family, Uncategorized

The Working Title Is…You Talkin’ To Me?

In the often quoted classic 1976 film Taxi Driver, Robert DeNiro’s character imagines what he would say if he were confronted by a bad guy and practices his response by speaking to his reflection in the mirror.

I’ve taken a hint from his playbook and often preemptively planned conversations with my own reflection. But as I look back on my first half-century of life, I wish I had done that more often.

I was reminded of that this week when the New York Times electronically reprinted an article linked here that asked the question “What to Do with Their Stuff?”. This is a topic that will hit home for many peers entrenched in the Sandwich Generation. And it certainly hit home for me.

Closing up my childhood home a number of years ago was agonizing. I kept more than I should have because I just couldn’t bear to part with the memories associated with the items. With each passing year, I find myself painfully and courageously letting go, bit by bit.

I will forever cherish my parents’ beloved Hummel collection and their wedding album, but, truth be told, I’ve stood over the trash on more than one occasion with their wedding cake topper which looks like it still has crusted frosting on the bottom and a lock of my Mom’s hair from her first haircut. Both just gross me out, and yet they have been saved from the landfill every time.

Recently I came across a super creepy looking childhood scrapbook of my Mom’s that looks more like a witch’s grimoire but instead includes a gold star from a Spelling Bee given to her in 1943, coincidentally, from the same Franciscan nun who would be my freshman science teacher, 38 years later.

And then there is this….


I have no idea why my Mom would have an egg with the decoupaged face of Pope John Paul II, but I can’t bring myself to toss this phony Fabergé that’s been shellacked with the smile of a steadfast servant now sacred Saint.

I wish I had talked about these things with my parents. And not just about what to do with their stuff, but I wish I had the really difficult conversations like the ones Atul Gawande talks about in his book Being Mortal. I wish we had conversations about plans for aging parents, siblings or adult children with special needs or terminal diagnoses.

There were many things, generationally, that fell under the category “Of Things We Will Not Speak” and so I didn’t have the benefit of those conversations with my parents. As a result, I have been winging it for quite a while with varying degrees of confidence and success.

But that was then. This is now.

I won’t do that to my own children. I don’t think anyone should.

And so I have resolved, and not just for the New Year, but also for all my remaining days, to be open to drafting a game plan rooted in love.

Before the clock strikes midnight and 2017 is a mere memory, I resolve to write a letter to my future self. It will be my 50-year-old voice telling my presumably much older self to trust my children when they tell me I am no longer bringing my A-game, and I need help. And because I know the effect ebullient flattery has on me, the letter will ooze self-congratulations for being such a good mom who has raised capable and intelligent daughters who love me and only want for me to be safe and happy. It will encourage me to reflect on the many things I did for them over their lifetimes and persuade me to reap the benefit of that investment by letting them take charge of some critical decisions. I will remind myself that the most selfless way to show love is to accept help. I will beg my future self to remember the sincerity and clarity of thought with which this letter was written when I was a spring chicken of just 50.

And it’s not that I will seal that letter up and store it away in a safety deposit box for decades. Oh no, I will review it annually. And if one of my smart, capable, focused, kind, loving, compassionate, level-headed girls inexplicably ends up with some dumbass who has her falling into a brainless trance of bad decision making, I will edit the letter.

But if we keep our communication as open, honest and respectful as it has been, no rewrite will be necessary.

I have planned for the worst, which I think, will help me live confidently in 2018 and beyond. Far beyond, hopefully.

I just purchased a Long Term Health Care insurance policy to ensure that my daughters will not have to worry about my care should the day come where living independently is no longer feasible. In retrospect, this was the greatest decision my Dad ever made following my Mom’s death. This wise investment not only protected many of his assets, but it subtly provided context clues toward acceptance of a potential future plan of care.

I also purchased an insurance policy to fund a special needs trust to ensure proper care for my brother should I get hit by the beer truck. Knowing this gave him great peace of mind and knowing that the responsibility will not fall on the shoulders of my children or extended family members brings that same peace of mind to me.

And, to further cement for you my year-end reputation as “Buzzkill Katie” you’ll be happy to know that I also updated my advance directives and my will.

As a result, I thought I would sleep soundly tonight. Knowing that I have documents in place is one thing. Knowing my adult children now know how I feel about topics often considered taboo is even better.

But as I sit here surrounded by my toolbox of items to keep me from kicking the bucket before my time (eight hours of sleep, foods with omega-3 fatty acids, cabernet, lots of water, leafy greens, cabernet, green tea, whole grain cereal, legumes, lean protein and cabernet), I realized I must immediately prepare an ancillary document with important details that are not covered in this Giant Redwood pile of papers I just signed.


Addendum A – Additional Instructions for My Children Should I Fall into a Coma:

The Long Term Health Care insurance will kick in and provide for my care. You just have to find a facility that smells nice and has kind people working there like the one Grandpa lived in. Check on me when you can, but please have no guilt about not being able to visit as long you ensure the following:

  1. Instruct an aide to daily pluck those damn chin hairs that started showing up unannounced. If I wake up out of this coma as the bearded lady, there will be hell to pay.
  2. TV channels should be rotated between news channels of various political viewpoints to keep my subconscious mind open to all versions of the truth. Limit news viewing to one hour a day. During the rest of the day, background noise should be calming music, binge listening to the latest Netflix series or any Blue Bloods episode.
  3. Aides should rotate reading to me from People and Us Magazine and provide very detailed descriptions of the “Stars They’re Just Like Us” photos.
  4. Let my hair go grey. These roots are coming in a bright white. What better time to test and see if it is pretty? When I start to stir out of the coma, have the nursing home call both of you immediately followed by Maggie my hairstylist just in case I hate it.

And should my time on this earth come to an end, please know it will be ok. I hope my friends and loved ones will smile thinking of me reunited with so many people I love and have desperately missed.

I have often shared my belief that God allows those in heaven to communicate messages of hope to us through a multitude of couriers. Look for my messages.

However, unlike Dad who seems to have a real thing going with those hawks, I would advise against limiting my potential mode of communication to my spirit animal, the cow. Perhaps pay special attention to all things cow related: any situation that includes a dairy product especially cheese, a fabulously prepared medium-rare steak or any number of fine leather goods. I promise you I will find a way to get my message across. I am an Irish Catholic/Type A/Gemini/Control Freak…not even death can silence my voice, of that I am certain.

Addendum B: Additional Instructions for My Children Upon My Death

Following my death, identify a skilled document forger to create an autopsy report that would indicate “the body was found to be without muscles of the abdominal wall, including the transverse and rectus abdominis and the internal and external obliques.”

After my funeral, please gather my college roommates and show them report saying, “See, she wasn’t lying. She was born without stomach muscles!” (And if Carrie pulls out her magnifying glass to inspect the document, snatch it out of her hands immediately and run away crying.)


As we bask in the twilight glow of another year and are filled with anticipation over the untold promise and potential of 2018, I invite everyone to consider setting the stage for the things no one wants to face.

There is a simple game plan for having the tough conversations, asking the difficult questions and coming to complicated conclusions.

Surround yourself with the love of family and friends. Embrace humor wherever you can…even where it seems impossible. And always live a life of empathy.

So if you choose to pull a DeNiro and have a trial run conversation with your reflection, first wrap yourself in empathy and try to understand, appreciate and share the feelings, fears and perspective of the other person.

And, yeah, I am talking to you.



The Working Title Is…Oh My!

I woke to the news of Dick Enberg’s death and it made me so very sad. Not just because I am a huge sports fan and his voice was like butter for me, but because I think he was my angel Gabriel. He is the central part of a story that some could dismiss as serendipitous, but I saw as a direct message from heaven.

It was one year after my husband’s death. Looking back, I was still in the fog that follows such devastating loss, but I had somehow survived a chapter of my life that also featured lice, mice and a squirrel in the house.

Six years ago, I summarized my “touch with greatness” for some friends in an email, and I pulled it out of my Sent Items folder today. I think it is a message that bears repeating…as an ode to one of the world’s greatest sportscasters who foretold his own epitaph, but also as a soothing reminder to all of us who live with the pain of loss that is exacerbated during the holidays. Heaven’s messengers are all around us. Our hearts just have to be open to hear.

From: Katie Parks []
Sent: Friday, August 19, 2011 8:40 AM

Over the last year, there have been numerous occasions where I’ve thought I could write a book entitled You Can’t Make This Sh*t Up. Some chapters would be ironic, some heartwarming, and some just plain sad where the reader (much like the protagonist) would think, “Are you kidding me?  How much more is the main character going to have to deal with in this short span of time?” And some would send chills down your spine where the reader (much like the protagonist) sees clearly that heaven can speak to us here on earth.

Last night, a new chapter was drafted.

Maddie, Clare, Fletcher and I are enjoying a beautiful week Up North…perfect weather, complete relaxation.  Last night, Clare picked where we would go out to dinner. (Very few chapters in this book will involve cooking at home.)

Clare picked the Weathervane in Charlevoix because “she’s never been there.”  “Of course you have,” I reply.  “I don’t remember,” she says.

How can she not remember?  As many of you know, it’s a restaurant that feels a little trapped in the 70s, next to a drawbridge and waterway that connects Lake Charlevoix’s Round Lake to Lake Michigan.  There’s a whole line of windows where you can watch the traffic in the channel. And the whitefish is fantastic.

“I don’t think I’ve eaten in there,” she insists.  Of course she has. How could she not remember, years ago, when we stood in the crowded bar waiting for our table, and were surrounded by a bunch of old men who were there for their Central Michigan reunion?  Didn’t she remember when Dad pointed out Dick Enberg among the crowd?  “Who?” Maddie and Clare say in unison.  Sigh.

So, I tell them the whole story about how when Mr. Enberg passed by us, Dad and I shook his hand and told him what huge fans we were. And then I gushed babbling on about how much I love basketball and there was no one who could call a game like he and Al McGuire, and I’m sure that’s part of the reason why I went to Marquette because I loved Al and everything good in my life is a result of that decision to attend Marquette University.

I didn’t remind the kids of the part where Pat gently pulled me away from the increasingly frightened broadcasting legend saying, “No more chardonnay tonight, dear.”

Fast forward, Lord knows how many years, to last night when we re-enter the Weathervane and find it much less crowded with people but so packed with memories that I have trouble making my way past the host stand.

I am quickly pulled out of my reverie as we pass all these beautiful, albeit EMPTY, tables right up against the windows with clear views of the water. I think to myself, “Where the hell is she taking us?  I want to sit there…and there…and there.”  We end up in the back of the restaurant in a little round room, and despite the fact we usually like being among the hustle and bustle, from this table all three of us can clearly watch the channel, and just as we are seated, a huge sailboat with really rich looking people sitting on the deck holding wine glasses and wearing pastels serenely passes by the window.  OK, this will do, I guess.

I sit with my back to the rest of the room. I open my menu, comforted by the fact that it really hasn’t changed and the yummy whitefish is still there.  I’m about to point out the shrimp feature to Clare when…. no.  This cannot be.  I must be dreaming.  Or having a stroke.  I haven’t had an ounce of alcohol.  Yet.  So, I’m not hallucinating.  That voice.  Oh…my… God… that voice.

I turn my head ninety degrees and see that I am sitting shoulder to shoulder with Dick Enberg.

“That’s him,” I mouth to the girls.  “Who?” they mouth back.  (Although Clare’s was more of a stage whisper.  On a stage for the hearing impaired.)

I pull out my phone, Google Dick Enberg and pass the phone around the table.  Even the kids have chills running down their spines at this point.  Freaky.  This man who I just rambled on and on about on the ride over, who was witness and voice to many of the greatest sports events in my lifetime…Wimbledon, major golf tournaments, the Olympics, Super Bowls, World Series and best of all, college basketball, is now SITTING NEXT TO ME? Unbelievable.

For the next 20 minutes, I had the BEST EVER eavesdropping experience in the HISTORY of eavesdropping, as it was just Mr. Enberg talking with his fraternity brother from college.  After that, the fraternity brother’s family joined the table and it became a little less exciting.

But in those 20 minutes, he talked about the upcoming US Open that will be his last one for NBC.  He recalled story after story about tennis, basketball, Angels’ games, Padres’ games, and the Olympics.  He said that he was asked a question recently that no one has ever asked him before, “How would you like to be remembered?”  He paused, and my heart was racing, just like it has as he’s paused before a putt, a serve or a foul shot. As he paused, I gave my very best death stare across the table that clearly communicated to my children, “Anyone chooses to open their mouths now will live to regret it.”  Even the waiter felt the vibe and stayed away.

Then Mr. Enberg went on to say that so many commentators today feel a need to be part of the entertainment, are misguided into thinking they need to add to the natural drama of sport and are just talking too damn much.  He said, “I would feel happy if, one day, it reads on my tombstone, “He was never called for interference.”


So as our dinner ended, I said to the girls, “I’m gonna say something to this guy, and if you are too embarrassed to handle it, you might as well just go to the car now.”

Florence Griffith Joyner never moved as fast as those two did.

So I, quickly and succinctly, (unlike this email) apologized for the interruption, recalled the circumstance of our first meeting in this restaurant and the irony of seeing him tonight after our year of incredible loss.  He and his dinner companions peppered me with a few questions about Pat and how we met, which prompted me to bring up Mr. Enberg’s voice-over on Marquette’s recent Father Wild video and how great it was.  (He hasn’t seen it yet! MU better send him a copy.)  I told him it was perfect, and that my response upon receiving it via email was “I could listen to Dick Enberg read the phonebook. His voice just warms my heart.”

I then told him that I believe that God has a way of letting us know that everything is going to be all right, and often that message is sent through other people. Tonight, I believe it was sent through him.  Mr. Enberg got up from the table and his prime rib (that, btw, he ordered “as rare as possible”) and gave me the biggest, warmest, nicest hug that I think I’ve had in….well, just over a year.

I’m telling you…you can’t make this sh*t up.

Rest in peace, Mr. Enberg.