Tag Archives: death

Of Miter Saws and Roses

georgemj_wed2George is my father-in-law. I love George. Very much. I haven’t written about him since June, mainly because that’s when he died. June 21 — the summer equinox. The irony of the guy with the brightest and warmest personality having his light snuffed out on the day the sun shines the longest, wasn’t lost on any of us.

George was a man’s man.

Seriously, he was a dude. The man was a military veteran and worked as a master plumber for many years. One look at his rough, calloused hands told you he was a man who built things. Fixed things. We lived five minutes from him for five years, which means he fixed just about everything in our house. And when he was done he’d have a drink. Or 14. Because even well into his 70s he could still drink me and half my friends under the table. Then, the next morning, he’d somehow tiptoe around the oncoming hangover so he could get to the gym at 5 a.m.

George was a ladies man.

That’s not to say he stepped out on my mother-in-law. Hell no. She was his one and only. But in the middle of those 14 drinks, George would start telling stories. Stories of lost virginity on golf courses (can you say hole in one??) and bawdy tales of lively girls who populated ports of call. One time, before a concert, a total stranger walked up to George, ran her fingers through his notoriously luscious hair, and gave him $20 for being handsome. Know what he said after that? “Happens all the time.”

George was a tough guy.

Shortly before I married MJ, he took me aside one day to talk. He got me a drink, put his arm around me, and told me he loved me and welcomed me to the family. Then he told me if I ever hurt his little girl he’d cut my penis off. To convince me he wasn’t joking, he showed me a variety of tools from his basement he’d use to make it happen.

Those tools in that basement are among the things we’re cleaning out of his house, some eight months after cancer finally overcame the man I believed to be invincible. Thanks to George we’ve now inherited a bunch of useful equipment like circular saws and a miter saw and dozens of other manly things about which I have nary a clue.

George’s basement was a den of masculinity, and everything you’d expect from a hard-drinking veteran tradesman.

Except for the roses.

Black and dried with age, they were part of a bouquet. A wedding bouquet. MJ’s wedding bouquet, to be exact, which can be seen in the picture at the top of this post. The manliest man I’ve ever known had a bouquet of dried roses meticulously tucked away for eight years amidst a sea of tools and heavy equipment.

You see, George was the only boy among six sisters. He loved clothes, and his shoe collection rivaled that of most runway models. He danced around the house, he found beauty in everything, he wasn’t afraid to cry, and — most notably — he cooked. Sweet mother of crap could he cook. The man was a culinary wizard and I don’t remember a single time going to my in-laws house when George wasn’t wearing an apron and bent over the stove.

George was a skirt-chasing, tool-wielding, repair-making, tough guy. Of that there is no doubt. But he was also a man who loved deeply and without hesitation. He could cook, he could sew, he sang to us all, danced when everyone was watching, and wasn’t afraid to cry. And it comes as no surprise he kept a sentimental bouquet of roses in his basement.

When I say my father-in-law was a man’s man, that’s the stuff I’m talking about. That’s the guy I’m trying to emulate. And that’s the man I miss dearly.

The miter saw is wonderful, but the roses made me cry.

(You can click here for George’s obituary. I’m not proud of a lot of my writing, but I’m damn proud of this)

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Writing My Own Eulogy

bi_gravestoneWhy is this narrative coming to you in the first person if I’m dead? C’mon now, a former journalist turned narcissistic dad blogger would NEVER leave his eulogy up to someone else to deliver. Which means even though I’ve shuffled off this mortal coil, you’ve still got to listen to me at least one more time. Thanks Internet.

Who was Aaron Gouveia? Truthfully, I was kind of a dick. Especially during my capricious youth. Someone once swore they’d deliver my eulogy with the opening line of “He’s a son of a bitch and I’m glad he’s dead.” But my mom was always kind of an asshole anyway. Seriously though, I did a lot of things years ago I’m not very proud of and if I could do it all again — well, I wouldn’t actually change anything because it truly was a blast and I had a helluva time. But I swear I’d feel bad about it. Kind of.

Things changed later in life for the same reason most men finally grow up — a good woman.

Continue reading Writing My Own Eulogy

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If I Die, Give My Wife Some Breadsticks

breadsticks“If I died, would you get remarried?”

I’m sure that’s a question all married couples have tackled at some point. The “What would happen if…” game can be an interesting peek into the mind of your soul mate, but when you have kids it takes on added importance. Mainly because you want to know that if something happens to you, your partner will be able to carry on and take care of him/herself as well as the kids.

So when MJ asked me this question out of the blue, it was actually pretty timely. Our wedding anniversary is coming up soon, and I was thinking a lot about her and how much I care about her. And yes, I admit, the macabre side of me had begun to think about what would happen if I lost her. So I took a deep breath and answered her with what was genuinely in my heart.

“Would I get remarried if I lost you? Honestly, no. I wouldn’t. And I don’t say that to score points with you now or kiss your ass — I mean it. There are a whole bunch of reasons I married you, but first and foremost it’s because I’ve never loved someone like I love you. I’ve never loved so hard, so much, so completely, so passionately that sometimes the line between loving you and wanting to throw you off a balcony is blurred. I’ve never been so fulfilled by another human being in my whole life. I’ll never be as comfortable with anyone else as I am with you. No other woman could imprint herself onto my soul like you have. Besides, trying to find someone as gorgeous as you — someone who I see day in and day out yet still gets me worked up like a horny teenager just looking in your direction — would be absolutely impossible. 

You’ve ruined me forever. I’m no good to any other woman except for you. Trying to get remarried would be fruitless because it’d be like getting to have the Mona Lisa in my living room and then having to settle for dogs playing poker. Like driving a Ferrari and then being forced behind the wheel of an ’84 Buick Skylark. Like eating at the Olive Garden after traveling to Italy and feasting on the best Italian food in the world.

You are my world. And if my world is gone I’ll carry on for Will, but my heart will be closed off to any future romance because no matter how great she is, she’ll never be you.”

I know, right? Quite a soliloquy if I do say so myself. I looked at her with a smile, confident I had just bowled her over with my passion. And then, thinking I knew the answer already and that it mirrored mine, I asked her if she’d remarry if something ever happened to me. Her response?

“Oh hell yes. Sorry, but I love Olive Garden and I’ll be needing some breadsticks.”

Happy freaking anniversary.

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Explaining Death to Your Kids

The Daddy Files household lost one of its own this week.

Red Death was our betta fish MJ brought home this summer. Will had been asking for a fish for awhile and MJ finally caved. His name—now eerily apropos—is from the movie How to Train Your Dragon because Will loves the mean dragon at the end named, wait for it, Red Death. He had a bowl, some glass marble thingies, a fake plant and a little ship. Other than that I didn’t know much about him. He was fairly quiet and we stayed out of each other’s way.

But Will loved him. Once he got past the stage of wanting to touch Red Death all the time, the fish was actually pretty useful. He had to be fed two times a day and that was Will’s chore. He learned to count out five little pellets each time and gently drop them in the tank. If it was quiet and you listened closely, you could actually hear Red Death eating.

On Monday I was walking past the bowl and noticed Red Death was motionless. That’s not all that uncommon since he’s always been kind of lazy. Or as lazy as a fish can get. I tapped on the bowl but he didn’t move. Then I poked him with my finger. Nothing. And immediately I began to dread what I would tell Will.

Unfortunately my son is no stranger to death. He was only 1 when my grandmother died, but he was 2.5 years old when my grandfather passed away. Old enough to warrant an explanation that didn’t go exactly as planned. But the bottom line is he understands the concept of death and knows that’s what happens when people get really old and/or very sick. MJ and I made a decision to be “appropriately honest” with him about these things. It’s tough but I truly believe it’s the right way for us to proceed.

So I went downstairs and asked him to come up with me. When we got to our bedroom we had the following conversation.

“Hey buddy, do you remember what happens when animals get really old and sick?”

“They die.”

“That’s right. And you remember that most animals don’t live as long as people do, right?”

“Yes dada.”

“Well bud, I have some bad news for you,”
I said as I picked him up and showed him the bowl.

I never told him Red Death had died. But he looked at the bowl, saw the fish floating there, looked at me and just knew. His eyes began to water and his face contorted with sadness. He looked at me with pleading eyes and wrapped his arms around my neck.

“Dada, I don’t want fishes to die. I want fishes to live,” he sobbed as my heart broke.

After he had calmed down and the hard tears subsided, I asked him if he had any questions. And, because he’s a 3.5-year-old, you know he did.

“Dada, why did Red Death die?”

“Well, he was old and he wasn’t feeling well.”

“Was he sad?”

“He was only sad because he had to leave you and he loved you so much. But no Will, he wasn’t sad. Wanna know why? Because you took care of him so well and loved him so much, so there was no way he could be sad.”

“I did love him so much Dada. But I don’t want him to leave. Can we keep him even though he’s dead?”

“I’m sorry buddy, we can’t. We can’t keep dead animals just hanging around.”

“What do we do with him?”

Crap. I actually hadn’t thought about that. But when I brought in MJ and asked her what she thought we should do, the confusion just grew. Do you know what my wife—a 33-year-old grown woman—wanted to do with our dead betta fish? She suggested we bury it. Out in the yard. And she wasn’t kidding either. She thinks all dead things should be buried in the ground. Even fish, which is enormously confusing since they live their lives underwater.

So it was left up to me to dispose of Red Death’s earthly remains. I’ve never owned a fish before, but in all the movies I’ve seen it’s always straight to the toilet. So that’s what I suggested to Will.

“But Dada, that’s where we poop and pee.”

“Well we’re not gonna poop and pee on Red Death buddy. We’ll put him in there when it’s clean and we’ll flush him. Because all that water eventually goes to the ocean and that way Red Death will be home.”

Hey, I didn’t say I never lied to Will. But then he caught me off guard.

“OK. That’s a good idea Dada. And then Red Death will get eaten by a shark,”  he said in a matter-of-fact voice.

“Why do you think Red Death is gonna get eaten by a shark?”

“Because sharks eat smaller fish and Red Death is smaller than a shark so it’s OK.”

Holy crap. There it is. I guess all the nature shows we watch have rubbed off on him, and he now has a fundamental grasp on how the food chain works. Circle of life and all that jazz. Whatever you wanna call it, Will gets it. And armed with that knowledge, Will made his peace with Red Death’s demise.

We brought the bowl into the bathroom and Will told Red Death he loved him and gave the side of the bowl a kiss. And in that instant I saw he was sad, but it was also clear he possessed a grim and reluctant understanding. And suddenly I was a little sad. Not because our fish died, but because my little boy seemed suddenly so grown up. And as he grows up, I become more and more cognizant of the fact that I can’t protect him from sadness, hardships and death. It’s a tough pill for a protective parent to swallow.

I didn’t just flush a dead betta fish down the drain tonight. I watched a little piece of my son’s childhood innocence disappear. Sure it’s necessary and probably a positive in the long run. But that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow.

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When Death Comes for Your Child

***Edit: Little Leah passed away early on July 26 with her loving family by her side. Our thoughts are with her family. The world will miss you Leah, but thank you for leaving your mark of happiness, bravery and strength.***

Many a night has been spent by my son’s bedside, just watching him breathe.

All you parents have probably done the same thing. You’ve had a rough day and nothing seems to relax you. Work is crazy, you don’t see your family enough, the bank is sending foreclosure letters…whatever the case may be you feel like the walls are closing in quickly. So you quietly sneak into your kid’s bedroom late at night. You sit on the floor, put your hand on his/her chest and just watch.

Will’s rhythmic breathing never ceases to calm me down and make me smile. Watching his chest rise and fall and the look of complete serenity on his face is the most soothing thing I can think of on this planet. I’ve spent many hours by his bedside gazing adoringly at him and thanking my lucky stars I have him. I’m sure many parents are in the same boat.

But what if you went to your child’s room like usual, opened the door expecting to find a slumbering kid, only to find an empty bed?

What do you do when death comes for your little one?

It’s a question I mercifully have no experience with. But despite how unnatural and incomprehensible the death of a child is, it does happen. It happens everyday all over the world. It’s happening in my world as we speak, as 5-year-old Leah fights a prognosis that…well, it doesn’t look good.

Leah is the daughter of Rhiannon and Peter. I went to middle and high school with Rhiannon,  and my family has bought our groceries from Peter and his family for years. Although we lost contact after high school, we found each other on Facebook and that’s where I learned about Leah. I’ve been following their story—filled with excruciating ups and downs—since March. I wish I could tell you the story is shaping up for a happy ending, but as Peter and Rhiannon have so eloquently written to all of Leah’s supporters, the odds aren’t good. At all.

According to her dad:

“We started a treatment that is currently being used in a study in Austria. Leah has Neoplastic Meningitis. It’s deadly and chances of her survival are slim. Unfortunately that is our brutal reality. Still wish I would wake up from this nightmare.”

I looked up Neoplastic Meningitis on the Internet. I shivered when I read the results. Not that anyone should be trusting completely in information from the Internet, but if it’s any indication she has anywhere from 1-4 months. A fact that doesn’t even compute in my head because it’s so ridiculously incomprehensible.

I’m not a joiner or a do-gooder. Actually, I’m more of a selfish prick. But from the first time I saw Leah’s picture her story has captivated me and pierced me to the core. Perhaps because when you become a parent, you know how precious your kids are and you learn to love on a whole new plane you didn’t even realize existed. You join this unofficial club. And even though I hadn’t met her, it didn’t matter. Because all I had to do was look at Will and imagine what it would be like to have him taken from me. I have a panic attack every time I even consider it.

Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with aggressive brain tumors, there’s not much that can be done from an outsider’s perspective. All I could do was write about Leah, do my best to get them some play in the media to raise money for her treatments and bring them dinner. Although that was probably more of a punishment than assistance because I cooked it myself. Sorry guys.

I was so nervous going over there. But Rhiannon answered the door with the same beautiful and reassuring smile I remembered from high school. I got to meet Peter too, who I immediately identified as a kindred spirit when we started talking about atheism and how no “God” would ever be so cruel as to give an innocent 5-year-old girl such an insidious and deadly disease. Without a word, their son Lukas started playing with Will knocking balloons around the house.

And then there was Leah.

I actually didn’t get to meet her because she was asleep. When I walked into the house the first thing I saw was all the medications. It didn’t seem possible one person could possibly take them all, nevermind a little girl. Leah was curled up on the couch, taking a well-deserved nap. When I walked over to her my heart sank. She was so small and looked incredibly frail. She had lost her hair from the chemo and her thin face belied all the hearty smiles I had seen in so many pictures.

As soon as the tears started welling up I pushed them back down. Because the amazing thing about Peter and Rhiannon is their strength and grace. They have openly shared their ordeal with everyone, displaying class and grace the whole way. It’s been nothing short of astounding. So if they weren’t crying, I sure as shit had no right to get all weepy. Especially right there in their house.

Out in the car afterwards? Well that’s a whole other story.

The thing is, I thought about Leah napping and how they can go over and check on her and sit there and play with her hair. I thought about how I do the same with Will. But as Peter and Rhiannon bravely admit, the odds are they won’t have that option for much longer. Don’t get me wrong, they’re all fighting with everything they have and they’ll never give up. Ever. But they’re also intelligent and realistic. They’ve listened to their doctors and done their homework.

They’re preparing for what seems to be the inevitable. They’re thinking about the unthinkable. They’re unhappily beginning to embrace the notion of walking into that bedroom only to find it empty.

There are no words that can soothe a parent when death comes for your child. I can’t tell them I know how they feel or that it will be OK. It will NEVER be OK. It will be semi-bearable at best one day far from now, but that’s about it. All I can (and will) offer is unconditional support, although I’m at the bottom of a VERY long list of people who love them. And I can tell them how brave they are. How much I respect and admire them all. And how extraordinarily sorry I am for what they’re enduring.

I know everyone is hoping for a miracle, and they should/will hold onto that for as long as possible. But perhaps the only silver lining is no one has to look far for it, because Leah is the miracle.

She may not beat this wretched fucking disease that I hate with a passion, but from my perspective the courage is often in the battle. And the whole Fernandes family has it in spades. Not to mention a 5-year-old has galvanized a community both in person and across the Internet, affecting the lives of people she’ll never meet. That doesn’t make up for never being able to grow up and grow old—not by a long shot—but in my opinion Leah has shown more strength, bravery and backbone in her five years than some people do in a full lifetime.

No matter how this turns out, Leah will never be forgotten. Her character and spirit in the face of adversity will always be remembered. And when I lecture my son about the kind of person he should aim to be, I will tell him about Leah. And Peter, Rhiannon and Lukas.

And I will hope he turns out half as amazing as them.


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