Happy: A Quest for Life After Death

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving


I'm thankful for my kids, and for my friend Amy, who made this quilt for me out of some of Mat's shirts. As she said, "If Mat can't wrap his arms around you, at least you can wrap this quilt around yourself."

The day Amy came over to help me choose shirts to put in the quilt was an emotional day. It was hard to let the shirts go -- the crisp blue and white ones Mat wore to work, and especially the soft plaid ones he wore at home. I've been told that all of Mat's things will someday not seem like so much a part of him and become just things. That day hasn't come yet, so I cried with Amy over the shirts.

But now they're back, and someday when Mat's shirts become just shirts, this quilt will not be just a quilt. It will always be a memorial to my best friend Mat and to the kind of friendship that sees me through the day.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Eulogy


This is the eulogy I gave at my mother's funeral in August.

* * *

My mother was born in 1944 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where her father was finishing a Ph.D. in dairy science. Her family soon moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where she spent many of her growing-up years learning to ice skate, taking ballet and piano lessons, and navigating life as the second oldest of six children, four of them girls.

Her sisters agree that she was the best of the lot of them, and her sister Janell says she is the only one without a mean streak, although she then proceeded to tell me about the time that my mom and her sister Stephanie hid all the Christmas presents in the trunk of the car, so when everyone woke up, there were no presents under the tree. She must have had a little bit of a mean streak.

Her family moved to Tucson, Arizona, when she was 12, where she loved playing tennis, writing for and editing her high school newspaper, and working in student government. She was selected to attend a journalism convention in New York City, a trip that she talked about for the rest of her life. She had breakfast at Tiffany’s, rode the subway, saw the Rockettes at Radio City Hall and caught a Broadway show. She wrote in her personal history, “The show was honestly worth the ticket -- $8.35.”

My mom attended the University of Arizona and then Utah State University, where she graduated – with honors – with degrees in journalism and political science in 1966. She wrote a column for the school newspaper, the Utah Statesman, called “Smithereens,” was a student senator, and as a senior was named Woman of the Year.

After graduation, she spent a year working at the Salt Lake Tribune, where she was the first woman ever to work on the copy desk.

She was stunningly beautiful. She was beautiful the day she died, and if you’ve seen the pictures of her in her 20s, you’ll think you’ve discovered the next supermodel (if only she had ankles). As her sisters say, she was the complete package.

This is a letter of recommendation written for her when she applied for a job in the office of a member of the U.S. House of Representatives that says it all:

… she is highly qualified, would make you an excellent assistant. Each year we pick the outstanding journalism student from USU to serve on our staff as a summer intern. Sheryl was our pick this summer and she also won the Utah State Press Association journalism scholarship.

We all learned to love Sheryl during the three to four months she was with us. Her wit, grace and charm went well with her very capable work. An excellent writer and photographer, she dug into her job with a minimum of direction. …

[this is my favorite part]

She’s a pretty girl, too, and would add to your office decorations. Tall and statuesque, she has a dark complexion that is striking. We would have used her as our Peach Queen entry if she had lived in Box Elder County.

She was offered the job (are you surprised?).

She didn’t take the job, though. She had met my dad while a student at USU and they were married in 1967 in the LDS temple in Logan, Utah.

She spent the first years of her married life in Utah, where three of her children were born. We lived for brief periods in Virginia and then Anchorage, Alaska, where she made lasting friendships and wrote a guide book called Anchorage Altogether. We moved to Sherwood in 1975, where my youngest sister, her fourth child, was born. She continued to write, and her publications include Beautiful America books like The Mormons, guest columns in The Oregonian, and articles in The Ensign and the Exponent II.

My mom was a talented writer, but maybe she should have been a dentist. She would give us money if we would let her pull out our loose teeth. I knew she was not doing well a couple of weeks ago when I pointed out my six-year-old’s loose tooth to her, and she didn’t offer to pull it.

My mom was also a gifted teacher. Although she never taught full time, she used her talents almost constantly in her church service. She taught children’s classes, young women’s classes, women’s classes, and Sunday School classes, but I think she loved teaching the scriptures best. She taught a daily early morning scripture study class for teenagers for at least five years. My younger sister remembers spending evenings with mom at the dining room table, doing homework while my mom immersed herself in the scriptures, preparing for her seminary class the next day. She loved her students, and they loved her, going so far as to spend their weekend nights at my parents’ house to hang out. As Jeff, one of her favorite students, said, “She was one of us.”

Perhaps her greatest gift was her genuine interest in people. One of my friends wrote me a card this week saying, “I only met your mom a few times, but she made me feel like a friend.” She did that for everyone. My mom made fast friends wherever she went, because she genuinely cared about people, and was more interested in how they were doing than in how she was doing. My mom helped to carry the burdens of many people.

My mom was accomplished in many other ways as well, but her greatest accomplishments in her eyes were her children. She was devoted to us. She loved to laugh and have fun. We played spoons, Uno, fruit basket upset, Clue on her beloved Franklin Mint Clue board, and even had an occasional food fight, some of which she started. She liked to keep us on our toes, doing things like sneaking broccoli into our filled pancakes. She scheduled regular individual meetings with each of us, called “one on ones” where we talked about problems, set goals, and planned special individual outings.

She taught us to play the piano, to work, to stand up straight, and to say “may I” instead of “can I.” She taught us to make good choices and she wanted us to stay close to the Lord, but she loved us even when we didn’t. When we left home, we all had inflated egos because she told us we were each “the best in the world” at something (I was the best writer, SJ was the most creative).

Her job as a parent was not over when we left the house. My mom loved to visit her children, helping to take care of new babies, babysitting grandkids while we went on trips, and helping us do projects around our homes. Over the last several years, her heart’s desire was to help me and my family as my husband fought his battle with cancer. This is an email she wrote shortly after my husband Mat passed away earlier this year.

… I’ve spent a month in Boston in January-February, was with her [meaning me] when Mat died. It was the best and worst month of my life. My kids have all spent a week with her after the funeral, and I’ll be returning in two weeks. This is so very, very difficult to be a continent apart.

One of the greatest gifts I could have been given was to have my mom with me as my husband was dying, and I find it to be no small miracle that the symptoms of her own cancer did not surface until shortly after Mat’s funeral.

My mom was wonderful, but I didn’t always think she was perfect. I sometimes wished that she were more inclined to make big moves or really shake things up. She worked at Intel for at least 20 years as a contract analyst, and although she loved the people she worked with, it wasn’t the best use of her talents. She often talked about other things she would have liked to do more – she earned a teaching license so she could be a teacher – but in the end she never made the move. If you wanted to start a revolution, she was not your gal.

Instead of being loud, hers was a subtle kind of courage. She took the circumstances she was given, and over years of persistent effort, through thousands of small acts, she made them beautiful. At the end of her life, she had beautiful children (if I do say so myself), a beautiful marriage, a beautiful home, and many, many beautiful friendships. With more inclination to make big moves, she might have been the New York bureau chief for the Associated Press. Instead, she blessed the lives of hundreds and hundreds of people through regular, conscientious, enduring effort.

I’m glad she had that kind of courage. New York bureau chiefs can be replaced, but her legacy is forever.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Walden Pond


My friend Kristen invited me to swim across Walden Pond with a group of women the other day, so although the idea scared me a little, I went.

I was sure the water would be punishingly cold, and although I know how to swim, I have never particularly liked to swim, especially for exercise. I can run, I can ride a bike, I can row a boat, so why would I swim? But still, how hard could it be to swim a mile, from the beach to the other side of the pond and back?

Really, really hard.

I thought I knew how to swim, but it turns out I don't. Not really. Instead, I flopped around in the water, trying to synchronize my breathing with my strokes, getting water in my mouth, either trying to hold my breath for too long or taking breaths too often, causing me to start to hyperventilate and creating mini panic attacks. I tired easily and had to take breaks often, and ultimately, I didn't make it all the way across Walden Pond. I went the short way, taking the half mile version of the swim rather than the mile that most of the rest of the group did.

It was hard, but it was also wonderful. It was a warm fall day, the sky was beautiful, the water was clear and refreshing, and my friend swam next to me to encourage me and be on hand to save me from drowning if necessary. Occasionally I got my timing exactly right and felt like a real swimmer.

Like many things, my swim felt like a metaphor for my life. Although I am struggling and may not be able to go as far as I would like, the sky is beautiful, the water is not as cold as I thought it would be, and my friends are staying near me to encourage me and make sure I don't drown.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Kenmore HE2 Plus Front Load Washer

I'm trying to pack for a trip, and the washing machine, which contains every last piece of underwear I own (but one), is flashing an error code at me.

This summer has introduced some new twist every few days that feels like it should be the last straw ... until another straw is added. Of course the aftermath of Mat's passing and my mom's illness and then passing dominate the scene. But then there was the broken garage door, the broken dishwasher, the refrigerator that leaked into the basement and damaged the drywall, the broken car, the broken cell phone (not replaced yet, so I'm not getting your messages and texts), my six-year-old's broken arm, probably broken friendships because I have little time and energy to return calls and emails, and now the washing machine.

And the broken wedding ring. I realized Friday that the diamond had fallen out, and have spent hours scouring the house since then. On the plus side, the house is much cleaner than it's been in months.

I've been thinking about the poem "Invictus" for the last few days. Maybe that's a little dramatic, seeing as I'm not about to be executed, but it seems to help. When I first read it, I found it too depressing to be helpful. Now I find the optimism in it.


Invictus
William Ernest Henley

OUT of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.


I could use your prayers to help me find the diamond for my wedding ring. I am not ready to quit wearing it, and the gaping hole where the diamond should be is painful. There's the symbolism of it, and also those prongs are sharp.

In the meantime, my unconquerable soul and I are going to try to fix the washing machine.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Beautiful



I found this picture of my mom last weekend while I was at her house, digging through her photos and scrapbooks for the life sketch that I delivered at her funeral. I'm not sure I had ever seen it before. She strikes me as stunningly beautiful in this picture.

Maybe it's the candor of the photo, or the mild impertinence of the expression on her face. Maybe it's that she's just such a person. (I never really noticed that before.)

Then again, maybe it's because she was stunningly beautiful.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

My mom, 1944-2011


My mom died today, much sooner than I expected. Last month, I was afraid her bout with cancer would be a re-run of Mat's. I almost wish it had been five long years instead of five short months. For her sake I'm glad she didn't suffer more. Selfishly, I wish I had been able to say good-bye.

Good-bye, mom. I love you.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Lace Anniversary


In this difficult year of firsts -- first Mother's Day without Mat, first Valentine's Day without Mat -- today may rank as one of the most difficult.

Mat and I were married 13 years ago today.

Mat was a strict believer in traditional anniversary gifts. He would spend weeks searching for the perfect gift made out of the appropriate material, which was not always an easy task. The first anniversary, paper, brought the complete works of Shakespeare. For later anniversaries he picked out a sweater (cotton), a cherry bonsai tree (fruit), and the maple dining room table that he built himself (wood). The only anniversary gift he gave up on entirely was bronze, because the only bronze objects he could find were strange and expensive sculptures.

I have been dreading my thirteenth wedding anniversary for weeks. As part of my survival plan for the day, I decided to buy myself an anniversary present. I would look up the list of traditional anniversary gifts, spend the next weeks puzzling over what item Mat would have given me, and buy it. I told this plan to a friend, and she immediately emailed me a link to the list.

As soon as I saw the list, I knew I already had my anniversary gift.

Mat served his mission in Manchester and Liverpool, England. While he was there, a mill that had produced hand-made lace tablecloths for centuries closed its doors. Mat, who was barely past his teens at the time, bought one of the last tablecloths made in the mill. His mother used it on special occasions for several years, and then delivered it to Mat so he could give it to me.

When Mat gave me the tablecloth about ten years ago, I very carefully put it in a plastic bag and promptly forgot about it. Until I saw the list.

The thirteenth wedding anniversary is lace.

I felt as though Mat were giving me the tablecloth all over again, but this time I understood the value of the gift. Not as a rare and valuable piece of craftsmanship, although it is that, but as the tangible expression of Mat's love for me that stretches farther back than his teenage past and farther forward than I can imagine.

I love my lace tablecloth.

(Now let's be honest. With a sanctioned excuse to buy me lace, Mat would have gone straight to Victoria's Secret and we would have celebrated our anniversary properly. But under the circumstances, I much prefer the tablecloth.)

Well done, Mat. Happy anniversary.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Seriously?

If you don't already know my mom, let me tell you about her.

A journalist by training, she was the first woman ever to work on the copy desk at the Salt Lake Tribune. She got married and reared four children, wrote books, wrote articles for the Oregonian, and produced much of our family's food on our 11-acre plot. She taught a daily hour-long early-morning scripture class for high school students for four? five? years, earned two master's degrees, and spent a long career at Intel.

And when Mat got sick, she visited every two or three months, staying as long as I would let her so she could wash my dishes, do my laundry, and play Candy Land for the seventeenth time in a row with Colin. I could go on for a long time about my mom.

She was diagnosed with cancer a few weeks ago. Extensive surgery was required to remove a large mass from her abdomen, and several organs were casualties of the operation. There is no indication that any cancer remains, and there is nothing to do now but wait and see if it recurs.

I will freely admit that I am freaking out. I feel like I'm watching an instant replay of 2005, the year Mat was diagnosed. Rare type of gastrointestinal cancer? Check. Major surgery? Check. Surgeon says the cancer is gone? Check. Cancer recurs?

I'm trying not to go there in my mind, but it's hard.

The difference is that I'm thousands of miles away, and I feel completely and utterly powerless. Seeing the situation from this side of the country is eye opening. Now I know what it's like to never feel like I have quite enough information, to never be sure when, if ever, is a good time to call, and to want to simply be there in person.

I hate it.

I want my mommy.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Mother's Day

Mother's Day is a mixed bag under the best of circumstances. Although children can be sweet, Mother's Day is really about what Dad does to make Mom feel special, right? Today, without Mat, I thought it would be about as much fun as a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

Mat didn't actually have the best record with Mother's Day, however. One year he forgot entirely. I realized this pretty quickly, but decided not to say anything (e.g., be a martyr). All morning I thought, "It's OK. It's no big deal that he forgot Mother's Day." I repeated this mantra in my head until about noon, when a flip switched (probably prompted by a tantrum from one of the boys, then two and five). I gave Mat a piece of my mind and stormed out the door to take a long, long walk.

While I was gone, he wrote me a a book of cartoons called, The Mother's Day Book for Kimberly, or "Trying to Think Like I Think You Might Be Thinking."

The first page features a conversation between worms. The wife worm says, "You remembered!" and the husband worm is saying, "Of course. I may be a slimy worm but I wouldn't forget Mother's Day!"

Another page features my two-year-old standing on my head, saying (as he often did), "I want juice!"

I came back from my walk with a cooler head, the book made me laugh, and all was forgiven.

And now I have a book that Mat wrote for me, and a good story to go with it.

I'm so glad Mat forgot Mother's Day.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Today

Occasionally Mat would have a good day and say, "I feel great! Today I feel like I don't have cancer."

I was in Topsail Island, North Carolina last week. I think about Mat all the time, but I thought about him even more there. From our home base in Washington, D.C., we regularly went to the Outer Banks of North Carolina with groups of friends while we were dating. During one trip, we paddled out into the ocean on a sea kayak early one morning and suddenly found ourselves surrounded by dolphins. The thrill of that moment is forever imprinted in my memory. (It ranks close behind the thrill of my first kiss with Mat, which also happened in North Carolina.)

As I swam in the ocean last week and waited for the perfect wave, I thought, "I feel great. Today I feel like I don't have cancer."

I have never had cancer. But Mat has, and he savored each day when he felt well. There in the water, I decided it's never too early to start savoring.

Today, I feel like I don't have cancer.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Greatest romance of all time


This is the talk I gave at Mat's funeral. I'm glad I spoke, although I'm surprised I could get any words out.

* * * *

When I was 25, and he was 26, Mat and I attended the same singles congregation. Despite the fact that the congregation was not that big, it took us a few months to meet. I was dating a blot named Andrew at the time, so I was a little elusive at church, showing up late and leaving promptly at the end. Mat had noticed me, though, and he and his friends dubbed me “Tall Mysterious Kim” or TMK. (This was before he learned to call me Kimberly.)

The nickname distinguished me from the woman Mat was dating, whose name was Kim. She was 19, so she became “Teen Kim.” My alternate title was “Geriatric Kim.”

Mat and I finally did meet, and both Andrew and Teen Kim were quickly dispensed with.

Mat totally changed my life. He was tall, good looking, funny, smart, and deeply spiritual. Never in my wildest teenage dreams had I imagined someone as wonderful as Mat. At first I tried to hide all my flaws from him, but he was totally honest with me, and I quickly learned that I could be totally honest with him.

We were engaged four months after our first date, and married nine months after that. From the beginning, I felt that our relationship had a fairy tale quality to it, although we didn’t exactly get married and live happily ever after.

I think it’s fair to say that much of the last 13 years has been very, very stressful. There were months of full-time travel for Mat, job insecurity with the tech bubble burst, miscarriages, and, of course, nearly six years of cancer.

Despite these stresses, the last 13 years have been happy. Of course we fought sometimes, but Mat has been completely devoted to me, and I to him. We have loved being together, had fun together, and trusted each other. And even when chemotherapy and cancer made him miserable, Mat figured out how to be a good dad, and he has two beautiful boys who want to be just like him.

Despite all the hard things we faced together, I also knew from the beginning that God had a hand in our relationship, and that we really were meant to be together. One of our bishops said to us, “The Lord is pleased with your union.” I believe that is true, and that our relationship will go down in history as one of the great romances of all time.

Someone said, quite accurately, the problem with death is that the person is just so gone.

That resonates with me, and yet I sense that the leavening that Mat added to my life is not gone. A lot of this has to do with how Mat lived his life over the course of his illness, and especially at the end. He felt at peace, and he worked very hard to make his passing as gentle as possible for many of us, having dozens of conversations to say goodbye and comfort those of us who are heartbroken that he is gone. I think he also waited to leave – suffering many extra months – until I was as ready as I could be for his passing.

Mat believed, and I firmly believe, that we will see each other again, that we will be a family again. That can feel like cold comfort when I expect that reunion to be 40 or 50 years from now. But the miracle is that I feel the power of the plan of salvation right now. I feel a comfort and peace that I didn’t expect.

I don’t pretend that the weeks, months, and years ahead will not be very, very hard. I cannot do anything but take one day at a time or I might drown. But God is with us, His hand is still in our lives – maybe more now than ever – and over the last few weeks I have felt that every day.

Elder Uchtdorf said that ultimately every story has a happy ending. I believe that. In a very real way, Mat is not gone. Our fairy tale will have a happy ending.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

This is Not Over

This is not over. Far from it.

It's been 17 days.

People ask me how I am, and I have a hard time coming up with an answer. "I got out of bed this morning," I say sometimes.

I don't want to get out of bed. I'm fighting an overwhelming urge to stay there. I worried that I would not be able to revisit the place where Mat died, in bed, in the guest bedroom that we moved into when Mat could no longer climb stairs very well. Far from avoiding the room, I find that I feel the most peaceful there.

Part of it must be my craving to fill the void he's left. I want to sleep where he slept, and wear his clothes (the jeans that are a couple of inches too long -- those are Mat's), read everything I can find that he has written, and be with his friends. Mat gave me permission to read his journals, and I did. (I probably would have anyway.)

At least one of my siblings has been staying with us since Mat died, so we are being well taken care of. Dozens of people are offering help and support and encouragement, all of which is making this much easier than it might otherwise be.

Now if only I could sleep.

Monday, February 14, 2011

July 25, 1970-February 14, 2011

Mat died today. On Valentine's Day, of all the days.

We're all in shock despite knowing this would happen, but wanted you to know.

The funeral will be Saturday.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Acceptance

It's been a good week.

I'm not kidding. These are not at all the despair-filled days I have imagined over the nearly six years of the course of this disease.

Peace has descended on our home. Mat is far more zen-like than I am, and he has long accepted that his life will be short. I didn't think this was possible, but I have too.

I can't explain exactly how this happened. Mat's frame of mind certainly helps, and his latest prognosis has brought clarity. No longer split between hoping for the best and preparing for the worst, my energy is focused on acceptance. Some inspired conversations have also helped.

Klara, the tall, blonde hospice nurse, said to Mat, "You know, one of the reasons you are doing so well is that you understand that you are not your body. You are not declining, only your body is declining. Your spirit is growing stronger all the time and is beginning to shine through. You're like a house whose panels are falling off and light is coming out. Soon the house will be gone but that light will still be there."

Mostly, though, I think this acceptance is a gift from God. I know that God's plan for Mat and our family is for him to die soon. I don't like it, and I don't understand it, but I accept it.

This week Mat has been purposeful and mentally, if not physically, energetic. There has been a steady stream of visitors at our house, some of whom have flown across the country to be here, and Mat clearly loves it. He wants to see as many people as possible (before 6 p.m. please, to preserve some time with the kids), and has talked on the phone to say goodbye to many others. Mat has also spent time with the kids, sat with them in front of a fire roasting marshmallows, and given them father's blessings. And today Mat and I spent some time in the celestial room of the Boston temple. It was a piece of heaven on earth.

It's not all spiritual depth at our house. Mat has been watching episodes of his new favorite TV show, Bizarre Foods. He finds it soothing to watch the host travel to exotic places and eat things like guinea pigs and wild boar testicles, and Ian loves watching it with him. I also join him, but only for a dying man would I watch someone sucking on an eyeball. (Sorry! That was gross!)

And for the last book he will read Mat has chosen not War and Peace or Dr. Zhivago but ... Princess Stories. It's a favorite of mine from childhood, and we read a chapter together every night before bed.

Of course it's also been a difficult week. Mat is increasingly in pain, and changes in his pain medication help but can't seem to quite keep up with the spread of his cancer. His port -- that crucial device implanted in his chest that delivers pain medication -- is regularly threatening to malfunction. I flush it three times a day and pray that it will work as long as he needs it. Mat is also now unable to walk without assistance, and then only a few steps.

Life has become painful, tiring, and difficult for Mat, and he is ready for it to be over. And I am ready to let him go.

At least for today, I am not afraid.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Weeks

I don't know how to write this.

I keep sitting down, staring at the computer, and getting up again. Trying to think of some light-hearted twist to this. But there is not a damn thing funny about this.

Mat probably has a few weeks to live.

Now my stomach is starting to hurt and my heart is pounding and my shoulders are inching up toward my ears. I want to get up again, but I will finish this.

It should be no surprise to anyone who has read these posts that Mat has less time to live rather than more. Mat is on hospice. But I really, really believed that Mat would hang on for a year. Or more. People do.

But he has been getting steadily worse since starting hospice two months ago, needing ever-increasing doses of pain medication to be comfortable, having more and more difficulty leaving his bed, and becoming increasingly tired.

Despite these struggles, Mat seems more clear-minded and purposeful than I have seen him in a long time. He is calling friends, talking with the kids, and tightly packing his schedule with visitors. (He is not, however, checking email, because his pain medication has made his vision blurry and he can't read email.)

Where does that leave me?

Well, for one, still holding out a sliver of hope that all of this activity will look really silly when Mat is still here 10 years from now. At the same time, planning a funeral.

If you'll excuse me, I think I need to go throw up.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Hospice


It was not a happy day when Mat, Dr. Dave, and I decided that there were no more cancer treatments worth trying. Last year alone Mat tried three different chemotherapy regimens, three rounds of radiation, had two hospital stays, and two bone fractures.

There were one or two chemo options to try, but we were looking at Phase I clinical trials with no track record outside a petri dish.

Not very attractive.

So Mat switched to hospice, where the focus is on comfort rather than cure. Hospice is a service that helps people who have six months or less to live to spend their remaining time at home rather than in a hospital. Mat has a primary hospice nurse, Klara, who we like and who seems competent. She visits at least once a week, orders all of Mat's prescriptions, and coordinates other care that he needs. My only complaint about her is that she's tall, blonde, stylish, and thin. Ugh.

We also have a chaplain and a social worker, and Mat's prescriptions are delivered to our door (I do NOT miss the twice-weekly trips to the pharmacy). We still meet with Dr. Dave every other week, which is comforting.

Although Mat has only been on hospice for a few weeks, we are already pros. We know, for example, that although most of them are competent, some of the hospice nurses do not have the sense they were born with. Leo, for example, sat like a bump on a log in a chair in Mat's room, saying nothing for over half an hour. Eventually he did ask some questions, but they were all directed at me, as though Mat were 5 and I were his mother. "When did he last take his pain medication?" and "What has Mat's activity level been today?"

Ginny talks to us both like we are 5. "This pump," she said today, gesturing to the pump that delivers Mat's pain meds intravenously, "has a LOCK-out feature (can you say LOCK-out feature?). It is set at level ONE. I need to change it to level TWO."

Mat owes his sanity to Michelle, who spent the night at our house, periodically talking on the phone to Mat's palliative care doctor and furiously re-programming Mat's pump, helping to end a four-day-long pain crisis.

Apparently she arrived at our house from the tropics, however, because she set the thermostat -- there's only one in the whole house -- so high that the temperature on the second floor reached 82 degrees. I went downstairs from our blissfully unheated attic to fetch Michelle at 4:30 a.m. for an intervention. As I walked past the kids' bedroom, they were both awake, flopped over their beds with their shirts off.

"Mom, we're SO HOT. We can't sleep. Can't you turn down the heat?"

The whole four-day episode was a bit of a nightmare, but we're glad Mat didn't have to spend that time in the hospital, even if we were a little toasty overnight.

Hospice is hard to get used to. No one draws Mat's blood anymore to check levels of liver function, kidney function, or any other kind of function. There are no more scans scheduled.

Some things never change, though. Like the fact that we are the cutest couple in the UNIVERSE. And the fact that we have some of the best friends in the world.