Monday, July 9, 2012

eulogy for my father

I just took this photo for him in the window of a law firm
in Hampden because he had everything.  It became a
challenge to shop for him, so we started making sleep
shirts with pictures of the kids on them.  They were his
favorite gifts ever—and he wore them all the time. 
 My dad could fall asleep anywhere.

What is important to remember about my dad is the taste of grilled crustless bologna sandwiches.  He cooked few things, but he was a whiz with an aluminum pie and sandwich cooker.

It is important to remember playing cards with him—Pitch was our favorite.  He coined the term "card off!"  If he accidentally threw the wrong card from his hand, a timely "card off!" would allow him to correct his mistake. I still say card off when I need a do-over.  I say it now, for the last year of our lives.  Card off.

It was important to know my father.  He was a connector; he knew everybody.  I first learned of this when I was eight, and he almost  got our family on the set of The Courtship of Eddie's Father.  And then again when, at eleven, he almost got me a lunch date with David Cassidy because he knew the teen idol's manager.  He knew a record promoter and brought me home a stack of New Wave albums—The Cars, Blondie, Patti Smith, and Elvis Costello—before there was even a new wave.  I remember he thought Elvis would have less-than-zero longevity, like Elton John.

Here's generosity for you: a family cruise to Bermuda,
everything paid, including kids' face painting and
off-ship meals and a few souvenirs.
If you needed a back doctor, knowing him could get you a faster appointment.  He could get you a last-minute reservation or a special deal on a car or just some extra nice treatment somewhere.  There's a waiter at the Prime Rib who used to fawn all over my husband Marty when we came to the restaurant.  It took me years to figure out that it wasn't Marty who was so special; it was my father.  The waiter had assumed Marty, also Mr. Miller, was his son, so when he asked, "How's your dad?" I said, "I'M Harvey's daughter."  He sucked up to me from then on.

When Beth and I were kids, Dad's sales jobs often took him on the road, but even when he wasn't away, he worked all the time.  To make up for it, he gave us lots of stuff—TVs and telephones and stereos in our bedrooms, crazy bowling-ball shaped radios, radios you wore on your wrist, fancy souvenirs from his travels, and even a new car when I got my license.  I thought we were rich.

Even in the hospital, my dad would work, though
each successive hospital visit would make that less possible.
When he became successful in his business, he became more generous.  You couldn't go anywhere without him saying, "You want it? I'll buy it."  If you would so much as touch the fabric of a pair of $300 jeans, he'd say it.  "You want it I'll buy it."  But who needed a pair of $300 jeans?  There's a shop owner in Rehoboth who loves him but hates his crazy ass family.

My dad was, at times, too generous, insisting, when I was pregnant, on replacing my paid-off Honda Civic with a Nissan Pathfinder, so his grandchild could travel in the manner befitting a grandchild of his.  I said no a lot, but the arguments would wear me down. 

In fact, I spent a therapy session learning to cope with my father's generosity. How come I couldn't figure out on my own what my therapist said in an instant: This is how your dad gives love.  And every time you say no, you reject it.  So shut up, and get some new clothes."  From then on, I touched fabric more discriminately—and only that of sensible things or stuff I really needed.

Panic:  How is it that the most recent
photo I have of myself with my father
was taken 18 years ago at my wedding?
So I think of sandwiches and games and generosity when I think of my dad.  And I think of love.  He loved fiercely and loyally.  And if something was wrong, he wanted to fix it for you.  He hated seeing the people he loved struggle or suffer for a moment without something they needed or wanted. 

The people he loved became members of his family, and they included the people we loved: my sister's, my mother's, and my best friends, who came on vacation with us, out to dinner for our birthdays and sometimes even for theirs.  They included my husband long before he was my husband, when he was just the naked boyfriend passing him in the hallway after midnight on the way to the bathroom.  He adopted Steve, one of his employees.  He adopted AndrĂ©, the guy who delivered his home oxygen and detailed his car.  He and his business partner, Tom, adopted each other. 

It was so easy to love my dad because he loved so easily.  And the best benefit of losing someone like that is that you never have to wonder if you loved enough or well.  You did.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Daily beer aside, I’m not much of a drinker anymore.  My goals as a grownup are different; I drink ale because it tastes good, not because it makes me tipsy.  But in the past few weeks, I’ve come to appreciate (rather than, I should make clear, depend upon) its analgesic effects.

On Saturday night, I’d had an emergency shiatsu treatment at the place I affectionately call Jim Hill’s House of Hellishly Painful Poking and Pulling.  That’s exactly where I go; that’s exactly what goes on.  But the whole way home from treatment, I was thinking of booze.

I wasn’t in the mood for what usually ales me.  I wanted a Baileys and club soda.  No, I wanted a frozen mudslide.  No, I wanted gin and tonic.  I would go to The Liquor Pump, because I could also get a hug—free.  I would get Kahlua, Baileys , and a six pack.

The Liquor Pump had no power, like most of the places near Old Harford Road.  But Lou’s was open, so I picked up my liqueurs and paid the man (whose name I don’t know despite having shopped there for 19 years) through the carousel in the bullet-proof glass.  It was a hug-less, joyless purchase.

We didn’t have vodka or gin at home, so today, after another shiatsu treatment just four days later, I stopped at the Liquor Pump for more booze and that hug.  While I was picking out the vodka, there he was, arms outstretched.  Worth the price.

I took my selections—including cake vodka for my mom’s birthday—to the counter and went in search of some gin.  What do I know from gin—Tanqueray seems to be the thang.  But I saw as a sign the bottle of Martin Miller; even at $35, it had to come home with me.

When I put it on the counter, Harry seemed impressed with my taste. “That’s the best gin you can buy.  It’s the only one that doesn’t have an overwhelming flavor of juniper.  I mean, you can taste it, but it’s not overpowering.” 

“Well,” I hated to admit, “I picked this one because my husband is Martin Miller.”

“You have a husband?” Harry asked, faux dejection in his voice.

"Yeah," I said.  "But don't you have a wife and kids?"

“Sure,” he said, “But I can have lots of wives.”

I suppose if I could have lots of husbands (though why anyone would want lots of either is beyond my capacity for reason), I could do far worse than a handsome fellah who owns a liquor store.

But I’m better off sticking with the one I have.  Diet tonic and a squirt of lemon, please.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


I wake up every morning, and I say, “Ugh.”  Sometimes it’s “Uck.”  Sometimes it’s “Fuck,” truth be told.  I don’t wake up much these days with a song in my heart, unless it’s a melody-less song with ugh and uck and fuck in it.
Last Monday, my dad took a fall and wound up in the cardiac care unit.  He’d had a heart attack, but it wasn’t the typical exertion-related kind, and there’s no—according to today’s heart catheter procedure—blocked anything. 

For nearly a decade, he’s had aortic stenosis.  The aortic valve becomes calcified, narrowing, and it causes a backup of blood, resulting in very low blood pressure and heart episodes like these.  Eventually, the dopamine drip will no longer work to keep his blood pressure up to 85/69.  But if he can’t get off the med, he can’t go home.

During his heart cath procedure, the doctor discovered that more of his aorta is calcified, so he’ll need a CT scan to determine whether it’s operable.  If he passes that test, he’ll need to fail the next one.  Two heart surgeons will need to agree that he’s not a candidate for open-chest surgery due to his limited lung capacity (he has COPD and asthma).  If that goes well, he could have a percutaneous valve replacement, which is a brand new (like—yesterday) treatment.  It wasn’t available before his chemo began, or it’s likely that he’d have had one of those years ago—possibly avoiding all these extra trips to the hospital to bring up his blood pressure.

That’s Dad.  Me?  Well, I am due for my six-month CT scan to see if the cancerous nodes in my stomach have grown.  If you were to look at my actual stomach, you’d think they’d grown the size of a watermelon, because it’s clear I have a giant squash growing there.  At the same time, I’m ditching my oncologist because, after making me wait an hour to see him, he spends my visits with his back to me, asking me questions, typing the answers on his laptop, and addressing the multiple laptop crashes.   Then he turns to face me, pokes my stomach and underarms, and sends me off.  I need a little more bedside manner.  A little more face time.  A little less technology.

One year ago in August, I started to get some bad leg and back pain, so I went to see my back surgeon.  He looked at my MRI and said I needed two fusions.  I fretted.  I told him I really didn’t want another back surgery, and, as I was still talking, asking him what else I could possibly do, he was getting up and walking out of the room, telling me to call him when I was ready for surgery.  So I ditched him, too.  When I told my second-opinion doctor the story, he said, “Did he really do that?” but it didn’t sound like a question.  Unfortunately, he agreed that I needed two fusions.  The issue that took me to see the back doctor in the first place—some nerve damage and leg pain—has returned with ferocity.  Back surgery looks imminent.  Hooray.

Dad and I are both feeling a little overwhelmed.  We’re a little depressed.  We cry.  We wake up and say, “Ugh.”  If will were the only thing we had, we probably wouldn’t wake up.

Sometimes the pain isn’t worth it.  Sometimes the scenery just ain’t so good when your bed is facing the hallway and not the window, and you don’t know if it’s day or night, and the beeping is incessant and not even in time with the seconds so that you can precisely count the minutes of lying there, and the only thing good you have is the pure oxygen streaming from the cannula.  But even that loses its sexiness after a few days, especially without a companion opiate.

But I’m not 75 and in the hospital.  My scenery has a gorgeous, talented daughter in it, some sweet dogs, a good husband, so many friends, a comfortable home, and a good job, where people appreciate me—and tell me so. 

I’m not ready to stop looking.  At least not until I stop writing.