R.I.P., Darling Dini

Pensive Dini

It was a month yesterday since I had to make the painful decision to put my 13 year-old cat Dini to sleep. She’d been battling some intestinal and other issues for awhile, but nothing that ever made me think that she wouldn’t be around for quite a long time. The weekend before I took her into the vet, she was listless and spending a lot of time alone. This wasn’t Dini. Dini was the most lovable cat I ever met. She adored being held, kissed and loved. She was not standoffish at all.

So, when I brought her in on that Monday, she had lost even more weight, was dehydrated and running a temperature. As the doctor was examining her, he discovered a mass between her kidneys that wasn’t there on her last visit in November. The x-ray showed just how large this mass was and the doctor suspected that it was an intestinal tumor. At her age, surgery would be risky and not guaranteed to be successful.

I knew what I had to do and it was one of the most painful experiences I’ve ever gone through. I petted her, talked to her and kissed her as the doctor administered the shot. A day hasn’t gone by that I don’t think about her, cry over the loss of her or expect to see her. Christmas will be especially hard because Dini loved lying under the Christmas tree.

From the minute I brought the tree up from under the house after Thanksgiving to when I took it down in January, Dini could be found under it rolling around on her back or batting a low-hanging ornament. This last Christmas, I literally had to block her from going under the tree while I was still putting it together. She actually put her paws up on my shoulder and tried to muscle her way past me. Here you can see her with Bella from a couple years ago.

Bella & Dini

Dini was born in the neighbor’s backyard. One day I spotted about four kittens jumping through the grass and plants as their mother looked on. Then, they were gone. Months later, one of the kittens came back. As soon as I could, I caught her and got her fixed. She got her name while recovering at the vet’s. Somehow when one of the assistants had the cage door open, Dini wiggled out and was lost in the office for a week. They left food out and eventually found her. The unnamed cat now had a proper name: Houdini, named after the famous magician.

She remained an outside cat for about a year until I was brave enough to try to introduce her to Bella. After a short time of Bella’s hissing, Dini settled in. She and Bella were sisters for the next 12 years.

I was really worried about Bella after Dini died. Would she get depressed? Would she stop eating? Luckily, her appetite has been very good and she seems okay. Sometimes it seems like she’s looking for Dini, but I’ve tried to give her a lot of extra love and attention.

People have asked me if I’ll get another cat, and I don’t think so. Bella is 15 years old and I hope that she lives a long time, but after she’s gone, I don’t plan on getting another pet. It’s too painful. I’ll content myself with loving other people’s pets. So, to all of you animal lovers out there, hold and kiss your babies even more. You never know when it will be the last time.

Rest in Peace, Dini. You were the best girl. I love you and miss you so much.

Just Like Yesterday

Two events this weekend remind me that sometimes things that happened a long time ago feel like they took place just yesterday. The first of these events occurred exactly 22 years ago today. On February 2, 1991, my Dad died of a heart attack. He was 56 years old and I was 25. This is a picture of us a little less than two years before at my graduation from San Francisco State University. At the time this picture was taken, he was newly sober and we were repairing our relationship. I was re-discovering the man that my mother said she married and the man that I had almost forgotten. This was the man who taught me to throw a baseball, to swing a bat and the man who took me to Giants games at the spur of the moment on a random school night, if my homework was done.

Dad&Me001

I had missed that man for too many years, but in the short time between 1989 and 1991, all the hurt and anger dissolved and we were enjoying each other’s company again. Needless to say, his death was quite a shock to both my mother and me. But, I’m so grateful for those two years. At least I didn’t have anger and guilt on top of my grief. He was okay. We were okay.

The second event is the appearance on Sunday of my hometown San Francisco Forty Niners in the Super Bowl for the first time since 1994. When I think of the Forty Niners, I also think of my Dad. When my Dad was watching a game, it sounded like five guys were in the room. I can clearly hear him yelling every time the offense tried to run a sweep and they failed or when Joe Montana connected with Freddie Solomon or Jerry Rice on a long pass. He hated most television announcers aside from Pat Summerall and John Madden. If Pat and John weren’t doing the game, he’d turn off the sound and listen to the great Lon Simmons on the radio.

Dad would often take part in football pools. I remember answering the phone many times and hearing the clink of bar glasses as some guy in a raspy voice would quickly ask, “Is Frank there?” And I, being a smart ass like my Dad, would say, “Dad! It’s Jimmy the Icepick for you!” He didn’t win very often but one year he won this Forty Niners jacket. He wore it all the time and I’ve kept it in the hall closet ever since he died.

Niner 2Niner1

My Dad died the week after the 1991 Super Bowl in which the New York Giants beat the Buffalo Bills. I didn’t know he had won money until he was dying in my arms. As we were waiting for the fire department and ambulance to arrive, my Dad was going in and out of consciousness and I was trying to keep him calm. My mother was a nervous wreck in the kitchen, asking if we’d need money at the hospital. Somehow my Dad heard her and whispered to me, “Money. Envelope. Desk.” He had just picked up his winnings the day before.

I thanked him and told him not to worry about us. He got very quiet and when the paramedics arrived and I moved out of the way, I knew he was gone. His face had turned gray and he wasn’t responding. He was declared dead an hour later at the hospital.

There hasn’t been a day over the past 22 years that I haven’t thought about him. I often wonder what he’d think of the current state of politics or how I’ve turned out. And I miss him every day, today and tomorrow especially. Maybe I’ll take the jacket out of the closet and slip it on for good luck on Sunday.

So Dad? If you have any pull up there, see what you can do about a Niners victory, okay?

With Age Comes…

Wisdom? Peace? Loneliness? Death? Anyone who knows me at all is familiar with my angst about age, time passing, unfulfilled dreams, etc. It’s been a constant lament for as long as I can remember. Most often, it only hits me twice a year: on my birthday and on New Year’s Eve. Those are logical occasions at which we take pause to whine about the past, lament how the present sucks and fear what the future holds. What? You don’t do that? It’s just me?

I’ve had more opportunities to contemplate what my future holds over the past year or so. Let’s just say that I re-discovered the irony in one-hit wonder Timbuk 3’s song, ”The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades”.

In 2011, I helped my mother recover from a major back surgery, I hurt my own back in the process and then I was fired. So far this year, I remain unemployed, I’m now helping my mother recover from arthroscopic knee surgery (which has not been without complications, by the way) and I’m still trying to get my back better.

All of this has given rise to many tears, Yoko Ono like screams and other frustrating coping strategies on my part. And it has led to me asking some rather difficult and depressing questions. Would you like me to share a couple of them with you? Of course you would, you lovely masochists!

Question #1:  Is this how my life is going to be from now on?

If this is true, then my future is one of constant care-taking of my mother, spotty employment if any at all, financial stress, physical pain and basically no life, no love, nothing. Woo hoo! Now, who wouldn’t want some of that?

Question #2:  What’s going to happen to me if I need care-taking in the future?

I don’t have children, so there’s no hope for sympathetic and loving offspring to take care of dear old Mom. These are the moments when I wish I had wanted children. Then again, I probably would have spawned ungrateful brats who just wanted their inheritance. I don’t have siblings, so I don’t even have anyone to guilt or blackmail into helping me. And finally, if, as Question #1 explores, my life is devoid of love, then there’s no significant other to whom I can look for comfort. So, what then happens to those who have no one?

The images that come to mind when trying to answer that question conjure up scenes from a Dickens novel or talking points from the Santorum and Gingrich campaigns. Or I picture myself fighting off polar bears for the last space on the ice floe and I don’t like my odds. For one, they have sharp teeth and claws while I have well-flossed teeth and short nails. Second, ice = cold and I’m a wuss from California.

So, kids, how’s this for the humor blog you were anticipating, huh? It is said that comedy often comes from tragedy. And while nothing over this past year can be considered tragic, thank goodness, I am, nevertheless, ready for a good, hearty laugh.

Death and Catholics

To those of us who grew up Catholic, especially of the Irish and Italian variety, funerals and cemeteries were as much a part of growing up as playing CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) sports and dodging a nun’s fury. The first significant death in my life came while I was in utero. When my mother was seven months pregnant with moi, her best friend, who was her brother, was killed by a drunk driver, He was 36 years old and the father of seven. Can we say that the last couple months of her pregnancy were stressful? There are no pictures of her pregnant because she was crying all the time. For years I insisted that I was either (a) adopted or (b) the next Immaculate Conception. With my mother, the latter was definitely more plausible.

From 1965 to 1976, there were at least seven immediate family members who died. I must admit that I didn’t attend the rosaries and funerals of these relatives until my maternal grandmother’s funeral in 1976. You see, a traditional Catholic rosary features an open casket which, to many, let alone a child, is a tad gruesome. So, when Nan died, my parents wanted to spare me the trauma of kneeling in front of her, seeing her decked out in one of her prettiest dresses with hair and makeup perfect. It never occurred to them to just CLOSE THE CASKET. No. Not an option.

What I was required to do on practically a weekly basis was to schlepp between four cemeteries with flowers for the various dead relatives. In those days, the Catholic Church didn’t allow cremation; so getting scattered to the wind wasn’t an option. You were buried in the ground and that was that. The dead needed a place to go that the rest of us could visit. Kind of like that one rich kid in school or a rich relative who had the summer place you got invited to occasionally. As with the rich kid or relative, the cemetery served as a reminder to the living to pay some damn respect. Jesus, the Virgin Mary, the saints and the dead relatives were ALL watching. Guilt does survive the grave. Don’t you forget it.

This sentiment is why it’s so ironic that my mother doesn’t visit the cemetery anymore. The change seemed to have happened when her mother died. After that initial pilgrimage following the funeral Mass, she hasn’t been back. She doesn’t even know if the headstone has been updated. And when my Dad died 20 years ago, she has only visited a handful of times. I haven’t really asked her why mainly because I haven’t wanted to get re-acquainted with the weekly cemetery crawl. I don’t need to visit a plot of ground with a stone slab on it in order to think about my father or my grandmother. I have my memories and that is enough. Maybe after a lifetime of open caskets, chanted rosaries and funeral plots, it’s enough for Mom too.