R.I.P.

Grandpa coded about an hour ago. Mom and Dad were on the way there and they got word that he’d passed.

He was a long time in dying — his body had been falling apart by degrees for a decade or so. Now I’ve got no grandparents left.

[EDIT: Okay, I’m home now and using Orville. I wrote the above from my phone in a McDonald’s. More details now.]

Yeah, so I was driving Michael to McDonald’s where he had to tutor someone, and I got a text on the way there. Once at the restaurant I checked my phone and it was Dad, saying Grandpa had coded and might be dead and he and Mom were on their way to the nursing home (he was discharged earlier today) to see what could be done.

A few minutes later Mom called to say Grandpa had died and she was still on her way there. When I visited her earlier today we had been talking about his impending demise (the doctors had estimated he had about a week left) and she had said she had no idea about getting a priest for the funeral. Grandpa’s Catholic; we are not.

From my current position at McDonald’s this was the only thing I could think of that I could help with, so I called Michael’s dad to ask for advice. David told me to call the church at the town the nursing home was in. I looked up the number and, of course, it was after office hours, but they had another number to reach in case of emergency.

I dialed that number and got the cell phone of a very nice man called Father Pat. I explained the situation and he said, “What’s your grandpa’s name? I probably know him.” It turned out Father Pat DID know Grandpa, visited him at the nursing home regularly, and had given him the sacraments just three weeks ago.

He asked what church Grandpa had attended in his pre nursing home days and I admitted I did not know. He told me to tell Mom to just tell the funeral home they wanted a Catholic funeral, and they would get a priest for her. He also suggested I text him Mom’s phone number so he could talk to her. Father Pat said it was very respectful and considerate that we should be considerate of Grandpa’s religious views for his funeral, given that they were not our own.

I thanked him for his advice and shared a few memories of Grandpa — I admit I didn’t know him very well. He was raised Catholic, I know. His mother died in childbirth (which child I’m not sure) and his father subsequently remarried twice. He had a zillion siblings and half siblings but I’m not sure I’ve ever met any of them. When Grandpa married Grandma, I know, his father and stepmother disowned him because Grandma was Protestant and divorced and had two kids by her ex-husband and it was the 1940s. They also told their other children not to have anything to do with him, but at least some of the kids ignored this and kept up contact on the sly.

Grandpa never talked much, I think because he had a cleft palate that never got corrected. It wasn’t visible because he grew a thick mustache and beard to cover it, but he had a noticeable speech defect — his voice was kind of like staticky radio. He talked even less after he moved into the nursing home, at least to us, but Father Pat said he was very talkative during their religious discussions. I’m glad Grandpa had at least one person he had a lot to say to.

He was a good man, my mother’s stepfather, and raised her from when she was six or seven years old, I think. Mom’s bio-dad didn’t amount to much as a parent or a human being, to say the least, but Grandpa stepped in to fill the gap. He legally adopted her when she was 17. Mom was like “what’s the point, I’m almost an adult anyway” but he really wanted to be her father in every sense of the word, so she consented and changed her last name to his.

After I hung up with Father Pat I texted him Mom’s number, then called Mom and told her about the conversation. She thanked me for looking into the matter and said it was one more thing after her mind. On the way home, Michael and I stopped at a store and bought some stuff, including a sympathy card each to give to my mother. Mine has a lovely watercolor scene on the front and says “You are in my thoughts. With deepest sympathy” inside.

Mom’s sister Nancy, Grandpa’s only other child (also a stepchild), died of cancer in 2010. Six weeks later later, Grandma died too after 55 years of marriage. I’m sure Grandpa was quite devastated. With that and his health failing so badly he really didn’t have much quality of life in his final years.

This was a long time coming. Frankly I’m glad of it.

ET on this day in 1824

Another Executed Today entry: one John Smith, who mixed arsenic into flour and gave it to his pregnant fiancee. Apparently he didn’t give any thought to the idea that she might wind up poisoning others with that flour, or perhaps he didn’t care. Six people in all got sick, but only Smith’s fiancee died.

(BTW, if y’all are wondering about the whole “sheep washing” thing, farmers often used arsenic-based sheep dip to kill any mites or other parasites infesting the fleeces.)

A general life update

I haven’t posted any blog entries about myself in like six weeks, partly because there’s not a whole lot going on. But I actually got a few emails as of late asking how I’d been so I thought I’d post something.

Here’s one thing that’s been in the works for quite awhile but which I haven’t mentioned on here before — unless something unexpected happens, Michael and I are going to visit Poland in the spring. I say “unless something unexpected happens” because something unexpected DID happen a month or so that nearly forced me to cancel the trip, and the plane tickets have not yet been purchased, so it’s still possible that we might not go. But we plan to go, are expecting to go, are preparing to go, so that’s that.

This is my trip, not Michael’s. We’re going on a tour of the great Holocaust sites of the country. He’s not all that keen on that sort of thing — very few people are — but I can’t travel without a babysitter. I tend to get in a world of guano when I try — remember in Nashville where I was almost thrown out of my own hotel at midnight due to a misunderstanding between me and management? And then there was that other thing, when I went to Washington DC? I tend to decompensate rapidly and dramatically while under stress, and I’ll be under that much more stress in a place that’s further from home than I’ve ever been, and where I don’t know anyone and most people don’t even speak English.

My dad has been FREAKING OUT for months, ever since I told him I was going on this trip last year. He told me he would not absolutely forbid me from going, but begged me to take caution. I had to bring a travel companion/babysitter (done), I had to get permission from my psychiatrist (done), and I had to maintain my mental health and not have any psychiatric crises for months before I went (done, so far).

The last one is the most difficult, because basically I’m doing everything I can do to keep my bipolar disorder under control but sometimes it’s just out of my hands and I develop a bad case of stark raving mad. Dad worries that something like that will happen while I’m in Poland and he won’t be able to help me — and what can I tell him? I can’t guarantee that won’t happen. The possibility is miniscule, but the consequences, if it does happen, are so catastrophic that I don’t blame him a bit for worrying. I refuse to worry about it myself because there’s nothing I can do to prevent it, besides what I’m doing already.

Dad feels somewhat better knowing Michael is going with me. And Michael and I have established a few ground rules for general safety, such as:

  1. Neither of us is going off anywhere on our own, not even for a short walk.
  2. No consumption of anything in the way of substances, not even alcohol. (Especially not alcohol.) An exception has been carved out for Antidol, which is the Polish equivalent of Tylenol 3 and is available over the counter there. Chances are our feet will be hurting a lot from all the walking we’ll be doing so I do want to snag some of that.
  3. No matter what happens, Michael is NOT going to seek out psychiatric care for me while we’re abroad. I don’t care if he has to tie me up and watch me 24 hours a day, if I have a mental breakdown I do NOT want to be stuck in a mental hospital in Eastern Europe.

I called up the Polish embassy to get the Polish words for “autism” and “bipolar disorder.” Michael and I are also studying the Polish language via DuoLingo but so far I’m only learning useless sentences like “The elephant is drinking milk.” The language is kind of terrifying to me. I’ve studied Romance languages like Spanish before and their words look close enough to English that you can sort of guess what they mean. Not so with Polish, usually.

So anyway, we plan to hit Auschwitz, Treblinka, Belzec, Chelmno, possibly Lodz, and various Holocaust sites in Warsaw, as well as two non-Holocaust places: the famous Wieliczka Salt Mine museum/spa/hotel, the Katyn Museum (read about Katyn here) and this totally METAL Skull Chapel in the town of Czermna. I would have also liked to visit Sobibor, but their website says they’re “closed until further notice.” I might not have had time to go there in any case, though. Sobibor is quite a bit out of the way, hugging the Ukrainian border, the most remote of the four death camps. All of them were kind of in the middle of nowhere, for obvious reasons.

(The death camps I’m referring to are Treblinka, Belzec, Chelmno and Sobibor. Auschwitz is often called a “death camp” but it actually wasn’t one, at least in my eyes.)

Other stuff: not much really. My grandpa — my mother’s stepfather, the only grandparent I have left at this point — was admitted to the hospital for the thousandth time, suffering from a condition called “being 86 years old”, and they think it will be the last time. We’ll see. In a way, I almost hope it is the last time. Grandpa has basically zero quality of life and has said he’s ready to die.

That’s all.

ET: John Holloway and Owen Haggerty

I’ve got an Executed Today entry today: John Holloway and Owen Haggerty, hanged in England in 1807. This is an absolutely dreadful story. First you’ve got a murder, and then two innocent young men, wrongfully convicted on the testimony of an alleged “accomplice” who got a really sweet deal for his testimony (a full pardon, plus a previous sentence respited). Then you’ve got a horrific stampede at the scaffold with numerous fatalities — almost as if God was expressing displeasure at the injustice going on.

Executed Today entry from a few days ago

On the tenth I had another Executed Today entry run: Elifasi Msomi, a sangoma who killed fifteen people in South Africa in the mid-1950s. His was a literal devil-made-me-do-it defense: he claimed a tokoloshe, an evil spirit in Zulu folklore, offered to help his career if he obtained the blood of fifteen victims.

Of course to us nowadays (and to the Apartheid authorities back then) it’s stuff-and-nonsense, but in Msomi’s culture the tokoloshe was very real.

In other news, the headache medicine the pain management doctor prescribed is actually working. His idea was one that literally no other medical professional had thought to try in the storied six-year history of his headache, and I’m delighted by the results: it gets rid of the pain and, after the first few times, it didn’t make me feel the least bit different.