September 29, 2009

A study in contrasts

"Come play in my campground. You need to find a sleeping bag." She points to a towel on the floor, "There's one!" I grab it and a pillow from the couch and together we huddle under the sheet that drapes from the piano over the bench.

Nights in the hospital, days of coming back to 'rest' and play with Jrex's niece. As hard as it must have been on Asian niece to be around all the chaos and swirling emotions. It was wonderful for the rest of us to have a tangible reminder that life goes on no matter what.

Below are photos to sum up the contrasting experiences.

We had to ask the nurses to turn the bottle so Mom's pastor wouldn't see the label.

I felt a bit selfish leaving Jrex and his Mom with Dad in the hospital as I jaunted over to Manhattan. No regrets though! It was wonderful to wander the city and check out a fashion show. I was wrong, it wasn't part of the official fashion week in Bryant Park. Just a posh show in a photo studio. But, hey, the editor of French Vogue was there!

I sat on the floor with Asian niece in my lap as all the ridiculously tall/skinny girls teetered past on their six-inch heels. Her rapt eyes followed every outfit as I said, "Aren't the outfits beautiful?" To which she replied, "Yeah. My brother made them ALL."

I definitely had shoe lust...

Though Asian niece's tulle skirt stole the show...

September 24, 2009

Brain-dead harvest

Last night we finished dinner by 8 pm, which is unheard of in our house! Normally we start cooking at 7:30 and eat around 9 pm. Anyway, the beauty of leftovers allowed us to watch TV all evening long. Not our normal way of spending time, but we both felt like being brain-dead.

First up, Mercy. A hospital dramedy from the nurses' perspective. Lots of great premises and even some very funny moments, but SO heavy handed. Jrex and I looked at each other at one point and wondered if it was possible to jump the shark in the very first episode. I'll probably check back in a month or so to see if it settles down.

Next up, my new love: Glee. Stories and songs from a high school glee club. Should be cheesy, instead it's delightfully quirky. Last night's dancing football team was Fabulous! Must be home by 9 pm on Wednesdays now!

Finally, when we were about to turn off the TV, we started watching Eastwick and ended up watching the whole episode. It should be annoying, but it was funny, well-written and intriguing. I might watch here and there, keep it casual, but it was fun.

Anyone else catching a fun, new show?

September 21, 2009

Home at last

We arrived back in the Bay Area yesterday afternoon. When we picked up our dog from Ms. Candy and Civil Engineer's house, they'd made us dinner to take home. We'd had grand plans for cooking a wonderful meal to celebrate our homecoming, instead we ate and fell asleep by 7 pm.

So . . . Korean funeral customs. No one told us the 'uniform' for men was a black suit, white shirt and black tie. Jrex and our Chinese-American brother in-law both had the black suit, but Mom K was very upset when she saw their colored ties. Of course, she saw them right before we left for the funeral home, so there was no time to go buy ties.

It was an open-coffin/viewing service on Friday night. We got there early to set up photos of and by Dad K. When we went up to look at the body every single one of us thought they'd put the wrong guy in the room. After two months in the hospital, his hair was long, so they'd slicked it back Italian-style (Staten Island has a huge Italian population. You do what you know!). They'd over-padded his face, puffed his lips and coated him in medium-brown makeup. When we compared notes later, each of us checked a different body part to confirm it was Dad: I looked at his stubby hands, Jrex checked for the caved-in skull (where they'd removed bone after his head bleed), Mom looked at his ear (which had worn away during his time in the hospital), YJ looked at his nose.

After a two-hour service (in Korean), Mom stood and gestured for all of us to come forward. I put a hand on my Dad's leg (I was fairly sure whatever was going on didn't include him). We all muddled forward and eventually were lined up according to age/rank on the far side of Dad's coffin. People began to line up and we realized it was a receiving line! Each person there stood or knelt in front of Dad's coffin, then came over and hugged Mom (many of them weeping profusely), then shook Jrex's hand, shook my hand, shook YJ's hand, shook Brother-in-Law's hand and then bowed their way down the rest of the relatives. Each time I glanced to my right, it looked like a wave as all fifteen relatives bowed in return. Thank God MN mentioned the two-handed shake in earlier comments! At least I knew to do that much.

THEN it turned out we had to go back on Saturday morning to do yet another Korean service with a different set of pastors doing sermons, prayers and benedictions. AND another receiving line. After that, Jrex had to walk out ahead of the body while carrying a photo of Dad. When we got in the limo to go to the cemetary, Mom K made Jrex ride in the front seat of the limo with Dad's picture: no one was allowed to go ahead of Daddy.

We rode in respectful silence all the way to the crematorium. Once there, each of us were given a rose as we walked in. Jrex placed Dad's picture among the flowers at the foot of the coffin. We added Dad K's Bible, a wooden cross he'd made and a stained glass butterfly that my Dad had given Mom K after he arrived Friday afternoon. Then there were more prayers, another sermon and a hymn. Next each of us put a rose on top of the coffin. Then we each went back up to bow in front of the coffin. The funeral director started to freak out that none of us were leaving and asked Jrex to have people start filing out from the back of the room.

After that we gathered at a local Asian buffet for lunch. Each time key guests arrived or left we had to get up, bow, say hello/goodbye, walk them to the door, bow again and then return to the table to eat. After a while, Brother-in-Law and I played the 'We're not Korean' card and just let Jrex and YJ handle the family greeting.

I'm glad I went back for the funeral and I'm very, very glad it's all over.

During the receiving line, directly across the room from me stood the enlarged photo of Dad K. It was a portrait I'd taken of him during our Yosemite trip last year. He's grinning and the strap of his Nikon camera is showing beneath his jacket collar. I kept looking at the picture and tearing up. As much as he drove me CRAZY, he was also generous with his time, loving beneath his gruff exterior and very full of life.

While we zoned out during the ceremony at the crematorium, I watched Jrex looking at his Dad's photo. I leaned over and whispered in his ear, "He wasn't an easy man, but he was a good man." Jrex nodded in quiet agreement.

I'm so glad that Dad K is now finding out how much he's loved without all the life pain that scarred his ability to give and receive it during his life on earth.

September 17, 2009

Jrex was right

Two nights ago, Dad K's breathing had slowed to four pants with a 45-second gap. Then the nurses came in to turn him and suction him. His breaths returned to four breaths with a 15-second gap. Jrex asked the hospice nurse if they could go 24-hours without suctioning.

They did. Dad K died early this morning. Peacefully.

Jrex is doing ok. He's in go-mode and not feeling emotional yet. I cried when he told me and have had a mild headache all day.

As a side note, I flew back to California Tuesday morning, picked up the dog that evening after working all day. Worked all day today and will be jumping on a red-eye tonight back to New York tonight. OTR Dad will join us tomorrow. Funeral tomorrow night.

Any particular Korean-American funeral customs I should be aware of? I feel very clueless.

September 14, 2009

And on and on

The tragic truth is this: you need a system to fail in order to die. Head, heart, lungs, another major organ, just one needs to stop and its over.

Dad K has a strong heart. His head injury affects his consciousness, not his bodily function. We thought his lungs would fail since he'd just had a raging pneumonia. However...he was intubated, which means there's a trach tube attached to his neck. It no longer connects to the ventilator, but it allows us to suction off fluid when it builds up and he begins to 'gurgle'. Each night since Wednesday we were convinced it would be the last, but we kept suctioning him. Making him comfortable. He's on a morphine drip, but no food or water. While it's true that all the machines were preventing his death rather than preserving his life, and it's true that the dying process can take time, we've been racking our brains to figure out why Dad is still alive. Is there a voice he needs to hear? Unfinished business? Have we done the wrong thing?

Jrex figured it out yesterday. With all his cancer patients, the fluid filled their lungs, they began to gurgle and they were gone within 48 hours. In our efforts to make things better, we've allowed all three major systems to continue to function at their optimum levels. The lack of fluid even has the effect of drying up the pnuemonia. His pastor saw him last night and said to Mom K, "Oh, he's off the feeding tube?! That's good. Now he can eat. I knew he was recovering."

There's plenty of tragedy to go around in all this: being in a unit without a hospice protocol, Mom not being able to tell her church what is going on, my niece having to watch us all coming and going from the hospital, Jrex having to tell yet another resident that he is an oncologist and we're all fine with the morphine level. My own personal tragedy is that I can't stay here any longer. The latest I could go back to work would be Thursday morning. We have a sales pitch on Friday where they specifically want to discuss the development of creative look and feel (which would be me). At the first pitch we made a big deal about the team they see is the team they get. If Dad had died last night, I'd have stayed through Thursday, but at this rate, I wouldn't be able to be here for the funeral anyway.

My creative director is relieved. My mother-in-law understands. My husband is supportive. I'm just really sad to go. (though I'll be honest and say that I'm more relieved than I can say that this next visit to the hospital will be my last! I really, really hate that vent unit.)

Tomorrow I'm hoping to post photos from today's fashion show! Jrex and his Mom stayed in the hospital while I went into the city to visit Swallowflight and check out Manhattan.

September 11, 2009


Tuesday night 5:30. We thought he'd be gone within hours. Well, Jrex thought it would take 2-3 days. We hoped he was wrong.

It's Friday evening. He's still hanging on. Looks comfortable, serene even. His breathing has been ragged for two days now.

Every night the four of us, Jrex, his sister, his mother and I took shifts. Agreeing to wake each other if his breathing slows to one time per minute. It hasn't happened yet.

Hard to plan a funeral for this weekend at this point.

Last night, YJ's husband and daughter arrived. I'm sitting in Mom K's bedroom right now with Asian Niece walking her feet up my back. She's four, so doesn't know exactly what's going on. Jrex came home to shower and has collapsed onto the bed and I don't have the heart to wake him.

Each change in status has been emotional: taking out the tubes ('liberation' is the hospital-talk for it), increasing morphine, his breathing changing. Yet between those times of crying and praying we've laughed and teased and told stories.

Sometimes his right eye opens. "Yobo!" (husband), Mom greets him. "Opa," my sister in law says with quiet sadness. "It's ok, Abaji, we love you. You can rest," I say. Jrex watches us all, puts a hand on his Dad's swollen arm and smiles quietly. Over and over again.

Last night, I came home with YJ to pick up her family. I stayed at the house with Asian niece so Writer and YJ could go visit Dad in the hospital. I've never been so happy to 'take one for the team' and 'have' to stay here in a bed instead of propping in a chair with loud nurses right outside the drawn curtain.

"Accchhhoo0! Oh shit!!" was a recent favorite nurse exclamation. "Oh my Gawd, my dahctah hasn't filled my Ambian prascriptian yet." A discussion over the flu shot, "Ahr you gonna take that shat? No one knows what they put in it. They cahn't make me tahke it. What ahr they gonna do if Ah don't?" "Say hello to the judge."

On and on all night long.

Last night the pastor insisted on coming by. We'd avoided it for two days since the pastor kept telling Mom K to keep believing no matter what the doctors said. Mom blamed the doctors. Related that Dad was on his fourth pneumonia, had bedsores all along his right side. Said they insisted we take him off the vent. The pastor seemed ok, though sad. Mom seems better now that the secret is out.

Tonight, I'm back on hospital duty. Good times.

September 7, 2009

still waiting

Have you ever tried to make someone comfort care in secret? Apparently that's what we're doing here. Dad K's younger brother came to visit this past weekend. While it was fun to meet another one of Jrex's cousins and to see his aunt (who only spoke Korean), that meant that we couldn't make Dad comfort care. Mom didn't want Dad dying in front of his brother.

She also had me pray over Dad the first night, in front of his uncle/aunt/cousin, another niece/cousin, Mom, YJ. I had NO idea what to pray. I prayed for peace. For joy in the midst of our sadness. Stuff like that. Jrex pulled me aside to remind me that no one knows we're making him comfort care. I thought that just meant the uncle's family, but apparently it's everyone! How can we take him off a vent in secret?! We're avoiding telling the pastor because he'd pressure Mom to wait more. This is really frustrating.

It made me realize again how amazing Mom's death was. Our whole community knew. People knew they were coming to say their goodbyes. This is SO bizarre. Plus, every time she was in the hospital, she had a private room.

Dad's in a vent unit, which has open cubicles facing the center nursing area. In the next stall is an angry little woman who's figured out how to limit the oxygen feed so she sets off an alarm over and over and over. The nurses are forced to ignore her as she bangs on the arm of her bed, sets off the alarm, bangs her spoon. Last night a woman went OFF on the nurses. She was obviously very afraid about what was happening to her Mother, but took it out as anger at the nurses. It's really stressful.

Plus, it smells like a hospital.

Today's theory is to submit the paperwork. Then to withdraw care tomorrow.

September 4, 2009

The Letter that turned the tide

A week ago, Mom K woke up and prayed as usual. She felt somewhat peaceful about the idea of making Dad K comfort care, but as soon as she stopped praying, she started to get anxious, fearful and to feel guilty about the idea.

Then she checked the mail and found this letter from my Dad*:
Dear Mom K,

These are tragic times for you. I can imagine many of your emotions because I lost my wife twelve years ago. Know that both you and Dad K are in my prayers – a gift of peace for you -- a gift of healing for him.

And healing takes many forms. With My Wife’s cancer, we had prayer teams stacked up in our living room waiting to come upstairs to pray with her. At times she was too exhausted to see them, and we had to send dear friends away. I confidently expected Jesus to heal her – and He did – but far differently than I expected.

He healed her real hurts:
  • Her lack of trust for her father; her gut feeling that she’d never had a father who loved her.
And as a result –
  • Her lack of trust for her heavenly Father.
  • And her fear of dying.
He healed all those hurts before she left us on September 28, 1997. Jesus gave her a new father – my Dad. In the final two years of their lives, they truly became loving father and daughter to each other. They talked on the phone. They corresponded. At times, quite independently of me. Because she could trust my Dad, it became easier and easier for her to trust the LORD. And then, during the last two weeks of her life, she looked forward to death. She said again and again, “I’m going home.”

All that’s background to an understanding the Holy Spirit gave me this past week. I was talking with OTRgirl on the phone when I remembered an insight that My Wife and I learned from Catherine Marshall. She made the obvious comment that, as we age, our bodies and minds deteriorate. But then, she followed up with the startling comment that for Spirit-filled Christians, our spirits continue to grow and expand, even when our minds or bodies are useless.

And if so, Dad K’s situation may be far different than what we naturally assume. We tend to see a person in a coma as being partly gone. But, if Dad K’s spirit is flourishing under the blessing of the Holy Spirit, then these may be the best days of his life.

Dad K may be longing for release from bodily imprisonment, so he can be with Jesus in his glorified body. As it says in Hebrews 11:6, he may be longing for a better country—a heavenly one. If so, what’s holding him back? Perhaps his loving care for you.

That’s the leading I’ve been getting from the Holy Spirit.

Christ’s and yours,
The letter confirmed much of what had come up when she prayed. She called Jrex and his sister and told them to call the nursing home and start the process.

Then she spent the rest of the weekend going back and forth emotionally and mentally. On Sunday night, she called Jrex in turmoil. I sat and prayed while they talked. Jrex was SO articulate and compassionate: "Mom, I feel completely peaceful about this decision, emotionally, theologically, ethically. But. The most important thing is that you feel peaceful. We don't want you to feel pushed into this." Then, a little while later, "Mom, you've been a good wife. You've loved and served Dad very well. You don't need to feel guilty about this decision." In the end she felt very tired and very sad, but peaceful.

Tomorrow is the day they are supposed to withdraw care. Jrex and I are on (separate) planes at 7 am, to get to NYC by 4 pm. I'll have my laptop with me and will try to keep you posted.

*He ran it by us first and we both thought it was great.

September 2, 2009

I really am sad, but now I'm also a little excited

This is going to feel a little off-topic, but work with me. We're flying out to New York Saturday morning. We were going to return on Monday the 14th. Yesterday Jrex called to say his sister had invited us to stay for a family event on Monday.

Jrex's sister married an older guy who'd been divorced. His son from his first marriage is in his 20's. And he's a fashion designer. And his Fashion Week spring show is that Monday.

Which means, the grand finale of our week with the family will be an outing to The City. For Fashion Week! How cool is that?! Maybe I'll see Metro Dad!

The dilemma is: what to wear!? I've got the nice black dress for the funeral. Jrex has his suit. We're fine there, it's just what to wear for Fashion Week?!! Yikes. I have a cool top I can wear, I just need to get very hip capri length jeans or leggings. I think I have shoes that can work. Jrex though...

Last night he got into the brainstorm about clothes. We figured we could sandpaper his rattiest jeans and make them stylishly shredded. He's got one 'cool' tshirt from The Brewer's Art back in Baltimore (stolen from me, but I'm only a little bitter). If he wears all that with a suit jacket and his Yankees baseball hat, I think he'll fit right in! The remaining flaw is the shoes.

I found him a pair of sneakers that I'm trying to convince him are totally in for men, but he thinks they're a bit weird.

The picture below isn't the exact shoe, but it's a similar idea. I need other people to tell him that this style shoe is what hip guys really are wearing these days. It's not just me being artsy.