Thursday, 12/28/06

There is no rhyme or reason to when I feel like shit. Baxter waking up at 4:50 am this morning may have contributed... but I also think I had a dream last night about Mike's nurse, Carol.

Carol was his nurse in the NICU when things went from bad to worse around July 11th and 12th. He had his "successful" surgery on July 7th, and then he went into DIC on July 10th or so and was stepped up into the NICU. Carol was an amazing nurse. She was calm, super-knowledgeable, and so invested in Mike's case. Those two days were horrible. Hopefully the most horrible of my life. It was then that Mike's body blew up with fluid, his heart started beating erratically - pulse down below 60 and up to like 190 within seconds. He was doing this horrible gagging-thing. Dry heaving and having what looked like convulsions with his body - as though it was struggling to get air or something.

Late that afternoon, Mike had to have an emergency hemi-craniotomy (july 11th). I rushed back to the hospital to be there. When I entered through the double doors, Carol's face dropped.

"Shit! They JUST took him down to the OR. I tried to make them wait for you, but they couldn't wait anymore." She seemed flustered for a second and then grabbed my arm, "Run with me. Let's go." I followed her as we ran down a stairwell and through the back winding hallways of JHN. She really thought we could catch him so I could say, "i love you" before the surgery. We were at a full out sprint through the hallways. I kept yelling to her, "Carol, it's ok. It's ok if we don't make it. It's ok." She was relentless. I screamed to her, "Carol! It's OK! We've done this so many times. I'll be OK if we don't get there in time!"

When we got to the holding area outside the OR. Out of breath, she asked the one male nurse, "Mr Young!? Where's Mr. Young?"

"He's in the OR. They just rushed him in."

Carol whipped around towards me. "SHIT," she said exasperated. She slammed her binder down on the floor and hit the wall in front of her. When she turned around, tears in her eyes, she apologized. "I'm sorry. I thought we would get here in time. I tried. I did."

I said over and over again that it was ok, that we'd been through this so many times - that it was ok. If Mike didn't know I loved him by now... then... well... then that would just be nuts.

After that surgery, Mike started to code. That was when the female resident told me he might not make it. But he did make it. He was even responsive after that surgery, sqeezing my hand and looking in my eyes.

It was thursday, July 13th that I told him that if he needed to go, it was ok. That we'd all be ok. That he had fought so hard that he could continue to fight and we'd be there to support him ... but if he couldn't it was ok. At that moment, he was looking right in my eyes. I know he heard me. I could feel it. He had been responsive throughout that day. I would squeeze his hand three times as I said I love you, squeezing once with each word as we always did. He would squeeze back four times, a little harder on the fourth squeeze, denoting, "I love you, TOO." He was in there. Thursday was the last time he was really responsive at all. I have to imagine that my words at least told Mike that he could go in peace.

It's insane how quickly everything changed in that time period. After his surgery on Friday, July 7th, I had him back. It was almost as if Dr. Andrews gave me a gift of 3 hours with the old Mike - but once post-op swelling set in, the wheels were in motion for the end to come. In a fucked up way, I have come to think of that as a good thing. I mean, without that surgery, Mike might not have died that week, that month, or even that year, but he would have been living a life not worth living - as far as Mike's standards of life are concerned. So, that surgery gave us the old Mike back, it gave Mike a chance to truly hear and understand just how many people loved him, and then it ultimately brought him - and all of us - peace.

On that Friday night, Susan Murphy brought us cheesesteaks and soda - and cheese fries per Mike's request. Mike was able to identify everything on his tray. It was as if relieving the pressure posed by that cyst opened up his visual fields and allowed his memory to work again... if just for a short time. We "introduced" mike to the nurses who had taken care of him for weeks upon weeks. He met Cindy, from the cardiology team (who had seen Mike everyday). She told him how I had promised her one of his pecan pies. He laughed. Everyone was so happy. Tears of joy everywhere. After about 10 minutes of chatting, when Cindy went to leave, Mike called after her, "Nice to officially meet you, Cindy!" Watching his short term memory work was such a gift.

We joked and talked, I recounted the tales of the previous four months. He was astounded - and so apologetic. He left voicemail messages for friends, saying, "I'm back from the dead. Didn't know I was gone, but here I am." Including Dr. Andrews, who was almost giddy (as giddy as he gets). I laid on Mike chest and he ran his fingers through my hair, and kissed my forehead. I put on music, Sting's "Brand New Day," and told him how it really was a brand new day. That I had my smoosher back and he promised he wasn't going anywhere. That he wasn't going to die.

As Mike died on July 18th, I put that same song on and hugged Kevin for what seemed like an hour. It, too, was a brand new day, but not the same kind of new that I thought we were facing on July 7th.

So, why revisit these events now? I don't know. I think the impending new year is serving as an impetus to move in a new direction. I'm already heading in that direction, but maybe I feel like I need to really grasp just how much this whole thing fucking sucked. I have an overwhelming urge this morning to fly back to philly today - to pack up all his clothes from his closet and his bureau. The one task I have been unable to do. I think I might do it as soon as I return. Maybe as a symbolic gesture looking to 2007.

As I write this, large flakes of fluffy snow are falling outside. It's beautiful. And Baxter's happy and healthy - and sassy as heck.

I don't know what to do with all this... but I feel better having gotten it out there.

love, danna


Christmas eve

In spite of the madness and sadness of this year, this Christmas eve was really wonderful. Lonia (Mike's mom) is here in NH with us, and it's so nice. She and my mom and dad get along fabulously. Baxter loves having all his mimi, poppi, and grandma here. Jae, Stephen and Kylee came this afternoon and we spent hours opening up insane amounts of gifts. Lonia and I just had a sweet conversation with Mike's sister, Dr. Diana.

When my family said grace at the table before our afternoon meal, my mom insisted that we all hold hands. I usually have to stifle some irreverent comment about the whole thing, but this year I didn't feel the urge. In fact, after grace, I was overcome with emotion - with a little sadness, but also with the warmth of what Mike has given to us all. He's given me such a feeling of strength. He's given us all this amazing new big family. He's given us the gift of his spirit - which prevents us all from getting mired down in the muck of it all. And, even in his absence, he continues to empower me. I used to get all whacky when I was with my family - like I was 12 all over again. Not anymore. I was a loving wife and I continue to be a mother, a scholar, and ... a grown up. It all feels somewhat unshakeable.

I've also spent the last week developing a great connection with the charming guy I went out to dinner with last Wednesday. But, I'm not going to write any details about that here. This blog is the forum where I share things about Michael, our journey, my grief, and my subsequent journey forward. It wouldn't be respectful if I were to detail everything about this growing connection here. It would also place my interactions with him in the context of my relationship with Mike - which wouldn't be fair. And - quite frankly, it just wouldn't feel right. But know that it's bringing me joy.

Merry Christmas and love to you all.


Craziest Dream 12/23

So, for some reason up here in New Hampshire I have crazy dreams. Last night's was so insane.

I dreamt that we had decided just enough time had passed to look into mike's murder. Yes, murder. In my dream he had been killed by a gunshot wound to the head.

I think I was thinking about the shooting out in Amish country (one of the injured girls was recently released from the hospital)...

Anyhow, we narrowed it down to a list of 10 men, but we needed to find out which one was a Quaker. Cause it was the Quaker who killed Mike. But, no one could figure out how to learn the religious affiliation of these men.

Then I had an idea!!! Match.com! Duh! Religous affiliation (I almost wrote affliction... seriously. That would've been funny... to me) is one of the items on match.com profiles.

So, we looked on match.com for male Quakers and there he was.

But...there was a hitch. The guy wasn't even in the area the whole time Mike was sick. Hmmm...

And then, in my dream, that night on the local news, we watched a story about a pitbull who was trained in how to operate a handgun. He had injured multiple people in the Philadelphia area with his mad crazy handgun tricks. And his owner??? The QUAKER. The very man we had found on match.com.


So, the whole dream was about finding and blaming Mike's murderer and in the end it was a dog. A freaking dog.

At the very end of the dream, I started to wake up a little and I was like, "A dog? You asshole, it was a brain tumor. Not a gunshot wound from a pitbull."


Winter Solstice

Photo: (c) William Hemmel

So, this is Hebron, NH, population 469. At the right is a summertime photo. Right now it's a little more bleak than that (see photo at top right taken this morning with my phone).

This is the little town where I spent every summer from age 4 until age 22. In fact, my dad likes to remind my that during the summer when I was 12, I didn't physically leave Hebron for 6 weeks. Not to go to the grocery store, not to go to a movie theater - nothing. Just biked around Hebron all day, to the beach, to my best friend Jenna's, to the town common ("downtown").

The town's General Store (which is still in operation) is over 200 years old (middle right) and the kids from town used to go to the one-room school house until a few years ago. The old school building is now our town hall (lower right).

Many of gravestones that you see behind the church in the aerial photo (top left) are from the 1600s. Whenever I walk through there I think, "What the f were people doing way up here way back then?" No idea.

This is where I will be spending Christmas. My parents have a beautiful house on 5.5 acres atop a hill that faces due west. Every night is a stunning sunset. I haven't been here since Baxter was 6 months old (July 4th, 2005). Even though I usually get all nostalgic and melancholy up here, surprisingly, this visit I'm not really feeling that way. Baxter's keeping us all busy and I've spent the last two days at the local university library finishing up the dissertation. Lonia (Mike's mom) will be joining us from the 23-26th. It will be fantastic to all be together.

Finally, as the end of the year is upon us and people are thinking about charitable donations, I wanted to remind people of several tax deductible donation opportunities:

The Mike Young Fund
Jefferson Foundation
925 Chestnut St. Suite. 110
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(towards various projects at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital where Mike spent over 14 weeks since November, 2005)

The American Brain Tumor Association
To donate online, click HERE
OR call (800) 886-2282 or download their printable donation form and send the completed form with your
check to: ABTA, 2720 River Road, Des Plaines, IL 60018.

Michael was also a generous supporter of many non-profit organizations. Unfortunately, our financial situation this year precludes us from donating to them. Perhaps you would consider one of these organizations. You could make a donation in memory if Mike Young.

American Civil Liberties Union
Doctors Without Borders
World Education
WHYY National Public Radio Philadelphia


Sat. 12/16 Bax turns 2

It's 9 pm on December 16, 2006. Exactly 2 years ago (at 8:52 pm) Mike and I welcomed Baxter Newland Young into the world.

Bax has had a fun-filled 2 days of celebrations: Friday at daycare, Friday night at home with friends and family, and this afternoon Bax ate cake and opened all his gifts with Michelle, Scott, Taylor and Jamie (see photos).


Tonight, after bathtime, I was putting Bax in his pajamas and he looked up at the black and white wedding photo of Mike and me that he has up on his bureau.

Pointing to the photo, he said, what I thought I heard to be, "Mike."

and again... pointing at the photo... "Mama... Mike."

"What are you saying?" I asked him.

"Mike," he said again, and then, "Michael."

"Who is Mike, Baxter?"

"Daddy's Mike."


"Daddy's Mike," he said, looking up at the photo.

"How did you know that?" I asked, almost expecting him to be able to actually tell me how he got this little piece of info. Instead, he started singing a tune and dancing in circles.

After we read a book, we said our "goodnights" to everyone we love. "You want to say Goodnight to Daddy?"

"Goodnight, Daddy. Goodnight Mike."

Then, when I put him in his crib (where there's a picture of Daddy in his little photo book), he picked up the picture to kiss daddy like he does every night, but for the first time said, "Goodnight, Daddy Mike. I love you Daddy Mike."

I have no idea where this came from. It might not seem that weird just reading it here, but... trust me. It's weird. I asked Baxter, "What's mommy's name?"


"Is my name Danna?"

"No. Mommy."

"Who's Danna?"

"Mimi?" he asked (Mimi is my mother).

"No, silly. I'm Danna."

"No. You're mommy."

"Ok. "


"But, Baxter. What is Daddy's name?"

"Michael." clear as freaking day.


On a totally different note, I'm very proud of how cute our house is with all the Christmas decorations up. Whenever we pull into the driveway around 5:20, Bax says, "Yay! Home! Baxter's Christmas lights!".

ok.... 1. 2. 3. Truce.

Some reflections over the past few days' postings.

1) As some have suggested, it is possible that the mad-capitalizer really just meant, "Danna, honey, give yourself sometime. You might not find love right away. It's very soon." If that is the intended meaning, then perhaps the all caps with exclamation points just threw me off (like fists in the air.)

2) Some of my dear friends do happen to be very proud liberals, and can make the mistake of using "conservative Republican" as an insult meaning "mean mean person." When we use that term, we mean Republicans like Strom Thurmond "Yay Segregation!" - or perhaps Santorum (lesbianism = beastiality) Republican. So, to anyone who was insulted by those comments, on behalf of 185cranios, I apologize. Republicans are people, too. And, in fact, in the NH open (you vote Dem or Rep) primary in 2000, I voted for McCain - mainly to avoid the horrifying possibility that W would be president - but still ... I, Dannagal Young, self-proclaimed uber-liberal, voted Republican. So, CSM, play nice.

3) I love you all for caring so much. I'll be ok. Mike is excited for me to move forward. I know that. And that brings me comfort. Plus, on Wednesay I had a wonderful date with a charming guy who I'm seeing again next week. And that is just... nice. Distracting (during the holidays - Mike's favorite freaking time of the year)... and nice.

4) Feel free to post warm and fuzzy friendly messages to me, one another, and mankind now.



To the subtle person who posted the following comment after Saturday morning's post:


A of all, on-line etiquette suggests that writing an imperative statement in all capital letters is impolite.

B of all, if you feel strongly, stand by your words and sign your name.

C of all, I've been "without" a mentally functioning husband for nine months - almost ten. He's been dead for five months. Unless you yourself are a young widow/widower, perhaps you ought to refrain from judgment. If it's too soon, I'll know, I'll stop, and I'll try again another day.

D of all, I'm just trying to live my life, be happy, and feel alive and excited. It's either match.com or... I don't know.... heroin? Hmmm-hmmm... match.com not looking so bad anymore, huh?


Saturday, Dec 9, 2006 - 8:40 am

I realize it’s only 8:30 am, but already today is not a good day. I’m in it. Hard.

Some might say I brought it on myself. Maybe I’m trying to move forward too soon or to distract myself from things in a way that isn’t exactly healthy. But, who knows?

The deal is this. Last weekend I put my profile on match.com. I figure that the best way to get through the holidays is by having fun things (e.g. dates) to look forward to. After weeding through a lot of crap, I found several interesting, intelligent men to email. I sent them brief emails suggesting they read my profile (thoroughly) and if interested, they ought to get back to me. In my profile, I don’t hide my situation. I’m a widow and I have a 2 year old son who I love. There you have it. Translation: men with no balls need not apply.

My first get together was yesterday. Great guy. Great conversation, laughs etc over lunch. Totally my kind of person – if not to date then to hang out with. Creative, funny, outgoing. So, after 3 hours of this lunch, I tell him honestly that I’d love to see him again. He proceeds to say, “Ok, here’s my situation.” Hmm. His situation turns out to be that things have heated up with another person he met through the site. Since we emailed to plan our lunch date (Wed), things progressed with this other person and he wouldn’t feel comfortable juggling multiple people. Totally honest. Totally understandable. Obviously, you’re thinking, “so why did he go out on a lunch date with you?” I’m not exactly sure. We have a lot of friends and circles of people in common, so maybe just to have another connection here in Philly (he’s new to the area).

I think we left it as follows: maybe we can go do something fun together sometime, just as friends. In the event that things don’t work out with his other person, maybe I’ll hear from him in some other capacity.

But --- I couldn’t help but think of that “he’s just not that into you.” Saying.

Then it hit me: I haven’t really seriously thought about whether or not I’m ready to be “rejected” as it were. I have thought a lot about whether or not I am ready to be out there, to spend time with someone new and find someone else interesting and attractive and worth my time and attention. Not so much about the “what if I’m rejected” part. Ok ok, maybe I wasn’t rejected. He’s an honest guy who doesn’t want to get serious with more than one woman at a time.

It still left me feeling like… “Right. And why the fuck am out here again? Why do I have to be doing this? Oh right – cause my husband’s dead. Fucking great. “

Suck. I hate this. I do. But, I really want to move forward to chapter 2. And, unfortunately, chapter 2 is not about to come knocking on my door, “Here I am. Your chapter 2.” No. I need to get out there. Grab my ass (as we say in comedysportz) and just do it. So, last night, before I went to bed, I followed up with another person I’ve been emailing with through the site. Law student/dem campaign consultant. I suggested we meet. And, I have a coffee date with another sweet guy next week. Am I tempted to cancel and stay in? Sure. But I’ve spent my life trying to do things that make me a little uncomfortable in the hopes of getting out of a safe place… to some more desirable place in the long run. If I stopped doing that, Mike would be disappointed. He loved that I had all these fears of doing new things, yet always made myself do them anyway.

Thanks for listening. When I started writing, I was in a “I miss Mike. Where is Mike? Why did he have to die and leave Bax and me here alone?” – place. But, I’m a little better now. Rather than sad, I’m feeling a little feisty –


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Sunday and Monday were the longest two days of my life. Bax is a miserable little man who refused to eat or drink anything for two days. Miss Elizabeth from Haddon Learning Center heard the desperation in my voice yesterday at around 4:30 pm on a brief phone call. 20 minutes later, my doorbell rang. It was Annie, sent home early from work at HLC to help me. THANK YOU! She swept in, did laundry, made me laugh, validated my feelings that Baxter was like a little possessed demon and helped me pin him down to syringe feed him some freaking Pedialyte.

Hand foot and mouth is the devil. Bax gets such atrocious sores in his mouth and throat. Everything hurts. You name it and I've tried it. Everything from pudding to ice cream to popsicles to applesauce... By now, if I so much as look at him he gets mad because he thinks I'm going to try to put more "owies" in his mouth in the form of some new food concoction.

Today he appears to be a bit more congenial. At least he started off that way. He drank some diluted juice, ate like a giant giant bowl of ice cream and I brought him to the therapist with me. That was .... interesting. When I put him in the carseat to come home, he flipped out. Totally lost his shit. The past two days he's had the most insane tantrums - like running around like a wild animal, throwing himself down and against the walls.... It's crazy shit. The entire way home he was freaking out, trying to get out of the carseat. When I carried him inside the house, he flipped even more. I laid him down on the ground and he got up and hit me... hard. I tried to put him in timeout, but I feared he was about to throw himself over the stair banister. He was freaking crazy. Finally he screamed for his "taggie" and "butternut bear" from the playroom floor. I tossed him both of them and he snuggled up and... fell asleep. I shit you not. He NEVER does that. So right now, my son is sound asleep on the floor of the family room... coat still on, shoes on... hugging his bear and taggie. Saddest thing I've ever seen. But thank freaking god he's sleeping.

As I was discussing with my sister last night, I can do this whole single mom thing. I have it down to a science. I even got my head around how I could publish academic articles, teach, be a mom, and even exercise a couple of times a week. I had a little glimmer of my ability to actually DO all this. Then bax gets sick. If he or I get sick, the whole system is freaking shot to hell. But, I'm hoping the worst of it is over. Miss Elizabeth is sending help for me for a couple of hours tomorrow afternoon - to cover until Susan can get here at 5. So, at least I'll be able to get to campus to teach Wed night.

I'm supposed to be on Radio Times with Marty Mosse-Cowane on WHYY on friday with Jen Childs and Tony Braithwaite, plugging 1812's political satire holiday show "This is the Week that is" (1812productions.org) which I am dramaturg (sort of quasi-researcher ) for.... If I miss Marty's show, I will cry. hard.

Wish me luck, people. And mike - Given the November 7th victories, I have to assume you've got pull up there --- any chance you can get Baxter better?


Sunday, November 26, 2006 3 pm

If anyone is wondering where I am - I'm here at home with a sick Baxter. It appears to be hand foot and mouth yet again. 102.7 fever yesterday, vomited, now is an ANGRY bean with sores in his mouth. If he's had this twice before... shouldn't it be over in like 48 hours flat? That's my theory.

Looks like no daycare tomorrow for him, which means the dissertation gets put off another day ... again. What's another day? It's just a day. right? oy. The joys of single parenting.


Wednesday, November 22 2006 - noon

[Photo: Baxter “helping” me rake leaves]

The past week or so has been tricky. I did my first out-of-town academic conference last week. Went to San Antonio while Mimi and Poppy (my mom and dad) took care of Baxter. They had a wonderful time with him and he sure loved being with them. The thing that was difficult was the same thing that’s hard every time I do something for the first time since mike’s death. I was constantly thinking that I could just call him or email him while I was away. I have been to a lot of conferences over the years, and Mike was such a wonderful cheerleader on the phone, reminding me not to be nervous before my presentation, getting excited about my little victories. And it was the first time I had to come home to an empty house - not counting bax of course.

One of the things that was so wonderful about being married to Mike was knowing that no matter how much fun I had on vacation or away in some beautiful city at a conference, I always knew that coming home to our house together was the best of all.

I hate that he’s gone. That’s it, really.

And I do feel like I want to share myself with someone new, but I wonder if I’m ready. And is someone going to love Baxter and be willing to share me with him? Baxter is my life. He’s it. It was Kirk who reminded me that one of the tricky things being a mom to a lil’ boy is that Baxter will be my #1. Whoever I may end up with will have to be ok being #2 in many ways. He’s right.

On another note, yesterday I did yoga for the first time since Mike got really sick. It was wonderful. Emotional and vulnerable, but wonderful. It anchored me in my own body once again and I’m determined to rediscover my practice. It was also the first day in months that I was emotional and sad and in my grief, yet did not feel the need to smoke a cigarette. Seriously. That’s a freaking big deal. I feel the desire to smoke a cigareete when I’m “in it” almost as a way of breaking up the negative energy. To not feel that need was empowering.

Oh - Kirk, my comrade in Chaos, got on me about recording a new outgoing message on my landline machine. I hadn’t been able to erase Mike’s voice for months, “You’ve reached Mike, Danna, and Baxter Young. Please leave a message after the tone.” When kirk was over the other day, I screened my calls – as I always do – and Mike’s outgoing message came on. Kirk just looked at me then waited a few minutes to give me shit about it. Talk about the only person in the world who could give me shit for that. Anyway, he suggested I enlist Bax’s help in creating a new outgoing message. So I did, and it’s hysterical. I feel better having changed it.



I love voting.

I love it. love it. love it.

It makes me feel the same way I do after getting my teeth cleaned... or my car tuned up... or after I go to the gym... (or least from what i remember that that used to feel like).

Or back like 20 years ago when I was Catholic and I confessed those two times ("I'm called my sister a bad name. I'm sorry I was mean to my mom. I'm sorry I stuck the toothpicks in the plumbs on the kitchen counter and ripped the leaves off of Jae's jade plant while I was talking on the phone.") I left feeling wholesome, good, and full of self-efficacy.

It makes me feel good. For now.

Mike, if you have any say in this matter... See what you can do, ok? Talk to the people who have connections and see what you can do? Remember when you were in the hospital and you thought we were political insiders? Remember you thought we could pull some strings to change things in Washington? Well, I choose to believe that that was a premonition of sorts. And that now you have some pull.

So, Mike - don't spend your day tap dancing, eating pecan pie, playing video games and watching West Side Story (cause, if there is a heaven, and you're in it, I'm pretty positive that's how you spend your days). Instead, take a few minutes out of your day to make this Election Day a good one.

i love you, smoosher. love, smoosher


Friday, November 3, 2006 - noon

[Photo of Bax as a penguin for Halloween]

People have been emailing and calling seeing how I’m doing, so I thought I’d give a bit of an update. In short, I’m doing really well. I feel like I’m moving forward and it’s getting easier day-to-day.

It is unfortunate that some of my new growth has occurred through a tragedy close to home. Yesterday, one of our friends (who Mike worked with for years) lost his wife from complications from pneumonia. He sat by her side in the hospital for three weeks. She was in her early-thirties. While we weren’t super-close to them, I feel like we got closer through Mike’s illness and death. They visited him in the hospital several times and were great at chatting with Mike and making him laugh. Starting in September, inspired by the eclectic mix of people who gathered at Mike’s “shiva” they began to host biweekly dinner parties to bring together various people in their lives who otherwise wouldn’t get together.

I hate that this has happened. I know I can’t help him. He has to walk this walk just as I have. As the gentleman on the radio show I called into said, “This grief is yours and yours alone to bear.” True.

But, seeing this has shown me how far I have come in 3 and a half months. I’m in a different place. And, it does get easier in the day to day. Now I feel like I owe it to my friend to keep moving ahead. It’s his turn to start down this path. He’s just entering the tunnel. I’m in it and need to keep walking forward to come out the other end.

After I dropped groceries off at his house yesterday, I stopped at Disc Makers. I brought the art department some cookies and brownies and picked up Mike’s things. I hadn’t found a time when it felt right to pick up the 3 big boxes of stuff. But yesterday was right. I brought the boxes home and unpacked them. I also took some of the pieces of artwork that Mike had hanging in his office and hung them in our house – in place of some of the many photos of Mike and me that were e.v.e.r.y.w.h.e.r.e. No, I didn’t take down all of them – just a few. And it wasn’t like an event or something. It just felt right to sort of take some of them down and hang new prints in their place.

Anyway, my friend will be fine. He’s strong and positive and irreverent. The key qualities to any successful career in grief.


Inquirer article about the Barrymores

Great article in the inquirer about the Barrymores. Congratulations to John Zak - for the award - and for a great acceptance speech.

Apparently before I lost my shit following the memorial montage, I at least had my act together enough to be quoted - albeit with a misspelled name. -sigh-


Monday October 23, 2006 12:30 am

It's way too late to be writing.

"Smoosher!... time FO' BED!" I can hear him chastising me.

I have a throbbing headache and feel like shit. Lots of crying today. First day in a while that I've been "in it."

Tonight was Philly's Barrymore awards to honor Philadelphia Theater. it's like the Tony's ... but in Philly. ComedySportz was recognized with an honorary award for the 15 years of on-going performances every Saturday night. It was a beautiful thing to receive.

What sucked was that immediately after our acceptance speech, the show went into their "tribute to those who we've lost in the past year." and the fucking montage started with Mike. Not only that, but they had some guy singing some really sad song to accompany the freaking montage. Fucking A, right? So, I'm backstage with the CSz owners, looking at the projection screen from the wings and the whole thing was surreal.

You know when you watch the oscars and they do that long-ass montage tribute to people who have died. You know... OLD people... who had long careers. Old famous people. Not your husband. Not the person who you snuggle with in the middle of the night when it's too cold. Not your son's father. Not your smoosher who would call to let you know he'd be a little late coming home from work cause he was going to get the old changed in his 96 Saturn.

It was all just too much. Mary Carpenter stood with me as I lost my shit in the bathroom.

Thank gosh for the people who hold me up. Without them, I would most certainly fall down.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006 - 1:45 pm

Mike’s birthday is Thursday, October 12. He’ll be 39.

He would have been 39.

I hate referring to him in the past tense. I find myself talking with strangers as though he’s just waiting for me at home. Yesterday, the cashier at the grocery store was talking about her niece’s relationship with a much older man and I said, “My husband and I always joke about our 9 year age difference. Just to annoy him I round it up to ten!” And somewhere inside me was a sinking feeling like I’m the weird lady with the dead husband who insists on talking about him in the present tense. I think if I talked about him in the past tense, people would think we were divorced – and I hate that. We’re in love. We didn’t break up. He was taken from me. It’s different.

I’m in a very weird place right now. Sympathy cards have all stopped coming in the mail. No more flowers. No more old pictures of Mike in my email inbox. Just Bax and me trying to take one day at a time. Everyone is moving forward. Our pregnant friends are getting closer and closer to giving birth to babies that Mike will never know.

And yet, I do I find myself looking ahead in the direction of good things to come.

I had an inspirational conversation with amazing woman yesterday. Her name is Sue and she is a friend of a friend. Sue is in her forties and lost her husband of four years to cancer when she was 30. She reached out to me to tell me that it does get easier and that there is a new life waiting for me. Sue is now happily married with a seven-year old daughter. She’s fun, energetic, and has a light about her. Talking to her helped me feel confident in my future happiness. It was also just powerful talking with someone whose experience is so similar to mine. She understands all the trappings that come with it. Being lonely and wanting to be with someone – but not wanting to betray the memory of the person you’re with. Being friends with mostly married people who you love, but who you don’t want to burden with your “third-wheelishness.” Wanting to do anything that feels good in excess – hence my rediscovered habit of smoking evening cigarettes – a pastime that I perfected during my year in France.

And now I find myself, for the first time in a very long time, allowing myself to be attracted to other people. People who are alive. People who aren’t sick. Suddenly, I’m in the present, inhabiting my own physical body – not just my mind.

I find that it’s the promise of a possible “something” in the future that is bringing me back into my own skin.

I know friends and family worry about my experiencing any more pain or loss. They don’t want me to get involved in some avoidable train wreck – which, let’s face it, is the most likely outcome of anything more than friendship right now. But emotional train wrecks involving lust and love - the fear and vulnerability that accompany any kind of attraction to another person – these are what make us alive.

Daydreaming about the “what ifs” in a positive way makes me feel young again. I remember sitting on my parents' deck, looking out at the mountains dreaming about the boy I loved in the summertime. Reveling in the melancholy of unrequited love. I used to think that those moments were filled with pain. That wasn’t pain. That was the essence of the human experience. Anxiously awaiting that phone call, running with anticipation to the mailbox in search of letters with a specific return address.

This is how I spent many of my days, until Mike and I fell in love, at which point the “what if” became “what is.”

But being back in that place, considering the many possibilities of intimate connections ahead of me, playing out the infinite scenarios in which I might connect romantically to another person, feels so therapeutic to me. It’s like coming home.

So, regardless of what direction my life takes me – please don’t worry for me. If I eventually connect with someone only to have it end in tears, at least I’m alive.

And more than Michael would want to see me put together, stable and safe, he would want to see me feeling alive.


Saturday, September 30, 2006 - 8 pm

For whatever reason, this week has sort of sucked. The farther I get away from the date of Mike’s death, the more often I am able to find a new kind of “normal” – however, when my grief hits me, it seems to hit harder than ever.

I had a couple of down days in the early part of the week, not helped by my getting sick on Monday night. Wednesday I learn it was tonsillitis with a 102 fever. Had to cancel class, but thank gosh for CSM who picked up Bax from school, helped take care of him at night and in the morning, even though I was there (dead to the world, but there).

Antibiotics worked like a charm, so I’m already feeling almost 100% again.

Today was Sash and Dee’s baby shower for their twins due in December. It was held at their friend’s house out on Lincoln Drive. I didn’t think a bit about the emotional charge associated with seeing all of “the family” and all of Sasha and Dees relatives all in the same place. We haven’t really all been together since their beautiful wedding in September of 2004 up in Western Massachusetts that was like 3 days of cabin/summer camp bliss. We were 6 months pregnant, Mike was healthy, all our friends were there and the weather was fantastic.

The other thing I had failed to process ahead of time was the major Discmakers connection that would be there. Sasha’s dad used to co-own Discmakers, Sasha’s cousin was Mike’s supervisor and dear friend, Sasha’s other cousin was our wedding photographer and also loved by one Michael Young. And all these lovely people were sitting on the front porch as I walked up the walkway with my son. I tried to greet and hug, but by the time I got to Sasha’s brother (who I hadn’t seen since their wedding) I was a disaster. Like a couldn’t-get-my-shit-together disaster.

Thank gosh Meh and Heather were there to sort of diffuse the weird energy so that Baxter wasn’t too upset. (I try to never lose my shit in front of him). Then, I got inside and saw Sasha and it was another wave of sobs. Kevin and Beth were there. In fact, Kevin was the first face my brain registered when I came in. The perfect person to be sitting in the chair closest to the door. He escorted me out, Meh was on Baxter duty, and I just fell apart. After about 10 minutes I made a decision that I had to at least greet the moms to be.

Fortunately, the longer I stayed, the more diluted the weird energy became, to the point where it was just a new experience – not a flashback to an old experience with a big gaping hole in the middle.

Baxter still mentions Daddy several times a week. The other night, I put him to bed in his crib, We said I love you and he kissed the picture of Mike that he sleeps with. Then, all of a sudden, Baxter, who was lying on his belly, lifted his head and upper body up with his arms and had a huge smile. In a whisper he said, “Mama, Listen!” Then he pointed to his ear (a gesture I think he has learned from Dora the Explorer).

“What is it?” I asked.

“Shh… Daddy’s coming!” he whispered loudly.

“What?” I tried to be calm.

He said it again. I leaned my forearms and head on the edge of his crib and breathed slowly, trying to just take it in stride. I think I was also waiting for Mike. I never saw him, though part of me thinks I felt him.

Tonight, Bax took some giant legos into the tub with him. After bath, he took four of them and put them together into a tower.

“Nice job, Bud! Now, let’s bring those into Baxter’s room!” Apparently, using the third person with toddlers is supposed to help with their comprehension. Anything to get the process to move along.

My little naked redheaded boy ran out of the bathroom, blocks in hand, into the hallway. He stopped in the open doorway to his room, held up the tower and yelled, “Daddy, Look! Look, Daddy!”

Yeah... I don't know what to say either. I just looked around the room and smiled. He's in there - somewhere.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006 - 9 pm

I just taught my 4th class of the semester (it meets once/week) and now I'm sitting at Iron Hill Brewery in Newark, drinking a glass of wine and eating some nachos. Tonight I will sleep over at my colleague Jenny's house in Newark while CSM takes care of my boy and brings him to school in the morning. He loves his Wednesday nights with Aunt Susan.

I finished my first draft of the blog introduction. Jae reordered the entire blog in chronological order and pasted it into a word document for me (a task for which I am hugely grateful). I sent it off yesterday. It fells freeing to have it sent off to the agent - but I'm a little bit lost.

Yesterday I ventured into my dissertation files to reaquaint myself with them for the first time in months. It was daunting, but I'm slowly stepping back in.

It's funny - I used to hate eating in a restaurant alone. I remember my first few conferences, eating alone at a table, self-consciously picking at my food and pretending to look over the conference program for the 54th time. But, I'm ok sitting here. I like it. In the quiet is where I find Michael.

Speaking of...

I have been going through old files, finding emails and letters that speak to who Mike is. I recently found the script for the toast he gave as Best Man at Kevin and Beth's wedding in May of 2005.

In it, I found this paragraph. I have no words to describe how I feel reading it. The passage speaks for itself. It is Michael - speaking to all of us.

"Joking aside, I would like to thank them for what they have given us today. We get so few opportunities for ritual in our society anymore, so few chances to be part of a community, and so very few invitations to be part of something sacred. We can all draw strength from what we’ve seen today. We know that despite our best wishes, they will face struggles. But today, in front of all of us, they have looked the other in the eye and said, “I know you’ll make mistakes. In spite of that, I will accept you, love you, and stay with you.” They have shown the courage to make that promise, when it would be easier not to.

It’s easier to doubt; it’s harder to trust. It’s easier to lose hope; it’s harder to have faith. And one of the lessons of improv taught in that class that brought them together still holds true: There are always reasons to say no. The art is in finding a reason to say yes."


MISSING: 5 black easels used at the Tribute show at World Cafe Live

--- they were generously lent to us from Randy, our funeral director. He needs them for a funeral this week.

Doh! help - anyone seen them? They are black and durable - good quality easels.

email me at 185cranios@gmail.com

Thank you!


Sunday, September 10, 2006 - 9 pm

Bax and me and tomtom and meh's this morning. [Right top: feeding mama goldfish, Right bottom: A Ham. Meh thinks this photo looks alot like Mike. Click on it to make it larger and look at his eyes. Particularly the devilish little arch in his eyebrow. So Mike.]

He brings me so much joy. He's full of beans and loves to joke and laugh and be oppositional (ok, not my favorite thing right now) - but I really just enjoy being with him.

We had a fun slumber party and Tomtom and Meh's house with Julie and baby Jack, Titi Sasha and Titi Dee, and our friends from DC who I haven't seen since Sasha and Dee's wedding two years ago. What a fun night - and Tomtom's cooking is killer. sooo good. Complete with buttermilk pancakes this morning. Holy Moses.

This afternoon I watch the video footage that Alex arranged for the tribute. I cried and laughed and cried some more. The video messages to Baxter were amazing. The variety of things that people communicated to Bax gave such a nuanced picture of his dad: Brilliantly funny, positive, optimistic, amazing comedic timing, ethical, good, kind, a great dancer, supportive, a sports fan, a fantasy baseball league champion (4 years out of the last 5!), a baker, an amazing cook, a leader, a director, a friend, and an inspiration. If anything, I fear perhaps we're going to give poor bax a complex because he'll grow up thinking he'll have to live up to the legacy of this Superman...

Oh well - there are worse fates.

When I shut off the camera that I had been using to watch these videos I had this messed up feeling. Like, ok - I've had more than enough of this grieving thing. Mike can return now so we can get on with our lives.

But, how can this thought even exist in my head? Don't I
get it? But it's so real when I have it. Fleeting, but real. Like if I think hard enough, I can snap us back to where we were one year ago and choose the other adventure (remember "choose your own adventure" stories?) - you know, the adventure without the brain tumor that takes Michael from us? If only.

I hate being without him. And I warn you, I may become a bore here, but that's all I can think over and over - I just hate it. I mean, my days are full and friends are keeping me smiling and laughing - as is bax. But darnit to heck... blech.


Saturday, September 9, 2006 - 2 pm

It has been a busy, but satisfying week. Preparing for a teaching my class is quite rewarding and the students are sharp, engaged, and motivated. Baxter is a joy to be around. Grocery shopping, reading, folding laundry and driving in the car are all more fun with the Baxman around.

I've also been working on a prologue to the blog - which is probably why I haven't been posting on the blog itself. I've spent many hours furiously writing the backstory to this entire saga. I'm working with Curtis' literary agent now in the hopes that eventually Mike and I can share our story. Writing the prelude to the blog is cathartic and painful at the same time. Remembering how even before the madness of April - July, Mike's situation was never easy. Even after that first surgery he had to be rehospitalized. Then there was the month of February during which I watched Mike transform before my eyes, unaware of the changes taking place.

Writing about the beginning of this entire journey feels like the one missing piece - other than the missing piece that is Michael, of course.

I'm about to nap while Baxter naps. I actually worked out on my elliptical machine for the first time in 5 months. It felt great to get moving. This afternoon I head to tomtom and meh's for a slumber party and then tomorrow I'm hitting the Philly fringe with Kebbeh and Beth. My friends take care of me and keep me busy and lifted up. I love them all for that.

I leave you with this little thought I had as I was writing on my laptop in the sunshine in Washington Square Park on Friday. I jotted it down in a blank document to save it for my next blog entry:

"You know how when you look up at the sun and close your eyes you see a glow? A bright orange glow that ebbs and flows and darkens and brightens again. Well, I’ve decided that that is Michael. I feel like when I'm sitting in the sun and I close my eyes, Mike is kissing me. "


Monday, September 4, 2006 - 9 pm

Julie, Jack, Bax and I had a wonderful time in Ocean City (R). We waited to head to the shore until the rain had passed, Sunday morning, so Saturday night, Bax and I had an impromptu visit to Tomtom and Meh's beautiful new house in the Art Museum area (L). It was a great night.

Sunday - Monday, Bax and Jack were like two peas in a pod. They slept well and Julie and I actually did a dinner and breakfast out with the boys and strolled along the boardwalk. My favorite moment of the weekend - and there were several - was when we sat with the boys at the edge of the boardwalk and looked out at the ocean. Bax could have sat there for hours: "Oh-sheh. Oh-sheh. Bih wave. Oh-sheh," he said, pointing out across the beach. He was mesmorized.

It was wonderful.


Bax has asked me twice, "Where Daddy go?" So, Saturday, I explained that Daddy had an "owie" on his head so had to be at the hospital, but now he's all around us all the time. I told him Daddy is In my heart, in Bax's heart, and all around us. Even if he can't see him, Daddy's all around.

So, this afternoon, while eating snack, Bax pointed to the picture of Mike on the fridge. "Daddy bump," he said, patting his own head. "Daddy owie head. Daddy wih Boo boo Puppy! Yay Boo Boo Puppy!"

Boo Boo puppy is a frozen ice pack inside a little stuffed dog that they give the kids at daycare when they have a bump. Boo boo puppy fixes everything.

I love that Bax is picturing Daddy with Boo Boo Puppy - and that the image makes him happy.


Friday, Sept 1, 2006

Thank you for all the thoughtful emails, letters, calls, and donations to Baxter. Sunday was such an amazing night, i've geen riding the high of it all week.

This week was like being thrown into the deep end. On monday, I had an afternoon-long faculty meeting at UDel. Tuesday and Wednesday I worked on the syllabus for my new course. Wednesday night I taught my class at UDel. Thursday morning, I presented a paper with a colleague of mine at the american political science associaton meeting which is happening here in philly this year. Today was filled with meetings and ended with the political communications reception in the evening.

Tomorrow, Julie and baby jack are taking Bax and me to the Jersey Shore. We'll be in Ocean City from Saturday until Monday. What a wonderful idea to get away for the weekend...

Thank you and love to you all,
I mean it.


Sunday, August 27, 2006 - the big day!

Today's the big day. I'm surprisingly calm.

But, this whole past week I have been a little nuts. I am realizing that once the celebration is over, I have no more Mike-related planning to do. I also have this bizarre feeling that once the celebration's over, life will return to "normal" - meaning Mike back at home with Bax and me ready to move forward on our path together. But, you know what? Not so much. When the celebration is over, all the friends and family leave and Bax and I return home sans Mike. Still.

I received a beautiful book from our funeral director, Randy, about grieving the loss of a partner. It talks about most of the feelings that I've been having. It's odd that something so unfathomable is actually fairly predictable in terms of the havoc it wreaks.

I had the thought the other morning, that as unique as my situation seems right now, all the couples we know - assuming they stay in love and together for years and years - will go through the experience of one person grieving the loss of the other. It's just a fact.

So, I'm reading this book and it talks about the slow disappearance of the couples that used to be in your inner circle. Mainly because, people are uncomfortable with grief, people don't understand grief, and quite frankly, the widowed person is sort of a drag. I would like to think that that will not be my situation. But, then, my friend Cara suggested that it's possible that I may change. I may not want to be surrounded by all the baggage that comes with hanging out with all our couple friends. I sure hope not. Most of them were right there with us through the shit. I feel like because we went through it together (thanks in large part to the blog) that people do get it. They will be there and I will want to surround myself with them.

I had vivid dreams last night - the kind that crack Meh up for their obviousness. First, I was being trampled by elephants. Huge elephants with flat feet each about two feet in diameter. When I finally escaped through a doorway, some of my family members were just sitting there watching tv. When I tried to explain what happened, they sort of shrugged it off. "Well, you're fine now, so relax. " I freaked out. screamed and screamed and gave an aggressive middle finger to everyone in the room.

I then dreamt that I was back on my undergrad college campus (Univ of New Hampshire) as a single mom with Baxter. I was trying to figure out how to take care of him and raise him in my studio apartment while taking 4 classes and having no income.

Oy. That's all for now. I hope you enjoy tonight's show as much as I've enjoyed putting it together.

love to you all,

PS: There will be a donation table at the show, so if you are so inclined, you will have the opportunity (through cash or check) to donate to Jefferson, Baxter's education fund, or Comedysportz.

PPS: Attire for this evening: Whatever the hell you want. I'm dressing up, but that's because I'm thinking of it as my last date with Michael. I think most folks are doing upscale casual, but if you want to get gussied, I support that. Life is short. Do whatever makes you happy.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006 - 9:47 pm

[My new nemesis - marital status questions]

City Paper Story is available. Natalie did a very nice job. I can't really read it, in fact:


Went to UDel today for new faculty orientation. It was 8 hours of lectures on health insurance options, life insurance options, retirement plans and flexible spending accounts. It was refreshing to be in a space where no one knows my story. There were about 20 new faculty members there, and we shared laughs and mocking expressions at the banality of some of the information covered. It was a treat to make wise cracks that made folks around me laugh and break up the monotony of the day.

But, at the same time, there was the constant reminder of what is going on in my personal life: The summaries of the health insurance options discussing coverage of inpatient surgical care, the places where you need to write in the name of your spouse or beneficiary, the box where you need to check your marital status:

o Single
o Married
o Divorced
o Widowed

How fucked up is it that I'm a “W?”

As Tresa said, I'm “in the closet.” The widow's closet. I want people to get to know me as me and not be all weird about my baggage. If I get to know new people on campus, sure they'll find out eventually, but not now. No reason for it.

As I told Cheryl, who stopped by with a beautiful bouquet of gerbera daisies tonight, the worst part of today was knowing how excited Mike would be to hear about all the stupid details of my first real day on campus. He reveled in my successes and was my biggest cheerleader.

But, as I started to lose my shit into the boiling spaghetti, I stopped. “It sucks. It just sucks. No need to explore the various aspects of suckiness. I need to just..hover… and stop spinning around.” [see yesterday's post about “hovering”].


Info about Parking at World Café Live:

There is FREE PARKING after 5:30 P.M. on Walnut Street in Penn lot #1, just past the Left Bank building (before 33rd Street). In addition, there is also FREE PARKING after 5:30 in the lot under the Walnut Street bridge: just take a right onto 31st Street from Chestnut, drive to the end of the block, and park in the lot to your right.


August 22, 2006 - 1:53 pm - Bax's naptime

The past couple of days have been wrought with trickiness.

Glitch #1: Oaklyn experienced the worst fire recent memory right across the street from Haddon Learning Center. And while the daycare was untouched by fire, dealing with the smoke and debris has forced the center to be closed yesterday and today. Fortunately, Michelle was available to sit for Baxter for a few hours this morning so that I could at least begin to consider planning for my course (which I start teaching next Wednesday night at Udel).

Glitch #2: I have been having trouble accessing my bank account info online for 2 days – can’t get balances, Quicken isn’t synching up properly, and my on-line bill paying isn’t working. Problem? Mike is dead. They finally processed the death certificate and now all the on-line banking features that had been in his name don’t exist. It took an hour on the phone this morning, but I think I’ve reestablished the online accounts in my own name. But what a drag to sit down and quickly pay some bills only to discover a whole additional headache you didn’t know existed in the first place.

Glitch #3: I’ve got a LOT of logistics on my mind. Actually I could use some help with a lot of this. So, as I’ve done this successfully in the past, here I shall try yet again.

  • Is anyone available to pick up Lonia at the airport on Saturday at 8:45 am and bring her here to my house?
  • Is anyone available to be here at my house at around 10:00 am Saturday morning to drive Mia (from Csz Indianapolis) to the DMV in Cherry Hill (about 3 minute drive from my house). We need to submit final paperwork for the sale of Harvey and I think I’ll have too much going on to get to the DMV myself. I don’t need to be there, Just Mia does, with paperwork in hand.
  • Is there anyone out there who is not performing in Sunday’s show who might be able to be at World Café Live with me from about 2 pm on before the show – just to help me with all sorts of running around? I don’t know what I’ll need yet, but I figure I’ll need something. Like a drink…
  • Anyone able to come to my house to pick up the large fishbowls, table tents and tablecloth that will all be used on the donation table that Michelle Weissman will be sitting at right in the lobby at WCL? I want to make sure all these things get to the space at like 5:30 and are set up and ready to go so that when people start arriving they can just plop cash/checks into the fishbowls.

"Glitch" #4: Mike’s gone and I hate it.

I hate it so much. I super-hate it.

My therapist talked to me this morning about recognizing the difference between pain and suffering. Pain is the result of the actual event itself. Suffering is what comes from thinking about and digesting the pain. Pain is unavoidable. Particularly in this situation. But, David suggested, while the pain is sharp and real, if I adopt an almost-Buddhist approach to this journey, I may be able to minimize the suffering.

To sit, as I did today in his office, and sob and sob and say over and over how much I simply “hate this” is to experience the pain itself. The goal is to say “I hate it,” and stop there – to avoid slipping down that slope where you ask “why” and “I wish it could be like it was,” and “Baxter will never know his dad,” blah blah blah. These kinds of thoughts swirl around me and I find them utterly destructive. Asking these questions is really just pouring salt into an open bloody wound.

So, pain = inevitable and necessary. Suffering = controllable and avoidable.

I’m thinking of it a lot like mediation. Acknowledging and floating on top of the hurt that I feel without feeding it with too much mental energy. Experiencing it physically and emotionally, but not with my rational mind.

It think that David was working on this little Buddhist theory over our last couple of sessions. Each visit I would tell him a new reason why Mike’s death sucks. Down to minutia: We’ll never go camping again. Christmas will be so lonely. Baxter’s first school play will be excruciatingly sad. I’ll never hear Mike make a new joke. He was and would continued to have been an amazing father.

Finally, David told me that there were too many IQ points sitting in my chair working with all their energy to come with new reasons why this is dreadful. But in the end, do all those individual fucking reasons really matter? No. It sucks. It fucking sucks. That’s it. So why even go beyond that.

The rest of these thoughts are what make the pain spiral into self-pitying, gut-wrenching, miserable suffering.

So, rather than feed that beast, I am going to try to write a whole lot of “I hate this. I hate this so much.” and leave it at that. Of course, I may continue to stew in my own creative miserable juices and come up with reason 58,563 why this sucks, but my hope is to avoid that kind of swamp and try to hover above it instead.


On a totally different note, Philadelphia City Paper is doing a story about Mike, me, the blog, and our journey. It will be in Thursday's city paper. www.citypaper.net.


Sunday, August 20, 2006 - midnight

I had a really good day today. Yesterday sucked. All around suck. I was “in it.” (Anyone seen Garden State?). Fortunately Sash and Dee came over and we had a great talk and lots of crying.

But today was better. Went shopping with the boy (“Shop-pING,” as he says), ate some lunch, went for a great walk, played outside, had a nap while he napped… And then, tonight, I decided to go to a party. I was shocked that I wanted to go, but I did. At the last minute I decided to go. Michelle’s sweet daughter came over and watched the sleeping baxman and I got a few hours out.

It was a get together at the house of someone who I don’t even know that well, but who I know tangentially through the theater scene. I so appreciated the invitation. He called several days ago to tell me about it and I told him I wasn’t sure if I’d make it but that I was so thankful that he had thought to ask me. And that’s the truth. A lot of people – particularly those who don’t know me too well – almost seem afraid of me. Not really afraid of me, but afraid of how uncomfortable they are with the whole freaking thing. I think what people often forget is that even though this shitty situation is mine, it’s not like I’m an expert. It’s not like I’m comfortable with it myself, or have expectations of what folks should say or how they should act. What I appreciate most is people just saying candidly, “I don’t even know what to say to you. This is just so weird and fucked up.” That is the truth. And there really is nothing much to say. But just saying anything is helpful. More helpful than distance and silence, that’s for sure.

Anyway, I went to the party, not knowing if I would know anyone there. I did know a couple of people. But I spent much of the night chatting with folks I didn’t know. People who didn’t know my story, but were just fun and smart and witty and friendly. It was such a breath of fresh air. And yes, I carry the weight of this shit everywhere. But it was different to feel like it was mine alone and not out there for everyone to talk around.

I left feeling proud of myself. Weird word, I know. “Proud?” But I think that’s how I felt. Like Mike would be so glad that I went. And that I was glad that even though I can be a cautious person, I force myself out of my comfort zone when I know it’s in my best interest.

I did have a sharp pain of sadness on my way home while getting on 676. I heard the words that Mike would always say whenever we were on our way home from Comedysportz or a party of gathering, “The best part is, I get to go home with you.”

And while it may seem oddly Oedipal, I thought for a moment that while I don’t get to go home with Michael, I do get to return home to Baxter. And the joy I get from picturing his sleeping little body in his crib makes it all a bit more bearable.


Friday, August 18, 2006 - 11:45 pm

Today =

Wegmans grocery store with Baxter (fun!)
Zoo with Bax, Taylor, and Jenny and family (fun!)
Long nap while bax naps (mmmm... nap.)
Walk with Baxter (fun!)
Playing outside (fun!)
Visiting Michelle's house with Bax (fun!)

Good day all around. Bax actually napped straight from 1:30 pm until 4 pm. I slept from 2:30-4. I curled up in my big pillowtop king sized bed and pulled the box of Mike under the covers with me, hugging it in the crook of my left arm where I usually keep Pongo, my stuffed penguin.

As I pulled the box close and cuddled up with it, I thought, "Is this f*cked up?"

The answer is, "Yes, this is f*cked up."

But after being in the hospital for 4 months watching my brilliant husband fade away and come back and get sick and get well only to ultimately die... how f*cked up is it really to take a nap with a box of his ashes ...?"

Until you're here in these shoes, you have no idea what's fucked up and what's not.

When Randy (the funeral director) first showed me the option of getting some of Mike's ashes placed in a locket or medallion that I could wear around my neck, I thought.... "Who the f*ck would do that? That's just morbid and strange." And now, I think, perhaps it would be nice...

Right now, as I write, the box of Mike is next to me under the duvet covers, sitting next to Pongo the penguin and leaning up on his pillow. And yes, of course it's f*cked up. And no, I won't do this forever.

But for today - for right now - this is what I'm doing. And it feels nice.


Thursday, August 17, 2006 - 11:40 pm

Anyone have an easel or two we could use for the Tribute Show on August 27th? I have about 5 or 6, but we need a few more. Email me at 185cranios@gmail.com


Tonight I went to see the movie "Little Miss Sunshine" with Kris O. We had a nice time.

It was weird seeing a movie in which someone dies (hope I'm not giving anything away here). It seemed so uneventful - "Been there."

It was also weird seeing a movie that would usually have had me crying. I am a big huge crier at movies. Garden State, Brokeback Mountain, Sleepless in Seatle - tears from beginning to end. But tonight? Nothing. Not even that tingling feeling inside my nose and eyes.

It was the first time in years that I have been in a movie theater without Michael. I can't honestly remember the last time I had been to see a film without him, other than those "reel moms" movies in Cherry Hill where breastfeeding moms take their little infants at like 11 am on a Tuesday.


At one point in the film, the characters were riding in a van. Music played while the landscape travelled across the screen. It's during moments like these that you turn to your partner and share a sweet moment. You don't even know you do it, I bet, but I'm sure you do. And, if you don't, from now on you should. These musical lulls are when Mike and I would smoosh a little and hold hands a little tighter.

Only at this point in the film did I momentarily feel like sobbing. But I didn't. Instead I ate more popcorn.

I looked at the faces of the couples around us and thought of the words that Michael said to me every time we went to the movie theater together (which was quite often)...

"My smoosher is so beautiful in the flickering blue light."

Goodnight smoosher. Time fo' bed.

Thursday, August 17, 2006 - 2:00 pm

Couple of random details about the August 27th Tribute show:

Only 38 general admission (standing room only) tickets are left for the tribute - and I think they had a total of 400 available.

Thank you to Alex S. who found and hired a videographer for this event. Not only will the videographer be taping the entire show, but he will also be filming friends/coworkers/family of Mike's who have a few words to say into the camera. The intention is for Baxter to be able to get to know Mike through the anecdotes of people who loved him. Of course, you could always write down meaningful ditties about Mike that I will then save for Baxter (some of you already have), but this is an opportunity to just say something into the camera .

The videographer will be there when doors open at 6 pm. If you would like to say a few words to end up on the DVD that will eventually be Baxters, please do. I believe the videographer will be set up in the lobby area. I figured people might want a heads up that they will have this opportunity to do this at the event, so that over the next week or so you could be brainstorming.

If you do not have a reserved table seat for the tribute show, you could always make reservations for dinner at "upstairs live" restaurant to eat before the show. If I were you, I would enter the venue at 6 pm, stake out seats, then go up to eat dinner and return for the show at 7:25 pm. For reservations, call 215.222.1400.

Also - A huge CONGRATULATIONS to ComedySportz Philadlephia for the honorary award they will be receiving at the Barrymore Awards this year for their 15 year contribution to the Philadelphia Theater Scene through improv! Mike would be so freaking psyched. Mike is so freaking psyched. Unless where he is is way more super fun than here, in which case he might be preoccupied.


Wednesay, August 16, 2006 - 10:00 pm

Just a reminder about the discounted hotel available for the weekend of August 25-28:

The Windsor Hotel at 17th and the Parkway is offering a discounted rate of $59 per night (!) to folks attending the bash. To get the rate, you need to call the Hotel Windsor directly at 215-981-5678 and ask for reservations. You should request the BigBash rate (all one word "BigBash"), which will be $59/night and available on Friday, August 25th; Saturday, August 26th, and Sunday, August 27th. There’s a parking garage attached and the rate for that is $24/night and the pool on the roof is open.
If people want to visit the website, it’s www.windsorhotel.com.


Yesterday was a difficult day. Heide and I went to the funeral home to pick up "Mike." Randy met us in the parking lot and brought us into the parlor in the front of the building. After about 10 minutes of conversation, Randy placed the cardboard box on the little coffee table in front of us. "Here is Mike." I couldn't bring myself to reach for it. I just looked and sobbed, hung my head and cried silently into my chest until Heide handed me a designer Kleenex from her bag. After more tears than I had shed in about a week, Randy handed me the box of ashes and Heide and I walked to the car.

I'm glad that Jenny SG prepared me for the experience of picking up the cremains inside a cardboard container that weighs a heck of a lot more than you would think it does. It was quite heavy. I almost found that comforting, though. Perhaps because it meant that he was really in there.

In spite of the horror of holding my vibrant, funny, irreverent husband inside a 10" X 4" X 6" box, it was nice to feel that he was with me, but without that devestating illness. I needed that month to get my shit together before I could retrieve his ashes. I was so angry at his body for failing him that I couldn't stomach the thought of bringing them into our home. I certainly couldn't imagine referring to the box as "Mike."

But, when Randy placed the box on the coffee table, I felt like it was a reunion with my smoosher.

Heide then dropped me off at the garage where Harvey (Mike's 96 Saturn) was getting a new muffler and tune up in preparation for his sale to folks from ComedySportz Indianapolis. I unlocked Harvey and placed "Mike" on the passenger seat. He and I drove home listening to the first mix that he ever made me in 2000.


Monday, August 14, 2006 - 10:45 pm

Below is Mike's letter to friends following the series of surgeries in late January and early February to implant the shunt. That shunt turned out to be infected and lead to serious cognitive complications throughou thte month of February. But upon his return home, he was feeling quite good. I gain a lot of perspective from reading this email. Such as... Mike hated the hospital. He always had a sense of humor about his situation. He realized how complicated his case was, even if he acted like it was fairly straightforward. And.. did I mention, he hated the hospital?

The following email was sent to friends on February 6, 2006. (See previous post for info on our March 8-12 trip to Charleston, SC):

Hello friends,

I am thankfully back at work today, having been released from the hospital last Friday. And since I’m not in the hospital, today is a good day.

I’ll recap here for those of you who may not have been on Danna’s email lists. On Thursday, Jan 26, I checked back into Jefferson Hospital for more surgery. A cyst had grown where my tumor was previously, apparently a fairly common occurrence for a craniopharyngioma (the fancy name for my brand of tumor). After consulting with the radiation therapists, my doctors concluded that it made the most sense to drain the cyst first before I started radiation therapy to kill of the remaining cells.

I had the surgery on Friday, Jan 27. Unfortunately, the surgeons were working somewhat blind. Last time, they went in endoscopically through my nose. This time, they went in from the top of my skull. Given the procedure, the top of the skull method was less invasive. They attached a frame (kind of like a halo) to my skull, and then took an MRI. This frame had to literally be screwed into my skull at four points, which wins for Unpleasant Surgical Procedure of the Day. Especially when you consider that the frame wasn’t designed for an enormous head such as mine. The frame gives the surgeons coordinates to orient themselves with, and a software program then directs them to the cyst. My surgeon wasn’t sure if he punctured the cyst during surgery, so he sent me for a CAT scan while still under sedation. The CAT scan was inconclusive: either he had punctured it, or he had just missed. Since it was possible that he had hit the target, he chose not to try again and expose me to greater risk. He ended the surgery, and scheduled me for an MRI to get more conclusive evidence. The MRI confirmed that he had missed.

Saturday morning, my surgeon suggests that we try again. He can send me home and have me come back at a later date, or he can fit me in Tuesday and just keep me in the hospital. I’m so ready for this to be done, I decide to stay. After an intensely boring weekend in the hospital, I go back to the pre-op area Tuesday morning. this time, they give me a sedative cocktail before screwing on the frame, making the experience much more pleasant. I awaken after surgery to find out that they did penetrate the cyst. Success!

Tuesday night, I sleep terribly. I run a fever as high as 103.9, similar to a problem I had last November. Wednesday morning, my surgeon stops by early. While they did penetetrate the cyst, they were a little too successful: the catheter is now very close to one of the main arteries in the brain, and my surgeon doesn’t want to scratch that artery by accident. He wants to go in one last time and retract the catheter a few millimeters. He thinks that might be the cause of the fever as well, since it may be upsetting the hypothalamus. I sigh in resignation. What else can I do? He apologizes, and says he’s never had this much difficulty with such a simple procedure. He orders me antibiotics added to my IV, and ups my hydrocortisone level.

Thursday morning, I once again am headed to pre-op. As I am wheeled down on a stretcher, five different nurses say, “Good luck, Mike.” You know you’ve been in the hospital too long when that many nurses can identify you by name. Finally, the procedure is performed and works. A CAT scan shows great placement, and that they’ve shrunk the cyst down when they withdrew fluid during surgery. Hurray!

Friday afternoon, I leave the hospital, thrilled to get out of there. Now I have to schedule followups with my original surgeon, my endocrinologist, and another radiation therapist. Originally, we were going to wait a couple of weeks before starting radiation, but my surgeon doesn’t want to wait for the cyst to reform, so he’s pushing a faster timetable. I meet with the new radiation therapist on Feb 14 to find out more.

Unlike last November, I feel just fine now. My energy level and stamina are fine, and I’m not suddenly wiped out. This allows me to be back at work and driving immediately. It’s a big relief. I do have a big shaved patch on my head. Fortunately, it’s placed in an inconspicuous place: the front of my head. Ah well. At least the scar is along my natural part, so it should eventually disappear beneath my usual shaggy mane. In the meantime, I’ve gotten my hair cut shorter than it has been since my college days. Tom Javian suggested I shave the other side and dress up as Lt. Worf from Stark Trek TNG. We could then tell people that a side effect of the surgery had me convinced I had become Lt. Worf, and I would wear a Star Trek uniform to work every day. Oh, the fun you can have with a brain tumor!


Monday, August 14, 2006 - 11 pm

[Photos of Mike taken March 12-14, 2006 by Victoria. Just after our Baxter-free March 8-12 trip to Charleston, SC (read more on that below) and less than one week before Mike was admitted to Jefferson. The photo on the left was pretty much how Mike was about 50% of the time in those weeks leading up to his hospitalization. He often wasn't even aware that he was sleeping.]

I've been busily working on things for the tribute show. Assembling the program, order of performances, burning CDs to play before and after the show. It's a great way to focus my energy. I'm so tired, but I feel almost manic in my need to do things. I have such frenetic energy that I've had an upset stomach for 2 days. Lovely.


After coming across these photos from Victoria, I started thinking a lot about the months of February and March. Mike had a series of three operations from Jan 27 to Feb 2 to implant a shunt to drain the cyst that had quickly formed in his head. The shunt turned out to be infected with staph which is why he appeared to be falling apart before my eyes throughout the month of February and into March. He was so fatigued, incommunicative, and occasionally confused. It was crushing to watch - especially since we had no fucking idea why.

I remember going to dinner with Sasha, Dee, Marianne, Heather and Michaela in February in Chinatown. It was Oscar night, March 5th. We ate dinner at Vietnam Restaurant, and talked movies. Brokeback Mountain was the subject. I admitted that Mike and I had gone to see the movie a week prior and that I cried from the second the music started until the credits rolled. When the ladies asked why, I took a moment and decided to say what I knew I wanted to say. It went something like this:

“I hate to be a downer, but the movie is about a love that is lost - and right now I feel like I have lost Michael. He's not right. I don't know if he's depressed or sick, but he's not right.”

I remember the girls just sort of sitting there stunned. I think some suggested that he was just in a post-op funk and others just sort of patted my hands, but this was a major bomb to drop in a circle of happily married friends. I could definitely feel the “holy shit” in the air.

In spite of the aggressive tumor/cyst that Mike knew he had in his head, he was set on going away with me for a much needed and deserved vacation in early March. The radiation oncology team outlined a general plan that would have started Mike in radiation therapy during the first week of March. Radiation has to be completed in 6 successive weeks, so interrupting the treatment for a vacation was not going to be in the cards. So, Mike made it passionately clear that he needed to get away before radiation started.

Throughout this entire chapter, something was not right with Michael. I discussed it in detail with Victoria and Deke when they came up two after the Oscars to watch Baxter while Mike and I went away to Charleston. They listened, but at that point, the only one who could really see the changes in Michael was me.

The Charleston trip (March 8-12) was wonderful and horrible. Mike was sweet and charming and funny - but not right. He slept about 16 hours a day, was viciously forgetful, and had lost all sense of direction. He left his palm pilot in a drug store (not like Mike at all), forgot to bring the camera, forgot to bring one of his medicines (DDAVP), and went for a jog one morning only to return 15 minutes later because he had gotten confused and counted find the water (1 block to our East - AND he had a map).

It was like watching the slowest car crash you've ever seen.

But, I do not doubt that the trip was what Mike desperately wanted and needed. Between his intense need to get away with me in March and his almost aggressive request to come home for the weekend between the March 28 transphenoidal surgery and the April 4th craniotomy… I wonder if he knew. Not in his rational mind, of course, but somewhere else - I wonder if somehoe he knew the importance of time. Time with me, with Baxter, and at our beautiful home. It sure seems that way in hindsight.


Sunday, August 13, 2006 - 11:30 pm: "Time fo' Bed!" (a smoosherism)

[A summer day in Rittenhouse Square. Our favorite lounging spot in those early days - especially when I lived in the Wellington at 19th and Walnut from 2000-2001]

In the early days of our relationship, the joke was that I hated when our dates were over. I never wanted Mike to go home. I never wanted Sunday afternoon to roll around cause it meant another week of Mike working and Danna at school. I remember one night when I still lived in the grad towers at Penn (oy.). Mike went to look at his watch (as he often did as the night grew late) and before he could see what time it was, I grabbed his wrist, took his watch off and threw it under my bed with the dust bunnies.

I believe his response was, "What are you... eight?"

I also tried many times (unsuccessfully) to get him to play hookey (sp?). This was one of those times. The beginning of the thread is typical of the email banter that has kept me from my work for countless hours over the past seven years:


From: Danna Goldthwaite
To: Mike Young
Sent: March 7, 2000 2:04 pm

Mike, I just got this article from my public opinion professor … it’s a hoot.


…Who AM I?


From: Mike Young
To: Danna Goldthwaite
Sent: March 7, 2000 2:14 pm

It is a hoot. And that’s a word I use.

Even in its humor, it is revealing. Clearly, McCain is the least-insulted candidate, which I think shows the character respect he garners.

There was an article in the Sunday Inky about late-night shows and political humor. Did you see it? I think I still have it if you haven’t.


From: Danna Goldthwaite
To: Mike Young
Sent: March 7, 2000 2:27 pm

Garner? Like Parsley?

Your vocabulary astounds me. I would never use that word. Now I will, though.

I’d really like to see that article you mentioned, if you do still have it.

So, yeah tomorrow 75 degrees.
Libra, Wednesday, March 8:
There’s a time to work and a time to play. You usually don’t consider whether you can afford to attend an impromptu party, but today you may have to.

Ok ok… so I changed the word “tonight” to “today.” What can I say, I’m a scoundrel. And, Mike, I do hope you realize that I am in no way serious about running off tomorrow, so don’t fret. It’s just fun to make pretend though, hmm?


From: Mike Young
To: Danna Goldthwaite
Sent: March 7, 2000 2:50 pm

Gee, I never thought of my vocabulary being that astounding. I do use more words in print that I would in conversation.

And yeah, you’re “in no way serious.” Like there’s not a little part of you that’s hoping I’ll somehow take that dare and somehow show up with a picnic basket. And just maybe, because I surprised you last night, I could surprise you tomorrow too.

At least, that’s what I’m thinking. But there’s no way that’s going to work, OK? Because it would take me a good 30 minutes to get there and 30 minutes to get back. Though I don’t have anything scheduled tomorrow afternoon, so no one would miss me… but NO, I’m not going to do all the work here, and spoil you. I mean, I’m not going to rearrange my day just for one half hour of sitting in the sunshine with my head on your lap while you run your fingers through my hair…

Curse you, foul temptress!


From: Danna Goldthwaite
To: Mike Young
Sent: March 7, 2000 2:52 pm

I don’t really have anything to say, I just need you to know that I am laughing right now…