Restoring My Soul

Sometime in February while I was scrolling through Facebook, someone posted a short video of himself playing his guitar.  In the message that accompanied the video, he mentioned that he was on a solo retreat in a cabin.  It had never occurred to me until then that a weekend of solitude and reflection could be so attractive.  A wise scholar and friend recently observed that, like she and her husband, my wife and I are “well married.”  It’s a phrase that we had not used before but now fully embrace.  We are indeed well married.  We have been together nine years and married for eight of them.  We enjoy each other’s company.  We like working at the same place, coming home for lunch together and having dinner together, either at home or at a restaurant.  We love to travel; we love to hike; we love working on projects; we enjoy our time at home, especially our evenings and weekends.  My wife has some friends and colleagues that she will occasionally meet for lunch or dinner, and sometimes she makes it an overnight trip.  It is good and healthy for her to stay connected to these people because they have been so important in her life and her profession.  Sadly, there are more such connections in other parts of the country where she has previously lived, and it is difficult to see them regularly, but she makes an effort to do so when possible.

I have a good friend who lives not too far away from us – someone that I have been close to for over twenty years now.  We see each other about once a year or so, and I enjoy catching up with him.  We also stay in touch by phone, texts, and Facebook.  I don’t have as many good friends as my wife does, that is, people I have maintained a close relationship with through the years.  As gregarious as I probably appear to colleagues and acquaintances, the truth is I am a bit shy around people I don’t know, unless I am speaking to groups professionally or performing music.  I was in a band for ten years, so I’m sure there are folks who would scoff at the idea of my being bashful in any shape or form.  There are times, and only for brief periods, when I truly cherish being alone.

When I saw that Facebook video post, I began to think about what it would be like to have a solo weekend, something I have not done in decades.  I started thinking about what I would do for 36-48 hours away from my bride, my sons, my job, our home – away from anyone I know.  I could read, write, study, play music, think . . . and think some more.  I was a bit nervous about pitching this idea to my wife, because the last thing I wanted her to think was that I don’t adore her company.  This woman who clearly loves me unconditionally thought the idea was marvelous and whole-heartedly supported my decision to find a cabin in the mountains for an early spring mini-sabbatical.  Now, as I write this blog entry, it is Saturday afternoon.  I am looking out the window of my retreat cabin in the high country of North Carolina less than a mile from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

I arrived yesterday afternoon, checked in with the inn keeper in town, drove a few miles to my cabin, settled in quickly, poured a glass of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey and headed to the front lawn to relax in a comfortable chair and take in the view.  I followed the inn keeper’s recommendation for dinner at a local bistro, which was an excellent choice. I bought just enough provisions at the grocery store to keep me satisfied for 24 hours, and then I came back to the cabin and sipped more whiskey.  A storm came through last night and dusted the surrounding hillsides with snow, just enough to make it pretty but not so much to make it a nuisance.  I got up a little before 8:00, put on the coffee, and started reading Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, a novel I read many years ago and have mostly forgotten.  I have been reading news and op-ed pieces from the New York Times.  I have had a fire in the fireplace for the last couple of hours, and I have played songs on my guitar that I haven’t attempted in years.  I don’t intend to leave the cabin until heading out for dinner this evening.  I am enjoying a full earth’s rotation of intense relaxation.

Relaxing by the fire
Relaxing by the fire

Just now, as I sat down to reflect on this opportunity and record it, I was reminded with great humility and appreciation of just how fortunate I am.  When people from my past ask me if I’m happy, I usually reply, “I’m the luckiest guy I’ve ever met.”  I am lucky to have a wife who ignores my inadequacies, my rough edges, my occasional crudity, and loves me with a devotion that is almost frightening.  It is also a gift to love her more than I have ever loved another woman.  I am lucky that my sons seem to be stable and healthy in spite of great tragedy and loss they have endured.  I am lucky to have extended family who may not always understand me and perhaps even worry about me, but who also love me deeply and take joy in my happiness. I am lucky to have been raised by parents and grandparents who encouraged creativity, loved to laugh, believed in the virtue of hard work, and exhibited rock-solid faith in their God and their church.  While not having the advantages afforded by a higher formal education, my parents made the necessary sacrifices to ensure that I received the advanced degrees I desired and that have opened up so many possibilities for me through the years.  I have had some incredibly inspiring teachers.

I have lived almost 56 years with few significant health challenges.  I have some modest talents and skills that are fulfilling to me and that I have been able to share with others.  My wife and I have a standard of living that is not enjoyed by a large majority of the world’s population.  We are grateful, even though we know our generosity does not extend as far as it should.  My career path has presented me with so many memorable encounters and experiences, and I know how rare that privilege is.  Lastly, we have the resources that make it possible for me to rent a cabin in the Appalachian Mountains to be self-indulgent for a weekend and to contemplate the precious gift of a good life that I’m sure I don’t deserve but for which I am eternally grateful.  And to my bride, the love of my life: thank you for giving me this place and time.

Letting It Go

Sometime around 1970, my father received an invitation from his uncle to take our family to a house that he and his family owned on the outskirts of the small town of Blue Ridge in the north Georgia mountains.  We all fell in love with the area and began taking short vacations there, along with my mother’s sister’s family, including the cousins that my sister and I grew up with.  Soon thereafter, my great uncle helped my parents find a small vacant house for sale located just a few blocks from the quaint downtown of Blue Ridge.  Dating back to the turn of the century, the house had been vacant for years and was in rather rough shape, but my father was an electrician by trade and a very good carpenter.  With his uncle’s help, Dad was able to make the little house habitable again.

Typical of my father’s utilitarian style, the house was restored with very baseline interior finishes: pine sheet paneling, unpainted molding, and linoleum square tile partially covered in large carpet pieces salvaged from our primary home.  My mother, her mother, and her sister all tried to do what they could to add some charm to the interior on a very limited budget.  Dad filled the three main rooms with furniture that friends and family had thrown out, making the minor repairs necessary to make them functional.  The rooms served as living quarters and bedrooms, with enough beds and pull-out sofas to sleep up to fourteen people.  He added a second bathroom, purchased the lowest-end appliances for the kitchen, and installed space heaters discarded by our home church.  He added a propane tank behind the house that he found for free — a tank designed to be buried in the ground with the typical metal column rising from the middle to enclose and provide access to the meter and valves.  Of course, he mounted the tank above ground.  I joke here about my father’s minimalist approach with this vacation house affectionately, with the full realization that purchasing and maintaining a second home was an amazing accomplishment for a lower-middle-class family like ours.  If nothing else, Dad was remarkably resourceful.

Mountain Vacation House
Family Mountain Vacation House

Over the course of the next forty years, my parents shared the use of this vacation home with extended family and close friends.  My sister and I and my sons, my cousins, and now my wife all have wonderful memories of such happy, peaceful times spent at this little sanctuary.  As my parents’ generation aged, they could no longer maintain the place, so the responsibility was left to my sister and me.  Now, the house belongs to my wife and me, and my sister and my cousins still take a vacation or two every year to the house, as do we.

Regrettably, I was not blessed with my father’s skills.  My wife and I have done some painting, and family members have graciously chipped in to do some minor repairs, but we have also spent quite a bit of money in recent years trying to keep the house from collapsing.  Due to poor foundations, settling, and just general old age, the house has become even less “tight” than it was in the past.  It has suffered from damage from ground hogs in the crawl space beneath and other rodents in the walls and ceilings.  Mice started to find their way inside several years ago, but the most disturbing invasion was evidenced this past fall when my wife and I found a three-foot-long snake skin that had been left behind in the kitchen.  In a state of temporary despair, I sat on the edge of one of the beds and told my wife, “I’m done.”  She wasn’t exactly sure what I meant!  We had a lengthy discussion and came to the difficult decision to finally give up on attempting to salvage the unsalvageable.  We are going to demolish the house and build something new in its place.

We spent our weekend sitting on the front porch rockers using our iPads to look for house plans.  My wife found a charming cottage plan, and we have taken the first steps toward this big change.  My sister and cousins are understandably saddened by the impending loss of a house that holds so many happy memories for all of us.  So are we.  But, they do understand why this is really our only alternative.  By this time next year, we hope to have a new place for the family to retreat and continue to enjoy the many opportunities for relaxation and entertainment that this area provides.  The town of Blue Ridge has drastically changed from the sleepy (if not dying) little village it was when my parents bought the vacation home so many years ago.  I will save for another post my thoughts about the changes we have seen over the decades in Blue Ridge.

It is never easy to let go of anchors from the past, especially when they are so concretely identified with people we have loved dearly who are no longer with us.  As cliche as it sounds, this vacation house was truly a home to our families and close friends.  We hate to see it go.  We are fortunate to have very good photographic and video-graphic records of the house, happy times, and the people who enriched our lives there.  We look forward to a new, modern structure to enjoy for many years to come, but there is a definite sense of loss as we say goodbye to this special house forever.

Restoring My Soul

My wife and I have fairly stressful jobs, hers much more than mine.  I have mentioned before how much we like to be outdoors when we can, and we look for such opportunities and plan for them when we take vacation trips.  We also enjoy kayaking, and we are fortunate enough to have two Hobie kayaks, which are equipped with peddles so we can use our legs to propel them instead of just paddling.  Our previous home was on a rather large lake, so kayaking was as simple as pulling the boat out of the garage and going across the yard to the water’s edge and taking off.  Now, we don’t get out as much and have to plan for the water outings, but we live in an area with plenty of small lakes close by to explore, and a few very large ones not too far away.  During the warm months of the year, we load the kayaks on our pickup truck and head out to one of the nearby lakes, often after we get off work, just for a couple of hours.

Lake Russell 2
Lake Russell, Habersham County, GA

Being out on the water gives us a chance to slow down, talk, laugh, recall the wonderful times we’ve had together, and make plans for the future.  Some of the places we go are fairly secluded, although there are usually a few people around either fishing or swimming.  She and I typically stay out for about an hour.  We enjoy being together, and while we like to be with family and friends, we also cherish the times we spend with just each other.  We work well together; as we often say, “We’re a good team.”  Beyond the recreation and exercise that this activity provides, I think for both of us it offers an opportunity to reflect on how precious time is, how beautiful the world is, how grateful we are for each other, and how lucky we are to be alive.

Daytona Revisited

Several months back I wrote an entry about my memories of vacations at Daytona Beach, Florida.  I wondered if going back now, in my mid-fifties with my second wife and no kiddies, would provide me with some sense of nostalgia about vacations past.  Oddly enough, an opportunity came out of the blue a few weeks ago for my wife and me to take a long weekend trip to Daytona.  We are fortunate enough at this stage of our lives to be able to afford better accommodations than I could ever have enjoyed in previous decades.  There aren’t any real five-star resorts in Daytona, but there are a few four-star places that are a cut above the rest, and we found a nice one at the small beach community on the south end of the area called Daytona Shores.  In fact, the resort is simply called The Shores, and it was surprisingly comfortable if not luxurious, with several amenities you wouldn’t find elsewhere in Daytona.

My wife had never been to this beach, and she was curious to see my old haunts — the places I have told her about over the years.  Some of the places, like the old apartments and hotels my family stayed in through the years, are no longer there.  They are either replaced by other buildings or remain vacant lots ready for development.  I was wondering if the highly-commercial, dare I say cheesy, atmosphere of Daytona was going to be over the top for her.  Not at all.  She loved it, and we were talking the whole time we were there about how to make long weekend trips work, returning to The Shores. The Boardwalk at Daytona has changed so much over the years, with an outdoor mall, new and extravagant rides, and huge hotels towering over the beach.  However, some of the old arcades that my sons spent many hours and dollars in are still there, dirty and hot and smelly as ever.  And of course, the ancient bandshell is still intact, where we heard a couple of bands playing.  A real blast from the past was going in the salt water taffy store that has been in operation at the same location since before my wife and I were born.  We filled up a plastic bag of taffy and both bought an ice cream cone — it was like tasting memories.

Sunset at Daytona Beach Boardwalk from the pier

Incapacitated

A month has passed since my last entry, but I have a few good excuses.  My wife and I did some traveling in July, and my workload at the office increased a bit too.   Even so, I would have made an entry by the last week of the month had it not been for a significant event on July 19 that brought me to a brief standstill — a broken ankle.  This is the first time I have ever broken a bone, and I wasn’t prepared for how the pain, though not necessarily acute, would linger for several weeks.  I am fortunate in that it was a single fracture and apparently not bad enough to require surgery (at least not so far), but I have been in a cast for two weeks and have had to get around either on crutches or with this snazzy four-wheel contraption with a bench for my knee that allows me to scoot around pushing off with the good leg.

Those who have read this blog know that mobility is extremely important to me.  I love to travel, I spend lots of time walking and hiking, and my job even requires me to be outdoors on a fairly regular basis.  Furthermore, I am a gardener and love growing and caring for plants in our yard and maintaining the lawn.  In fact, I was spraying deer and rabbit repellent in the front yard when the accident occurred.  I really wish I had a better story for how I crashed to the ground, but wet grass, a steep slope, and the wrong kind of shoes were a deadly combination that sent me crawling back to the front door, where my dear wife helped me in and iced my ankle immediately.  The swelling began very quickly but was not widespread and there was very little bruising.  It could have been much worse.  A trip to the clinic the next evening for X-rays confirmed that I had a fracture.

I’m sure the modern style of cast that I am sporting, the bright-colored fiberglass wrap, is infinitely better than the old plaster casts of years ago.  Still, the weight of the cast is probably as much a source of discomfort as the fracture itself.  My calf tends to swell, along with my ankle, inside the cast if I don’t keep the leg elevated most of the time, a condition that ranges from being uncomfortable to painful.  The depressing part of the whole dilemma is that I have to keep weight off the ankle for up to six weeks.  I will probably transition from the cast to a lace-up boot pretty soon, which will probably be more comfortable, but I will remain very limited in my mobility for several more weeks.  I’m having a hard time adjusting, but knowing that the situation is temporary also invokes a sense of guilt.  How ridiculous for me to complain about this inconvenience when there are so many people who have to make these kinds of adjustments, and a whole lot more, for the rest of their lives.

What will I take away from this event that has disrupted my routines for a few weeks?  Well, for starters, I will give more consideration to the type of shoes I wear, especially while strolling around the yard.  I will probably be more aware of the terrain and surfaces where I walk regardless of what I may be doing at the time.  I want to be more careful without being too fearful.  I certainly hope I will be more sympathetic to people with disabilities who struggle with everyday tasks and movements about which I normally would not give a second thought.  I will be forever grateful to my wife, my youngest son who was home for the summer, and many others who have been so gracious, considerate, patient, and helpful in getting me around and who are assisting me in getting back on both of my feet.  I am thankful for a fantastic orthopedic surgeon, one of the best doctors I have ever met, whose skill, knowledge, and bedside manner have given me a great deal of assurance.  Lastly, I suspect for the rest of my life I will be reminded of how fragile we are and how quickly a freak accident can take us from being fully functional to a piling heap on the ground.

I Now Pronounce You — Addendum

As a nice addition and confirmation to what I wrote yesterday about the same-sex marriage ruling from the Supreme Court, here is a well-crafted open letter to Franklin Graham at Huffington Post from Paula K. Garrett.

“The Supreme Court did not say churches must change their definition of marriage. It said that states must. You have every right to insist that you will never accept same-sex marriage, God forbid a grandchild comes out in the family. You have every right to say you will never conduct a same-sex marriage. Nothing that the Court said this week implies otherwise.”

See the entire letter here.

I Now Pronounce You

It is now legal in the United States to marry anyone who also wants to marry you.  I’m not exactly sure why we needed a Supreme Court decision to bring us to this place, especially in the 21st century, but here we are.  In spite of the apocalyptic forecasts I have seen on Facebook over the last few days predicting that God’s wrath is now at the explosive point and ready to cover the country in steaming magma, we seem to have turned a corner where human relationships are concerned.  Of course, there have been the occasional displays of defiance we would expect from certain pockets of the country, namely the Deep South Bible Belt communities where homosexual activity is hidden, along with the whiskey bottle, K-Y Lubricant, the porn websites, and the patch of marijuana tucked neatly between the rows of tall corn stalks or mixed in with the soybean plants.

By far the most often-cited reason I have seen for those objecting to gay marriage is the idea that such an arrangement is in direct opposition to God’s intention for humanity, where marriage is the union of one man and one woman in holy matrimony . . .  period.  Not a woman with a woman, not a man with a man, not a man with a goat, not a woman and her cat, not a man and his voice-activated computer operating system.  The Supreme Court decision merely affirms what a majority of states had already decided on their own, which thankfully at this point only deals with marriage between two human beings — probably about as far as we need to push it and still have a reasonable assurance of consent from both parties.

God apparently has fairly strict and narrow rules for marriage, not to mention sexual positions, contraception, and Sunday alcohol sales.  If the one-woman-one-man plan is what the Bible or any other religious text teaches you about God and marriage, then you have every right to live your life according to those guidelines as long as you can do so without infringing on the rights of others.  You can encourage your family and friends to do the same.  If you are influential enough to have a whole congregation of people who voluntarily abide by your religious convictions, that’s just peachy.  However, what you should not be able to do in this country is use those convictions to create, sustain, and enforce public policies that are no longer upheld by a good portion of the population.

Marriage ceremonies are no doubt an important part of religious practice all around the world, which is perfectly fine.  But here’s a news flash: marriage does not BELONG to religion.  Atheist couples should be able to publicly proclaim their love, devotion, and commitment to one another, free of the interference of a church, synagogue, temple, or mosque.  Their union should be recognized by local, state, and federal governments as a legally-binding contract, even if the marriage is performed by a secular, government official instead of a priest, minister, rabbi, qazi or madhun.  Oh wait, that is EXACTLY what happens with many atheists couples, and it has been happening legally for a long time in this country.  Wonder what God’s view of an atheist marriage is?  Hmmmmm.

There is no place for legislation in the United States based solely on religious teachings, which is obviously the source of objection to same-sex marriage.  If you are in such a position of authority, either through election or appointment by elected officials, you have an obligation to put your personal wishes and desires aside to serve your constituents, and this includes your religious views.  If doing so is too difficult for you, then I suggest you either find some other job where your religious beliefs won’t be compromised (and keep in mind that not all private-sector jobs will accommodate your faith either), OR you should find a country where your religious beliefs are enforced.  Good luck with that second option.

I hope same-sex marriage is here to stay.  The benefits to loving gay and lesbian couples is only now being fully understood by the heterosexual community.  One of the main objectives of our Constitution is to protect the dignity of our citizens and to secure their right to pursue happiness.  While it seems a bit embarrassing that we needed a Supreme Court decision to make it official, I am relieved that ALL people who want to be married in this country can now do so, complete with the accompanying privileges, obligations, and benefits.  You may kiss the . . . spouse!

We Liked Grandma So Much Better Without Teeth

I introduced my maternal grandmother in an earlier post.  From my description of her then, it should be apparent that my grandmother had an incredible sense of humor, a trait I would like to think I inherited.  She had five grandchildren.  I was the last and the only male.  She absolutely adored me.  For most of my childhood, she lived in the house with my family (my parents and my older sister and me).  Both of my parents worked, so she served as a live-in nanny.  She also did a good portion of the cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc.

She received a great deal of pleasure from making my sister and my cousins laugh to the point of losing our breath.  If we wet our pants, she probably secretly considered herself victorious — mission accomplished!  She would stop at nothing to entertain us, including removing her teeth, putting a nylon stocking over her head, and then pulling it up while dragging the skin of her face up with it to distort her features to almost frightening proportions.  Some years after her death, my memory of these times became almost nostalgic, and I decided to write a funny song about her.  It must be fairly entertaining, as I have been asked to perform it many times for groups of people who never knew my grandmother or any other members of my extended family.  I include it here as a way of recording it and as a tribute to someone whose impact on my life was far greater than I realized when she was still with me.

WE LIKED GRANDMA SO MUCH BETTER WITHOUT TEETH

I recall the trips to Grandma’s house when we were little boys
Lots of food, candy, cakes, and pies, and she always gave us toys
And she told funny stories that would nearly split your side
But when she pulled her dentures out, we laugh until we cried

Gums on the bottom and gums on the top
If she talked real fast her lips would flop
Her nose hooked over and touched her chin
And we’d start laughing all over again
And when she sang her mouth was just as round as a wreath
We liked Grandma so much better without teeth

Now there’s something about a toothless grin that I just can’t explain
But when Grandma turned and gave a smile, we nearly went insane
And if she used her Polygrip her speech was never slurred
But Lord when she forgot it we couldn’t understand a word

Gums on the bottom and gums on the top
If she talked real fast her lips would flop
Her nose hooked over and touched her chin
And we’d start laughing all over again
A handmade set of ivory chops just simply can’t be beat
But we liked Grandma so much better without teeth

Now I know you love your grandkids and I’m sure they love you too
So if you want to see them giggle, then here’s what you must do
It sure can be depressing when your hair gets gray and thin
But when your molars start to go that’s when the fun begins

Gums on the bottom and gums on the top
If she talked real fast her lips would flop
Her nose hooked over and touched her chin
And we’d start laughing all over again
I’m sure it was a challenge when she tried to chew her meat
But we liked Grandma so much better without teeth

Gums on the bottom and gums on the top
If she talked real fast her lips would flop
Her nose hooked over and touched her chin
And we’d start laughing all over again
Couldn’t have loved her better had she been cursed with stinkin’ feet
We liked Grandma so much better
Oh I wish you could have met her
We liked Grandma so much better without teeth

My Grandmother’s Raunchy Side

I was raised in a morally-conservative Southern Baptist home.  Most of the cousins that I knew best were all Southern Baptists, as well as many of my friends, mainly because my circle of friends largely came from our church.  Drinking alcohol was a sin, plain and simple.  Dancing was frowned upon but tolerated by the time I was a teenager in the 1970s.  My mother was not fond of playing cards, unless they were game-specific like Old Maids, and much later, Uno.  She was suspicious of regular playing cards because she associated them with gambling, another sin of the infidels.  Most of all, sex was something extremely private and reserved ONLY for the sanctity of marriage — end of discussion.  There was no wiggle room on this point at all.  And it was not a topic of conversation in our home, instructional or otherwise.

My maternal grandmother was also a strong Southern Baptist and beloved by many in our church.  She lived with us through all of my childhood and most of my adolescence.  My mother worked outside the home, so my sister and I were largely raised by our grandmother.  She held many of the same convictions that my mother did; however, there were times that her rural upbringing emerged, sometimes in irreverent ways.  She had some wonderful little “sayings” that verged on being nasty, which made her giggle to the point of losing her breath.  I always thought they were rather inconsistent with our family’s moral code, and I loved them.  Here are a few examples.

If someone in the room exclaimed that somebody “tooted,” she would rattle off this zinger: “The fox is the finder, the stink lays behind her!” Of course, this is an old variation of the later line: “The one who smelt it is the one who dealt it.”  Coming from my sweet grandmother, it was hilarious.  Speaking of farting, she did it quite often in our home and found it to be quite entertaining.

Another even more priceless example to me was what I heard my grandmother say one time when she saw a very tall woman with a very short man.  I will never forget it.  “Well, when they’re nose to nose his toes is in it, and when they’re toes to toes his nose is in it.”  Now that’s mighty raunchy humor coming from a Southern Baptist grandmother in the 1970s.  I have so many more wonderful memories about my grandmother that I intend to document in this blog at some point.  She inspired a song that I wrote and have performed many times, mostly because it has been requested so often, especially by seniors at gatherings where I have entertained.  It never fails to bring laughter, just like my grandmother did for us so many times.

No Easy Way to Say It

Losing a family member to death leaves a significant empty space for those left behind.  The death of a parent summons feelings of vulnerability and a sense of one’s own mortality.  Even when death is an end to suffering, there is a certain finality to it that brings sadness.  However, even in the darkness of these times, there is plenty of humor that always accompanies the human comedy, and the recent death of my father is no exception.

I wrote last week about “the call” I received from the nursing home informing me that my father had passed away.  The words spoken by the facility’s representative reminded me of other testimonies I have heard from people who have received “the call.”  A couple of weeks before he died, my father had suffered from an infected lymph gland in his neck that was very inflamed and painful.  He was on some very strong antibiotics that zapped what little energy he had left at age 94, but it appeared that he was getting better and was strong enough to get out of bed.  His nurse told me that he had actually eaten dinner only an hour or so before he died.  So the representative who called had the unpleasant task of giving me news that by no means was a surprise but was nevertheless not altogether expected either.

Herein lies the comedy.  You have to wonder how nursing home personnel are trained to deliver such bad news to loved ones.  In this case, the voice on the other end of the phone said, “Mr. ————? I was calling to let you know there’s been a change in your father’s condition,” to which I replied, “Okay.”  And then she handed it to me: “He passed away this evening.”  Now, at this point, I began asking the predictable questions about how he was found, how he died, what time it happened, etc.  What I really wanted to say was, “Why yes, I would say that is a fairly significant change in his condition.”  It would be hard to immediately come up with a better example of the understatement of the year.

My wife has told many people the story of “the call” she received about her mother’s death, which occurred while she was in a rehab center only a day or so after my wife had been with her.  The nurse who called and delivered the message told my wife that her mother had “expired.”  Really?  Expired?  I realize now that this is a technical term used in the geriatric healthcare industry, but I can’t imagine why you would use that term when talking to the daughter of the deceased.  Expired?  Can we renew her?  Did we not put down a large enough deposit?  It makes the deceased sound more like a library card or a driver’s license.

The truth is that there is no easy way to tell a person that someone they love has died.  It’s bitter and heartbreaking.  It is so precise and final.  It defies couching or masking.  There is no sufficient euphemism, although we certainly do our best with words like “passed” or “passed away” or “crossed over.”  I don’t envy those who are charged with the duty of bearing the saddest news of all, but I can’t help but find the humor in delivery methods like these.  Expired?  Really?