Sunday, June 26, 2016

a heave and a ho ... and away we go

Last month, I flew to South Carolina to be with my mother for a few days.  The intent was that I would be there for a week, but on or around Day 6, I decided to stay for a few days longer.  When my Dad died last year, there was no surviving spouse, so I hadn't really considered the shock to the system when after the funeral, everyone who has gathered, returns to life and things get "back to normal."


A week after Jim passed, we definitely weren't back to normal.  Pearl (my sister's dog) and I both sensed it.  From Pearl's perspective, every time my mother would sit down, she would prop her soft head on my mom's feet and stay there.  And if this isn't an endorsement to add a sweet Golden Retriever to your family post haste, I really don't know what is...


While I didn't prop my head on my mother's feet, I did sleep next to her for the next seven days and we did all kinds of important things together like re-arrange furniture, clean out closets, go to the DMV, swim at the YMCA, and sit in steam rooms.  We also had a healthy dose of retail therapy when we bought mom a new computer, Apple TV, and dress:


And on a particularly melancholy day, we opted to stay in bed as I taught mom the art of live-streaming movies. Here we are watching one of mom's all-time favorite movies, "Cinema Paradisio."


Now way back in April, around the same time Carolyn and I had attended my Aunt Ann's spectacular 90th birthday bash, I had asked my mother if she would be interested in joining me on one of my quarterly business trips to Puerto Rico.  Perhaps I would take another one of the kids, and they could have some quality time together while I worked?  Mom agreed - and invited my Aunt Grace - and earlier this month, less than one week AFTER I had returned to Texas from South Carolina, my mom and her sister arrived in Houston:


They flew in on a Friday and we left on Monday for Puerto Rico, with Elizabeth in tow.


This trip was awesome, and will be the subject of a separate blog post.  But what's important to note is that after a wonderful week in Puerto Rico - my mother decided to extend her trip to Texas for a few more weeks because Charlie was heading out of town on a Boy Scout camping trip with William - and I would be running solo with three of the kids.  With school being out for the summer, and a particularly busy work schedule, I would gladly welcome my mom's help.

We arrived home from Puerto Rico late Friday night, and by Saturday night, Elizabeth had a violent case of the stomach flu.  After staying up all night with her on Father's Day - I thought perhaps (please God, please!) it would be contained to *only* one child. She seemed better on Monday, and Tuesday morning, Aunt Grace flew back to South Carolina - while my mother, good to her word, remained here with us in Texas.

I continued to think that Elizabeth's illness over the weekend was an isolated event, until Wednesday afternoon when at around 1:35 PM - it hit me.   As my insides were trying to get to my outsides, I wondered if maybe the two bouts were related?  I didn't wonder long.

That evening, while Charlie was away at a sleep study for address what turns out is a severe case of obstructive sleep apnea, my mother came down with it.

(I call this mask, "Horton Hears A Who!")


Unbeknownst to us - my Aunt Grace came down with it in South Carolina at approximately the same exact time as my mother.  By early Thursday morning, Carolyn had it.  By Thursday afternoon, William - who was still at home and planning to leave for his camping trip Friday morning - came down with it.


By Thursday evening, only Charlie and Henry were unscathed. As I've written before, when your whole family is laid flat by the flu, and you're not ... well, it's kinda like staring down the barrel of a loaded shotgun.  Unless you happen to have a Captain America'esque immunity force field that surrounds you. Which it would appear - as of this writing on Sunday night - Henry indeed does:


Friday morning rolled around and William was feeling better, so with fingers crossed, he and Charlie took off (in their own quarantined vehicle, as opposed to riding in the Boy Scout vans) for their nearly two-week camping trip to Colorado.


Whew, what a month! 

I'm so grateful for the incredibly serendipitous timing of all these events ... our trip to Puerto Rico, the flu that wrapped up just in the nick of time to not prevent William's trip to Colorado, mom's ability and desire, to stay in Texas and help.  

Although being here is a lot like being in a viral petri dish (as unfortunately, both my mother and Aunt Grace can avow), this house is also brimming with energy - love - and laughter.  I'm hopeful that this grandchild-rich environment, along with bland foods like Saltines [the only food some of us can still tolerate] - is precisely what my mother needs.  And if all else fails, Henry has promised that he'll live-stream Marvel movies with his Noni.

Mom has yet to see Thor.

Monday, June 20, 2016

he floats through the air with the greatest of ease

One month ago today, we said goodbye to our sweet Jimbo.  He had been transferred to a hospice unit  earlier in the week, and on Friday evening - just as the sun was preparing to set as it had on so many wonderful days during his time spent in Florida - so it set on his amazingly wonderful life.  Mom said that she knew Jim was close to letting go, so she climbed up next to him, and holding him in her arms - whispered in his ear how much she loved him.  And that is how Jim took his last breath... wrapped tightly in the arms of someone who absolutely adored him.


My plane left early the next morning, and by Saturday afternoon, my mom was tightly wrapped in my arms - and the arms of so many others.  Loved ones from all over the country descended on Greenville, South Carolina that third week of May - and it was amazing.  Mom had wanted for Jim's funeral to  be a happy celebration of his life, and so we pulled together an Irish Wake style-program that included singing and dancing and libations.  Mom believes that it is barbaric to view the deceased, so although Jim's body wasn't there - his spirit most definitely was.

After the eulogies, the whole congregation joined together to sing some of Jim's favorites including, "When Irish Eyes are Smiling" and "The Man on the Flying Trapeze."  And then we closed with "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" which was most fitting, seeing as Jim - in the words of our pastor - was born in the Grandstands... as the grandson, nephew and son of professional baseball players.

This is a link to the photo tribute that I'd pulled together which we shared with everyone at the service (it starts with Jim's grandfather, uncle and father playing ball!) And this is the eulogy that I delivered (which was just one of several; so many had kind words to share about the one and only Jim!):
I first met Jim Cooney when I was 10-years old … it was a Sunday morning at 7 AM and he and his wife, Pat, were playing tennis with a group from the Greenville Unitarian Universalist Fellowship down in Cleveland Park.   Back in 1981, the tennis courts were just in front of the zoo. Between the thump and whack of tennis balls, we would hear the lions roar – as they woke up for the day.   That was 35 years ago, when the GUUFs were a small group that met at a house on Buist Avenue.

Jim and Pat taught me how to play tennis. They would patiently stand on one side of the net and toss me balls, one after another, while instructing me how to step in and follow-through on my swing. They say that tennis is the only game where love doesn’t count, but I’m sure it was largely because of the love that the Cooney’s showed me on the tennis court, that I made the varsity tennis team in high school; earned a tennis scholarship to college, and met my husband, Charlie, when we played each other for the intramural tennis championship at university in California.  
Jim and Pat Cooney were not only PRESENT in my life, they were PRESENTS in my life.  They were present at my high school tennis tournaments; they were present at my high school graduation. And when I married, they were present at my wedding. In my vocabulary, their names are synonymous with friendship, generosity, kindness, loyalty, and love. 
I’ll never forget the day Pat presented my mother with a brand new graphite Prince tennis racquet. Up until that point, mom had been playing with an old aluminum racquet and that Prince made all the difference in her game.  I’ll also never forget the day when a year after our beloved Pat passed, Jim and my mother drove from South Carolina to California to spend Thanksgiving with me and my husband.  And thus began a wonderful companionship between Jim and my mom.  
The way I see it, Pat actually gifted my mother two Princes … one was a racquet.  The other was Jim.  And like the tennis racquet - he too, made ALL the difference in her game.  He made a difference in ALL of our games.  I am so grateful for the love and companionship that Jim has given to my mother … for the love and joy that Jim has given to my mother’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.  Jim really has been a gift for our family.  Even when he beat us diving to the bottom of the pool for quarters, whipped those of us 40 years his junior on the tennis courts without breaking a sweat, and swiftly defeated us a in a game of cards, he promised he’d never played before in his life. 
Every. Single. Time. He said – “Oh, it’s just beginner’s luck!”  
These past 15 years have been an amazing adventure for my Mom and Jim, and for all of us who had the privilege to witness their devoted companionship.  My mother was so proud of her handsome husband, and I know it was such an honor for her to be with him.

Jim was a humble man – who took such pride in his appearance - always presenting himself so well.  His shirt would be tucked in, and his waist belted.  His loafers were clean, his pants pressed.   Jim never bragged about his own accomplishments, but was so proud of his roots – and his family.

Jim was a decent man - who never let a lady open her own door, and the last time I saw him, he still insisted on carrying MY luggage.  Jim was never loud or offensive, but always soft-spoken and kind.  Well, except for when there was a game to be won and someone had a ball in their hand.  
Above everything else, Jim wasn’t just a gentleman, but truly a GENTLE MAN.  In his obituary it read that among other things, “Jim loved children.”  The longer I live , the more I know that the greatest testament to person’s character is the way that they respond to children.  Jim really did love children.  And all the little “Sport-o’s and Kid-o’s” that crossed his path, really loved him, too.

Before I step down, I know that my mother would like for me to thank so many people who have helped them and given them such strength the past few years. My sister Marylou – who never stops giving.  My Aunt Grace and the Finnell’s; Jon and Marion Grier, Bo and Suzi Boghani, Pat Dillow, Jackie Weddington and the entire UU community, your friendship means more than words can convey. 
Now Mom, I know that Jim and Pat would also like for me to THANK YOU: for the love and devotion that you showed to the two of them.  Just as Jim gave you so much these past few years, you gave Jim so much, too.  No one could have cared for Jim like you did – and he was so grateful for you.  You held him in your heart, and last Friday at 6:00 PM, at the exact time the two of you would have been toasting a sunset at the end of another wonderful day in Florida – you tenderly held him in your arms and lovingly made sure he didn’t leave this world alone.   
Mom - you are an amazing gift to every soul you touch!

He was Jimbo to all of us, and because he was so deeply loved, he will be so deeply missed.  At 92-years of age – the toast that Jim always gave, “Salud Dinero – Y Tiempo Para Disfrutalos!” was something he achieved in his own life.  Jim had health, he had wealth, and he had the time to enjoy them.  But he also had mucho amor …. So Much Love.   And of all the gifts – that is the greatest of all!
Dear God, may we will all be so lucky to have such a wonderful, healthy, love-filled RICH life as our beloved Jimbo!