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…The Ache from a Journey Down Memory Lane

I traveled a million miles in my mind before I even got out of bed this morning, and there were four things that fueled my trip.

In fact, the title of this essay should be “My SUPER GROSS Morning with The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, The Big Sick and Princess Diana,” but that doesn’t flow very well.

Let me break down how my day started. I rolled over when the alarm went off and felt a little itch on my neck. This was not so surprising since my one mid-life crisis move so far has been deciding to grow my hair a little longer. For the first time since I was seven years old, I’m getting used to luscious locks that can almost be pulled into a ponytail. As I went to swipe the hair away, I grasped something in between my thumb and forefinger, and when my eyes finally focused, I saw a squished spider.


There was a god-forsaken spider on my neck. And I killed it with my bare hand.

Just to review for those of you skimming text quickly; a freakin’ spider was walking over my jugular and now his guts were smeared between my fingers.

Final review: Spider. Neck. Guts. Fingers. Super Gross.

I reacted as any grown woman would have…I screamed bloody murder and jumped out of bed wiping my hand on the carpet at warp speed. (After later review of the crime scene, he must have been pretty tiny because I could barely find any body parts to scoop up. But in the heat of the moment, I was a main character in the sequel to Arachnophobia.)

I continued to react, as any grown woman would have, trying to problem solve while sitting on the floor in the fetal position. I asked Siri, “Where can I get one of those giant plastic bubbles like John Travolta lived in back when I thought he was super good looking?”

I suppose my plan to spider-proof my room should have taken me straight to Amazon Prime rather than Siri. Instead, I spent the next ten minutes reading this twenty-year-old Houston Press article about David Vetter whose life story was the inspiration for the 1976 television drama starring John Travolta. And perhaps the inspiration for a less emotional, albeit hilarious, Seinfeld episode.

The Boy in the Plastic Bubble

The actual story is heartbreaking and could fuel debate on a host of topics related to medical ethics, parenting, savior siblings and HIPAA. What is not up for debate, however, is the fact that John Travolta’s path from Bubble Boy to Tony Manero and ultimately Vinnie Barbarino was the thing of which a young girl’s dreams were made.

As I read about David Vetter’s relationships with his caregivers and his family’s struggle to do the right thing, I was soon lost in reverie. My mind couldn’t help but recall the path our family took seven years ago with an army of caregivers searching to find out what was wrong with my husband and how to bring him to full health.

I make a painful walk down memory lane each year. It begins on Fathers’ Day when I recall being first worried something might be really wrong with my husband and ends in mid-August after the anniversary of his burial. This morning I found myself remembering how lost we felt as we searched for answers. I remembered specific meetings with healthcare professionals and discussions with family and friends who felt as helpless as we did.

And when I considered where we were at this point on Memory Lane, my thoughts turned to The Big Sick.

The Big Sick

If you have not yet seen this movie produced by Judd Apatow and directed by Michael Showalter, go now. Like, right now. You can finish reading this later.

The film is hilarious. I mean really, really funny. But it’s also beautiful and heart-wrenching and thought-provoking. It will have you talking for days about love and cultural tradition and interracial and interfaith relationships. And it will have you thinking about The X-Files and how tiny Holly Hunter is and if you could ever make it as a stand-up comedian.

If you have intimate knowledge of the word thoracentesis, it will make you shiver. If your mind’s eye holds an image of someone you love unconscious in a hospital bed and hooked up to machines, it will take your breath away. And if you’ve ever missed hearing that person’s voice so much that you sat in your car and replayed a voicemail over and over and over again, it will make you weep.

Cue the Royal Family.

Princess Diana

As I wiped a tear with my spider gut-free manicured hand featuring my go-to nail color which also happens to be that of the Royals, my thoughts turned to Princess Diana. This week, I watched the HBO special Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy.

It is recommended viewing for everyone, especially anyone who stayed up an entire summer night in 1981 dreaming of becoming a princess and wondering, “Who the heck gets married on a Wednesday?” Also recommended viewing for anyone who kept their kids home from school on an April 2011 morning while all wearing tiaras and cutting photos from Brides magazine and pasting them into wedding planning notebooks.

Prince William and Prince Harry shared very similar stories of a mother’s love and very different stories of facing and coping with loss. The documentary is a poignant journey down a painful memory lane.

As I stared at the television, I watched our memory lanes converge a bit. William and Harry were 15 and 12 when their mom died. Our daughters were 14 and 11 respectively, and just weeks away from their next birthdays, when their dad died.

So much of what these boys, now men, had to share resonated with me and echoed feelings my daughters have shared. Most comforting of all were continued feelings of the presence of a parent in your life many years after a far-too-early death and keeping memories alive for people who never even had the chance to meet that parent…people like spouses and children and grandchildren.

In the documentary, Prince William says, “There were times when you look to someone or something for strength, and I very much felt she was there for me.”

There is no doubt in my mind that is true.

As my walk down memory lane continues, happy memories soften the ache. And new memories and new experiences and new paths bring the girls and me such joy, just as Pat would have wanted.

Pat would have turned 50 on Friday. On that day, we will toast him and the positive, joyful, witty, calming influence he had on our lives. And continues to have. Everyday.

Who needs a plastic bubble when you’ve got all that?