Love’s Guiding Force~

Today is the 21 anniversary of my brother Kysa’s death.  January 26, 1996.  Two decades plus one year.

I sat with him as he transitioned and was with him when he died.  It was the first time I’d ever been with anyone who died and it was a very physical process for him. None of it freaked me out, really, as much as it left me in awe and wonder.  What I was privileged to witness gave me a glimpse into what I believed was a world beyond ours; it was enough to leave me shaken for years as I strove to make sense of it and find a place for it in my life.

In the month before Kysa died, family and friends sent lengths of colorful cloth to wrap him in for cremation.  My brother-in-law made a sturdy and lovely oak body board for him.  We were all very hands on in his last hours, talking to him, moistening his chapped lips with ice cubes, wiping his brow, drumming softly with animal skin drums and fanning him with feathers.

I felt like a cheerleader as he died, quietly encouraging him to relax into what was happening.  Near the very end, as he choked and the death rattle took over, I found myself chanting go Kysa you’re almost there keep going as if I was cheering him to a finish line.  And indeed, that’s how it felt.  It felt like I walked right up to the veil between this world and the next and pulled it back aside and then stepped back, because this was his time, not mine.  And as I gazed upon his quiet body, relaxed against the sheets, I felt, of all things, pride.  Pride in him, that he’d won some invisible marathon and was now beyond the veil, hands triumphantly raised in the air.

We, all of our nearby family, went with him to be cremated.  We held a service over his body on the gurney, tucked flowers into his shroud, murmured blessings, quoted poems, and then stepped outside to give his widow her time with him. 792143_10152488276805441_1728747169_o

It was the most powerful moment of my life.

Until Chuck died.

What we did with Chuck in hospice, how we tended him and loved him, and the way we cared for him as he lay dying, the way we bathed him ourselves, and dressed him, then shrouded him with soft blankets…supported his body as they lifted him to the gurney to take him away, went with him to be cremated, covered him with flowers, tucked notes into his shroud…the Love that guided my finger to press the switch that opened the doors of the crematorium…the grace that held me up as I heard the loud swoosh of the flames…

I knew to do what I did for Chuck because we’d done it for my brother all those many years ago.  Because of Kysa I knew to challenge the narrow parameters of thinking that I might otherwise have had.  Our homage to my brother opened my heart to light and Love.  What I learned at his bedside in 1996 remained in my soul and as I watched my beloved husband die, as I gazed upon his still body after a death that was unbearable to witness, I knew that what I did and how I did it was only about Love, not about fear.  All that determined how I and our daughter and Chuck’s daughter did what we did was the law of Love.  Tending the body of my husband after death couldn’t be left to strangers, as careful as they might be.

In those moments after he died, I remembered Chuck’s words to his doctors after the many surgeries resulting from his first cancer a year and a half earlier.  His left arm and right thigh from knee to hip looked like hamburger from grafting of skin and blood vessels and muscle tissue.  The bandages required twice daily renewal and the dr. wished to set him up with a visiting nurse.  Chuck thanked him and refused, telling him that he was sure they’d do a good job but I would do better because you see, Dr. my wife loves me and that makes all the difference in the world.  Mind you, I’d never done such a thing before and was most definitely not a nurse.  But Chuck was right.  I loved him and it was a service I could do for him. Did for him. With Love. 043

Which is precisely how I felt when he went into hospice in April 2013 and died 3 weeks later.  I looked at the man I loved lying on that bed, his breath forever stilled and knew that no stranger could care for him in the same way I could.  And in my mind I saw him smile at me as I dipped a clean cloth in the warm, soapy water and began washing him, and then dressed him in street clothes again because I knew he hated the hospital gown and, finally, wrapped him in colorful blankets.  A week later I gently pressed the switch to open the doors to admit his body into the flames and turn his beloved body into ash. photo

My brother Kysa in 1996 and what I learned from being with him as he died empowered me to do the same, and more, with my beloved husband Chuck after his death, many years later.

Love gives me the power to do all that needs doing and it opens my heart to possibilities and deeds never imagined.  Love is all that matters.  collage

Family moments~

Family.  We all have them of one sort or another.  Scattered.  Close.  Dysfunctional.  Working.  Big. Small.  All shapes and sizes.  Love.  Hate.  And everything in between.

This almost 3 1/2 years of traveling as Happily Homeless has been, for me, about family.  Discovering it.  Tracking it down.  Reconnecting with it.  Finding roots in a way I’ve never had.  Realizing that keeping it can take effort and time.  Which is not a bad thing.  How can any relationship be sustained if there is no effort?  A realization that isn’t new on my part, but definitely a new perception of it as we’ve traveled.

So, my family.  I grew up in a family of eight kids.  Twenty years between the youngest and the oldest.  Five boys.  Three girls.  I’m the youngest of the older four.  The middle sister.  My dad had a brother and a sister.  There are two cousins from them.  My mom had two brothers.  Her brother Les was born on her birthday seven years apart.  He and his wife Linda had two kids.  Numbers and more numbers.

My siblings and I grew up and scattered to live our lives.  Married. Children. Divorced.  Our family has never been easy.  We had our own way of keeping the “fun” in dysfunctional.  There were issues, but sometimes its been nothing more than time and distance keeping us apart, and not paying attention to the relationships.

This underlying theme of my years of travel has been about re-establishing and reconnecting with my immediate and extended family.  I have an overwhelming curiosity about my parents (who divorced), my sibs individual relationships with them, who my parents were as young adults, the relationships they had with their own siblings.  You know-everything!  And so I’ve sought out relatives as we’ve traveled, and I’ve grown my tribe.  I’ve met relatives I never thought I’d meet!

California:  my Aunt Linda, whom I’d met twice in my life.  I went and visited her and she gave me a big box of family papers left to me by my Uncle Les.  During my visit with her I met her son, my cousin Kevin.  I really liked him.  There was a strong family resemblance to my mom, who was an intellectual, same as him.  And I was so glad I stopped to visit Aunt Linda.  She died not a year later in a fall.  

Northern California:  my cousin Laura, Aunt Linda’s daughter.  I need to get in touch with her again.  I want to know her better.  Also in northern CA, I met Laura’s daughter Jessica.  What is that relationship-cousin once removed?  Not sure.  But Jessica had a daughter of her own.  Need to contact her too.   

Maine:  I attended my Uncle Ken’s funeral and was able to meet his widow, my Aunt Peggy again.  She’s a firecracker, even in her 80’s.  Her son, my cousin David, and his family-met them too!

Connecticut:  my cousin Sam and his wife, Jean, and their son, Jon.  I was able to take our son, Fireman Nick, who also lives in that state, over to meet them.  I wanted him to know them, and know that he has family nearby.   

Maine again:  I spent time with one of my older brother’s, David, and his wife Linda. David has that kind of humor where he says something funny, but he’s kind of non dramatic about it and a minute later you realize what he said and you kill yourself laughing.  He and I spent time perusing family geneology.   My older sister Catharine came to visit while I was there.  She and I have come a long way in building a friendship and I so cherish that!  

Colorado:  my dad.  I’ve loved spending more time here with him.  Today Handsome Husband and I went up to Estes Park to meet up with my oldest brother Ken.  I haven’t seen him in 7 years.  Not for any particular reason.  Just life, and our lives are different, so we didn’t.  But I’m going to stay in touch with him from now on.  And I hope he feels the same.  He reads my blog so he’ll see this (Hi Ken!  We had such a great time hanging out with you today!)  

Tomorrow, my youngest brother Joseph is coming up to Loveland with his two boys, my nephews, Finn and Arden. I last saw Arden when he was maybe a year or so old.  Finn was a couple months old.  Presumably he’s taller now.  My kids and I, who always make up nicknames for people, and combine names (how Hollywood of us!) call them FinnArden.  Lovingly, of course.  Joseph’s girlfriend, Tammy, will be with him, so I’ll meet her for the first time.  Joseph and I have spoken on the phone for the first time in these last couple days.  We’ve laughed a lot.  I’m going to really like connecting with him again.  And we’re going to stay connected, and I’m going to be present in his kids’ lives, even if its through the mail, and the internet.

It has taken me out of my comfort zone, reaching out to family.  How odd to say that.  But we haven’t been connected and I got out of the habit of reaching out, and nurturing the relationships.  I’m very glad I took that breath and picked up the phone.  It was worth it for me.  It is worth it to me.  It doesn’t always work when we reach out to others.  But sometimes it does.  And dear readers, it is priceless and heart-warming, and an altogether lovely feeling when it does.  Life is good.

Honor Flight/the banquet~

There were no moments of this Honor Flight from Northern Colorado that weren’t meaningful.  None of it came off as scripted, although it was completely planned, down to the most minute detail.  These men, and two women, were cared for, and looked after, every second.  Volunteers, called guardians, were assigned to them, to take care of every need, from medical awareness, to ensuring they were given plenty of water for drinking, food for sustenance, and a listening ear.

Saturday evening was the banquet for these warriors of World War 11 and Korea.   Tables were set beautifully, and we gathered to share a meal, and connect with one another.  Handsome Husband and I sat at a table with my dad and seven other vets.  They all had to be tired, and jet-lagged, but the energy in the room was palpable, and every so often, I would look around and ponder at the stories each must be exchanging with the other.  I can only imagine how their heads were  whirling with all that had already happened that day.

We hadn’t been seated long when we heard the sharp commands of the Honor Guard at the door, and everyone stood as they trooped down the middle, bearing the colors-Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, Air Force~All stood at attention, as the National Anthem was played.  It was quite a sight to see, men who had, so long ago, saluted sharply, fingers across uniform covers.   I pictured them as they had been, young men in the prime of their lives, with a war in front of them.  Here they stood now, decades later, having survived so much, their patriotism and their pride shining through each of them so strongly.   

I glanced over at my dad and Handsome Husband, and, in that moment, I realized that even though Handsome wasn’t an official member of the Honor Flight, that this weekend was for him as well.  He served honorably for many years, first in the Army, and then in the Air Force, and was involved in much that he has never spoken about (oh, jeez, another dangling participle!)  I watched him interact with the others, and knew that him being here was a good thing, and my heart just overflowed with love for him, and love for my dad, that they were able to share this together.  The chaplain stood to speak after the Anthem, and briefly told us of his own dad, who was a survivor of the Bataan Death March, and two years in a prison camp in Manchuria, and was his inspiration.  He choked up as he spoke, and so did I.  The guest speaker gave a moving speech about service-to one another, to country.  It set the mood in every way.  My dad served honorably for many years, but has never allowed that he “went anywhere” with his career, when measured against his West Point classmates who attained high rank.  I’ve always thought otherwise.  Dad fought in a war, he spent time away from his large family, going where he was ordered.  It can’t have been easy, any of it, and my heart filled continually throughout the evening as I studied him unobtrusively.  At one point he put the question to his table mates: “Are you embarrassed when people approach you to shake your hand and say thank you?”  There was a general consensus of “yes” though our new friend Delmar said “Yeah, I am, but I’m also thinking to myself “Its about damn time”.  I liked that, because I agreed with him.  Which led me to, once again, push my comfort level.  Taking a breath, I stood, with water glass in hand, and announced to these grizzled old men that I wanted to make a toast and I asked them to raise their glasses with me.  What did I even say?  Words to the effect that they had all been examples to those in my generation, they did what was asked of them, came home after and built their lives, but made a difference, and I wanted to say thank you, and to welcome them home.  The smiles on their faces told me that I’d been on mark, and I was glad I’d done what I did.

Oh, that evening!  Voices all around me, stories being told, experiences of war, and homecoming, being shared.  These men who were young during “their” wars, now sitting hunched over the tables, some sitting in wheelchairs, some with canes hung over the backs of their chairs.  In times past, they had marched off to war, willingly and unwillingly.  They’d done what they had to do, and now, well, this was their night.  And I was reveling in being a part of it!  

Honor Flight/DC arrival moments~

….As my dad was winging his way to BWI in Maryland, from Colorado, Handsome Husband and I arrived at the Hilton, where we, and the veterans, would stay overnight.  My excitement level was building, the butterflies in my stomach fluttering-I hadn’t seen my dad in three years, so I knew that was going to be emotional and add into the mix all the sights and sounds that would be experienced during this too quick 24 hours, and, well, you catch my drift!

We changed so as to be ready for the banquet that evening, and waited by the huge windows that gave us a view of the road, so that we could see the approaching buses.  I watched as a huge truck backed up and hundreds of overnight bags belonging to the veterans were offloaded.

Several young men and women arrived, smartly turned out in uniforms from each of the military branches.  This would be the Honor Guard for the evenings’ festivities.

I didn’t want to miss anything-the colors, the energy, any part of the arrival, so Handsome Husband and I went outside to the main doors.  Oh, the anticipation was building, as I watched the various hotel employees, dressed out in suits, position themselves outside.  The buses must be close, I thought.  And a thrill just ran through me, folks, at the very idea of being a part of this!  And then, yep!  There was the first bus, rounding the corner!

I had no clue which bus my dad might be on, so I tried to watch closely as the passengers stepped off.  And, as I watched, I had a thought about just what this entire weekend was for-it was the recognition and welcome home that these military people had never gotten.  I wanted to do some gesture to add to that.  But in order to do that, I had to step outside my comfort zone.  Let me pause here to acknowledge that, for those of you who know me, you might be surprised, if not shocked, to find out that I am, in many ways, at heart, a shy person.  My outgoing personality has been hard won, and is authentic now, but even I must push past my fears at times, and this was one of those times, in order to make it the experience I hoped it to be.  I called to mind what Eleanor Roosevelt once said, that “every day, you must confront that one thing that you fear the most”.  So, as the veterans debarked, I went to stand where they would have to pass me,

and as each one passed me by, I made eye contact with them, held out my hand to shake theirs, and said “Welcome home.  I’m so glad you’re here”.  And they smiled so broadly, and I knew that what I was doing was a good thing.

It was beautiful.  It was thrilling.  The energy was tangible.  And it was only minutes before I saw my dad.

You know what I find interesting?  I’m pretty much okay with farewells-there might be a few tears, but then I’m up and running with anticipation about what’s around the corner.  Its when I greet people for the first time, after a long absence, that my waterworks get going, and that’s exactly what happened when my dad reached me.  I hugged him, he hugged me, and I burst into tears.  He had tears too, (though he might deny it).  It was so good to see him, and to see him here, participating in this.

My dad’s a West Pointer.  It wasn’t long after he graduated that he was sent over to Korea.  After serving his time over there, he was put aboard a ship that docked in Hawaii, and that was the first time he was able to contact my mom in the US to tell her he was on his way home. It took him thirty days to travel from Korea to San Francisco.  Like so many others in that war, and in WW2, he came home alone, not with his unit.  There was nobody to greet these men and women, nobody to say thank you for serving our country, nobody to acknowledge their life-changing experience.  They got off the plane or the ship, found their way home, found a job, started their families, and went on with their lives.  In their souls, they held the nightmares and pain of what they had seen and done.  Now that the veterans of these wars are aged, and dying, those memories are surfacing.  The words are being spoken.  This is what they had to do.  This is what they saw.  I  believe so strongly that we need to bear witness to them, to their stories.  This Honor Flight weekend with my dad, with Handsome Husband, (himself an Air Force veteran), maybe I could do my part, maybe I could be part, of the healing.  So….I put out my hand to them.  And  started the most beautiful 24 hours of my life~

Honor Flight moments begin~

Honor Flights.  Ever heard of them?  Its a series of non-profits around the country with the common theme of taking veterans of our wars to visit the memorials in Washington D.C.  Currently, they are, of course, focusing on WW2 and Korean War vets because they are elderly and in the twilight of their lives.  They come to D.C. and visit their memorials and are pretty much given the “welcome home” they never received when they returned from the war zones.  Its all funded by donation, and each Honor Flight group, in varying degrees, has a lifetime experience.

So, this past weekend, my dad, Stuart Miller, US Army Ret.  joined an Honor Flight from northern Colorado.  There is so very much to write about this experience, and too much to write about in one blog.  The overall picture?  One hundred and fifty veterans of those two wars, and five from Vietnam who were Purple Heart recipients, joined together in Washington DC, to talk about their fighting years, maybe for the first time, paid honor to their comrades who didn’t come home, had their hands shaken too many times to count, and, hopefully, we nt home with some healing in their hearts.  There are really no words that will fully explain the hugeness of a brief 24 hours with my dad and all these other vets.  I’ve seen a documentary on the Honor Flights, and I encourage you to do the same.  I knew some of what would happen at thestart of their day as they gathered at the hotel in Colorado, and I got chills as I heard of it first hand from my dad and these elderly men.  Here it is.

The veterans, from all corners of northern Colorado, were dropped off at the hotel by family members.  Inside, a very large buffet breakfast awaited them.  Its always good when it starts with food.  Each of them were given what I told my dad was a “swag bag”-a poncho for bad weather, a disposable camera, a blue t-shirt , a ball cap that was inscribed with either WW2 ” or “Korean War” veteran.  A special Honor Flight pin.  Small snacks.   A lanyard that had their name on it, a star of whatever color denoting the bus they would ride on for the day. And on the back the name and contact information for their “guardian” (a volunteer who was partnered with 4 veterans for the day).  There was nothing left to chance.  After breakfast, they headed for their bus, which would take them to Denver Airport, a little more than an hour away.  But wait!  They didn’t just ride to the airport.  Before boarding the buses they were greeted by members of the Patriot motorcycle group, who were going to be their escorts to the airport.   And it got better.   In front of the one hundred motorcycles were state police cars, lights flashing, and along the roads, as they approached intersections, more would take their place.   And then there was more.  The crowds turned out along the roads, on the overpasses, waving flags, cheering and applauding, holding signs saying thank you and welcome home.  This is what started the day for  all these old men who were part of the Greatest Generation and the one after.  Wearing sneakers for comfortable walking, supported by walkers and wheelchairs, unsteady on their feet at times, these grizzled men who were ranchers and farmers, business owners, blue collared ordinary  men who were only brought together because they donned a uniform and went to war, came together over 50 years later to board a plane to take them to our nation’s capital to be honored and to pay honor to their comrades in arms.  These were men who saw sights they never envisioned seeing while “over there”.  These were men who stepped off a ship or a plane and into their new post-war lives without being recognized by their nation for the sacrifices endured.  All these many years later, this 24 hours was going to change that for them.   They boarded this flight, with nurses to look after them should medical emergencies arise, volunteers to oversee their comfort and keep them company,  their only responsibility to sit back and enjoy.  Everything that could be done for them was being done for them, at no cost to them.  All they had to do for the next 24 hours was bask in the knowledge that they had, in their time, given what was asked of them, and it was now their time to be given to.  Behind them, as the plane lifted into the air, was Colorado.  Ahead of them-Washington DC, and a long overdue welcome home.

Meet my dad moments~

Father’s day.  It just doesn’t seem to receive the same massive hallmark outpouring as Mother’s day.  And yet, contrary to what media has tried to tell us these past decades, dad’s can be pretty important to a child’s development.

So, I thought I’d introduce you to my dad, the man who played a very important part of shaping who I am as a woman today. ( And I know you all think I’m pretty damn amazing, so there you go.)

Stuart Livingstone Miller.  There is some disagreement as to whether that  “e” ought to be at the end of his 2nd name.  New Englander born and raised.  Massachusetts born.

                                           Then raised in this house in Portland, Maine

When he grew up, he went to West Point Military Academy, where he met my mom, Betty Catharine, who was a nurse in NYC.   Upon his graduation, they were married at the chapel at West Point, crossed swords and all.

They honeymooned at that most popular destination, Niagara Falls, NY.

  His country called, and he deployed to the war zone in Korea, where, on his first day of duty, taking over command from David Hackworth, he was called upon to negotiate a hostage release with a soldier who just couldn’t deal with the battle stress any longer, and was holding a gun to the head of a fellow GI. My dad traded places with him and talked the guy down.

When he returned from Korea, on a troop ship, he and my mom set to work on growing their family. And, over the span of 18 years, they had, yes, they had EIGHT kids!

He served his country proudly, rotating overseas to Germany to participate in the Berlin air drop, plus two other times there in various locales.  I remember one of our tours in Germany when the 6 Day war happened, between Israel, Syria, Jordan and Egypt.  I’d come home from school never knowing if my dad would be home or be gone.  Tense time, even at my young age.

                                           He spent 6 months over in Turkey, on a solitary tour.

He spent 20 years in the Army, and retired as a Lt Colonel.  At the end of his career, he had the choice of either going to Vietnam or retiring.  You do the math.  Eight dependents, nine counting my mom (though she hated that term, as do I!) Already 24 years of service, constantly traveling with the military-he retired honorably.

My mom and dad divorced-no surprise there.  He lives out west in Colorado now, remarried.  I’ve seen him a couple of times as we’ve traveled as Happily Homeless, and we’ll be visiting him again in the fall on our way out West.  I’m so looking forward to seeing him.  He’s got a great sense of humor, and he passed that along to me.  I have funny memories of childhood Halloweens with him scaring the neighbor kids.  When I was 10 I discovered my Scottish roots and went nuts for it.  My dad was my compatriot throughout my high school years as I attended Scottish festivals to soak in the excitement of bagpipes and dancers.  After my trip to Scotland when I was 16, where I purchased a can of haggis-yes, it comes in cans apparently-I gave it to him as a gift.  My next birthday I got it back from him, wrapped.  And I sent it again to him for Christmas.  We sent it back and forth for years, until one year we didn’t.  Somewhere, that can of haggis still exists.  Probably ready to explode at this point!

My dad is a decent man.  He doesn’t think his life has amounted to much.  I disagree.  Yeah, he isn’t famous, but he matters.   My siblings and I aren’t particularly close, some of us, and we’ve had to do some healing work along the way, but we’re all strong, intelligent adults, and we’re raising strong kids.  He’s a good man, and I called him today to make sure he knows I think so.   And that I love him.  He’s my dad.

goodbye to these clear Western skies moment~

Since last July, when we pointed our car West, following Chuck’s post-op follow up, we have had one adventure after another.  Our travels took us to Missouri and Pony Express country,

 Springfield IL, and Abe Lincoln’s tomb.

Kansas-where the sky opened up for us and I breathed fully for the first time in months.

Colorado-where we visited with my dad, climbed the Great Sand Dunes outside Alamosa and spread my brother’s cremains.

Grand Junction -where we surrendered to the beauty of the day at Independence Pass and the Continental Divide.

Utah-where we marveled at the Bonneyville Salt Flats.

Nevada, where we stood at the summit of a hang glider launch pad with the wind at our backs.

Oregon-oh my goodness, the memories there!  North Bend and a small house party with family, house-sitting for our daughter and son-in-law, biking through the vineyards, gourmet cupcakes, dancing to a live rock n’ roll band with the kids and their friends til the wee hours of the morning, a Crater Lake hike, hoop-jams in the park, hikes to Table Rock, picnicking at Lake of the Siskiyous, belly dancers and curtain climbers on First Friday in Ashland-we filled that month and a half with all that we could!  Goodbyes and the journey south along the California coastal routes , Redwoods, Big Sur, meeting cousins for the first time, seeing old friends from New Jersey now living south of San Fran, stays at lovely, sometimes out-of-the-way military bases (we really scored on those!), lighthouses on the shore on perfectly blue-skied days, Danish Days in Solvang, treacherous drives along switch-backed mountain roads with hairpin turns and curves, Ronald Reagan’s stately and heart wrenching library and tomb, cemeteries where rested folks whose names I’ve always known (Roy Rogers and Dale Evans), cemeteries where rested people known only locally but who came from across the world long ago to assist the Union Army with their…yes, camel experiment!
Then to Arizona and our oldest son Snads-such a brief time there, but long enough to spend a day watching water spouts and taking fun pictures, welcoming our daughter and son-in-law as they arrived to start a new life there, anniversary dinners at THE best pizza joint ever (Two Hippies Pizza-go there immediately!), with the friendliest owners ever!
Warm summer evenings chilling out by the pool, experiencing my first “haboob”, doing nothing special but having treasured times with people we love mightily!  More goodbyes as we reluctantly pointed our car Eastwards, towards Las Cruces, New Mexico,  Dyess AFB near Abilene, Texas (we are returning there-there’s some major Wild West history going on!), Sheppard AFB in Wichita Falls, Texas, and, as of this moment,  Muskogee, OKlahoma, making this our final state to visit in the lower 48. Tomorrow, we’ll be in Missouri again, then Illinois, and  Indiana.

We have much to look forward to in the next couple months: our kids in New England, Thanksgiving with people who are extended family to us, my angel sisters in NJ, two months along the Florida Gulf, Key West (avoiding chill weather in the Northeast!). We’re going to love every minute of it-and all the while, I am going to be missing these Western skies.  I love the vastness of the West, the open skies that reflect the spacious terrain, sailing along in our Escape-the soul-lifting blue out the car windows, the puffy clouds as I gaze out of our open sunroof, the road stretching out in front of our windshield, looping, arching, winding, able to see for miles ahead.  Leaving Texas was emotional-each time we’re there, I fall in love with it more (basing that feeling on little more than the feeling it gives me-rolling hills, low brush, open.)  I love the West, we love the West, it’s so hard to leave-its that “itbreaksmyhearttoleave” feeling.  That “Ican’twaittocomeback” feeling.  My heart lifts out here, the spaciousness envelops me and frees me; I am exhilarated.  Just the two of us, our car, the open road, the vast blue heaven overhead, nothing but open around us, enveloped in nature, surrounded by beauty, just us-in love, driving, living our dream. This road awaits our return!

Back in the saddle moments..

Yippee-ki-yay and all that-we’re back in the saddle again, which is to say Happily Homeless is on the road again!! Can you tell I’m excited?  Its been a couple weeks now-we hightailed it out of NJ as expected-dr appt in Philly, and awaaaay we, well, a week or so has passed, so, away we went!  Being on the PA turnpike doesn’t truly qualify as traveling for me-the road has ruts in it from the numerous times we’ve trekked our way out to Indiana.  But what did give me the possibility of a thrill was that we were going to continue west as soon as we did our time there!  We spent the first night on the road in Pittsburgh, at an Air Reserve Base-how beyond lovely to have a comfy bed again (as opposed to a 50+ year old fold out sofa…) Our week in Indiana is a posting all by itself, which I assure you will be written forthwith, and then it was nothing but road as our Ford Escape made tracks to Springfield Illinois and Lincoln country.

What an experience it was, visiting Abe Lincoln’s tomb-my reaction took me unawares.  His tomb lies at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, which is a beautiful place in its’ own right.  The outside of the tomb-impressive.  Walk inside-gorgeous marble walls, and be greeted by a smaller version of the statue that graces our capitol in DC.  Start your walk through a circular corridor, marveling at sculptures depicting Lincoln at various stages of his life, and then, step into the quiet of the room and be confronted with a crypt bearing his name.  I felt like I’d been sucker punched, and the tears were immediate.  I’m not sure why.  Yes, I’ve read about him in history, yes, I admire him, but, wow, being in the presence of his tomb, making him so very real…it was an awesome moment, as so many of my moments have been in the last two years.   It made him seem so real all of a sudden.  If you’re ever in the area, go there.
     From Abe country, we really, really started heading west, as we traveled through Missouri and passed through Mark Twain country.  We didn’t stop, though I’d like to return at a future time.  Always have loved Twain’s humor!  This is Pony Express country-where those brave (or nuts) young men of old spurred  their ponies to deliver the mail throughout the West, and there are statues aplenty to remind you that, at an early point in our history, sleet and rain and snow were the least of their problems in delivering the mail!  Can you imagine being on a horse, a galloping horse, for the hours they had to pull? (10 hours in the saddle, day and night, for $25.00/week).  No unions then for protection and workers’ rights!  Weather, hostiles, unmapped territories-we had some tough people back then!
We’ve stayed off the beaten track as often as we could, as usual-that’s what allows us to really see this country.  As we were moseying along, we opened up the sunroof and overhead was the sight I’ve been dreaming of since last January when the fucking cancer made itself known-nothing but blue, blue,  puffy clouded, wide-open skies of the West! Oh, the joy, joy, joy!!!

Over the high plains of Kansas we meandered, seeing nothing but the amber waves of grain we sing about, standing in appreciation but not a lot of awe at the highest point in Kansas (4,039 feet). The owners approach the entire idea with a great sense of humor-fun to visit!  And, when you’re making hotel reservations on the internet, you never really can tell how honest they’re being with their pictures, so let’s just leave it at that as far as our stay at the Days Inn in Goodland, Kansas.  Bad review on their site upcoming…

And then onward wagons! to Colorado-past the stinking to high heavens (as my mom would say) stockyards of the eastern part of that state, to the beauty of Rocky Nat’l Park and Estes Park near Ft Collins and a visit with my dad (who has a really good, if cheesy, sense of humor), and a drive south that brought us to Pueblo, CO (no need to stay here, though I did see a magazine that says 4 medal of honor awardees are from here).  Today, we’re pointing our car in the direction of Alamosa, and the Great Sand Dunes tomorrow.  We were there last year, and it ranks as one of our favorite places.  It is also the place that brings my brother Kysa to mind, and I’ll be scattering the “remains of his cremains” while there.  He’s been a very quiet passenger in the side compartment of the door, but I think he’s ready, and I am too…

Handsome Husband continues to heal.  He has been using frankincense oil on the surgical site on his upper thigh, and it has helped tremendously-hooray for natural remedies! And I haven’t had to employ any Rescue Remedy since NJ-no more anxiety attacks, blah, blah, blah-now that Cancer Boy is cancer-free!  And he’s just back to being plain ol’ D-and I love that!! So, all you peeps out there in America, keep your eyes peeled to the road-Happily Homeless may just show up where you are!!

How a Dear Penthouse letter starts, and yet, this isn’t~

Don’t all Penthouse letters start “I can’t believe this really happened to me” or, “I’m not the kind of person who believes in this stuff” (not that I ever read a Penthouse letter, mind you..)

I’m thinking back, 15 years ago, when I sat at my brother Kysa’s bedside, as he was dying, and had my life changed forever.  My own experience mirrors that of many others, I’m sure, but it was something I never thought would happen in my life.  I don’t know that I even knew about such things, though I’m sure somewhere in my reading, I had seen the term near-death experience.

This was the first time, in being with my brother Kysa, I had ever been around anyone so ill, and possibly and probably, dying.  So I went in with a clean slate and no pre-conceived notions.  It was one of those suspended times.  You just kind of go with the flow-or at least that’s what I was doing.  What dying actually consisted of,  all the implications of it…who knew?  There wasn’t even fear going on with me-it was more uncertainty than anything, about how to care for him when I was alone with him, and concern that I wouldn’t do it right, or hurt him unknowingly.

There were so many moments in that last week of Kysa’s life-maybe someday I’ll make it into a book.  And I’m looking back on it now from 15 years (my god, that number is inconceivable to me!).  Now, with all I’ve learned since then, I have much more of a frame of reference…

Kysa was surprisingly alert in that week.  The cancer had taken so much from him, and he was in a hospital bed, and we had hospice in (my first exposure to that wonderful way of life support!)  At times, he would drift in and out, yes, but he was there.
The day prior to Kysa’s  death,  I was busy out in the kitchen.  His house was so very small, and it was just a couple steps around the corner to go into his room, where he had a hospital bed.  I went in to check on him, but stopped short at the door of the bedroom.  Kysa was sitting up in bed, his eyes open and trained intently on the far right corner of his room, not too far from a window.  His gaze was so strong and focused that I had to stop, as I felt like I was intruding-though, why I don’t know, as there was nobody there that I could see.  I said nothing to him, only watched.  For a moment there was a quiet silence, and then Kysa nodded and said quietly “yes.”  Another silence, as if he was listening to someone, and his eyes were still trained on that right corner.  Again, he said “yes”, another moment of nothing, and then he said “thank you”, and that was it.  He lay back and closed his eyes.   I could speculate in so many ways about that, but I chose to let it just be what it was, and so I let it rest now, and you may draw your own conclusions.  Who knows?  Until I put it with what happened the following day…

On the afternoon of the day he died, my sister Catharine came over to sit with Kysa.  His wife, Sarah, was at school (yes, surprisingly, life does continue on).  Catharine was out in the living room, speaking to our brother David, who was in South Africa, updating him as to Kysa’s condition.  I decided to leave her to her phone call, and go sit with Kysa.   Two steps to his bedroom door, and no more than two steps in, and I was stopped short in my tracks.  Kysa was asleep, peacefully, it seemed, with the back of his bed elevated, so he was half-sitting up. (He wouldn’t ever let me lower the bed so that he was lying down).  I wasn’t frightened, just curious, but more than that-is there a word?  Because what I heard was music, as in singing, and it was coming from the same corner of the room that he had been looking at the previous afternoon.  Quiet music.  I stepped further into the room to look for a source.  No radio playing, no music from anywhere in the room.  Look outside the windows.  Nobody walking by with music playing.  Nothing was playing anywhere in the house.  There was no source to be found.  So, I just quietly, so as not to wake him, went and sat next to his bed.  Not seconds later, Catharine came in, and stopped in the exact place I had, and she was clearly listening to something, and looking in the same corner as I had, and that Kysa had been looking towards the day before.  I asked her “Catharine, do you hear anything?”  And she answered “music”.   I told her that I had heard something too, but could find no source for it.  “Its the angels gathering for Kysa”, she finally said, and we let it rest.

Kysa started dying that night. It didn’t start out well-he let out a scream, clutched his head, and stopped breathing.  I was horrified-his eyes were still open.  And, in one of those moments that you just have to laugh (at least afterwards, with time),the one thought going through my head was “I have to get his eyes closed. How do I keep his eyes closed?”, and I put my hand over his eyes, and remembered that (thank goodness that I was an avid history reader!), when Abraham Lincoln died, they had placed gold coins over his eyes to weight them.  And actually cast about in my mind for where I might have some gold coins-

He did start breathing again, and we went on through the night.  He would open his eyes frequently, make a comment to us, or to nobody.  One time he said so clearly “there are so many choices, so many doors.”  My heart was breaking as I watched him, so I kept busy, giving him ice chips, a cold cloth, whatever I could.  It took forever, it took minutes.  He had, up to this point, stubbornly refused to lie down on the bed, but he finally looked at us and said “I’m ready. Help me lie down”.  And so started his dying.  And, at some point I became aware that my “job” now, with him, was to be his cheerleader, to be a witness to what was going on…and I would say to him, “come on, Kysa, just one step further. You’re almost there.  One more step.”  I said everything, I said nothing, and became aware that something was going on, something that was beyond us, something that truly was only Kysa.  This was his-and I was only permitted to go so far with him.  He seemed to be straining towards a place, towards something unseen by others in the room.  

In hindsight, it felt like I was going through a near-death experience, but not my own.  It was as if I went all the way to the edge of the cliff with Kysa, and saw the veil between this world and the next lifted, saw him step through, but had to step back-this was his, not mine.  The most astounding part for me was, when I finally realized he had died, when Sarah and I woke at 3 AM on that morning of the 26,  I felt, not sadness, not pain, but joy such as I had never felt before, triumph for him-he had run a race and he had come in first.  Such joy, such total and complete love as I had never, ever experienced.

My sister Catharine and I washed and dressed him ourselves, our final gift to him.  We laid him on an oak body board that her husband Robert had made for him. We wrapped him in colorful cloth-paisley pattern, solids, brights-friends and family had donated in the months ahead of his death.  On his chest we placed a dream catcher made by our sister, we tucked a self-portrait done by our youngest brother under his arm.  We rested his head upon a crochet quilt, made by our mom.  And we went with him to be cremated.  I was in the first car behind the hearse that would take him to the cemetery, along with my younger brother in the seat beside me.  As we were winding our way up the steep hill leading to the cemetery, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of a bird coming right at my car, a bird with a HUGE wing-span.  Except that it was no regular bird.  Holy shit! is all I could think or say-it was an EAGLE, wings spread wide, and it swooped down and passed right in front of my windshield!  What makes this all the more stupefying is that, in the previous week, as I sat with Kysa, I would gaze out his window, to a stand of rocks not too far away, and watch as an eagle would drift high above on the wind currents.  I saw this eagle numerous times, drifting, swaying  on the winds, as Kysa drifted, swaying with the currents of his body…was this the same eagle?

We all went into the huge building that housed the crematoria.  Each person there was invited to step up to him and say whatever they wanted to say, and kiss him goodbye if they so wished.  We piled him with colorful flowers, representing each of his family/friends who weren’t able to be there.  We rang chimes, we read aloud.  It was just impossible for me to walk away from him, but I finally did.  His widow Sarah, wanted to be alone with him as the gurney delivered his body to the flames.  I was walking out with Catharine, and, as I lifted my foot to breach the door sill, I heard a great “whoosh!” sound, and I turned around and looked, and, from the chimney atop the building, saw a puff of white smoke.  Yes, I knew what it was, but, once again, I was taken aback at the feelings that arose in me when I saw it-feelings of joy so strong, so triumphant, that I wanted to leap in the air, and scream “YES!!” as Kysa’s spirit was finally released to the skies above, a clear, bright blue sky on a very cold January day in southwest Colorado.   He had been freed from the body that so constrained him during his illness, and, in that, I could only feel beauty, and, as if life had finally done something right.  It was merely the completion of what had gone on in his room as he was dying.  And it took me many years, and much exploration, before I was able to give words to what that entire experience had been for me, from the time I stepped in his room to see him staring at the far right corner, to the sight of white smoke raising up to the skies, carrying my beloved brother to the next place….

Always loved, never forgotten…

It was the day my spirit opened up, and expanded, and saw life, and beauty, as I’d never seen it before.  My eyes opened,  and I felt, and I saw, and knew,  and my life opened and was never the same…

the moments that changed my life forever~

From my Journal   January 16, 1996
I think we are saying goodbye to Kysa.  Have spoken to Maggie who heard from Catharine. She has been to see Kysa in the hospital-they signed a release form to take him off the saline IV.  He has a morphine drip, which he is able to administer as he needs.  When Maggie first spoke to Catharine, she said when she saw Kysa, to please go to him for us and look him right in the eyes, and tell him everyone of us, and mention us name by name, love him and we are praying.  She did that and she spoke to him and told him that we would all be okay if he had to go.  And she said, for a brief minute, he opened his eyes and looked right at her and told her “I’m not worried anymore.”  Catharine said his skin is almost translucent, and today his spirit was coming through more strongly than she has seen it in a very long time.  The doctors from hospice said that they would estimate a week to 10 days on the outside; given the condition his body is in.  They did say his heart and lungs are fairly strong still:  it’s just the rest of his body that is shutting down.  So he is getting no nourishment-he sipped a little 7-up, but that’s all.  He is not able to swallow anything.  But he has found a measure of peace-thank you God, for that.  And Catharine is truly making an effort.  She told Maggie that anybody should call her at anytime, and she is being supportive and compassionate with mom and dad.  I had real concerns how things would go.  She seems to have changed though and wants to do all she can to be the message center, and allow everyone else to do things, as they need to.  I don’t know if David is out of the country, I don’t know if Ken has been called.  All the practical matters of death must be dealt with-we can at least all rest easy that Kysa is finding some peace.
Jan 20
Aboard Continental heading towards Houston, then Denver.  I never thought to be doing this back in June I thought that was it, and that I’d said goodbye to Kysa.  Now that I have decided to go, I worry that he will die before I get there.  And I worry that the plane will crash, and I’ll die, and how will mom and dad deal with the deaths of 2 children.  And I worry that when Chuck goes into talk to Pat on Monday about Walt and how out of hand he is, and if they fire him or demote him, then Walt is the high wire type that would come back with a grudge and shoot Sarge.  It’s all-irrational, I know, but at the moment I’m feeling very shaky.  Neither Sarge nor I slept much last nite.  Alec had gone to spend the night with a friend, but he called at 1:30 and asked if he could come home because he was homesick. Thank goodness Lawrence’s folks understood, and they drove him home.  I know that what it was is my leaving, and Kysa being so ill, and me being upset about it.  This is all so unreal, even if it was anticipated.  And to be honest, a part of me still believes that Kysa will come through this too.  That he won’t get any better, but that he will linger on and on like this.  And I have trepidation about being in Durango.  I know I will be crying, and I don’t know if it will be accepted, and for me, that means, they don’t accept me.  I have talked to myself, and made plans in my head but it is stressful going into it, especially not knowing what is going to happen-and knowing how traumatic it was in June.  And yet I feel I need to go-for Kysa, for myself, for mom and dad, for Maggie and Joseph, since they can’t.  If Kysa is going to die, and it seems as though he is, I want to be there, if I can, to share as much as I can, his journey.
2nd leg of my journey”
A change of planes in Houston.  I hadn’t realized we would be stopping there.  In the midst of all my emotions, I stopped to think it was pretty neat to be in Texas, if only at the airport.  It’s the only time I’ve been there since I was born.  This trip is awfully long, made longer, I’m sure, because of my anxiety to reach Kysa.  Once I get into Denver, there is a long layover to Durango.  That part of the trip is absolutely one I’m not looking forward to-I hate the little puddle jumpers over the mountains.  Really working the tools of the program—
3rd Leg”
Caught an earlier flight to Durango.  I’m exhausted and the closer I get, the more pain I feel.  The Rockies, snow-covered, are below me. Their magnificence proves to me there is a God.  I need to hold close to my spirituality in the next weeks-that will get me through this.  I talked briefly to Sarge in Denver.  I miss him, I miss his strong arms and loving words.
Jan 21
I am here with Kysa, sitting at his bedside.  I have prayed, I have meditated, and now I try to put words to paper.  What is going on is so big that it is difficult to put it on paper.  I wish I had Joseph’s creativity and artistry; maybe it would be easier.  Every so often, the morphine drip gives a soft “zzzt” sound.  Helped Kysa shift in the bed, he had slipped down.  He sleeps mostly-but every so often he’ll open his eyes and move his hands.  Sometimes he will drink a sip of water.  His throat hurts, which makes it hard for him to swallow.  Sarah rented him a hospital bed, which is good, and he has flannel sheets on it, with a down comforter.  That will make Maggie feel better.  She was worried about that.  I worry about my competence to take care of Kysa-I want to, and am more than willing.  I’m just afraid I’ll do something wrong.  He speaks only in the barest whisper-it is very difficult to understand him.  I hope this doesn’t sound too awful, but I sit here and think, what if Kysa should die while I’m here?  What do I do?  My heart breaks for him; he is such a shell of who he was.  The tumors in his neck have grown from under his ear to down to his collarbone.  There is such a thin layer of skin to cover him.  Around his neck he wears a necklace of amber beads with a jade Buddha.  I pray that God will have mercy on him and release him from this.

Jan 22, 2:45pm
Bonnie (Hospice) just left.  She’s a lovely, warm person.  Took all Kysa’s vital signs-his blood pressure is low but she says that is not necessarily indicative of anything, as he has always had low BP.  He is to be given as much morphine as he wants, to be comfortable.  There is some fluid in his lungs, and that is indicative of the stage of death; his heart cannot pump fast enough to distribute liquid so it settles into a dependent area.  She does not think he will die today-though she said there are no firm ways to predict.  She did tell us other signs to look for.  He has some bedsores but he doesn’t want to move positions and Bonnie said at this point she isn’t too concerned about them.  The next few days should see this done.
Meanwhile, I don’t even allow the thought inside my head as to what the possibilities are with mom.  Maggie told me yesterday on the phone that she has noticed a large growth on mom’s left breast.  It is large enough that it is noticeable under her blouse.  She at first thought she was imagining it and she asked Joseph and Eric if they had noticed anything.  They had noticed the same thing.  When Maggie questioned mom about it, she said mom almost seemed angry that she had mentioned it, and quickly changed the subject.  The one thing I know out of it all is that mom won’t go have it checked.  And I have fear that it truly might be a cancerous tumor, and I can’t begin to deal with that yet.  I am not surprised, if it is something, that it is a growth over her heart.  I know Kysa’s illness and pain have broken her heart, and I don’t know that she will much survive him.  All I can do is continue to pray, and then pray some more.
Jan 25, 4:15 pm
My heart breaks for Kysa.  I was just watching him as he was lying in bed, and he turned his head to the window and looked out.  What does he think about as he lies there, basically immobilized?  Whenever he moves, it is in slow motion, or like he’s moving underwater.  He has quite a bit of pain in his legs and we have upped the morphine in the last 24 hours to more than twice from Monday.  It is now 9 mgs.  I wasn’t able to write yesterday, too busy caring for Kysa, too tired from being up, too emotional with what’s going on.  The days are all starting to run together, so I maybe repeating myself at times.  There have been some special moments:  Kysa eating the fresh snow that Robert R. brought him, Kysa, when I was talking to him about the lights, and moving down the tunnel, looking right at me saying, albeit in a near whisper “I know all about that crap!”  Kysa asking me about my can of Pepsi, asking me to massage him, him reaching for my hand twice last niter, and saying to me that I must be exhausted.  I have prayed and prayed and now, very often, I beg God to release his spirit.  Please, God, what is being accomplished by this?  His body is covered in the mottled purple bruising that happens, huge purple welts.  His feet and legs hurt, my heart breaks over and over again.  Mom sent a beautiful letter to Kysa and Sarah, which arrived today.  Kysa was conscious enough to have it read to him.
“In my imagination, I am in the same room you are, making you as comfortable as possible, and putting all my love in the atmosphere around you.   That is my wish for you, that you are surrounded by people who love you and keep you comfortable, and that you are at peace.
Everyone in your family wants the very best for you-your father, Joseph, Maggie, Robert, Alison, Catharine, Dave, Ken, your nieces and nephews, and me.  I participate spiritually at Mass everyday, uniting myself to the millions of people in every place and circumstance in the world-all of us offering this powerful prayer.
My special thanks to you, Sarah, for your generous spirit and the love and energy you are giving to Kysa.  I appreciate every effort you make, and my prayers are always for you to continue to be able to do all the things you are doing for Kysa.  Try to allow yourself some rest when possible, and remember that everyone is sending you love, best wishes, energy-whatever you need at this time.  My love to you both and prayers, Mom.
Jan 26, 1996
Kysa Charles Mandeville Miller died this morning at 3:00 am.  Sarah and I were here with him, and with a little distance, I will be able to take in the huge experience this all has been.  I believe I am numb at the moment-lack of sleep and such an intense amount of emotion-and relief that it is finally over.  Shock that its over because a part of me believed it would go on forever, and the surreal feeling of it all.  I have cried, but I know there is much more.  I need to come to grips with the physical aspect of it-the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness, the pain of seeing my brother suffocate.  There are memories that I need to learn to view in another perspective.  It was at once the most dreadful and terrifying and most life-giving event of my life.  Around 6:00 last night we were just having a conversation.  Sarah had just come home early from class.  And she suddenly got this look on her face and cried “Kysa, what’s wrong?”  He was starting to strangle and she propped him up.  I thought that he was going to die at that point-I had no idea how long it would actually take.  From that point on the whole thing blurs-we got Kysa to breathe a bit more normally but we knew he was starting the process and I called Robert Royem to have him and Catharine come over.  She was still in class but he came over and we started talking Kysa through his pain.  We told him to let go, fly away.  There were tears in all of our eyes-he was struggling so.  At some point Catharine called and I told her to come over immediately.  She brought Jessica, Audrey, and Alysa.  To an outside observer it was, I’m sure, a fascinating scene.  We prayed, we meditated, we did Reiki on Kysa, anything to help him.  I tried reaching our brother Robert at Farquarht’s-but the music there was so loud they couldn’t hear me, and hung up.  A few minutes later I took the phone outside to try again.  This time I was able to reach him and told him to come over. God, the feeling of relief was indescribable!  I knew Robert needed the opportunity to spend time with Kysa, given all that has gone on in the past months.  Robert came over and it broke my heart all over again to see him kneeling next to Kysa and holding his hand.  Kysa was in and out of it by now-but amazingly lucid considering the amount of morphine he was getting.  He knew Robert was there and they held hands for a long time.  Kysa looked right at him and told him to take care of himself.  I kept busy with giving Kysa ice chips or water-he was so very thirsty, or massaging his legs and arms.  There was a certain consciousness throughout the evening-amazing really.  Audrey fixed his feet for him at one point, and he winked at her.  He continually asked for water and at one point wanted some of Catharine’s peach juice.  She put some on her finger and rubbed it on his lips and in his mouth.  There was a point in the evening at which we could see he was wanting to let go, and he said he was ready.  Yet his body continued to hang on.  Lots of water, he said, people were made of water, lots of fun in water.  He looked at all of us and said we were all wonderful people.  The physical aspect of what was happening was horrible to watch really-his body turning purple where the blood was congealing, the terrible thirstiness.  We kept telling him to go towards the light, that Grandpa was waiting for him.  I was very proud of myself that all of it, I was able to handle-I didn’t fall apart.  I got ice for him, cold cloths; he was burning up internally, massaged his arms and legs.  Through parts of it, he had us all laughing-his sense of humour was there.  There were tears too, lots of them.  Near 11:00 or so, we realized we were going to need more morphine for him before morning, and I was to go and get it.  Catharine sent Jessica and Alysa home with Robert at that point, and I dropped Robert M. off at his apt after picking up the morphine at Mercy.  When I got back to the house, Sarah changed the syringe-he was getting quite a lot by that point.  He was thirsty and I stood to give him another ice chip. At that moment, he clutched his head and let out a horrifying cry-and stopped breathing.  I will never forget that moment.  I don’t know how long passed and I went to the phone to call Catharine and tell her that Kysa had died.  While I was on the phone, Sarah called me from the bedroom, and I went back in and he had started breathing again.  It was the apnea that I had read about.  And that is when the torturous part started, of watching my brother suffocate.  He was saying throughout the evening to help him and we did all we could to make him comfortable, but we were limited.   From midnight on, he was making a horrible breathing sound-it was so constant-I never though it would end.  He had consented to a pair of socks by then, and we covered him with the flannel sheet and a light blanket.  We begged him to let go, but he didn’t seem able to.  After listening to it for a while, Sarah took his drum, and started pounding it lightly.  I stroked his hair and arm and told him to let go, to fly free.  I have never loved anyone so much as I did Kysa in those moments.  He struggled so.  Earlier in the evening, I had seen the moment in his eyes where he became ready and he said he was, and that there were so many choices.  I truly felt he was looking directly at God.  And now, in those final few hours, I had to realize that most of Kysa’s spirit had already left, and just a small part remained to finish the physical aspect of death.   It wrenched my heart to see-he was struggling so, and for brief flashes, I would see consciousness in his eyes, and a tear fell from his right eye.  I almost lost it then and tried to cover my ears to the noises he was making.  I went out to the living room and begged God over and over, let is stop, please make it stop, why does he have to suffer so?  When I went back in, Sarah was lying half on the bed and I told her we had to sleep-this could go on for hours.  The morphine was as high as it could go on the dial; I felt that if we could give him enough more to relax him physically, that he might be able to let go spiritually, so Sarah and I used the syringe to pump more in.  The sounds he was making continued, but more slowly.  It seems the physical pain had been distracting him.  I fixed the pillows for Sarah-she lay down next to him with her hand over his heart, and I covered her, and I lay down on the futon couch beside his bed.  I didn’t think I would be able to sleep with the breathing noises he was making, it was so loud, but Sarah and I were both so exhausted that the moment we put our heads down, we were asleep.  I’ll never know what woke me up, but at 3:00 am I woke suddenly and stood up, and called Sarah’s name.  She woke at the same time and we realized the noise had stopped, and we looked at Kysa and realized that he had died.  His body had been getting cold even before we slept, and his lips blue, but now he was cold all over.  It was shocking to realize it was my brother lying there; I didn’t know what to do, so I went to make tea for Sarah, and then I called Catharine to tell her.  So much of what happened is a blur.  I made phone calls to Maggie, to dad, to Joseph, and my heart broke anew each time I said he had died.  Once Catharine arrived, she went into the bedroom and I went out to the living room.  I had so much pain inside of me that I didn’t know what to do, so I lay down on the couch.   I don’t know how much later it was when Catharine came out and asked if I wanted to go back to her house to sleep.  I didn’t know if I wanted to or not but it was an action to take, so I went and asked Sarah if she wanted me to stay and she said it didn’t matter.  She was lying next to Kysa on his bed, her arms around him.  I didn’t realize she was in shock too.   I put on my boots and went over to Catharine’s. It was over….