Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Doing what you need to do

"With the past not far behind, and the future not in stone
I suppose from time to time, we'll be howling at the moon, and holding on."

Saturday night was the memorial gathering for my friend Tom. It was held in his home, the house where we gathered so many times for Halloween parties in our crazy younger years and for Christmas parties in our more sedate adult years.

It may have been the best attended party there ever. All five of his younger siblings, with some of their spouses and kids, came from the east coast and midwest. Work colleagues young and old were there, a few neighbors and random friends stopped in and a fair contingent of our Colgate classmates, significant others and children filled the space.

There were digital slide shows with photos of Tom over the years, as well as posterboards and albums of printed photos. I kept thinking that Tom would have enjoyed the party. I kept thinking, why do wait until someone is dead to celebrate their life.

It's just the way of things, I suppose. All that unconditional love, all those accolades, might be a bit abashing or awkward if you were alive and in the building.

I talked quite a bit to one of Tom's sisters, who was there for his last days, those few days between the time he thought he was going to have another procedure and recouperate and get on with living, but instead had the plug pulled and was sent home with hospice care because his organs were failing. His sister asked him what it felt like to know you were at the end of life, and Tom said that he had no regrets.

I wonder if that is something you might say on you deathbed to comfort your soon-to be-bereaved loved ones.

Tom was a friend and a good person, very bright, clearly respected as a mentor by his coworkers, clearly loved by his siblings, but his life was not the ice cream sundae that his obituary described. I think his marriage was in grave trouble before his diagnosis. Fences may have been mended with a death sentence on menu, and I have no doubt that his wife is grieving, but we all have a lot of questions about what will happen next. Will she stay in the house? Will she be able to cope with it on her own? Will she want to?

I have a theory or philosophy that for the most part people do what they need to do. I remember when my women friends who stayed home with their kids while I worked full time would say to me, I don't know how you do it, or, I couldn't do it. And I would say, you do what you have to do. I had no choice so I worked and tried to be as good a parent as I could anyway. Later, as a single mom, battling severe depression, I still got dressed every day and went to work and paid the bills and kept our lives going.

So I think Tom's wife will figure it out somehow. She may tread water for a while. With the party guests gone and the leftovers put away and the trash taken out, she will have to learn how to live her life, one day at a time. She has some special challenges. English is not her native language. She has an older daughter with serious mental problems and a younger daughter with juvenile diabetes. And I don't think her finances are in the best state, although there should be a pension and life insurance coming.

What have I learned? That Tom was in denial about dying, that he didn't get his affairs in order as he should have, probably believing he had more time. It always shocks me when I hear that people don't make contingeny plans, don't talk about things like money and death. I'm cut from different cloth. Neil and I talk quite dispassionately about various mortality scenarios, and neither one of us has been diagnosed with anything worse that high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Especially now that Neil is retiring and we are buliding a new house and moving, we have decisions to make about his pension and our life insurance. We do a lot of scenario modeling. What happens financially if I die in a year? If he dies in a year? We're not expecting either of those things to happen, they are just worst case scenarios. Talking about them doesn't make them any more likely to happen. It's just important to both of us ensure that our figurative fortunes are not left to fate.

I think we'll be talking a lot about it over this next year, as we take on a new mortgage and go through all the expenses of moving. I've decided that, other than to toss and donate some of the most obvious things, I'm not going to think about packing until after New Year's. Neil's last day of work is November 30, a Wednesday. With a graduation and a grandbaby due in December it will be a busy month. In between the busyness, Neil deserves some down time to rest after almost 34 years of work. And I'll need some time to adjust to having him home all day.

But at some point we will have to decide how much packing and moving we are going to do ourselves and how much it is worth to pay someone to do it for us and make the pain go away. We'll probably do some combination of both. There will be decisions to make about what furniture is worth paying to move, since we do have some very sad hand-me-down sofas, furniture that was inexpensive when I bought it 25 years ago, and some garden variety junk, like this Ikea desk I'm typing at. Even our bed mattress, which I love, is more than 20 years old and I think seven to ten years is the typical life of a mattress.

Of course, whatever we don't pay to move it, we will have replace at the other end. Since I have yet to bring myself to believe this move is going to be permanent (by which I mean more than five years or so), I'm not sure how much good furniture I want to invest in for the new house.

Neil is funny. He suggested we each put some money into an account which we can then use to deck out our new digs. He suggested $50,000. I said, if by that you mean that you put in $40,000 and I put in $10,000, I can be with that. Naturallt that wasn't what he had in mind. We haven't resolved this yet. I can see us living out of boxes and having lots of empty rooms for a while.

Like I said, lots to think about, lots to talk about, lots to decide, lots of money to say bye-bye to.

Speaking of which, I almost forgot, I did it - I got a new iPad! I took myself over to the Apple Store, where I backed up my old iPad to my MacBook Pro (which finally was useful for something) and I bought a Space Gray 12.9 inch iPad Pro. The Apple people talked me into getting a Logitech case with a keyboard, but I took it back the next day because I love my new on-screen keyboard. It is a virtual real keyboard, with numbers and characters, so you don't have to toggle. I ordered a case from Amazon and it was delivered on Monday, because Amazon Prime doesn't recognize postal holidays.

I'm pretty pleased with myself. The tipping point was that Apple stopped supporting the iPad 2. No IOS 10 made my decision easier. I don't regret waiting this long though.

Here's a look at my new beauties.

Now I think I will sell my MacBook Pro. I'm watching some auctions on eBay to see what they are selling for. While I'm at it I should sell the macro lens and adapter I bought for my Nikon 1. You know, the camera I never use. I use my point and shoot for bead photos and my iPhone camera for everything else. I don't mind keeping the camera. It's red and it was a good deal. The adapter and macro lens cost more than the camera, which came with two lenses and a nice red leather case.

But that opens the door to all the collectibles I should think about selling on eBay before we move. And that's a door I'm not ready to open.

I won't let you fall
Hear me loud and clear
I will not let go
I will be right here
Holding on

And what's that someone said
Of a closed and open door?
Brighter days ahead
Look that way while you're
Holding on

Holding on, holding on

And when some lonesome wind
Has hemmed you in
Don't you believe that sound
You will surely rise
Above these tides
To higher ground

With the past not far behind
And the future not in stone
I suppose from time to time
We'll be howling at the moon
And holding on

I won't let you fall
Hear me loud and clear
I will not let go
I will be right here
Holding on

Holding on, holding on.

(Cheryl Wheeler)

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