About Me

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Celoron, NY, United States
And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. ~Sylvia Plath



Another One
By Laura McCollough Moss

New year
number fifty
how it's changed from those days
of cheap soda and cheese curls
on the braided rug
Three channels to choose from
to watch that ball drop
What a feat
to make it til twelve!
Probably six after that
spent babysitting
pining for the magic date
that didn't happen.
First one with Daddy
robe Giacobazzi and grapes
stashed beneath my register in anticipation
thought I was so grown up.
Have gone out very few of them
reflecting on it now.
With each one that passes
comes a new respect for
the power of time.
How many more will there be?
No way of knowing.
Hope to spend a few tending
grandchildren God willing,
with their parents safely away
fill them up with cheap soda and cheese curls
let them stay up til twelve!
Now there's a good time.



God I hate you
 go ahead
stick one more morsel
into that piehole
God you're ugly
sitting there inert
you haven't done
one fucking thing all day
God you're stupid
thinking you could beat it
You're looking pretty beat down
to me.
Maybe there's a dumber
more wretched bitch in this world than you
but I don't know where.
You make me sick you really do.
Somebody ought to put you out of your misery.



Parental Units
by Laura McCollough Moss

You grew up
grew angry
grew away
Say they messed you up
were hard on you
criticized you
verbally abused you
Robbed your confidence
What's your point?
they want to know
That's what happened to them too
You didn't invent this discovery
That's what happens when
children have children
they do the best they know how
and fall woefully short.
By the time they know what they're doing
you're gone
and they wonder
what your problem is.
Know one thing
they loved you then love you now
dysfunction is no barrier to affection.
Try to get to know them
understand them
Care for the frightened child in them
you'll find it worth your while
to cross that great divide
and meet them
in the middle.



A few weeks ago, my cousin Stan posted pictures of his homemade peanut brittle on facebook that grabbed my attention. When I expressed admiration for his efforts, I was rewarded with his tried-and-true recipe. I was grateful at first but now can only say,
Stan... what the f@#k?
Memory escapes me. Perhaps I once flipped him in a lawn chair or ate the last of his Grandma's rice pudding at a summer picnic. One thing is clear; I did something to piss the guy off and he has chosen this most sacred time of the year to exact revenge.
A cursory review of the recipe read fairly simply; no candy thermometer, totally microwaveable, with concise instructions to exercise caution throughout the process due to extreme heat of the product. I cheerfully gathered my ingredients, silently smug that I possessed the perfect equipment for the job including a large tempered glass measuring bowl with pour spout and handle. Ah, it's moments such as this one that we pause and congratulate ourselves for those wise party purchases. Stan recommended pre-measuring the peanuts, baking soda, vanilla and butter to avoid having to struggle with them at the boiling stage of the sugars. No sweat; I had cute little ramekins and soon had everything laid out a la the Barefoot Contessa.
The brittle sounded (& had looked) so yummy that I decided, wisely, to double the recipe. The calculations were no challenge to my advanced culinary skill.
I followed the directions to the letter and came up with a foamy, pale, sizzling mixture that I quickly dumped onto two cookie sheets lined with wax paper. Sure... it called for parchment paper, but that was waaaay back on the top shelf and not retrievable with a haphazard swipe on tiptoe; wax paper does the same thing, right??
When the result of my labor had thoroughly cooled, while still paler than I would like, it looked something like Stan's picture. My neice Haylie and I began to lift it from the paper and realized, first, that is was not at all brittle but more like a peanut taffy; soft and pliable. It smelled fine and a pinch from the side elicited a very nice, buttery-peanut flavor. Perhaps we had discovered a new delicacy! That's when we realized that the
shit was COMPLETELY BONDED to the ill-conceived choice of surface. File this in your brains, people, waxed paper does NOT equal parchment paper. Just so ya know.
We tried everything to remove the wax paper, to no avail. Once the edges were pulled away, it was impossible to even find the stuff against the taffy. "Just give it to them," Haylie suggested. "They'll never know." As an RN with no knowledge of the digestability of wax paper, I could not in good conscience allow family and friends to innocently scarf it down.
It didn't stop Haylie and I from enjoying it though; and I personally have had no issues. The fact that Haylie spent Sunday morning on the couch with a heating pad to her belly is related to a virus, I maintain.
Not one easily daunted by failure, I bought more corn syrup and was back at it Monday morning. I started by pitching the remaining waxy taffy to liberate my cookie sheets. Next, I pulled a chair up to the counter and climbed up to locate the frigging parchment paper- there it was- unbleached and organic even (from that healthy year). I lined the pans, measured the ingredients for a SINGLE batch, and set to work. So far, so good. Having heated the sugar and corn syrup for five minutes on HIGH, I pulled the bowl out and added my peanuts. I CANNOT RECOMMEND TASTING THE MIXTURE AT THIS STAGE if you have any plans to use the roof of your mouth over the holidays. As my brother Dan says, "I hate stupidity"!
Next was a two-minute cooking phase, followed by another stir and a decision. "Cook for another two to three minutes", it read. Well, hadn't I had taffy the time before? I was taking no chances as I hit the '3:00' and slammed the door. I detected a roasted peanutty aroma at around two minutes, something more pronounced at two-and-a-half, and veritable scorching at three. DONE! I added the butter, baking soda and vanilla (which, I should mention, creates a fun, scientific kind of crackling lava) and hurried to my waiting, properly lined pan.
No question of whether or not it is brittle this time; I could barely get it down fast enough.
Doesn't every magazine article, every tv show at this time of year, caution against consuming those excess holiday calories? There I was, salt still on my brow from my morning spin class, gnawing at a wooden spoon covered in molten, rapidly-hardening deliciousness. My cooling brittle was satisfyingly brown, and, feeling cocky, I made another batch with pecans. I stopped that one at two-and-a-half minutes; being the fast learner that I am.
I'm hoping that the brittle is enjoyed by those who receive it; the peanut may be over-done but at this point they can scrape their windshields with it for all I care; it looks reasonably normal and I am not doing it again.
Stan, let me thank you publicly for this humbling experience. No matter how accomplished we are, it is good to be periodically reminded of our intellectual frailties. I'm proud to say  I've emerged from the Peanut Brittle Battle victorious!
By the way; my fudge turned out fine and will not need to be used as ice cream topping this year.
A Merry Christmas Everyone!



New at This

By Laura McCollough Moss

What to do now,

Left alone with nowhere to put this pain.

“There’s no pill for it,” she said.

He looked at me from atop his wire rims

“What were you hoping I could do for you?”

Like I know.

Somebody do something

This hurts more than I ever imagined.

“Paddle your own canoe” you used to tell me

And so I wipe my face and step out the door

Do my best to fill your place at the table the sink the stove.

I’ve learned to be strong understanding and capable

It came at a price but finding grace is never easy.

The love the good times the memories remain.

Miss you so yet thankful to have had you with me.

You would tell me “it will be alright”, just one more

Reason why I loved you and

I will never forget.



Shelly woke to find Travis propped up on one elbow, watching her. She stretched and smiled.  "Hi".
"Good mornin'," he whispered, running a finger down her arm. She shivered. "Watch out now," she laughed. "You don't want to start something you can't finish."
"Oh, I don't think I could do any better than I did last night," he teased. "Thank God Mabel next door is gone to Port St. Lucie for the winter, or she'da thought I was killin' you the way you carried on."
"What can I say," she rubbed his bristly cheek. "I'm a screamer. Sorry."
"No need to apologize, Darlin'. It's a real ego boost. I'm glad my apartment's over an abandoned sub shop, though. You'd get me kicked out of a duplex for sure!"
His apartment. "I forgot you were moving! We need to finish that up."
"No hurry. I've signed the lease and paid the deposit; they don't care how long it takes me to move in. I need to get through the funeral first, and decide what I'm gonna do with this house."
Shelly looked around. "Have you thought about staying here? It's a cute place."
"I don't think so. I want to start fresh. Besides, I've gotta work on the sub shop."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean I leased both floors. I want to open the shop downstairs. I'm retired; I have to do something.," he patted her hip. "I can't just be your boy toy for the rest of my life."
She stared at his curls, those blue eyes, that stubble and meaty chest, pulling him to her. "Maybe for the next twenty minutes?"
He jumped up and sprinted across the room. "Let me close the window first! We don't wanna scare the paper boy." He tossed Pretty Boy out into the hall and closed the bedroom door before parading back to her. Shelly cracked up.
"Not the reaction I was hoping for," he pretended to frown before diving in beside her. She palmed his cold butt and kissed his delicious neck.
"There. Is that better?" She wrapped one leg around him, warming her foot behind his knee.
"I guess so," he grinned, rubbing her back.
Had she felt this good, ever? Not that she could recall. She didn't even mind Pretty Boy scratching to get in.
Forty-five minutes later and half an hour late for work, Shelly hopped across the bedroom floor, pulling on her socks. Travis grabbed a ballcap and his jean jacket from the closet. "I'll take you to work, Hon. I need to get to Gordy's and see how he and Sean made out last night."
She buttoned her shirt, talking around her toothbrush, "So what time do you want me there tonight?"
"The visiting hours are from six to eight, but I don't expect you to hang around the whole time."
Coming out of the bathroom, Shelly met his eyes in the dresser mirror. "I want to be there."
"We have to meet Jarvis at five thirty," he sighed, picking up his keys. "That's so we can have a 'private viewing' with Von before everybody else comes. Poor Sean, he hasn't seen her since last summer..."
"It's hard as hell, I'm not gonna lie to you," she said sadly.
Travis put their coffee cups in the sink and shut off the pot. "Let's hit the bricks, Chumley."
They were backing down the driveway when he suddenly stopped the car. There was a man on the front stoop with the screendoor open, knocking on Von's front door.
Travis rolled down his window, "Can I help you? There's nobody home."
Startled, the man turned and looked over the top of his glasses toward the car before hurrying down the steps.
"Christ Almighty," Travis swore. "You have got to be shittin' me."
"I came as soon as I heard," the visitor stopped to catch his breath.
It was then that Shelly saw. The steel-gray curly hair. The crystal green eyes.
Travis threw a tired wave.
"Hey, Dad."



They raced toward the airport, which was thirty miles away. Travis thumped the steering wheel and leaned forward as though that might get them there faster. Shelly navigated. "You want to take exit 27A to the 59," she told him. "We just passed 25, so it shouldn't be long now. Which terminal is he at?"
"Southwest," Travis checked his mirrors, accelerated and merged into the passing lane. "His mother's gonna let me have it for making him wait there alone."
Shelly clung to the strap above her window. "He'll be alone forever if we get creamed out here. Take it easy!"
"Just be glad you never rode with me in a Humvee," he chuckled. "This is nothin'."
"Here it is, 27A. We'll be there in five minutes." She  rubbed on some chapstick, pulled down the visor and fluffed her hair. "I look like something the cat dragged in," she slapped up the visor. "He's gonna be real impressed."
Travis reached over and took her hand. "You look great, Hon. I'm glad you came with me. Here we go, 'Southwest Arrivals', left lane. I'm gonna try to cruise by and grab him. We don't have time to park."
The pick-up/drop-off lane was filled with hotel shuttle buses and cabs. Travis pulled in neatly between two of them and jumped out of the car. "I'll leave it running in case they make you move it," he called back, heading for the revolving door.
Ten minutes later  he came out with his arm around a teen-aged boy. Travis had told her Sean was fifteen, but he was small for his age, with sandy long hair that covered his eyes. He pulled a giant backpack-on-wheels, and had a guitar strapped to his back. What Shelly could see of his face revealed a sullen expression. Travis, on the other hand, was all smiles.
"Look who I found in there!" he said, 'noogie-ing' the kid's head. "Shelly, this is my son, Sean. Sean, meet Shelly."
Sean shocked her by offering his hand through the car window. He shook his hair back to reveal crystal green eyes. "Hi. It's nice to meet you."
Shelly smiled, relieved. "Nice to meet you, too. I'm sorry we were late."
Travis popped the trunk and stowed the backpack. Sean settled his guitar carefully into the back seat before getting in himself. "And we're off!" Travis deftly maneuvered the car into traffic. "You okay back there, Buddy?"
Silence.Shelly looked back to see Sean staring at his lap with his arms crossed. So, she thought, it was only Travis who got the cold shoulder. What was that about? She glanced at Travis, who stared straight ahead. Whatever it was, she wasn't going to find out without asking.
"So Sean," she met his eyes in the side mirror. "What are you mad about?"
Sean addressed the back of his father's head. "Didn't you tell her?"
"No, Sean, I haven't told my very new girlfriend the story of our lives. It doesn't make for great conversation."
"Yeah, well, if she knew she'd probably dump you."
That got Shelly's attention. "Okay, now you have to tell me. This sounds major."
Sean's voice trembled. "I haven't seen my Dad for two years. He let me down in a big way and then left without saying sorry, goodbye, or anything. My Grandma kept telling me he didn't mean it..." he choked up and stopped.
"I'm sorry about your Grandma," Shelly turned around in her seat. "She'd be glad you came."
"I'm glad you came too," Travis said quietly. "And I am sorry about what happened. I've missed you, but I couldn't call. I didn't know what I could say to make you understand."
"I was in eighth grade," Sean began, "and we had Career Week. I told everybody my Dad was a war hero from Desert Storm, and he said he would come and talk to the class. He even drove down the night before and took me to dinner. The next day, I went to school, and he was supposed to come in at ten o'clock, but he never showed. All the kids called me a liar!"
"That must have really hurt you," Shelly said, more to Travis than to Sean. He gripped the steering wheel, clenching his teeth.
"I wore the fatigue shirt he gave me to school every day; the one with 'Richards' on it. I thought then they'd have to believe me. I looked like a loser"
"How could you be a loser?" Shelly asked. "You didn't do anything wrong. It wasn't your fault."
"So I'm the loser, right?" Travis spat. "I did something wrong. It was my fault!"
"From the sound of it right now, that would be the logical conclusion. But it doesn't sound like you," she tousled his hair. "Why don't you set us straight?"
"First of all, I was no hero. I didn't want to do it, but Patty talked me into it."
"That's right, blame it on Mom!"
"I'm not blaming your Mom, Sean. I'm just trying to explain. Patty called and said you were all excited about me coming to your school, and she practically begged me to be there. I wanted to make you both happy, so I said I would. Up until that morning, I had every intention of doing it, I promise you."
"Why didn't you then?"
"I was not a superhero, Sean. I was a soldier who saw some pretty rough combat. I lost a lot of friends, and I felt responsible. I felt guilty for making it home, safe and sound, and going on with my life. I can't expect anyone who hasn't been through it to understand. Your Mom was there; that's where we met. She knows what it was like. It's the reason we couldn't stay together. We brought too much back with us, and we couldn't get past it."
"She's told me some of it," Sean said, "but she'd never screw me over like you did!"
"Watch it, Son," Travis threatened. "She'd never let you be disrespectful, either."
Sean wasn't going to back down. "Why should I respect you, after what you did?"
"I don't know why, Sean," Travis relented. "I messed up, and I'm sorry. I got up that morning, showered, and put on my Class A's. Then I looked in the mirror, and I lost it. I was still in the Army, I still wore a uniform every day, and fifteen years had gone by since I'd been in the Gulf. I thought I'd put it behind me, but I guess I hadn't. You don't go to school and pass out Kitkats and chat about a war. It's not show-and-tell. Those were real lives that were lost, Son. The heroes died in the field. Does that make sense?"
"It was really dumb to wait two years to tell me that. I needed to know."
"Well, now you do. Do you still have the shirt?"
"Practically wore it out," Sean said quietly; looking out the window.
"I'll bet I have something else I can give you while you're here. I'm glad you came, Buddy. It means a lot to me, and I know it would mean a lot to Grandma."
"Sorry guys," Shelly interrupted,  "but I have to pee."
"We can stop and grab something to eat," Travis signalled for the exit. "Then I've got to get Sean over to Gordy's. They've got something to work on."



Travis waited in the car while Shelly ran in to drop the garment bag at the funeral home. He needed to check in with Gordy, and call the airport to make sure Sean's flight was not delayed. Besides, he'd seen enough of the place for one day. She made her way through the lobby and it all came back to her; the cool, dry air, the low lighting and the strong smell of lilies. Still trying to process Travis's parental disclosure, she now felt shaky and slightly nauseous. Jarvis came toward her and extended a hand in greeting. He'd done her mother's funeral, and he gave Shelly the creeps.
"Hello Miss Davis," he said. "How can I help you?"
"Hi. I have the clothing you need for Yvonne Richards," she answered, ignoring his curiosity. She pulled the bag from her shoulder and passed it to him. An older woman wrung her hands at the entrance to the business office. Jarvis held up his finger to Shelly and turned to her. "Do you need to speak with me, Alice?"
"I-I'm sorry to interrupt," Alice stammered, "but Mr. Morgan from Morgan Memorials is on the phone, and he said it's urgent. It's regarding the installation of a stone."
Jarvis smiled tersely at the two women. "It looks like I'm going to have to take this call, Miss Davis; I apologize. Alice, can you please show Miss Davis downstairs? She has brought in items for Mrs. Richards in room two, and Marcy is waiting for them." He nodded politely toward Shelly before striding briskly toward the office.
Alice spoke timidly, "Follow me, Dear. It's just this way."
Shelly followed her down a narrow set of stairs into a basement that reeked of formaldehyde. They passed 'room one', and when they reached 'room two', the door stood ajar. "Here you are," Alice said, already beating feet for the stairwell. What, Shelly thought, she's just going to leave me here? She was wondering what she should do next when a young woman held the door open. She had spiked red hair, piercings in her eyebrow, nose and lip, and those see-through discs stretched her earlobes.
 "I'm Marcy," she introduced herself. Shelly handed her the garment bag and backed away from the door.
 "I was hoping you could come in," Marcy said. "They usually get me a picture so I know how to do the hair and makeup. I didn't get one and I need to know if I got it right."
"Wait a minute," Shelly was firm. "I'm not family. I'm only dropping stuff off. I can go and get her son..."
Marcy was persistent. "It will only take a minute, and I get better input from women. Men are no good at this kind of thing. Please?" Shelly sighed and trailed Marcy into the room. Shit shit shit!
Yvonne lay on a metal table in the center of the room. Her shoulders were bare above a sheet that covered her body, and she looked... "beautiful," Shelly heard herself say.
"I used a nude beige foundation, and tried to accentuate her delicate features with neutral tones," Marcy offered. "She was pretty, wasn't she?"
"Yes she was, I mean I didn't realize she was..." Shelly looked at Marcy. "I'm afraid you can't show her like this."
The girl was puzzled. "What do you mean?"
Shelly went to the makeup tray and picked up the brightest red lipstick Marcy had. "I mean, Yvonne wore ivory pale foundation, and blue frosted eyeshadow, and heavy black eyeliner, and this color lip. She used a lip liner, and she applied it well, but it was harsh.  And you know how women used to take some of the lipstick and rub it into their cheeks? I'm pretty sure she did that. You did a great job, but her family won't know her like this."
Marcy grabbed a cannister of disposable wipes and pulled one from the top. "Alrighty then," she said under her breath. "I'll just start over."
"Thanks," Shelly unzipped the bag she'd brought. "There's a black dress in here, and stockings and shoes, and here's her jewelry. There's underwear too. Will you need anything else?"
Marcy had sat down on a rolling stool and was already getting to work. "Nope, I'm good. Thanks for the info."
Shelly met Jarvis at the top of the stairs. "Miss Davis, I'm so sorry. Alice is new here... I never meant for you to be escorted directly to the anteroom. Are you alright?"
"I'm fine, thank you." She realized she was crying; when had that started? "Someone's waiting for me outside."
She pushed past him and out the door, pausing for a minute to compose herself.
Travis stood next to the car. "Jesus, I thought you got lost in there. Was everything okay?"
"Just fine," Shelly opened the door on her side. "Jarvis held me up. How are you?"
"You know Jarvis, huh? How 'bout them eyebrows?" His smile faded. " Hey, you been cryin'?"
"Nah," she rubbed her nose. "I think I'm allergic to lilies. Ready to go?"
"Yeah," he turned the key in the ignition. "That's why I was about to come find you. My kid's been at the airport for an hour."



"I'm upstairs," Travis called when he heard Shelly come through the back door. "C'mon up."
She found him in what had to be Yvonne's bedroom; judging by the huge four-poster complete with its pink satin coverlet and white marabou accents. Travis stood cupping his chin, looking down at three dresses that he had spread out over the bed. "Will any of these work?"
Shelly bit her lip and met his eyes. "Well, " she started, lifting a rayon, leopard-print shift by its hanger, "I'm not sure you want to do sleeveless..." He pointed to a pink, high-neck stretch jersey gown with a band of black ribbon below the bust line. "How about this one? I thought it might be too dressy."
That's one way of putting it, Shelly thought. How was she going to handle this? He had obviously tried so hard. The last choice was a long-sleeved, black sweater dress with a ruffle around the neck. Deciding it was the lesser of three evils, she held it up to the light. "This one's nice," she fibbed. "The coverage is good, and the style looks like her." Did it ever; that was the problem. She pulled him close and gave him a squeeze.
"How are you holding up?"
He took the dress from her and hung it over the door.
"I'm OK, I don't think it's really hit me yet. Gordy's havin' a hard time. They were pretty close."
"Poor guy," she went to Yvonne's jewelry box. Luckily, her accessories were better looking than her clothes. There was a nice pair of pearl earrings and a lovely matching brooch that had a cluster of pearls in off-white, light-pink and gray. "I hope he'll be alright. Do you like these?"
"I do, but I never would've found 'em. Thanks, Hon."
"Glad to help. Now we just need some stockings, shoes, and a garment bag. If you can run down and get me a baggie for her jewelry, I'll find them and get everything packed up."
He stopped at the top of the stairs. "I appreciate all you're doing. It seems to come so easy to you."
Shelly's muffled reply came from inside the closet. "I have experience burying a mother. It sucks."
"I'm sorry to hear that. There's so much I don't know about you."
She struggled with the zipper on the garment bag, a pair of black pantyhose over her shoulder. "Yeah, well, once you know the whole story, you'll probably make a run for it."
Travis laughed on his way down to the kitchen. "I'm in no position to do any such thing, Darlin'. Remember, you ain't heard my story yet."
When he came back up, Shelly had everything ready to go. "What else can I do you for?" she smiled at him.
He pulled a button-down on over his t-shirt and tucked them both into his jeans. "We have to take Von's stuff to Shubert's," he said. "Then I thought you might like to ride to the airport with me."
"Sure," she knelt down to tie her sneaker. "Is someone coming in for the funeral?"
Travis nodded toward the nightstand, and for the first time Shelly saw a collage frame in the shape of the word 'GRANDMA'. It held  pictures of a younger Yvonne with a little boy.
"We're picking up Sean," he told her.
"My son."


No answer. Travis snapped his phone closed and stuck it back in his pocket. Jarvis Shubert watched him with patient reverence; it was clear this guy was a pro. A regular death expert. He knew just when to speak, what to say, and when he should maintain respectful silence. Travis tried to picture him drinking a beer or sitting on the toilet, and found that he couldn't. Did he comb his eyebrows? Because they looked too well-groomed to be real. Gordy sat thumbing through the tasteful casket brochure.
"Do you think she'd like this here with the pink linin'? I think that's pretty." He traced his fingers over the picture. "Of course, it's pricey. Sixty-five hunnerd bucks, but her policy'd cover it. I want her to have a really nice one."
"The 'Forever Darling'," Jarvis pitched. "It's a honey maple finish on hardwood; one of our most frequently chosen models." He nodded to Travis. "Mr. Richards, do you agree with Mr. Humphrey's selection?"
Travis shrugged, "That's fine, whatever Gordy wants.What's left to do?"
Jarvis straightened his crimson pocket square before answering. "As we were discussing earlier, Mr. Richards, we will need for you to bring in the clothing that Mrs. Richards will wear." He took in Gordy's Nascar cap and Waylon Jennings t-shirt. "Of course, if she didn't have something suitable, we have some lovely dresses for sale."
Travis, feeling self-conscious in his own shirt, one that commemorated his patronage of Hooter's, shot the funeral director an angry look. "My mother had plenty of nice clothes, Mr. Shubert. Gordy and I aren't the best judges of coffin gear, but I have a friend who can help us out. I just can't get ahold of her right now. When do you need to have the stuff back here?"
"Whenever it's convenient for you, Sir, this afternoon or tomorrow morning. Now if I can ask you to choose the cover for the service program and the design for the prayer cards, we should be finished for now. The options are in this book. I'll leave you gentlemen alone so as not to rush you, and I'll return in fifteen minutes or so."
Travis was exhausted and couldn't give two shits about stationery. He watched Gordy looking carefully through the samples and felt ashamed. He knew it was important to give Yvonne a proper send-off, and he wanted to; he just wasn't big on the details. "What are you thinkin', Gordy? Have you picked something out?"
"I don't know, do you like this dove here?" he pointed. "I think that'd be nice for the cards, n' this pi'ture of the hands in prayer fer the program."
Travis patted Gordy's back. "I think both of those will look really nice." He stood and went to the display of items at the side of the room. "What about these candles with the 23rd Psalm on 'em? Should we get a few to put around the room for the service?"
"Well, I was thinkin'," Gordy joined him. "He said they could customize 'em, and I'd kinda like to have the words to 'Abide With Me' put on 'em. That 'as her favorite hymn."
Travis hadn't known that. What kind of son didn't know his mother's favorite hymn? Of course, he'd heard Yvonne listen to much different music as a kid, but guessed he couldn't put Lynn Anderson on the funeral candles. ' I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden...' His eyes stung, remembering the times  she'd danced him around the room until they were laughing and out of breath.
"Sounds good, Gordy. Do you know the words?"
"I have the sheet music. She played it on my Casio," Gordy's voice trailed off, and he rubbed his eyes.
"I know this is tough for you," Travis told him. "I hope you know I appreciate all you did for her. She loved you, Gordy."
"Not half as much as I loved her. I don't know what I'll do without 'er. I still can't believe she's gone."
"That makes two of us," Travis shook his head. "This is unreal."
Jarvis stood quietly in the doorway, his hands clasped low in front of him. "I'm sorry to intrude. Have you made your selections?"
They wrapped up the funeral plans and stepped out into the bright afternoon. Travis dropped Gordy off at home. "Do you need help getting anything ready?"
"Nope, I'll be fine. Jimmy took my suit to the cleaner's." He rubbed his beer belly. "I hope I can get into it. I can take care of the other stuff if you can get 'er clothes over there. Wait- lemme run in 'n get that music. You can take that, too."
Travis set off with the dog-eared pages. He'd gotten another idea for something he wanted to include in the service. As he headed for Von's to get started, he dialed his cell.
"Hell-o, Darlin'," he said, smiling for the first time that day. "What time do you get off? We've got a shin-dig to put together."
Shelly pulled the chain on her desk lamp and grabbed her purse. "I'll be there in ten minutes."



Looking for Comments
By Laura McCollough Moss

So do you read my writing?
I text you
I need to know what
you like better
The blood
or the guts
That's what it is.
You see I
put it out there
for you.
That's not what it says
but I know the truth.
Am I smart enough
good enough
do you think it's crap
because anyone can like it but
you're the only one who matters.
I imagine your impressions as
I put it down.
Predict your criticism
crave your praise.
How to tell the story
in a way
you will understand.
There's more to me.



"Hi, is this Randi? This is Shelly Davis. Yeah, how are you?...That's great to hear. I need to order flowers for a funeral...no; it's nobody in my family...they're for the mother of a friend of mine. I know, it's too bad- it was totally unexpected. What would you recommend? " Shelly sat at her desk, twisting the phone cord around her fingers. Was this bizarre, or what? Just yesterday she'd had an uncomfortable first meeting with Yvonne, and here she was this morning buying her a dozen pink roses. "That sounds good," she said, bringing her mind back to the task at hand. "The viewing is tomorrow evening at Shubert's, and the funeral is Friday morning. Can you bill my account?... Thanks so much... 'Bye now...You too." She hung up the phone and turned her attention to an impatient Cal, who'd sat across from her, jiggling his leg, the entire time she'd been talking. What a dweeb he was. "I'm sorry," she said, "that was something I had to take care of. What's up?"
Cal took a few more seconds to gnaw on a hangnail before answering. "I came down here for report," he sniffed, "I like to know what's going on around here." He wiped the wet finger on his pantleg.
Try pulling your head out of your ass and sticking it out into the hallway sometime, she wanted to say.
 "I know you do," she lied. "I'm sorry I've had so much going on the past few days. Thankfully, the building's been pretty quiet. We've had one fall this week; Arnold Haskins on B. He tried to get into bed without help Monday night and didn't make it. Complained of right knee pain, but we did an xray and it was negative. He's doing okay-"
"Did you initiate a chair alarm?" Cal wanted to know. "That's all I need is that son of his on my case again."
"No..." Shelly answered. "Arnie is confused and forgets to ask for help, but he can usually get the job done on his own. This was his first incident in three months, which is good considering his risk factors. I don't want to alarm him unnecessarily."
"I agree," Cal smirked. "Let's wait until he breaks a hip. I'll let you explain that one to the state."
Shelly gritted her teeth and engaged her filter; the one that pushed rational words from her mouth when she wanted to tell someone to fuck off. "If he continues to move about on his own, he will maintain more strength and mobility than he would if we forced him to sit in one spot all day. It's about the quality of his life, Cal. If he breaks a hip doing what he wants to do, well, that's a chance we have to take. I'd be happy to explain that to the state."
"And Barney?" Cal challenged. He always got nasty when she stood up to him. "He was in the parking lot Monday night. If Seth hadn't been out there dogging Lizzie Mills- wait; I mean 'walking her to her car', who knows where the old fart would've ended up? I'm busting my ass trying to get  grant money to establish Lakeside as a premier dementia facility. How does it look if we can't keep track of our damn residents?"
"Lizzie left the floor and Barney followed her. She's his favorite nurse, because she resembles his daughter Ann. She knows that she needs to have someone from nights divert his attention when her shift ends. All it takes is a Fred Astaire movie, and Barney will sit on the couch for two hours. The problem had already been identified, and she didn't observe the care plan. She was too worried about meeting Seth."
Cal was distracted by Tiffany, who was outside bending down to help a resident step onto a tour bus. "I want Lizzie suspended."
"I talked to her yesterday. She felt terrible about the whole thing, Cal. What is she, twenty? This is how they learn. Barney was returned safe and sound, and I'm certain Lizzie won't get on that elevator again without making sure he's busy. While I've got you here, I need to take Friday off. I'm sure you heard I have this funeral..."
"You are entitled to three days' paid bereavement for the death of a relative. I'm not obligated to give you time off for non-family."
"It's November, Cal, and I have twelve vacation days left. I haven't taken more than three or four long weekends all year. I'll arrange for supervisory coverage. Would you like me to run it by H.R.?"
"Never mind," he sneered. "Have a nice time."
Shelly watched him leave her office. "Appreciate your concern," she called after him. When things settled down, she was going to have to seriously start looking for another job. Of course that would mean leaving her staff and residents defenseless, with Cal at the reins. Even though she was sure that she was growing her own brain aneurysm with every month that she stayed, that was one thing she could never do.
Unless I can muster the guts to bump him off, she thought, I'm stuck. Story of my life.
She picked up her cell phone and stared at it. What was the proper etiquette in this situation? Should she call him? Normally, this early in the game, she would rather play it cool; wait for the guy to contact her. But this guy's mother died. Would he want to hear from her, or did he have too much on his mind? No doubt, things had gotten intense in a hurry; not that she minded. She couldn't stop thinking about the way he'd needed her last night. She'd been with men for years in the past without ever having that feeling; that connection, and it felt good. She missed him.
This is foolish, she thought. I've got a million things to do if I'm not going to be here Friday. With a heavy sigh, she set out to round on the units.
She didn't hear her phone vibrating on the desk.



Shelly slowed as they approached Yvonne’s room, expecting to remain in the hallway and allow the family their privacy. Travis looked back before walking through the threshold and, having noticed that Shelly was not following, made a quick about-face. Gordy had already gone in.
“Aren’t you comin’ in?” he took her hand, ready to pull her along.
“I don’t know, Travis,” Shelly pulled her hand away gently. “Somehow I think I’m the last person your mom would want to wake up and see here. I just wanted to be on hand for you, if you needed me.”
“I can’t thank you enough,” he said solemnly, taking both her hands in his. “To tell you the truth, I think I need you to go in there with me. I’m having a real hard time wrapping my head around this whole scene. My mother’s never been sick a day in my life. Now I have to see her hooked up to all this shit they have here, and I’m not sure I can handle it.”  He let go and sagged against the wall. Shelly went to him and smoothed his crazy hair.
“That’s all you had to say. Let’s go on in, then.”
Gordy was standing at Yvonne’s bedside, stroking her cheek. “You’re gonna be jus’ fine, Love,” he whispered. He didn’t notice them beside him. The ventilator bellowed measured breaths by way of a tube in Von’s mouth, which left space for her tongue to lay awkwardly between her lips on one side. There was no life in her face; no expression, and Travis thought he’d rather see her mad at him than like this. Shelly offered a brief tutorial of the various equipment in the room; the monitor, with Yvonne’s heartbeat, and breathing rate, and oxygen level, the IV pump with the many medications and fluids going in through a ‘central line’ in her neck, the respirator, and the pumps squeezing her legs to keep her from getting a blood clot. Travis pointed to a clear plastic bag hooked to the side of the bed. “That’s the catheter that’s draining her urine,” she explained. “They need an accurate count of the fluid that goes in and out. It helps them to manage her vital signs and the pressure in her brain.” When Travis went pale and leaned on the bedrail, Shelly quietly pulled up a chair and helped him into it.
“I’m sorry to sound so clinical, Travis. I just want you to understand what’s going on.”
Travis clasped his fingers behind his neck, and placed his elbows on his knees. “I’ve seen my soldiers in bad shape before; plenty of times. We’d do our best to carry them off the field and get them to help, but a lot of them were critically wounded, and many didn’t make it. I’d check on them as their commander, but the others in the platoon would stay nearby, night and day, until the injured was taken by helicopter or in a body bag. It would hit them hard, but I had to try not to let it in; it happened too often, and I had to stay in control if I had any hope of keeping the rest of them safe the next time out.”
Shelly bent down next to him, sliding an arm around his waist. “That must have been Hell for you.”
“It was,” he turned to look at her, “but it didn’t come close to this. Whatever happened over there, I had her to come back to if I could manage to stay alive. That’s what kept me going. I’ve been stateside for sixteen years, and only came back for holidays until I moved home for good this month. I thought we had lots of time to be together.”
“She knew you loved her,” Gordy said to Travis, but his eyes never left Yvonne’s face. “There ‘as never any doubt about that.”
A man with short-cropped, salt-and-pepper hair and a stethoscope around his neck stood at the foot of the bed. “I’m Kevin, Mrs. Richards’s nurse. I’m going to ask you all to step out for fifteen or twenty minutes while we turn and suction her. There’s a waiting room at the end of ‘B’ hall; we’ll call you on the phone out there when you can come back in.” He looked at his tech-y watch. “If you haven’t eaten, this might be a good time to run down to the cafeteria; it closes in an hour and there are only vending machines available after that.”
Gordy started to cry again, and Travis kissed his mother’s forehead before they left the room. Travis kept an arm around Gordy to keep him steady, and Shelly led them down to the basement. “There’s a guest cafĂ© on the first floor, but the employee cafeteria is the best place to go,” she told them. “It’s cheaper and has way better coffee.”
“Sounds good to me,” Travis said wearily. Gordy excused himself for a few minutes to use the bathroom and call his son, Jimmy, to give him an update.
Shelly told Travis to get them a table, and she went through the line for coffees, creamers, sugar packets and three slices of pizza for them. Ah, hospital food. If you weren’t already a patient, it would make you one.
They sipped their coffee in silence. No one was particularly interested in eating. Shelly felt that she should try to cheer them up.
“She looked pretty good!” she said brightly. “Her vital signs were stable, and she didn’t show any signs of having pain. Let’s hope she gets a good night’s rest, and they can try weaning her off the vent tomorrow.” Poor Gordy looked every bit of his seventy years. “You need to go home and get some rest yourself, Mister.” Travis nodded in agreement.
“I’m not goin’ anywhere,” Gordy stated resolutely. “The two of you can go home tonight, but I’m stayin’ right here with her. I already told Jimmy; he’s gonna let Biscuit out and take her home with him.” Biscuit was Gordy’s aging Golden Retriever.
Shelly gathered up their trash and carried it to the barrel. “I’ll go back up with you for an hour or so, and then I’d better call it a night. I have to work tomorrow. I wish I could get out of it, but I can’t.” She placed a hand on Travis’s shoulder. “Will you be alright here without me?” He reached up and laced his fingers through hers.
“I’m better when you’re here, but I understand. Gordy and I’ll camp out here tonight; in the room, in the waiting room, wherever they’ll let us stay. I can’t leave either until I know Von’s alright.”
As they made their way to the elevator, there was a call over the P.A.: “Code Blue, ICU. Code Blue, ICU.”
Shelly & Gordy jumped on the elevator. Not wanting to wait, Travis took the stairs, three at a time, to the third floor. He burst through the door and saw that his mother’s room was brightly lit, with the curtains closed around the windows. There was a crowd of hospital staff in the hallway, and he could see several pair of legs surrounding her bed. He started to go in, but an orderly held out his arm. “You don’t want to go in there right now, Dude,” he warned. “They’ll come out and let you know what’s going on as soon as they can.” Travis shook free of the young man’s hold and pushed past the curtain.
 Six or seven doctors and nurses turned to look at him as one of them said, “Call it. Time of death, seven thirty-one.”
In shock, Travis swept the wrappers, needles and tubing that littered his mother’s bed off with his arm. No one stopped him when he sat down on the edge and hugged her lifeless body. No tears came; it was too deeply ingrained in him to hold them in, but he felt more alone than he ever had.
An older man with a badge that read ‘Walter Parrish, MD’ patted his arm brusquely. “I’m sorry son,” he rasped. “We did everything we could. I think the hemorrhage in her brain extended. I can order an autopsy if you’d like.”
Travis shook his head. He couldn’t see the point. She was gone, wasn’t she? The reason why didn’t really matter. Shelly entered the room with Gordy in tow. She knew, with one glance around, what had happened. Gordy knew, too.
“Sweet Jesus Christ!” he cried. “Oh my God, what am I going to do?” Dr. Parrish guided him to the corner of the room and spoke softly to him in an effort to offer comfort. Travis stood up and hugged her tightly, so tightly.
And then he cried.



Here it is. I knew it was coming; my first birthday without my mom. As anyone who has been through this knows, and there have been many, MANY before me, for a year, every event will be a first. Susie had a wonderful sense of occasion, and our birthdays were a big deal.
Last year was another story. Bud was post-op, sick and confused; he actually went into the hospital with pneumonia the following day. If you've ever had a birthday where you just wanted to forget about it, that was the one. We started the morning at a medical appointment where a doctor pretty much laid some bad news on the line, and I sat in Falconer Park crying for an hour before I could get it together and go to work. I don't recount this for any kind of sympathy; it was what it was. Just putting it all in context.
That evening my mom made dinner, had cake, etc. but we were all a bit deflated. My wonderful Aunt Sarah was there. The two dear ladies did their best to be festive, and we went through the motions. Feeling on shaky emotional ground, I skimmed quickly over my mom's card; not wanting to succumb to the meltdown that threatened. She gave me a beautiful angel figurine and money; apologizing that she hadn't been able to shop. Of course it didn't matter; we vowed to make up for it next year!
Next year, as it turned out, was not to be. And I'm so glad I didn't know. As difficult as the events the year following a death can be, could you imagine knowing, the year before, that each event was a 'last'? I never would have made it, I can assure you. As Garth so eloquently sang,
"And now, I'm glad I didn't know,
the way it all would end, the way it all would go,
Our lives are better left to chance.
I could have missed the pain,
but I'd have had to miss the dance."
And so it was, this morning, that I tore through my drawer of cards past, opening them and looking for last year's birthday card from my mother. At last I found it, and for the first time really read it. We had been through a lot at the time, although not nearly all that awaited us. I know she chose it carefully, and I regret that I didn't acknowledge that at the time, because I couldn't. I know she understood. It reads:
For Our Daughter
A daughter is your heart's delight-
it starts when she's a tiny thing
Who charms you with her every smile
and sweetly makes your spirit sing.
Then as she grows, your love grows, too,
she seems to weave a magic spell
That fills your world with tenderness
and wonder, more than words can tell.
One day, you turn around to find
a lovely woman, fully grown.
She's graceful, strong, and confident,
with talents of her very own.
You smile and thank the stars above
for all she is and all she's done
And celebrate the depth of love
a daughter brings to everyone.
                 J. Hund
Inside it says
Dear Laura
You're a special gift
to the lives of so many people...
especially ours.
Happy Birthday
And in her familiar handwriting-
"The card just cannot say all the words that need to be said.
We Love You, and Thanks, Mom & Dad."

I love you too, Mom & Dad, and I have never for a second questioned your love for me. I have been so very lucky to have you both as my parents. We have a bond that can't be severed by hard times, even death. And a network of amazing family and friends. I wouldn't change a thing.
Happy Birthday to me.



Travis jogged through the Emergency Room entrance at City General, looking frantically for the reception area. A combat veteran, it took a lot to shake him up, but he'd never contemplated anything happening to his mother. Sure, she got on his last nerve sometimes, but she was also his number one supporter and best friend. He had taken her for granted. Someone laid a hand on Travis's back.
"Jesus, Gordy. You scared me. Where is she? Is she alright?"
"They took her to cat scan," he motioned for Travis to sit with him on a hard row of plastic chairs.
 "I wanted to go with her, but they wouldn't let me. They're lucky they had her drugged up, or Yvonne'd have given them hell."
Drugged up? "What happened, Gordy? She was fine this morning. Well, pissed off at me, but that's nothing new. I had only left her a few hours before you called."
The older man ran a calloused hand over his eyes.  Travis saw that he had engine grease under his nails, and still wore his coveralls. When he spoke, he was choked up.
"I was workin' on Jimmy's late model and I stopped to grab my coffee. I called her like I al'ays do, but she wadn't answerin'. Then I tried her cell phone and she didn't answer that, neither. I just knew somethin' wadn't right. I jumped in the jeep and ran over to the house, and I found her on the floor in the laundry room. The washer was open,  looked like she had started loadin' it. Her eyes was open, and she was makin' sounds, but couldn't talk. She reached for me; then she tried gettin' up, and I saw she wadn't movin' her right side. There was blood all over. I guess she cut the back of her head pretty bad when she fell..." he started to cry, and pulled a dirty rag from his pocket.
"I'm sorry, Buddy. I should have been there. What did you do?" Travis couldn't imagine.
"I called nine-eleven and laid down beside her 'til the volunteer rescue come. They were there pretty quick, but I'm tellin' you, it felt like forever before they got there. She got real frustrated because she couldn't talk, and I had to try and calm her down. They got her on a stretcher and headed here with lights n' sirens, and I followed behind. I don't even remember drivin' here."
Travis had always liked Gordy. The guy adored Yvonne and treated her like a queen. He'd been there for her while Travis was away; keeping up the house, fixing her car, making her laugh, and loving her.Tough as she was, Yvonne had a soft spot for Gordy. He and Travis were two of the only people to ever claim her heart in that way. The couple hadn't gotten married because they both had been there done that, and couldn't see any reason for it. Gordy liked to say  "I don't need no piece of paper to make you mine, Love," and Yvonne felt the same way.
The swinging doors opened and a tired-looking young woman in scrubs came out. She recognized Gordy and approached the two men. Gordy stood. "Dr. Brown, this here is Travis. He's Mrs. Richard's son. Travis, Dr. Brown. How is she? Can we see her?"
"She's heavily sedated right now. She ran into breathing problems in CT, and we had to place her on a respirator to breathe for her. You can see her, but she's not conscious. I'm sorry."
Travis was upset. "Life support? Don't you need to let someone know when that is happening? I thought you had to have consent!"
"That's not an issue in an emergency. Your mother was crashing, she couldn't give us consent, and the only other person here," she looked at Gordy, "was not a relative, or her Health Care Proxy. When we don't know how a person feels about life support, and there's nothing in writing, we have to treat. Again, I apologize, but I came to tell you as soon as I could."
Gordy looked down at his boots.  "Is she a vegetable, then?"
Travis gaped at him in shock.
"It's too early to tell," she said calmly. "Her CT showed a brain hemmorrhage. We won't know how much permanent damage is done until the bleeding stops and her condition stablizes.."
Travis couldn't sit any more. "How can you tell what her condition is if you've got her gorked on drugs?"
"At this point, it's more important to let her rest, and to keep her from struggling against the breathing machine. Being restless and frustrated right now could extend the bleed. We'll know more tomorrow, when we back off on the meds and let her lighten up a little bit. I wish I had something more reassuring for you, but we just don't know anything for sure tonight." She stood and checked her beeper. "I'm needed back in the ER," she told them. "Mrs. Richards is in ICU, on the third floor. You can take that elevator there."
"I'll take them up, Cheryl," Shelly offered. She'd been standing behind him, and Travis couldn't remember when he'd been happier to see anyone, ever. She took a hand from each man after she  pushed the "3" button.
 "This is my old stomping grounds," she reassured them. "Yvonne will be in good hands."



Shelly was harried and out of breath when she sat down for the afternoon care plan meeting.
“Somebody had a nooner!” accused Melanie, the Social Worker. “Look, she’s blushing!”
“Cut it out, Mel,” Shelly grinned, setting up her laptop. “You’re just jealous.”
Melanie stroked her very pregnant belly. “I tried to keep up with you. See where that got me? Berta Harrington’s daughter is coming in at 1:15. That’s the only one we have today. Who is he?”
“His name is Travis. We met at Eddie’s last night.” She gave a detailed account of the events of the past fifteen hours. There were no secrets between them.
“You are full of surprises,” Melanie marveled. “How do you get into these situations?”
“I’m still trying to take it all in myself,” Shelly said, shaking her head. “I think he might be a keeper though.”
“Like you’ve never said that before,”  Melanie ‘s voice was straining with the effort of bending down to pull a jar of peanut butter out of her briefcase.
“Yeah, well, we’ll see what happens. He’s invited me to help him move into his new apartment tonight. I’ll keep you posted. Now, if you don’t mind, I think we should try to review Berta's care plan before her daughter gets here. Have there been any problems with them?”
Melanie dipped into her jar before accessing the file. “Just a few,” she said wearily. “Not enough staffing, especially on the weekends. She lost a nightgown in laundry, hates our coffee. You know; the usual.”
“I hear you, believe me,” Shelly sighed. “Same shit different day. The staff works their butts off; there just aren’t enough of them.” She waved her hand at the empty chairs across the table. “Where are Stella and Tiffany? They’re supposed to be here.”
“Didn’t I tell you? Stella’s out of work indefinitely; some kind of leg ulcer or something. Cal’s trying to contract out for food service. Tiffany called in sick today. She probably got a groin pull last night.” She pushed up her bangs with the heel of her hand before taking another spoonful of peanut butter.
“You are bad, Mel, though probably right on where Tiffany is concerned; like I have room to talk. Too bad about Stella, but maybe we’ll actually get some decent food around here.”
“That would be fine with me. I’d love to scratch it off my list of complaints. The food is the number one topic at Resident Council meetings; even above staffing!  I don’t think Stella realizes that old people have taste buds.”
“Who knew, right?” Shelly laughed. “Here comes Berta and Cynthia now.”
A well-kept, attractive woman came in, pushing her mother’s wheelchair. It was easy to see where she got her good looks; although frail, Berta was still lovely at ninety-three. Shelly jumped up and helped to make them comfortable. Cynthia sat close to her mother and held her hand. Melanie opened the discussion, leaning in to address the resident.
 “Hello Berta, we’re here today to discuss your care. Do you have any concerns?”
The elderly lady offered a wan smile. “I’m alright, Melanie. You’re always so good to me.”
It was Cynthia’s turn. “I have some concerns,” she began. “I’m here every evening to help Mom with her supper. She’s almost always wet when I arrive and I’m sorry but there’s no excuse for it. She’s not one to complain or ask for help, and I worry about her when I’m not here.”
Berta shifted restlessly in her chair. “Oh, it’s alright, Cindy. I know the girls are busy, and I hate to bother them. They get to me when they can. I don’t want to get anyone into trouble.”
Shelly moved her chair closer to Berta’s. “I’m sorry this is happening, Berta. I think it may be because Dr. Kelly increased your water pill. You take it three times a day now. Do you remember when you had all of the swelling in your legs, a few weeks ago? You needed more medication to help with that. The good news is that you’ve lost five pounds’ worth of fluid. The bad news is that you need to urinate more frequently; and that is new to the staff. I’ll start you on a toileting schedule and put it on the aides’ assignment sheet, so they’ll know. I should have done that already, and I apologize.” What she didn’t say was that the nurses knew about the medication change, and could have anticipated the problem. They hadn’t though, and she was responsible.  She tried to concentrate on signs of progress; hadn’t they noticed the edema and let her know? They didn’t have her clinical experience, and so it didn’t come easily to them, but they tried. Baby steps, she reminded herself. They would get there in time.
“Thank you, Shelly,” Berta said. “I’m afraid I have to get back to my room now. I have to go again. It’s such a nuisance. Then I’d like to lie down. I get so tired lately!”
“That’s alright. I’ll call the unit and let them know you’re on your way. Then, if you don’t mind, Melanie and I can finish the meeting with your daughter. Cynthia, are you able to come back? It shouldn’t take us too much longer.”
Cynthia indicated that she would return before escorting her mother out. Shelly closed the door and sat down. “I want to talk to her about Berta’s Advanced Directives, Mel. We need to get them in order.”
Melanie stood up. “Then I’m going to pee first. This family has had a hard time with this, and I’m not at my best with a baby bouncing on my bladder.”
Cynthia came back some ten minutes later with a sober expression on her face. She looked at Melanie. “Is there something wrong? It seemed the two of you wanted to speak to me alone.”
Shelly opened Berta’s chart. “We wanted to discuss your mother’s wishes related to her care going forward, Cynthia. I’m sure you have noticed, and I believe Dr. Kelly has spoken with you about this. Unfortunately, the state of her health is declining. The time is approaching to make some important decisions.”
Cynthia’s face fell. “I was afraid it would be something like this. Dr. Kelly told me that Mom’s kidneys were failing. I spoke to my brother in Florida on the phone last night, and we are considering dialysis treatments for her. How would we go about getting those started?”
“We can talk about that,” Shelly ventured, “but I’d like to review the medical record with you first. Here are the lab chemistry reports from this morning. Do you see this ‘BUN’? It reads critical at 90, and the ‘creatinine’ is 4.8. Those values indicate renal failure.  The ‘BNAT’ is 1300; that tells us that her congestive heart failure is not under control. This happens in late-stage chronic illness.”
“But wouldn’t the dialysis help?”  Cynthia rationalized. “It would bring the lab values down.”
“Let me show you another test,” Shelly said, flipping pages. “This is an echocardiogram that your mom had two months ago, before this latest bout with swelling. The ‘ejection fraction’ is a measurement of how efficiently her heart is pumping. It was ten percent; normal is sixty percent. Berta is receiving the maximum dose of diuretic- the ‘water pill’- and though it is helping for now, she won’t be able to tolerate it much longer because of her kidneys. Hemodialysis treatments are stressful on the heart, and have other side effects as well. Patients can have low blood pressure, fatigue and a metallic taste in their mouth that affects their appetite. They are usually placed on fluid restrictions, so they can’t drink more than four or five cups a day. If she began the treatments, Berta would be transported from the facility to the dialysis unit three days a week for approximately four hours; with transportation she’d be gone nearly six, and at this point she’s exhausted trying to sit up for a meal. Has your mother shared her feelings about the treatments with you?”
“The renal specialist was consulted the last time she was in the hospital. He tried to explain everything to her, but she wouldn’t hear it. ‘I’m too old’, she said. I don’t think she understood that, without the treatments, she could die!”
Melanie spoke quietly. “Cynthia, Berta has talked to me, and she was adamant that she did not want the treatments. She told me last week that she was ‘ready to go anytime the good Lord wanted to take her’.”
A tear rolled down Cynthia’s cheek, and Shelly handed her a Kleenex. “I just can’t let her go,” she cried. “She’s been an anchor for my family. We so looked forward to visiting her; I can close my eyes and smell the house. She would greet us at the door and spoil us for the duration. She was proud of our success, but we couldn’t wait to leave our new builds and go home for holidays. I loved getting up in the morning and putting my feet on the cold floor upstairs. There’d be frost inside the windows, but down in the kitchen Mom would be busy whipping up a delicious breakfast for everyone. We used to kid her about her stuffing; she would pack too much into the bird and it would be a little pasty. Do you know that last year, I tried to make mine turn out like that? It’s Thanksgiving to us. She’s been a wonderful, wonderful mother and friend to me.”
 “We are all very fond of Berta here,” Shelly responded. “Our main goal is that she spends the remainder of her life as she wants. There is no assurance that she would live longer on dialysis. The treatments are intended for patients who have sufficient baseline health and quality of life to benefit from them. Your mother is not a good candidate for the therapy, Cynthia. We can continue to care for her here, in her home, and keep her comfortable. You and your family would be welcomed to spend as much time with her as you wish; even overnight. When the end comes, she’ll be in a familiar place, surrounded by people who love her.”
Melanie touched Cynthia’s shoulder. “She’s comfortable with the decision. Her main concern is for you and your brother; she doesn’t want you to be upset with her.”
“She would think of us first, “Cynthia smiled and wiped her face. “It’s very hard for me to think about losing Mom, but above all I want her to be at peace. I’ll try to explain it to Gerald. Is there something I need to sign?”
“No,” Melanie answered. “Your mother has decisional capacity to make her choices, and actually has already signed for comfort care. She does not want to be readmitted to the hospital, and has declined any further aggressive intervention. She has agreed to continue with medication to relieve her symptoms, and is considering Hospice care. I’ll let you talk with her about that, and I can make a consult whenever you decide. I would also be happy to call your brother, to explain all of this and answer any questions that he has.”
Cynthia collected her purse and coat. “I would appreciate that. It looks like it’s settled, then. I’m going to go home for awhile; I can’t face her right now. I’m afraid I would fall apart, and that wouldn’t do either of us any good. Could you please tell her that I had to leave, but I’ll be back by supper time?”
“Of course,” Shelly reassured her, offering a hug that Cynthia gratefully accepted. “And please call me or Melanie if you think of anything else that we can help you with.”
 Melanie took Cynthia’s arm and walked with her to the front door.
“It doesn’t get any easier, does it?” Shelly sighed when she returned. “Thank you for being here with me.”
Melanie wasn’t listening. She was looking at the man standing in the doorway.
“They told me you’d be here,” Travis said. “I’m sorry to bother you at work, but I had to let you know that we can’t get together tonight.”
Here we go, Shelly thought. He’s blowing me off already. “What’s the problem?”
“I’m on my way to the hospital. I was moving stuff into the apartment and my mom’s boyfriend called. They think Von’s had a stroke.”



For the Wives
By Laura McCollough Moss

She parks the car and trudges inside
for her daily visit
hoping that the new rouge hides
the old tears.
Five years now she has been coming
to see him
He looks nothing like the pictures to
anyone but her.
They say she should go home
and rest, relax
She doesn't know how without him there.
She's had to learn to fix things
she mows grass
and does his laundry at home
She likes it when he smells nice
like he used to.
They don't care like she does
They feed and water him
turn him over
clean up his messes
while they talk about their weekend.
They think she doesn't see them
roll their eyes
when she asks for news of him.
He's fine they say.
If he was fine would he be here?
She cares.
So when they're short with her she cries.
That upsets him
and makes her feel guilty added to sad.
How to make them understand
that he is more than what they see?
He's a father and a fisherman
a foreman and fun at parties
He likes to feel that he's earned
his rest and food
But now they come too easily
and time crawls.
He hurts and misses his dog.
His life in the moving kodak frame
so far away.
The only thing that makes it bearable
is her faithfulness.
He loves her.



I got to thinking, tonight, about the funniest moments that I can recall. I've been through some hysterical situations; as we all have. Replaying them in your mind can be a real pick-me-up- and keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously; I mean, why?
Driving through the beautiful fall landscape today, I couldn't help but marvel at the fact that, while we are being born, and living, and working, and dying and having any number of human difficulties and miracles, the universe is unimpressed. The year after we die, the trees will bud, the sun will shine, the leaves will turn color and the snow will fall;  just like they did before we were born. Nothing that we do upsets this rhythm, and that is a humbling realization.  On the day of your wedding, somebody washed their car, and performed other mundane chores. Someone will stroll past the funeral home as you lie inside; taking a bit of fresh air. Life, as they say, goes on. That's why it's so important to see the humor in it all.
Here's a sampling:
~ In, I think, 6th grade, my best friend Mary & I were late for math class. The teacher didn't take too kindly to tardiness, so we tried to sneak in without interrupting the lecture. We passed quickly across the front of the room toward our seats before an amused prepubescent audience. In her haste Mary,  ahead of me, dropped a notebook. It slapped the floor, & a few titters erupted from the crowd. She bent down to get it as I kept right on going, tripping over her in a most ungainly fashion. To make matters worse, the exertion caused my body to emit , to my horror, a brief but loud flatulence. I collected myself and attempted to appear unscathed, certain that with all the calamity, the offense had gone unnoticed. I lived happily with that assumption until, years later, Mary began to ask if I remembered that time...(helpless laughter)... when we ran into Morgan's class and I fell over her and farted?! The jig was up. I can only imagine the teacher's lounge that day, as the incident was relayed to the full faculty.
~ Probably one or two years after that, on Halloween, my cousin , another friend and I were eager to try a prank we'd learned of, in which you put animal droppings into a paper bag, and set it ablaze on someone's doorstep. The unsuspecting stomper would get a big surprise!!! We snuck into my Dad's chicken coop and got some poop from whatever animal he had at the time; a pig, a calf, rabbits, it escapes me now but anyway, we got a bagful. Under cover of darkness and scolding one another to suppress our giggles, we snuck into the yard of a family of boys we knew (and you know, liked but acted like we didn't like). We had the bag, and a lighter. All systems were go. Suddenly, the boys ran out and scared us- they'd seen us coming! They surrounded us and one said, "Take their candy!" At which point another one grabbed the bag from me and thrust his hand inside. We girls fell to the ground in hysterics. Fate had intervened and far surpassed our original plan! On the not-so-good side, I never could get 'him' to like me after that. The price you pay for a great moment!
~ My cousin was going to stay overnight at my house. We were probably fifteen or so. We were in my room, changing, when my two younger brothers burst in. Completely naked, the girl threw herself onto my bed and covered her head with the bedspread. Everything else was OUT THERE! With eyes as big as saucers, the boys took a quick look before taking off. Mind you, there were two of us in the room, and I was in plain sight.  "Why did you just cover your head, Dummy?" I asked. "I thought they wouldn't know who I was," was her logic. Did I mention that her hair was kinda blonde?
~ I was working as a nurse in ICU, and an elderly gentleman came in with respiratory distress. A local doctor, known for his sober demeanor and exacting standards (read-we were terrified of him)- was consulted to evaluate the man. One of my co-workers went in to assist with the assessment. The physician gravely asked the patient what medications he was taking, and as so often happened, the report was vague. He was pretty sure he took a "puffer" and said he kept it in his shirt pocket. The doctor was becoming  frustrated at the length of the interview and its fruitless findings, so the RN, eager to impress, was stricken with an idea. "Let me just check his shirt, Doctor. We'll see what type of inhaler Mr. ____ is using. " She reached for the flannel shirt and felt for a round object in one of the chest pockets. With a flourish, she pulled forth a small, battery-operated penis and held it inches from the doctor's nose. The patient stammered a flimsy explanation, Dr. Sourpuss looked down his nose in disgust, and  the nurse had a minor nervous breakdown. Oh, to hear her re-tell it later! She had us in stitches. Each of us, in turn, had to 'check' on the man at some point during the night, and take a sneak peak at his peter (the fake one).
~ My kids make me tell this one at least once a year, just so they can watch me convulse with laughter, which I NEVER fail to do. Again, in ICU, I cared for a distinguished gentleman from out of town, who was visiting Chautauqua Institution one summer. Unfortunately, he suffered a heart attack, but with my expert care (his opinion), he was doing much better. He had moved down to Phase II telemetry when he called me in to meet his wife; a lovely, cultured woman. She asked me polite questions; had I grown up in the area, how long had I been a nurse, that kind of thing, and I was doing my best to provide intelligent answers. Then she said, "Do you have any children?" "Yes," I replied, "my daughter's a girl, and my son's a boy." She blushed a little and covered her mouth with her hand to hide her smile, embarrassed for me. I remember she said "Oh!" There was nothing I could do but turn and leave the room.
~ I was sitting at the nurse's desk doing some work on the computer. It was later in the afternoon, and nothing much was going on. There were some elderly ladies seated near the desk. Out of nowhere, one of them broke the silence. "I think I just pissed my slacks." One of her companions chuckled and said, "Aren't you a little old for that, ____?"
~ My husband & I were driving to the Buffalo area to pick up some chairs we'd bought on ebay. We asked my Dad if he'd like to come along. Because of the obscure address, we used our Garmin gps. Bud and Mike joked that, thanks to the mechanized feminine voice on the machine, it was now possible to "have another woman bitching at them while they drive". As we got close to our destination, we were straining to see the place, and traffic was heavy. Tensions were running higher, and the Garmin was mum. Bud quipped "talk to me Lady, don't clam up now!"
That's all I can think of for now, but I know there are many more. It's fun to think of them again. Laughter makes life worth living for me, and I try to see the humor in the direst of circumstances.
Can you remember any of your funniest moments? If so, please share.



Troy approached the podium and cleared his throat. "My wife, Wilhelmina, and I wish to thank you all for attending the dedication of the Steele Center for Childhood Cancer Research this evening. We are delighted to contribute to our community in this manner, and to continue the legacy begun by my grandfather in 1970. The center for Adult Cancer Research has been a tremendous success, and we look forward to making similar advances in honor of the innocent children stricken with this terrible disease. Your support and generosity have made this dream a reality. Together we will improve treatments, increase survival rates, and perhaps put an end to devastating childhood cancers within our lifetime.  As has often been said, our children are our greatest natural resource. They depend on us, and our nation's future is dependent on their good health and wellbeing. We rely on private donations rather than those from pharmaceutical and medical supply companies in an effort to ensure that there is no conflict of interest within the organization. Our mission is to provide the highest standard of care, recommended by pioneers in cancer treatment, without bias or ethical constraints. Please enjoy the refreshments, tour the facilities, and make any contribution you can so that we can continue to serve the children. Once again I want to thank you all for being here, and have a wonderful evening."
Troy smiled broadly and strode to Wilhelmina’s chair, taking both her hands and kissing them as cameras flashed, and the crowd erupted into applause. She was so proud of him at moments like this. He was a very busy man and his responsibilities weighed heavily on him. She knew this was why he could be distracted and withdrawn at times, even irritable. But on nights like tonight, when he showed such caring and compassion, and used his good fortune and influence to reach out to others, she remembered why she'd fallen in love with him. Troy was mingling with a table of the more distinguished guests, when Senator Schultz asked if he might make a toast. As Troy assumed a humble pose, the Senator said, "To Wilhelmina, whose tireless efforts have made this Center a reality. Heaven knows, she wore a path in the carpet to my office! She has stopped at nothing to promote this magnificent achievement, and I want to extend my personal congratulations to her. " There was another warm round of applause, but Wilhelmina’s stomach tightened. Everyone else saw Troy smiling adoringly at her. Only she recognized the subtle clenching of his jaw that she knew all too well.
It had clenched in the same way when she'd told him that morning that her mother was coming for Thanksgiving. "You know we're going to Aunt Clara's for dinner," he seethed. "Your mother doesn't exactly fit in with my family. I thought we agreed to keep our holiday celebrations separate." Wilhelmina had apologized, "I know, Honey, but she doesn't want to stay home without Daddy there. I couldn't tell her not to come!" Wilhelmina’s father had died in January, and Troy had not only attended the funeral but delivered the eulogy, expertly disguising his distaste for her home, and her relatives.
 "You have to tell her she cannot call you 'Willie'. It makes her sound ignorant. In fact, it's probably best if she doesn't say much at all. I'm sure you remember the time she told everyone at the table that she received Medicaid for you when you were young? That was priceless."
 Wilhelmina swallowed her sadness and disappointment. "I'll talk to her," she said. "She means well; she just doesn't know enough not to tell the truth." Unlike your family, she thought. They had no problem overlooking the truth. There was the 'premature' baby born fat and healthy seven months after Troy's cousin Madeline’s wedding, and his brother Mitch's 'roommate', Brian. And what was the problem calling someone by a shortened version of their given name? Their circle included a “Buffy”, a “Ladybird” and a “Trixie”. Ridiculous nicknames were chic and accepted. She’d stopped trying to make sense of it long ago.  Contrary to popular opinion, maintaining the veneer of a perfect family was hard work. Wilhelmina was thankful to have come from nothing.
Troy was quiet on the drive home from the dedication ceremony. Wilhelmina stared out the window into the darkness. How was it that an occasion that should have brought her so much joy only left her feeling hollow? They came near to a Wal-mart, and she asked Troy to stop. "You're kidding me, right? I mean, it's ten o'clock, we're all dressed up, and I'm exhausted. You know I hate that place."
 Wilhelmina stroked his hand. "I'm going to the grade school in the morning, to read to the kids for Veteran's Day. I want to bring them some candy, and I'd rather pick it up tonight. We're going right past, and I'd have to go out of my way tomorrow. Please?" Troy steered their Lexus coupe harshly into the store lot; griping under his breath. "It'll only take me a few minutes," she promised.
 He got out and reluctantly escorted her inside. "Let's make this quick, please. I don't want to run into anyone."
A cheerful, bearded man stood near a kettle at the entrance to the store, ringing a bell. "We appreciate your support this holiday season," he called. Troy waited impatiently at the door while Wilhelmina dug for a few dollars. "Thank you Sweetheart," the man smiled, and received a genuine smile back from her. She hurried to catch up to her husband. He wasn't smiling.
"Let's find the candy and get out of here. Now what are you doing?" Wilhelmina stood looking at a Christmas tree that had been placed on the service desk.
"Look, Troy, it's a Mitten Tree! I've heard of these. Each mitten has the name of a needy child on it, and a list of what they want for Christmas. Wouldn't that be fun, to give a few kids a nice Christmas?" It was a recurrent source of tension in their lives; Wilhelmina’s love of children. She was so taken with them, but Troy considered them a nuisance. As a compromise until he came around (and she was certain he would), she visited the sick in hospitals, volunteered at the elementary school, helped to organize fundraisers and sponsored summer camps. She’d made the best of the situation until her time for motherhood could come along, but she’d begun to despair that it was not to be.
“Earth to Wilhelmina,” Troy stood firm and crossed his arms in front of him. "Don't you think we do enough without playing Santa Claus? These people get a free ride for everything, I swear. How will they learn to work for what they have if we keep giving it to them?" This was the opinion of a man who got his first job, as Vice President of his grandfather's company, right out of an ivy-league college. He hadn't so much as worked at an ice cream stand before that. Wilhelmina couldn't blame him, it was all he knew. But she wouldn't stop trying to make him understand.
"Just two,” she pleaded. “I’m taking two; a boy and a girl. Oh, look! Sierra and Jeremy! How cute! Look at what they want for Christmas, Troy: a coat, jeans size 6, coloring books, and crayons. He wants plastic army men. Your niece wants a laptop for Christmas, and she's eight! We have so much; it makes me feel guilty that there are innocent little kids who don't understand why Santa doesn't visit their houses. Even if we do this, they're getting gifts from strangers who shopped in a discount store! We have to make them feel special. Give me fifteen minutes, and I can gather everything we need."
 Troy sighed and trudged behind her. There was no talking to her when she'd made up her mind, and he didn't want to make a scene. Besides, he had to watch her to make sure she didn't go overboard.
Wilhelmina chose a lavender parka for Sierra, and a navy down jacket with a dump truck stamped on the chest for Jeremy. She got the jeans, and the coloring supplies, and action figures. As she made her selections, she felt her bond to the children strengthen; she felt as if she knew them. She was sure that Sierra would like a box set of Beverly Cleary books, and a musical keyboard; and every boy needed a big metal truck that he could sit on, and a few Berenstein Bears titles. She was headed for the shoe department when Troy put his foot down. 
"That's it, Wilhelmina. You're getting ridiculous here. They'll probably ruin the stuff anyway, the way they live. I can't let you spend anymore. We have our own families to think about."
Wilhelmina looked at him with the closest expression to defiance that she could muster. "But they have to have warm boots," she declared. "You know how the winters are here. I have the sizes!" Troy took her arm and pulled her toward the registers.
 "You're finished. We've bought everything else. Their parents can buy their boots. Enough already, for God's sake! Do you even remember what you actually came here for?"                             
 "That's right! I need candy," she said. "Thanks for reminding me."                          
  Troy flopped himself onto a nearby bench and waited, fuming.
The holiday season came and went, with its usual flurry of social obligations and family gatherings. They bought Troy's mother a cashmere shawl that she tossed back into the box and pushed under her chair. Wilhelmina knew the gift would never see the light of day. As for her mother, she got her a programmable slow cooker, and you'd have thought the thing was a Mercedes. "Oh, Willie!" she cried. "You shouldn't have gotten me something so expensive. I can take it back. Should I take it back? Mine still works if I put a plate over it; Sissy borrowed it and broke my lid. Why are you crying, Willie? I'll keep it. I just worry about you kids spending your money." Troy had rolled his eyes at the ceiling, but he accepted her thankful hug. "You were so lucky to find this guy," her mother said, patting his back.
At a New Years' party, one of the wives brought up the subject of the Mitten Trees. She was saying that they were a lovely idea. Troy heartily agreed. "We took two mittens," he boasted. "We hooked those kids up pretty well! It was great." Wilhelmina helped herself to another glass of wine, and said nothing.
Later that week, they were making their way across town one afternoon. It was snowing heavily, and the cars were crawling along at a snail's pace. The snowplows had left huge, icy piles along the sides of the road and over the sidewalks, making walking very difficult. Children returning home from school had to climb through the deep and treacherous mounds. Wilhelmina spotted a familiar lavender parka and shrieked "Sierra! Troy, that's Sierra right over there! She's wearing the coat, and the jeans! Isn't she darling?" Troy, frustrated by the slow progress of the traffic, was grouchy.
 "Look at the jacket, Wilhelmina. It's filthy. She doesn't look 'darling' to me."
 "That's unkind, Troy. They may not have a washing machine. You take so much for granted." Wilhelmina continued to watch Sierra, concerned about her walking so close to the road. "Look, Troy. She's wearing sneakers with no socks, the poor thing!" She should have had boots, she wanted to say. Just then, Sierra's foot caught in a dirty pile of snow. She struggled to pull her foot free, and her sneaker became stuck. "She's barefoot!" Wilhelmina screamed, suddenly enraged. Why had she let him talk her out of buying those boots? Was she that spineless? A child was suffering because she'd submitted to a pompous asshole.
 "Stop the car!" she yelled. "I'm going after her!" All of the suppressed anger and resentment was creating a tidal wave of adrenaline in Wilhelmina, and something like hysteria.
 "Take it easy, Mother Teresa," Troy chided her.
 That was the last straw. "I said let me out of this car you son of a bitch!"
 He stared at her, incredulous, and stopped the car. "What are you planning to do? She doesn't even know you. She'll think you're a weirdo! Frankly, you're acting like one. You're embarrassing me."                                                                                                                                                                         "That's interesting," she said bitterly. "You often embarrass me. There's something we have in common."
 Troy's temple throbbed, but his voice had a level, measured tone, as though speaking to a lunatic. "I need you to understand that if you get out of this car, in a blizzard in the middle of town in front of probably everyone we know, I'm going to keep right on going."
"You do that," she said, getting out and slamming the door. He hated it when she slammed the door. "This is a luxury automobile!" he'd whine. "You just have to close it, not slam it like a lummox." Thinking about that made her angrier, and she quickly opened and slammed the door again, just to piss him off. She could see the people in their cars snickering at the calamity, and felt strangely satisfied. Troy was stuck in traffic and humiliated. There was a God, after all.
Wilhelmina leaped across the snow bank and made her way to the hopping young girl. "Can I help you?" she asked, pulling the little shoe out of the snow. "It's all wet, but you'll have to put it on until you get home." She couldn't indicate that she already knew her. "What's your name?" 
"Sierra," the girl said shyly. "I'm not supposed to talk to strangers, but thank you for helping me." Wilhelmina was delighted to spot a copy of Beezus and Ramona peeking from her backpack.
"I'd like to walk you home, to make sure you get there safely. I know you don't know me, but you can trust me, Sierra. I promise."
The child kicked a toe in the snow, and pushed her purple glasses up on her nose with a finger.  "If you told me your name, you wouldn't be a stranger, right?"
"You have to be careful about that, but in this case, you're right. My name is Willie."
"That's a funny name," Sierra smiled, "for a girl."
"It is, but it's what my mom always called me, so I like it.”
“My mom calls me Sweet pea.” Sierra took Willie's hand, and they made their way home.