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Sunday, March 19, 2023

 I took some time off.

I haven't gone into work at the newspaper for four days. (Although I did go to a coffee shop Thursday and Friday to check emails and drink dainty cups of espresso, pinky in the air and I remain unsure about me being in a coffee shop doing anything. But I'm trying to grow.)

I have not blogged, as regular readers know, for at least a week.

Some decompression time was needed.

I don't think I've ever felt as tired as I did last weekend. Going from working virtually every day for months to covering the American Birkebeiner to being sick to mom dying, I was ready to sleep forever.

Well I didn't sleep forever and I achieved nothing at home other than some minor cleaning. 

I thought, I drove, I read, I ate (well) and I drank some (yeah, some).

Honestly, I wish I had a couple more days but my colleagues worked their butts off and I'm ready to fill my time again and help them with the honorable work of covering our community.

The night before my first day off, I covered a commemoration of the flooding of the body of water that is the Chippewa Flowage. I found the stories from 100 years ago emotional as residents of an American Indian village were flooded out because commerce and trade needed to flood the property for reasons the Natives did not understand nor benefit from. I'll share that story when I get a chance.

I'm also more committed to settling. It's just that I don't need to complete the settlement on anyone else's timeline but my own. If you look in the windows of my apartment, you will see unpacked boxes. Cool. Judge me.

I learned the Venmo account was valuable during mom's funeral as it covered a hotel room for Kid and me, some meals and, certainly, some drinks.

Unfortunately, I created a minor stink on a Chippewa Falls community page when I asked if there was a Uber in the city so I could go drinking with my Kid. Well, judgment is fun and easy online as people imagined me being driven around the city intoxicated with kid in tow. In fact, Kid is 22 years old, an intellectual who just completed a second comedy show Saturday night. (I'll post links when they're available.)

Thanks for allowing me some time off.

Peace unto Ukraine and peace and rest unto all of you my brothers and sisters.

Friday, March 10, 2023

 I did not want to blog my mom's death.

But I promised nearly three years ago (and 399 posts) that I would write truth, even if painful.

Well, it was painful. Despite how busy the day might be, I found time to think and write and hit send. This meant I left family members to final meetings, I ignored my most awesome Kid a couple of nights and I wrote in public places, in the words of country singer Red Sovine, when "tears was streaming down my face."

The support from readers has warmed me.

It's natural for friends and family to do so and many times over the last weeks folks have taken me into their arms, ugly crying and on more than one occasion leaving some snot on a shoulder.

Readers, many are friends in the blogosphere only but you've been there for me, so thank you.

I'm exhausted at the end of this week, perhaps as tired as I've ever been. I worked straight for three months, more or less, I helped cover the American Birkebeiner at below zero. Then a chest cold for two weeks. The mom dies.

Man, I'm exhausted.

But I did want to mention one note on Venmo meaningful to me now and well into the future as I continue my blogging adventure.

An old friend, Sarah Mattot, with whom I worked at McDonald's in Chippewa Falls 35 years ago, wrote this: "Keep blogging Rich. Your stories always keep me reading to the last line. Sometimes triggering a memory or just imaging you living through the narrative. Thinking of you as you head back to Chippewa."

Thank you, Sarah. I'll keep blogging. And thank you for reading until the last line.

Peace unto Ukraine and peace and support unto all of you my brothers and sisters.

Thursday, March 9, 2023

 As we drove away from the graveside ceremony, mom's casket sat atop the gearing that lowers her into the final resting place.

It sat stark against the gray day that felt exceedingly colder than the thermostat's 33 degrees.

That's how it ends. 

I remember the same feeling from leaving my dad's gravesite 38 years ago.

We gathered there after the church ceremony, where the priest seemed to turn every screw to sorrow, more sorrow until hitting pain.

But that's not how it ends. It ended whn my dementia ate my mom's brain, when she ceased to be the mother I knew, the intellectual, the cook, the raconteur. 

Godamnit, my mom was awesome. She was hysterical and kind and smart enjoyed her martinis.

Yet the language of the funeral cannot celebrate that. It's always about the last this, the last that.

Thankfully, Kid was in town and we found our time to laugh -- just as mom would have. Our cousins took their turns at the morbid nature of it all regardless of how my mom lived life.

It's a good family. She lives on in us.

We shared drinks afterwards that included intimate friends who are as family, Tom, Scott, Mike Boone. Great people all.

But now it's over. I've never been one to revere the body as, even if you're religious, serves only as the vessel of the person. Once soul and spirit and intellect are gone, that vessel is worm food at best. Even in a $6,000 casket and a $4,000 vault, all paid for by burial insurance. Ten grand we buried in the ground never to see again. (If someone digs her up 10,000 years from now, they'll think she was a queen of some society.)

When my dad died in 1984, I returned to work. My boss, a brusque man, asked how I was doing. I said, OK. He said, no you're not. Your life has changed forever. Then I flipped 400 burgers for lunch. Understanding that life has changed forever.

Life changed again this last Friday.

And no fancy casket sitting above its final resting place is going to change that.

Peace unto Ukraine and thanks unto you my brothers and sisters.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

 Little steps to keep us moving forward.


A couple drinks.


We're all doing the best we can, even if mom lived to the age of 90, it still sucks. Sucks hard.

It's life changing and after having lost dad nearly 40 years ago, we realize that. Nothing will ever be the same. 

My brothers and I met with the priest over readings and the machinations of the ceremony. We retreated to a bar for a couple drinks.

Then I checked into the cheap motel where Kid met me. She flew out from Hollywood. I laid out cheese and sausage and crackers -- as well as a decent bottle of Tawny Port from Penfolds, our new little treat in the late evening -- but we had to meet friends out for dinner.

At a time when I have a hard time dealing with reality, the added busy nature of funeral circumstances confuse me beyond.

Kid is in the shower after her flight and pizza dinner. We'll talk, drink a little wine and then awaken to a day where we plant mom, grandma in the ground.

So odd.

So odd.

Peace unto Ukraine and peace unto all of you my brothers and sisters.

Monday, March 6, 2023

I'm kind of digging being in shock over my mother's death.

It's like a constant buzz.

Nothing matters. I cannot affect or be affected. Shit is just happening and I'm a spectator.

I've been in shock in the past, particularly when dad died in 1984. That was shocking. I didn't know personal tragedy until that time. I figure I was in shock for at least a couple of years.

Since then, I've had shock in my jobs, my marriage, my role as a parent and at current events.

But I've become better at being present so I'm enjoying this shock almost like a second-hand buzz.

To quote the philosopher Jeff Spicoli: "Far out."

I'm reminded so much of the teachings of Pema Chodron. She undertook the study of Buddhism after a difficult life. Her teacher was Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, no nice guy himself. She said she was tired of being knocked over, wave after wave, often unable to catch her breath. Chodron wanted the waves to stop coming. Chogyam, a cokehead alcoholic who was a Buddhist master, told her the waves will still come. She will have to learn how to ride them.

I feel like I'm riding, baby.

That's not because I've become a Buddhism master but because my body chemistry is protecting me with the shock. The human body is an amazing survivor. It will shut down certain processes so that the rest of the body can deal, including all those chemicals in our brains.

I suspect there will be a crash. Hopefully, I will be fully ensconced in a place good for me. But I'm old. I've crashed before. And I'll crash again.

Doesn't matter.

I have to dig this little window of bliss. 

Peace unto Ukraine and peace and bliss unto all of you my brothers and sisters.

Sunday, March 5, 2023

The outpouring of sympathy has been overwhelming.

Friends from near and far have reached out to express sympathy and it warms me, as though a thousand arms wrap me.

People have sent some money and that's nice. I have to get a hotel room in Chippewa Falls for Kid and me. She's flying in, renting a car and there's no reason for her to drive north to Hayward. I was looking at a double for us at a $56 a night hotel but now I'm looking at the $60 a night joint. I refuse to pay much money if all I'm spending on is a place to lay my massive cranium on a pillow for eight hours. No coffee maker? No iron? No little bottles of shampoo? No Microwave? Don't care. As long as no bedbugs.

I'm blogging today and writing a column after sleeping in. (When I was young, sleeping in was well into the afternoon. Now, sleeping in is 9 a.m. -- otherwise, I pee the bed.)

Monday and Tuesday, we'll put out the weekly newspaper and it will be nice to have something to keep me busy, not feeling sorry for myself.

After 2 p.m. deadline Tuesday, I'll take off to meet Kid in Chippewa.

At some point, I'll write about all the beautiful things folks have said. It truly has buoyed me. 

Peace unto Ukraine and peace and thanks unto all of you my brothers and sisters.


Saturday, March 4, 2023

 Planning a funeral is a fun as, well, planning for a funeral.

Family did that today in Chippewa Falls, at the same funerial joint we used for my dad 38 years ago.

I arrived early enough to have my beloved hot beef at the West Hill Bar, where I bartended 30 years ago when it was Jackie's Bar. One of dozens of jobs that saw me through college. The bar, in all its iterations, has served the same hot beef recipe going back at least until the 1950s.

One slow afternoon, I was bartending when an older gentleman walked in and asked if we still served hot beefs like we did in 1955. Without a word, I made him a sandwich and poured a beer. "That's on me," I said. He took a hefty bite, half the huge sandwich. "Still the same hot beef," he said after a swig of Leinenkugels. "Probably still the same cow," I said in my best bartender repartee. 

Mine today was still the same. Beer was the same.

But mom was gone.

She used to love those hot beefs with a huge slice of onion and a pickle spear.

Mom hated the fake pageantry of American funerals. She was the one who led me to "The Loved One," an Evelyn Waugh book mocking the United States for its death worship. Great book. It was made into a 1965 movie that might be one of the more disturbing films I've seen. And I watched "Eraserhead."

The cost of buying the coffin and the vault came to nearly $10,000.

These are items that no one will ever see again.

Imagine a memorial Snickers bar, encrusted in gold and the buried where no one could see it.

That would sound stupid.

But in America, for a funeral, this is a perfectly normal thing.

We buy hundreds of dollars of flowers that we'll throw away in a couple days.  We pay for various print outs and messages, the vast majority of which will end up in garbages.

We do these things because it's expected.

Mom hated that kind of crap.

"You don't have obligations," she told me for decades. "You are obliged to do nothing."

Of course, mom was hardcore. As a native Canadian, she was not of the American tradition. As a student of philosophy (she called herself a Thomist -- a follower of St. Thomas Aquinas) and as a mother of four boys in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, she was a realist.

I remember when died dad in 1984. The funeral director was pitching a $12,000 coffin because dad had been a county judge and it "befitted" him. We had no money. Our family priest, Father Jablonski prompted my mom to ask for a coffin the next step up from cheap. $300. That's what we bought.

We are done with the planning.

Next is the doing.

I'll report.

Peace unto the Ukraine and peace and a wonderful life unto you my brothers and sisters.

Friday, March 3, 2023

Mom died today.

It was for the good.

Watching her go through the Catholic Ritual of Last Rites Thursday was painful. She was suffering, screaming, rolling around. The place taking care of her did the best job they could for her but in the end, there's nothing nice and neat about death. Only on TV.  I always though Pope John Paul II set the best example, declining publicly, painfully with as much dignity he could muster.

I've cried a good bit today and right now I'm at the neighborhood bar, rehydrating. Stupid decision? Yeah, well, that's me. I also had a full day at work, which is also me.

I did get my car ready to get to Chippewa. It's an old car and my mechanic said my car is leaking. I asked from where? He said everywhere. I don't want to hear that from my mechanic or my doctor.

I also had a haircut and beard trim, just to tamp down concerns at the funeral about how "that Jackson boy -- you know the one -- he looks like a real bum."

When my little blog went national and I gave an interview to my friend Eric Lindquist from the Eau Claire newspaper, the story was sent to my hometown newspaper. I realized I lost control of my narrative.  And my mom, in memory care but still pretty aware, was going to be inundated with false sympathy from those who wallow in misery.

Mom didn't have a private phone in her room, so I called the nurses' desk and told her a story saying I was homeless was about to appear in the hometown newspaper. I convinced her I was fine. I had a hotel to stay in, later a beautiful cabin, and then later another hotel.

I said, "mom, a bunch of old biddies are going to come to you and say, 'it's such a shame about your son.' But I'm fine. I'll survive this and see you as soon as I can. 

Then I advised her to tell the old biddies to calm the F down. Only, I didn't use the letter. (My mom taught me how to cuss.) 

"Repeat after me, mom: Calm the F down." We did that three times.

I envisioned everyone at the nurses' desk with huge eyes because, as mom told me, everyone there considered her the "nice, old Catholic lady."

A great memory.

Yes, mom cussed. Yes, she drank a couple martinis every night for 60 years. But she went to mass every day, said nine Rosaries a day (most of them for me -- let's be honest) and was an intellectual. At the beginning of her move into memory care, I made the mistake of quoting Aristotle's Golden Mean. She corrected me. In Latin.

I have many great memories.

I'll savor them.

I'm now going to wrap up this entry because I'm writing in a bar and I'm crying in a bar. That ain't the first time for the latter. That's just me.

Peace unto Ukraine and peace and memories unto all of you my brothers and sisters.

(And honestly, if any of you can offer some appreciation after three years and nearly 400 posts, I'd appreciate it: Venmo)