad she said yes.

On perfume and permanence

How Mom is still with me after 7 years

 

Sibs in the City

And just like that, three years have passed since Mom died. Oct. 27 was the anniversary of her death.

Earlier this month, Laura, Jeff and I spent a weekend together in New York to celebrate Mom. The year she died, we got together shortly after her funeral for a November weekend in New York, where Jeff and Laura lived at the time. We decided then that we would gather each fall for a weekend in memory of Mom. I call it Sibs in the City. And we have kept that promise to ourselves.

Below is a photo of us having drinks at the Whitby Hotel in New York on Oct. 6 after seeing a matinee of a terrific play. Our annual agenda would be roughly the same if Mom were along for the trip: some moderately fine dining, but nothing too fancy; a Broadway show – or two, or three; a little shopping; a museum exhibit if we can fit it in; blocks and blocks of walking; and time for a midday nap.

It is something positive associated with losing our mom.

We texted each other on Saturday (Oct. 27), Jeff first.

Jeff: Happy Mom day. Thinking of you two.
Me: Same to you. Will be writing a blog post. Love you.
Laura: Love to you both. You and Mom have been on my mind today.

Mourning the loss of a parent is an unpredictable experience, and we all grieve in our own way. I’m grateful, though, that the three of us have elected to lean into the shared experience, so at least sometimes, we don’t have to do it alone.

Suppression impossible

Why was I breathlessly anxious while walking my dogs this morning?

Why did a bag of spoiled cauliflower in the fridge make me so mad?

Why can’t I recall a single bit of the funny podcast I streamed in the car on the way to work?

Why do I feel that mild sting of potential tears in my eyes?

Hello, heartburn.

Oh, yes. I guess I’m trying to trick myself into forgetting. Today is Mom’s birthday. She would be 81.

Happy birthday, dear Bonnie.

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Mom blowing out candles on her birthday cupcakes in June 2009 at a little party Patrick and I threw for her at the Park of Roses. This was just two months before she transitioned from assisted living to the Alzheimer Care Center. She looks so good.

Bonnie was here

Since Mom died, I’ve wondered if she might visit me in my dreams, and I’ve hoped that I would sense her presence during sleep or waking hours – either way would be fine. And yet, these wishes conflict with my belief system about death – or at least my expectations about my own death. I think of it as eternal rest, in a comforting way, and as the end of suffering for those who are sick. I like the idea of continued spiritual activity and am open to that existing, but I like evidence, too. So I struggle to reconcile the difference between what I think makes the most sense and what I would like to be true.

A novel I just finished has heightened my interest in having a visit with Mom. It’s a story about a family coping with the death of a young boy, told from multiple points of view – the dead boy, his sister, his parents and his aunt, and even the family dog. The boy is fixated on getting a message to his family to help reduce their suffering. They sense his presence in the house and in their dreams. It’s just a piece of fiction, and it interested me because of its focus on grief. But I found myself wondering each night as I turned off my Kindle if tonight would be the night that I’d see Mom in a dream. And I was consistently disappointed. Until last night.

Now, the brain is still largely a mystery to scientists, and we may never have a firm grasp on what the brain is doing during our dreams. But what we think we know is that dreams are, at least in part, an important function for processing information and sorting memories. They are all about us – not about some spirit out there that wants to penetrate our thoughts. So even as I say I want Mom to visit me in my dreams, what I mean, I suppose, is that I want to be able to remember the Mom of 15 or more years ago in whatever way I can. Dreams might be my best opportunity.

Last night, I had an anxiety dream. This is not unusual. I still frequently dream that I am in graduate school and the term is nearing its end, and rather than completing papers or taking exams, I blow off all of my final projects. Those dreams typically end with me standing in line to pick up a transcript – without ever seeing my grades. But last night, I fretted through a dream during which I was desperately trying to book a flight from New York to home, or from Columbus to New York. My brother Jeff and sister Laura had roles: Jeff gave me subway instructions and Laura had an apartment in New York. But mostly, I remember a solo pursuit of searching for flights, roaming through airports and never reaching my destination. And Mom was there. She didn’t do anything or say anything. She was basically inconsequential to the running story of the dream. But she was there, and something about the urgent need to travel related to her.

I’ve never seriously tried to interpret my dreams, but Mom did. I’ve come across notebooks that she kept at her bedside, and I suspect I will find more as I go through her things. I have a theory, though, about what might be going on in my mind. The new year has inspired Patrick to begin going through boxes in the basement, sorting items to keep, recycle, send to family members or throw away. I asked him to leave the boxes of Mom’s things for me to go through, while at the same time declaring that I am not inclined to do that just now. So I feel guilty about foiling his plans to organize the basement and simultaneously intensely curious about what I will find among Mom’s things. There’s really no excuse to keep avoiding the task. I just have to be ready for the emotions. Maybe Mom showed up in my dream to tell me it will be OK.

Anniversary

I didn’t think about this being the two-year anniversary of Mom’s death until about 9:05 a.m. today, when I was in a meeting. That makes me feel guilty, because how could that not be the first thing I think about when I wake up on Oct. 27? But also, given that this 10-day-or-so stretch of October will always be a reminder of Mom’s final days, I guess there is something to be said for the mind’s ability to wander away from a painful past, if only for a few hours.

I will raise a glass in Mom’s memory this evening, and, I’m sure, keep her in my thoughts for the rest of today. Feeling wistful, but not broken. At least for today.

Mom on my mind

I was weary from a 10-hour car ride, my clothes a little disheveled and my arms draped over my backpack and a small cooler to keep them from falling off the tram bench. After 20 minutes on the ferry and now riding in an open-air shuttle to our rental condo, my hair was a wavy, windblown mess. I imagine my face registered the fatigue of the day as well as the satisfaction that comes with arriving at a vacation destination.

“You look a little like Bonnie,” Patrick said.

Mom wasn’t necessarily disheveled on a regular basis before she got sick, but she was typically informal in dress and manner. The same could be said about me, too, I think. I’ve tended to believe all my life that my facial features favor Dad, but there is no question that I share many of Mom’s mannerisms. Slouching my way through a tram ride at the end of a long day would fit that description. My affection for lounging on a couch – any couch – is also a Bonnie trait that I cannot deny. I have a brother-in-law who jokes that Caldwell women have never met a couch they didn’t love to lie on. I spent every evening of this vacation lounging on a couch and I end most days at home that way, too.

It was fitting to be thinking about Mom. This vacation to Bald Head Island, just Patrick and me, was sort of a do-over of our just-us trip to celebrate my 50th birthday 18 months ago, almost exactly, that was interrupted by Mom’s rapid decline and swift transition into an active dying process. We stayed at the same condo and had the same low-key agenda. We had no special occasion to celebrate this time and no need to worry about Mom, either – something that I did during every trip to Bald Head Island from 2005 to 2015. But in my mind, at least, it represented a chance to make up for a vacation gone wrong and also a reason to reflect on what followed that – an intense and meaningful 10-day period spent shepherding Mom through her last days with this most dreaded disease, letting her go and celebrating her life, all the time surrounded by people I love and who love me and loved Mom.

I like to take long walks alone on the island, and I get all mushy about how pretty the maritime forest is and how relaxed I finally am or I dread an upcoming departure and I have a little cry. Last Sunday, I took a long walk and thought about Patrick telling me I looked like Mom and lamented the 10 years of vacation opportunities with Mom that Alzheimer’s stole from me and tried to imagine Mom walking with me on that perfect day. And I had a little cry.

Bereavement leave, one year late

Mom’s death occurred at a difficult time for me – not that it ever would have been a “good” time for her to pass away. But professionally, I was a wreck: Our office had lost four total staff members in the preceding several months, and I was also transitioning from one position to another, which was intended to be a promotion. Unsurprisingly, it took months for the transition to be made official. So I was trying to do my old job as well as the new one, the volume of work was as high as I had ever experienced because we were so short-staffed, and I was trying to prove myself worthy of a promotion without actually knowing exactly what that promotion would be. So let’s just say I was experiencing a tremendous amount of work-related stress.

Some may remember that she also took a very bad turn while Patrick and I were away on a vacation to celebrate my 50th birthday. We arrived at our rental on Bald Head Island, N.C., on Sunday, I got a worrisome call from the Alz center on Monday and on Tuesday, a nurse told me she might not make it through the night. We sped back to Columbus on Wednesday to find Mom stable but showing obvious signs of labored breathing. I spent most of Thursday, my 50th birthday, at Mom’s bedside until about 5 p.m., when I got a massage that Patrick had scheduled for me. That evening, I wrote the first draft of Mom’s obituary.

This year, Patrick and I entertained thoughts of returning to Bald Head Island to try again for a birthday vacation. We thought we would fly instead of drive to save time and have a shorter trip. While I was looking at flight options and finding no good options, I began to cry – not because of the frustrations with scheduling, but because I realized I didn’t really want to go. And not wanting to go to Bald Head is a very unfamiliar feeling. My interpretation of my emotional response is that I anticipated that I would be reliving much of that period of time as I approach the first anniversary of Mom’s death. And the early departure from vacation was disappointing and upsetting and frightening because I thought Mom might die before I got home. So, for now, no October visits to the island. We now have our eye on a spring trip.

I am thinking a lot about that difficult week last year, from the Tuesday (Oct. 20) I realized we needed to get home to the next Tuesday, Oct. 27, when Mom died. I don’t care that it all occurred around my 50th birthday – that created an interesting symmetry to my caregiving life. Mom was diagnosed a couple of weeks after my 40th birthday and died five days after my 50th birthday. Ten years, and 20 percent of my life – for some reason, I find meaning in that timing.

But I do regret how bad I was at taking care of myself. I finished my vacation time watching over Mom and spent two days of the following week by her side and the third just collecting myself on the day after she died. I went back to work two days after her death, at that time thinking that keeping busy would be better than being alone at home. (My brother and sister had the same experience – they missed very little work and had to travel two weekends in a row. And when Patrick’s dad died in 2013 and he struggled with taking time off of work because he would miss an important meeting, I said to him: Nothing is more important than your dad’s death. And your colleagues will understand that.) We had the memorial service on Saturday, and I returned to work on the following Monday. And it was clear to me that day, and for many days after, that I should not be at work, that I needed time to grieve and to rest. But I didn’t. I was so desperately busy – all of us in my office were swamped – and I just felt I would be consumed with guilt if I took more time off. Guilt would be worse than grief, I reasoned.

Today, one year later, we are at full staff and I’m no longer uncertain about my role in the office. That makes taking time off easier, of course. But I also have a different perspective about self-care and don’t intend to deny myself R&R again when I clearly need a break. It’s better for my health and will make me a better worker and colleague. In lieu of traveling, Patrick and I are taking a staycation today through next Tuesday. My birthday falls in the middle, but even better than that is committing to six days of letting our wants and needs dictate how we spend our time. Patrick is studying for a licensing exam and I might do some deep house cleaning. Or, I might not. It has lifted my spirits in a way I didn’t expect to schedule this time off and decline to set any expectations for myself. It’s not really bereavement time, exactly, but it is definitely put-Emily-first time. Better late than never.

Going there

If I were so inclined, I could cry five or six times a day. But I am not inclined. What a mess I’d be. I make this claim, though, because my eyes threaten to generate tears in response to a variety of stimuli: a moving radio story, cute pet photos, news of a tragic death (human or pet, which may seem ridiculous, but it’s the truth), a positive human interaction that gives me a warm feeling, my own rambling thoughts about Mom. Etc. I always stop myself, though. I kind of feel like if I let myself cry, I won’t be able to stop … at least for a long while. So I don’t go there. As my brother Jeff so aptly put it when I threatened to cry when leaving New York City last fall after our sibling visit, I suppress (it’s helpful to visualize here the lowering of hands as if pressing down on something. In this case, emotions).

I think of this as a lasting element of grieving. But I suppose it also could be that I am a middle-aged woman whose hormones are playing tricks on her. I really don’t know.

I do know that thoughts of Mom drift in and out all day, every day. I recently told a friend/co-worker about the emergency department experience we had when Mom fell and needed stitches. (That was five years ago. Seems like yesterday.) We were talking about our experiences with various medical staff – in this case, their shortcomings. I remembered the doctor was confident Mom’s stitched-up wound would heal in a cosmetically satisfying way. And that the automatic blood pressure cuff scared Mom. I can laugh when I tell these stories and she did some funny things on that day. But then I fret about how scared she must have been. And how, that long ago, she could not understand instructions or make sense of the world around her. The doctor asked if her neck hurt and she replied, “Bonnie Caldwell.” That is funny. But I shudder to think about her physical pain that resulted from that fall, and her inability to tell us what hurt.

I began writing this post on Aug. 24. Since then, two anniversaries have passed: Aug. 27, 10 months since Mom died, and Aug. 28, what would have marked seven years since she moved into the Alz center. Facebook memories from Augusts past have been full of reminders of her transition from assisted living to standard nursing home, being kicked out, and her improved mood upon moving to the Alz center. And also last August, when we had a family staycation in Columbus, and we were all together with Mom – including her two granddaughters.

The bumpiness of this post is a good representation of how I feel these days: scatterbrained, fretful, wistful, grateful, sorrowful, joyful, grumpy, peaceful.

Mostly I just wanted to check in. Mom is still a big part of my life.

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