Sad news

He wakes up a littleSunny on his last morningAftermath

Sunny’s last morning, a set on Flickr.

Sunny was uncomfortable enough to be saying “do something” yesterday morning, so I made him an appointment at the vet. It turned out that his constipation was caused by a massive tumor in his colon, and we decided to put him down.

These are pictures from after I made the appointment. I don’t have one from his last decision about where to lie down in the examining room at the vets — he was famous for figuring out how to be as in the way as possible, and this talent didn’t desert him at the end. He had a whole room to pick from, including a comfortable blanket in the middle of the room, and he lay down in front of the door to make it hard for the vet to get in and out of the room.

I told him how much everybody was going to miss him, and he ate lots of treats and barked at the vet when she took his paw to put in the solution. And then it was over.

Beer for the dying

At the beginning of Victoria’s
memorial service,
George, her husband, gave a welcome speech.
The first memory he told us about was of the last few
weeks or months of her life, when every morning she would wake up
and they would share a beer. Even on her last day, he wet her lips
with some beer, and he thought he could see a smile.

This reminded me of the story my uncle told after my Grandmother’s
funeral. He
had visited her the weekend before she died. He’d
asked her if there was anything he could get her or do for her to
make her more comfortable, and she asked him to bring her a beer.
I didn’t think of her as a beer-drinker at all — she drank wine
with dinner, and sometimes a brandy before bed. But apparently
one of the things that shuts down when you’re dying is your
ability to swallow, and beer was what she believed would go down
the easiest.

This makes me sad that I
didn’t work harder to bring Bonnie (who was a beer drinker) beer
when she was dying. I just assumed that it would conflict with
all the other drugs she was taking, and be a problem for all the
tubes. At the period when I was spending a lot of my visiting time giving
her sponges to wet her mouth with, I did bring some coffee, and it
turned out to be a mistake — the diuretic effect of even less than an
ounce of decaf coffee was too much for the tubes she was on.

This is only two anecdotes, but until recently I didn’t really
hear that many anecdotes about the care of the dying, so the
fact that there are two suggests that there might be lots more.
So maybe the institutions and people who deal with the dying all
the time should try to figure out how they could provide the benefits of
beer to all their patients.

Victoria Bolles, RIP

[Victoria from obituary]

Victoria from her obituary at the
local paper.

I mentioned a few
days ago
that I had two Memorial Services I wanted to go
to yesterday afternoon. The one I actually went to was for
Victoria Bolles, a friend from the West Gallery
Quire.

[Victoria from facebook]

Victoria from her Facebook Page

I didn’t know Victoria that well until I started sending anyone
who wanted to read them long emails about Bonnie’s condition. She
was an enthusiastic member of the West Gallery Quire — I may have
first noticed her when she turned out to know how to pronounce
Welsh. She and her husband George were the first people who
started bringing food to share at the breaks, which is now an
established custom. There was a Shape Note Singing that would
normally have been small, but robust, but for some reason the day
I showed up there was only me, Bonnie, Victoria and George for
quite a while at the
beginning. This meant that I had to sing the lead without any
assistance, and they were all quite helpful about finding songs
that were suitable for that.

When I set up the bonnienews mailing list, Victoria subscribed
even though I don’t think she knew Bonnie any better than she knew
me. At one point she sent me a very supportive email:

I wish I could say how my heart goes out to you as you keep your
steadfast watch by Bonnie’s side. You are wise and strong, and Bonnie
could not be more blessed. I’m not sure what to do about visiting
Bonnie, as she does not know George or me well and might find our
presence unsettling. But I have a card I picked out for her recently,
so I’ll send that, and keep sending cards as I find them.

And I’ll think of her, and hold her in my heart, and be grateful for
the time I’ve known her, and send her love. I guess that’s the best
anyone who’s not close can do. Love is all we have.

That mail was sent on March 12, 2008, and the correspondence it
led to ended up with Victoria organizing a group of shape note
singers to go to Bonnie in the hospice and sing in her room for
over an hour. Unfortunately this didn’t happen until early May,
which was about two weeks before she died. A week or two earlier
she would have been able to show more signs of appreciation.

After that, there was a correspondence about what kind of
support she could give me with all the work I would have to do
about arranging the funeral. She was so sympathetic I complained
about all the phone calls that were involved, and she offered to
just do some for me. This is what I told her I appreciated most
when I saw her after she got sick, and what I told George I
remembered most fondly about her at the Memorial Service
yesterday. Everybody who wants to be sympathetic says, “Let me
know if there’s anything I can do,” but Victoria did enough
sympathetic listening to actually come up with a good plan for
something she could do that was helpful. Here’s how some of that
email went:

Victoria: Peace and strength to you,

Laura Thanks. So far, the strength has mainly been
necessary for yelling at Pioneer Investments customer support people, who don’t seem to know
anything about what they’re supposed to do with a Power of Attorney,
and they change their story if you yell at them hard enough. But I
will need strength to deal with undertakers, funerals, and real estate
agents in the future.

Victoria: I will be happy to do anything to help you deal with “undertakers,
funerals and real estate agents” when the time comes. Because I will
not have been subjected to the constant stress you’ve been handling it
might be a bit easier for me to take one some of that stuff. It’s up
to you; just remember that if you ask me, I’ll say yes. The one thing
you need to bear in mind is that I don’t drive, so anything that
requires getting someplace by car can become a problem. But a lot of
what you mention can be done via phone.

I had a close friend of Bonnie’s who was a member of the church
Bonnie wanted her funeral at helping me with those arrangements,
and undertakers turn out to be pretty good at not making
unreasonable demands on the recently bereaved. But Victoria did a
lot of research for me into how to go about donating Bonnie’s car
to WGBH, she ordered the floral arrangement for the funeral, and
found a name of a real estate agent.

I was glad to hear the remembrances of people who’d known her
in other contexts at the funeral. I’m sorry I didn’t get to hear
her Cemetery Tours of the Wyoming Cemetery in Malden where her
ashes are buried, or know more about the writing group she was a
founding member of. The biggest laugh of the afternoon (no, big
laughs aren’t what most people who give remembrances at Memorial
Services go for) was from someone she’d worked with at the
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. He said, “I was
Victoria’s boss — what a silly idea.” I was sitting where I
could see George, and he was laughing even harder than a lot of
other people.

People complained when I arranged Bonnie’s funeral that there
were seven hymns. They hadn’t been to a Sacred Harp Memorial Lesson,
which is what Victoria had. From the Interment of Ashes at 11:30 AM
until 4 PM, we were singing at least half the time, and we must
have sung 40 or so hymns. I headed this posting “RIP”, but the
Sacred Harp, “And I’ll sing ‘Hallelujah’, when I arrive at home,”
with which we ended the service,
seems more appropriate to how I imagine Victoria arriving in Heaven.

Marty Sasaki, RIP

[marty from post to his high school facebook page]

Marty from post to his high school facebook page

Marty’s death apparently happened about six months ago.
He stopped posting to his blog
on August 13. His recorder teacher, who told me about it, had
seen him at her student recital (which may have been the one on
September 12) two days before he died.

[marty from fellow photographer's page]

Marty from fellow photographer’s tripod page

We shared a cubicle in 1981-2, when we were both programmers in
the Radiology Department of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Although it was at that point one of the better jobs I’ve ever had
in my life, we both found some of the political aspects of it
frustrating. We would occasionally both get into his car and go
to a hill in Brookline and fly kites.

[One of Marty's kites]

One of Marty’s kites

He was at that point not long out of MIT, and in much better
touch with the cutting edge of programming than I was, so I
learned a lot from him. He was the first person I ever saw using
emacs, and it was his copy of The TEXbook that
introduced me to Donald Knuth and TEX.

When he left that job for another job in the Harvard Medical
Area, he was the first person I ever kept in touch with by email
and a “talk” program that ran on the Vax.

We eventually fell out of touch, but then when I was just
starting to be the Administrator of the Boston Recorder
Society
, I got an email from him (in my capacity as
administrator; we’d neither of us particularly identified as
recorder players when we knew each other). He was thinking about
picking up the recorder again, and wondered if what the BRS was
doing would help. He must have decided that it wouldn’t, because
I don’t think he ever came to one of our meetings, but he did get
involved in other recorder-related activities in the Boston area,
and I occasionally saw him there.

The most recent real conversation we had was when he came as
part of the group that spelled the Cantabile Band at the Walk for
Hunger last year. He was looking quite a bit thinner than when
I’d most recently seen him, and seeming more mobile. We talked
about how much more energy blogging takes than you would expect,
and about the process of winding up the affairs of a dead person.
He was talking to me instead of playing because he’d gotten
frustrated by the playing — most of the other players in the
group were a lot more experienced than he was. But I had a bit
the same sense of returning peace that I remembered from flying
kites on the hill in Brookline.

He will be remembered at a recital on Saturday.
I won’t be able to go, because there’s a memorial service for
another friend at the same time. Having conflicting memorial
services makes me feel old, but that’s another post.

The Spare Room

This
book
is about aspects of taking care of a dying person
that I mostly didn’t do with Bonnie.

The main character (Helen) lives near Melbourne, and has a
close friend (Nicola)
with cancer
who lives in Sidney but has found a “clinic” in Melbourne that she
believes will cure her cancer. So she moves in with Helen for the
three weeks the treatment will take.

During those three weeks, Helen has to do a lot of physical
nursing, deal with Nicola’s denying that she is dying, and deal
with Nicola’s refusal to realize that this clinic treatment
she’s getting isn’t going to do any good and she has to go to
real doctors for real treatments.

The writing is good, and the discussion of the issues of how to
deal with a dying person is perceptive. But in the most amazing
paragraph, Helen describes how Nicola organizes her own home care after
Helen finally convinces her that she can’t do it all:

I didn’t know yet how many times I would fly to Sydney to
play my small part in the remains of her care, or how often,
when I buzzed at Iris’s apartment, the door would be opened by
Harriet from Yass, her round, weather-beaten face sweating and
wild with fatigue, or by Marion the Buddhist, white, composed,
and stoic after a five-day stint without relief. I had not
prepared myself to sleep on the floor beside Clare from Byron,
when Iris, half out of her mind, pulled on a backpack and
fled north, on foot, along the coast of New South Wales.

I coule not imagine the urge to start drinking that would
seize me every time I entered the high, airy rooms of the
apartment and found Nicola enthroned on the sofa where, propped
against its hard padded arm, she woke and slept and laughed and
coughed, commanding the stewing of Chinese herbs, planning brown
rice fasts and drastic alkaline diets, turning her face up each
morning to the sun that streamed in through the uncovered
windows. Nor could I foresee that one day, with her swollen
legs resting on a stack of cushions, she would announce
brightly, “I’ve suddenly realized why I feel so terrible — I
must be anemic.” Or how dull my life at home would seem between
my visits to Sydney, how I would write to her on a postcard: “I
miss you. I’m bored. I’d rather be scrubbing shit off Iris’s
bathroom tiles.” For this too would be required of me: like
otherw who served her, whom I came to love in the intimacy of
our labor. I would have to help carry her to the lavatory,
where I learned to wash her arse as gently as I had washed my
sister’s and my mother’s, and as someday someone will have to
wash mine.

I might have guessed that she would resist the hospice until
the contents of her lungs began to bubble up into her nose and
throat, until everyone around her was deranged with exhaustion,
fury, nad despair. She relented only when Marion said to her,
“Don’t regret the things you haven’t done. That’s the past.
Let it go. Rejoice: you’re our teacher now.”

None of Bonnie’s illness worked out much like that — Bonnie
went into the hospital as soon as it was clear that she couldn’t
take care of herself, and by the time she might have been
denying what was happening, she’d had the stroke that left her
unable to talk. But I do recognize both the urge to drink and
the love and closeness with the other people caring for
Nicola.

This is a short book. At the beginning I wondered if the
one-column review
in the New York Times had told me everything I was
interested in knowing about this book. But it really does get
even more interesting at the end.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=laymusicorg-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=0312428170&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr

Woes of an Executrix: taxes

I swore I’d get the First and Final Accounting of Bonnie’s
estate done by today, so I’ve chained myself to the desk and I’m
working on it.

This means I don’t have time to write anything new today, but
it also means I’ve been reading a lot of the stuff I wrote when
I was trying to figure out the taxes and such.

Here’s my
description of trying to deal with the IRS on the phone:

I finally decided I had to do something about the taxes, so I called
the IRS. They played me the Blue Danube Waltz for 45 minutes or so
and then someone came on and told me what number form I needed to send
in so that she could talk to me about Bonnie’s taxes. She wanted to
tell me a fax number, but I told her that faxing was a pain so I
needed snail mail or email. So they played the Blue Danube Waltz for
a while longer, and then she gave me an address. I should have looked
at the form while she did that, because it turns out to be a Power of
Attorney form, and it isn’t at all clear that it applies to an
Executrix.

Did you do anything like this? Do you have any way of finding out
what an executrix needs to do to get tax information? I can go
downtown with the shoebox and see if they’ll help me if I talk to them
in person. I can send in form 2848 with none of the boxes checked and
a note that they should have another box if this is the right form,
but that seems like a pretty forlorn hope.

The upshot was that my tax preparer friend and I went down to
the IRS office in downtown Boston with my executrix appointment
and spoke to a very nice man who gave us printouts of everything
they had in their computers. It turned out that Bonnie hadn’t
filed any tax returns since 1996, and they’d only caught her for
2001. They subsequently caught her for 2006, so the estate ended
up paying a lot of taxes and penalties, but possibly not much more
than she would have paid in taxes if she’d paid the normal
way.

This is not the way those of us who file our taxes every year
believe the system is supposed to work. Nor is it the way the
nice man in the IRS office believed it was supposed to
work, but he didn’t sound real surprised that it had in fact
worked that way.

End is in sight

Of the executrix gig.

I just printed off the statement of income, expenses and
deductions that the lawyer for Bonnie’s
estate needs to file the estate taxes. Yesterday I sent what I
believe to be the final check to the IRS to cover the tax mess she
was in.

If you ever have to do this, you should be more organized about
keeping records than I was. I put everything relevent in a box,
but it ended up being a lot of stuff to sort through to find the
numbers I needed. I had a good spreadsheet about the instruments,
and about the amounts of money that went between my checking
account and hers while I had power of attorney, and between my
account and the estate’s account after I was appointed executrix.
(A lawyer isn’t going to say directly that you should do this, but
I figured out from what he did say the day after she died that I should back date a check
to before she died and put it in my account so that I’d be able to
pay bills in the weeks between her death and my appointment as
executrix. So most of the funeral expenses came out of my
checking account, but it was mostly money that had been in
Bonnie’s checking account.)

But all the stuff about donations and sales of things other
than instruments should have been in the spreadsheet and were
instead in the box.

I think I have to produce an accounting of some sort before I
can pay any money to the legatees, but I’m hoping it won’t make me
feel as helpless as the tax statement did. I’m not sure why,
because I do my own taxes fairly easily, but it reminded me of when
I first went to school and had to do workbooks. I was young for
my grade, and clumsy at writing but facile at talking, so it
always seemed that there was nothing like room enough to really
answer the questions, so you had to not only figure out the
answer, which was easy, but figure out how to fit it into the
space they gave me, which usually seemed impossible.

So even after finding the cool new LaTeX class, I had to take
lots of deep breaths and assure myself that this really isn’t
anything I couldn’t do, and if I really couldn’t find the numbers,
I could just make up something plausible, and finally it’s in the mail.

The marginpar command in the tufte-handout class
is in fact a good feature for something like this. I had a list
of items like:

  • 4 boxes of books to Haverhill Library sale
  • 25 bags of clothes to Big Brother Big Sister

and I put marginal notes in explaining how many pounds in a box or
a bag.