Last Writes

Bill became a writer at 64.

It wasn’t poetry or long-form prose. Not short stories, which he loved to read, nor song lyrics, which he loved to sing. Not essays and certainly not blog posts. Bill wrote notes.

Most were practical. Several were reflective. Some were funny. A few were heart-breaking.

It wasn’t by choice. It was the only way he could make himself understood to people other than me. As it turned out, I think it also helped him understand. Or at least reckon with what was happening to him.

I have changed a lot. Mentally and physically. Bill note 2

Bill’s Porter Hospital nurses gave him a clipboard and legal pad on July 15, 2014, the day after 11 hours of surgery to rebuild his jaw using bone and tissue from his lower leg. It became his voice with the staff … and sometimes me … during four more hospitalizations over 30 of the next 90 days. That and a couple of small spiral-bound notebooks he had me buy.

Can I get up before Dr.stops by? I will not let him catch me in bed. Hopefully they will be able to give me a new dress (aka hospital gown).

Ever prideful, Bill insisted he was up, presentable and sitting in a chair when Dr. Campana made his early morning rounds. This was the request each of the 30 days he was in the hospital. Long before pre-cancerous spots and radiation and photodynamic therapy and cancer and surgeries and PET scans, Bill would say, “Even if you don’t feel good you can look good.” He always did.

At times, most times in fact, he worked hard to keep things light.

I was a bit anxious last night, but I didn’t try to escape. I’ll start drawing a floor plan!

I want designer scrubs with shoes.

Fun is the name of the game. 

I’ve been building a pillow fort at night.

I just had an oxy(contin) shower.

And again,

Good morning! Walk? Have to be up before Dr. 

At times, he was philosophical, including commentary on the declining newspaper business.

Now the newspaper looks like somebody who has been through chemo … thin, unsteady and knowing the inevitable could only be held off for so long.

Because he was on a mostly liquid diet, food became a focus, including watching America’s Test Kitchen marathons on the tiny, fuzzy hospital TV.

I think about Peru and chocolate for the kings.

Maybe we can go to the Boulderado for clam chowder to go.

Do you remember the Chunky Bar?

Chris Kimball (host of America’s Test Kitchen) called this pork tenderloin the French cut.

I will see if I can find the New Yorker restaurant review that had tiramisu with black cherries in a parfait glass.

Then there were moments of despair, which broke (and still break) my heart.

This is beating me. 

I won’t be coming home for a while. The pain gets no less. Let’s be realistic. Where does this end?

Jill … best thing that ever happened to me.

Nowhere I’d rather be. With you anywhere. We can do anything.

As we approached our trip to Hawaii, the notes became hopeful … excited, even. But then Bill developed thrush, a mouth infection that’s a common side effect of radiation, about a week out. Thankfully our hospice nurse, Anita, was able to beat it back in time for the trip. In addition to meds, though, treatment involved swabbing the mouth with vinegar every few hours.

1-15-15 (15 days before Bill died) …

If I stay ahead of pain, I’m OK. One problem is painful swallowing. This is hard to eat. Lidocaine is very short term. I need something to “coat” the swall(ow) area. When not in pain, my life is almost normal. I don’t’ even think about it.

Then a few days later …

Tried on swim trunks last nite. Tight as draw strings would go, took two steps and they fell off! Ordered smaller from Speedo. Be here Fri or Mon. Got 2 day ship for more $.

I hope this pain is a non-issue when we get there. Won’t even think about it! I won’t let it drag me down.

And during one sleepless pre-Hawaii night …

3:30 am:

Now that burned those tiny hairs around my hiney! “Vinigga!” Tell me I don’t need pain meds! Got to keep up. I feel almost normal sometimes, but I always have a feeling it’s looking over my shoulder.

4 am:

Much organizing: c-on (carry-on) or check baggage. Just did some Lidocaine to cool mouth. At this time I feel normal. I have a tendency to tinker, detail, fix, clean, after hours when I don’t have pain.

5:30 am:

The joke went past me when you and Laurie came in and you had my slippers in hand! “Now sit here by me feet, and put another log on the fire …” It’s cause you are so sweet.

5:30 am (again):

Swabbing with vinegar. Will xxxing thrush limit mucus build up in mouth and sinus?

7:15 am:

Coffee. I’m leaving in morn!

7:45 am:

I made a mistake when I said time doesn’t matter. Just the opposite. It’s all I have left, and it isn’t much.

A few weeks after Bill died, I found this note, buried in the legal pad, from October 20, 2014, just after Dr. Campana told us the cancer was unstoppable.

I think this is the beginning of the end, best friend. Things didn’t work out the way we wanted. I’m totally responsible for this.

I hurt to my core when I think about the guilt and responsibility Bill carried about his cancer. I always hated that he smoked, and I made no bones about it. I also knew that for some people like Bill, smoking is an insurmountable addiction. But none of us lives without internal struggles. We do the very best we can with what we’ve got.

If Bill can see and hear me now, I hope and pray that he sees and hears me thanking God, the universe, my lucky stars and anyone else responsible for bringing him into my life and giving us 27 years of trying to figure life and love out together.

If an all-knowing, all-powerful being had come to me a year or two into my relationship with Bill and said, “You can love this Armani plumber (see my earlier post, Big Things Come in Small Gestures, to understand that reference) mightily and be loved mightily back for 10 (or even 5 or 7 or 12 or …??) years and then it ends, or you can cut and run now,” I would’ve signed up for the bet. In fact, I did, and I got more than I ever could’ve imagined possible at the time. I can’t be sad or angry about that.

Bill was a badass, for sure. Brave and strong, and as he grew older, that strength allowed him to feel and show love and tenderness in ways that alluded him earlier in life. Even with all of that, one of the biggest lessons Bill taught me, sometimes begrudgingly (on my part), was that finding humor in even the toughest of situations made life more bearable if not outright, out-loud fun. He demonstrated that in spades throughout his life and even more impressively in his last seven months of surgeries, pain, struggle and the pure, deep sorrow of a terminal diagnosis. As evidence, here’s one of the last notes he wrote to me (with a wry smile and a twinkle in his eyes, I’m sure).

From Garrison Keillor … Lena, you’ve stuck by me when the crops failed, a tornado leveled the house and barn and now my cancer. I’m beginning to think you’re bad luck.

Bill note 1







Big Things Come in Small Gestures

Going through a loved one’s belongings after they die is a gut-wrenching task. It has been for me, anyway, which is why I’m still chipping away at it 2+ years later.

The good news is I’m down to a couple of boxes of plumbing parts worth selling (does anyone need a Grohe rainfall shower head?), a pair of $400 dress shoes worn once (what can I say … my brother Skip dubbed Bill “the Armani plumber” for good reason) and several dozen books (bought before Bill became, I’m sure, one of Amazon Kindle’s best customers).

But sometimes there are hidden treasures to be found that make the pain abate for a while. Such was the bookmark I came across from our fun, week-long trip to Jackson, WY, with our friends Janine, George, John and Robin just before 9/11 happened.

I’m sure I’d seen it before, but I have to admit I don’t remember. If I did, I hope I was grateful and, more importantly, expressed it. I certainly am now, as this simple little slip of paper has brought me immeasurable joy. The moral of the story? If you are half of a couple or someday will be, please know the immense power in small, loving gestures. The impact can last a lifetime … and beyond.


Bookmark BackBookmark Front

Going Postal

I don’t know anything about him, but he knows quite a bit about me. He knows my name and address. He knows I love food, I’m a current events junkie and tennis and trail running are my thing. He probably figures I like traveling around the West. He may also have picked up that I have a spiritual side. … at least a pop spiritual side, near as he can tell.

He likely assumes I’m married to someone from back East and that my husband and I run a plumbing company. He’s just a little wrong and a little behind.

It’s possible he thinks I’m quite a bit older than I am.

Who is this Columbo? My mailman. And he has a decided clues advantage.

A couple of weeks ago, on a street corner, I stood behind a mail carrier with her pushcart full of mailbox surprises—some no doubt welcomed, some surely not—and felt pangs of envy. It wasn’t the first time, and I know it won’t be the last.

When other kids played cowboys and indians or doctor and patient, I played mailman. There was something calming and fulfilling about putting things in the slots where they were intended to go. Easy but important. Especially then before junk dominated the slot-filling and forever robbed us of the anticipation of getting the mail.

If the work spectrum is assembly line on one end and mentally and spiritually challenging on the other, being a postal worker has to be somewhere left of center. That’s from where I sit, anyway, and why it’s hard to imagine why “going postal” ever became a thing. To me the job sounds rather glorious.

I did run into my mail carrier for the first time a couple of months ago. He was gregarious and friendly. Most of all he seemed to enjoy his job. He was RELAXED! The kind of relaxed I imagine comes with pushing a cart down beautiful Pearl Street with its Flatiron views and 300+ days of sunshine, stopping every few feet to put mail in boxes.

As for his clues about me, they are there if he is paying attention:

He knows I love food, (BON APPETIT), I’m a current events junkie (THE WEEK) and that tennis (TENNIS) and trail running (TRAIL RUNNER) are my thing. He probably figures I like traveling around the west (SUNSET). He may also have picked up that I have a spiritual side. … at least a pop spiritual side, near as he can tell (O – THE OPRAH MAGAZINE).

He likely assumes I’m married to someone from back East (mail and THE NEW YORKER subscription in Bill’s name) and that my husband and I run a plumbing company (more mail to Hollingsworth Plumbing and Heating).

It’s possible he thinks I’m quite a bit older than I am (WHY DO I KEEP GETTING POSTCARDS ABOUT ASSISTED LIVING PLACES??).

This is why I think the job is easy but not at all boring. I’m in. Too bad the United States Postal Service is on the wane. Bad timing on my part. I should’ve gone with my child-gut.


And Then There Were Three

Jim threw down the gauntlet and Skip was close behind, so here we go a’blogging … merrily, I hope!

It’s true. As Jim said, this “blog thing” was my idea. It’s also true I proposed it nearly two years ago and only created the site within the last couple of months. Hey, no need to rush into anything, right?

Exactly two years ago Skip and Jim came to Boulder to help me celebrate the life of my husband, Bill, with about 100 friends, a few eulogies and lots of dancing fun in true Bill Hollywood style. As the three of us hiked in the beautiful Boulder hills one morning, I posed the question … what do you think about writing a blog together? It’ll be fun. No pressure. Just us hanging out together in the interwebs.

So here we are.

Already I’ve found my brothers’ posts fun and fascinating. Regarding our first home as a complete family, I was too young to have any recollections of it, so I’ve loved reading their memories. I do remember Mom referring to the Civil War general, General Wood, and Skip’s research has borne out that it was his son, a Spanish-American War general, who actually lived there.

I also remember Mom saying the gorgeous maple, four-poster bed I grew up sleeping in belonged to the Civil War General Wood. We’ll never be able to verify that via Google, but I suspect it’s true because it is a VERY short bed typical of a time when people were smaller. Hey, do you think it’s possible to find out how tall Thomas J. Wood (Civil War dad) and George H. Wood (Spanish-American War son) were? In any case, my life memories start in Darien, Conn., so I’ll have more to say when we get to that point in our collective history.

For now, though, a few thoughts are running through my head:

  • That Dayton house had amazing character and history, and I credit Mom for landing us there. She had such an eye—and a heart—for aesthetics and history’s rich, personal stories.
  • I love that my brothers named trees in the yard based on the experiences they created with them. There’s such a joy and purity in that.
  • I think this blog is going to be a blast.

The truth is I’ve always been in awe of my brothers … all four of them … and feel like I hit the jackpot that I was added to my family before the door closed on it. We grew up with love, curiosity, trust, humor, respect and a sense of freedom and adventure, and those qualities got us through the hard times every family endures. No matter what, we were—and are—all in it together. And we do it with laughter and a sense of optimism. You’ll see.