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Posts Tagged ‘death’

Me, dad and Hans.

December marked the 10th anniversary of my father’s death, meaning that I’ve lived a full quarter of my life without him.

I’ve learned that it’s not the big things in life that you really miss talking about when you lose a loved one. I don’t need job advice (OK, I totally need job advice, but from a higher authority than my dad). I don’t need him to answer the Big Questions.

Instead, it’s the funny little topics that make me want to talk to him, the goofy questions that pop into my head with some regularity.

Would his love for horror and sci-fi films from the ’50s and ’60s make him a fan of the current cultural obsession with zombies? (I can tell you with certainty that he would have little tolerance for sparkly vampires.) Just how flawed is the Alien prequel? Why did he like dachshunds so much? Doesn’t he think it’s time for a black actor to play Batman? Doctor Who: Still totally awesome, right? Why are there no Tom Waits albums in his music collection, when it simply BEGS for Tom Waits?

It’s the seemingly forgettable one-off chats that I miss, the perfectly benign conversations over coffee (Diet Pepsi for him), not the big, earth-shattering talks that we all think must be so important.

I also miss the dachshunds.

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This post was supposed to be about the awesome strawberry cupcakes I made that reminded me of my grandmother and finally fulfilled a nearly yearlong craving. But NO, because my oven hates cupcakes and burns the bottom of each and every one.

I hinted around last year that I would love to have a strawberry cake for my birthday, only in this house there is no hinting around. In order to get a strawberry cake, I would actually have to say the words, “Will you make me a strawberry cake for my birthday?” which just seems so needy.

My grandmother was the originator of this fabulous strawberry cake. When I asked her for the recipe in college, I learned that it was what I call a “cheater cake,” since it started with a box of cake mix. It should probably be called a “double cheater cake,” since its strawberry flavor results almost entirely from a box of strawberry Jell-O. No matter. It is delicious.

My grandmother died a week after my birthday last summer.

During a small gathering at her old church after the funeral, somebody pointed out that there was strawberry cake on the dessert table. Serendipity, no?

No. It was the ultimate “cheater cake,” made from strawberry-flavored cake mix, complete with those horrid little strawberry-flavored pellets and covered in store-bought frosting.

I bought a box of white cake mix a couple of weeks later, fully intending to make the strawberry cake I deserved. But July in north Alabama is hot. So is August. I spent September recovering from the death of my cat, and by the time October and November rolled around I was neck-deep in graduate school assignments.

Last week, I decided to make the recipe into cupcakes because I needed something to bring to a bake sale. Ingenious, right? I make 24 cupcakes, keep two and sell the rest for a good cause. Only the oven had different plans.

At any rate, here’s the recipe. You should be able to make it in any pan size described on the back of the cake mix box; just evaluate your oven’s proclivities first. All 10-ounce packages of frozen strawberries seem to be sweetened, so I’m assuming that’s the right kind to buy.

Nanny’s Strawberry Cake

4 tablespoons plain flour
1 package white cake mix
1 small package strawberry Jell-O
1/2 cup cold water
4 whole eggs, beaten one at a time
2/3 cup vegetable oil
Half of a 10-ounce package frozen strawberries, thawed

Preheated oven according to the instructions on the box of cake mix. Grease pans and dust with flour.

Whisk the flour into the cake mix in a large mixing bowl. Dissolve Jell-O in cold water. Add to flour and beat well. Mix one beaten egg into batter; repeat with other eggs. Add oil and mix well. Fold in strawberries. Bake cake according the instructions on the box of cake mix.

Icing

1 box powdered sugar
1 stick butter
Half of a 10-ounce package frozen strawberries, thawed

Cream sugar and butter. Add strawberries and beat the icing until it is as thick as fudge.

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Having heard about the death of a friend’s father and the death of one of my mother’s friends within the past seven days, it occurred to me that perhaps I’ve reached that age when deaths become more common. Then I realized that my father died nearly 10 year ago, so I guess I’ve been reaching that age for a while.

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I received tons of kind, helpful advice from a lot of people recently regarding some difficult decisions my husband and I had to make about our cat, Yin. The statement that stayed with me day and night, though, was one that a fellow Alabama blogger, Bo, shared. Bo’s 15-year-old dog had died in her sleep not even a week before my original post, and his comment struck home: “I really wish I would have controlled her last moment with us.”

Thursday, September 2, was Yin’s final day with us. I gave him a tour of the garage, a spot off-limits to cats for a number of reasons, and spent literally hours rubbing his belly and his soft, silky ears whenever he would put up with it. I baked a piece of chicken so he could enjoy the smell and the anticipation of one of his favorite treats.

As I was putting a few pieces of soft, too-sweet cantaloupe down the garbage disposal, I heard the distinct ka-chunk of Yin jumping down from the refrigerator; he had always loved melon and was sniffing the air, wondering where his share was. I panicked, realizing I had just thrown away the last bit of melon in the house on the last day the biggest melon lover in the family was going to be around. I quickly grabbed a container of homemade coconut-cantaloupe ice cream out of the freezer and patiently sucked the ice cream off of a few cat-sized pieces of melon. Yin enjoyed every mushy bite.

My husband seared a piece of ahi tuna for dinner so that Yin and his brother, Yang, could enjoy their fair share of what has turned out to be their favorite food ever.

It was an epic last day.

I spent the night on the couch downstairs because I didn’t want Yin to wake up alone during his final few hours. I fed him chicken at 1:30 a.m. when he got up to find the litter box, and rubbed his ears until he decided to go back to sleep on the fridge at 3.

Yin died at around 8:30 a.m. on Friday, September 3, as my husband stroked his side and I rubbed his head and left ear.

Not wanting to leave his body to the care of strangers, we drove him to the crematorium ourselves. We wrapped him in a pillowcase that my grandmother had embroidered before she died in June, and outfitted him with two toys, five Greenies and a tablespoon of catnip for the cremation.

A little over an hour later, we left with a small metal tin containing his ashes.

Thus ends the saga of Yin, who we cared for from the time he and his brother showed up on the carport of our rental house in Mobile, Ala., to the moment we left his tiny body in the cremation room.

It was a fun 13 years. I miss him like crazy, but I also feel honored that we were able to help him have a dignified end to a wonderful life.

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At 8 a.m. on Friday, what was going to be a return checkup for Yin will instead be our peaceful goodbye to him. He’s been putting up with treatment for his chronic renal failure, but he’s tired. So tired. He doesn’t feel good, and he doesn’t know why.

I think he would keep taking pills and subcutaneous fluids for as long as his little body would hold out, but those treatments just don’t seem right anymore. He hasn’t gained any weight. He spends his days and nights on the refrigerator, coming down only to eat and seek out the litter box. He eats like a champ, but then tucks himself back into his spot on the fridge, displaying varying stages of discomfort or, mercifully, falling into a deep sleep.

I’m tired, too. I lie awake at night, terrified when I hear a noise downstairs, even more terrified when I don’t.

This is the bravest, kindest and most difficult decision I’ve ever been a part of.

A couple of times a day, he’ll perk up and almost resemble his old self, meowing at the top of his lungs for tuna or climbing onto my shoulders pirate cat-style for a ride around the first floor. These episodes give me pause, but I can’t make him go on just for the sake of an occasional glimmer of hope.

His work is done here. To paraphrase one of my favorite professor’s favorite quotes, there will soon be a Yin-shaped hole in the universe. I can never fill it, but at least I’ll always know that I let him go with dignity.

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I don’t even know what to call this piece of furniture. Spice cabinet? Spice drawers? During its long tenure in my grandmother’s house, it was simply the blue drawers in the hallway; for adults, the holder of telephone books, for kids, the source of puzzles and books, pencils and paper.

I brought it home after my grandmother’s funeral last week, stuffing it into my tiny car along with a few photographs and a handful of handwritten recipes from the bottom kitchen drawer.

I asked for this piece long ago (my grandmother had been assigning artifacts to children and grandchildren alike for nearly three decades), choosing it over the fancier formal china cabinet that resided in the den and didn’t match my personality or decorating style any more than pineapple-topped bedposts.

Seriously, what’s with the pineapple-topped bedposts?

It’s in my office now, slightly cleaner thanks to a brief encounter with Murphy’s Oil Soap, but still bearing evidence of its age. Rather than puzzles and phone books, it holds the essentials of a perpetual graduate student. Mostly, though, it just holds memories, and I’m grateful that my husband maneuvered it into my car with mere inches to spare.

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A co-worker complimented me on my paperclip holder this morning.

It’s an ashtray.

My grandmother (father’s side) LOVED to smoke. She loved it like some people love their pets. It was her hobby.

When we were children, my brother and I would argue over who got to flick the Bic to light her Chesterfields, secondhand smoke be damned.

After her diagnosis of lung cancer/heart disease, she halfheartedly tried to quit. I remember looking outside one Thanksgiving and noticing smoke drifting up from the open driver-side door of her K-car. She may have sort of tried to take her doctor’s advice to quit, but she wasn’t taking any orders off of anybody.

After she died, I found secret stashes of Chesterfields all over her house, in handbags, dresser drawers and cabinets. They seemed like dirty secrets, and finding them made me wish that everybody had just shut up and let the woman smoke after her condition was diagnosed as terminal. Instead, she seems to have spent her last couple of years sneaking cigarettes only when she could get all the caretakers out of the house.

This is only one of the entirely awesome collection of ashtrays that I inherited from her. Most are very evocative of the ’60s and ’70s, and there’s not a plain one among them. Like her, they’re colorful and weird, and they don’t really go with anything.

She died in the fall when I was a college freshman. Every year about this time I realize that I’m becoming more like her as I get older (sans the smoking and multiple divorces), and we could have some great conversations if she was still around. We could have spent the last 20 years taking those crazy guided bus tours that she liked, smoking our way around the continent.

She would have been a blast on a cruise ship.

Instead, I’ve got the grooviest ashtrays you’ve ever seen. They may never see another cigarette, but they’re great reminders of a majestically weird lady that I wish had been around longer.

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