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Note:  This was not an easy essay for Richard Rodriguez to write.  In fact, it was in development for six months before he decided to go ahead with it. 

The results reflect a profound courage to confront the pain, anger and confusion of grieving for lost loved ones. It’s a real credit to Rich that he opened up like this. It’s well worth your time to read.

My first time dealing with death and grieving was with my maternal grandfather.

My grandparents lived with us in a two-family house, and one morning my dad and I went into their apartment and my grandmother said my grandfather was still sleeping.

We went into the room to wake him up.

As soon as I walked through the door I froze as I saw his pale face.

My dad went over and tried to wake him but I knew he was dead even though I had never seen a dead body before.

I never went past the doorway that day and was always wary of going in there for years after.

Many years later, my mother had complications after heart surgery and ended up in a vegetative state for a year before she finally died.

I have never had closure with her death.

Prior to the surgery we hugged and figured all would go well. After the surgery, she never regained consciousness. The day after, she had a cardiac arrest.

Her heart was restarted but the damage was done as the time her brain was without oxygen proved to be devastating. I was never able to say goodbye.

I was away at a job-related workshop when she entered the hospital a few weeks before, and the night she went to the hospital in an ambulance I was awakened abruptly in my hotel room by a “presence” in the room.

It could have been a dream but I woke up screaming. The next day when I called home, my brother told me of mom’s condition and that she was in the hospital.

I still wonder if somehow she was reaching out to me. I never saw her at home again.

Years later, I remember having a dream that she had come home. She seemed so relieved. In the hospital prior to the surgery that is all she wanted: to come home.

She was fearful of having the surgery. I think she knew she would not make it.

Among her things at the hospital, my father found individual letters addressed to us.

In them she expressed her love, words of encouragement and about my upcoming wedding and my brother David’s wedding.

She spent the time to write her last thoughts and wishes for us. I can’t imagine how hard that was for her. I still have my letter tucked away in a drawer. I’ll never forget it.

We visited her every day with hopes that there would be a miracle and she would come back to us. Numerous doctors and specialists evaluated her and they all concluded that her brain was too damaged to recover.

The doctors approached my dad with a DNR (do not resuscitate) and he was so upset he would not sign it. He was angry and demanded they do everything in their power to keep her alive

It was heart-wrenching to see her every day and hold her hand and try to communicate with her and hope to get a response.

Deep down we knew the chances of her coming back were very slim. I knew my mom would not want to exist in this state when she was so vibrant and full of life before.

She was eventually removed from life support and was able to breathe on her own and transferred to a nursing home.

I stopped coming to see her, as it was so painful to see her this way.

My father was unhappy with me. He was there every day. I couldn’t do it anymore. I would pray and ask God to take her and end her suffering.

She remained in this state for over a year before she succumbed to an infection and died.

The funeral was a blur. Her one request was not to be buried underground.

She did not want to be below the dirt. She feared it. I’m not sure why but she was adamant about it.

We were able to place her in an above-ground mausoleum. I have never been back to visit it. I know it should have been a relief to finally let her go, but the whole experience wrecked my feelings of my mom.

I still think of her every day. I still have no closure and I’m not sure if I ever will.

Fast-forward about 20 years later to my oldest brother’s illness and death.

He was sick but had gotten better and we were all together for Thanksgiving.

He seemed to be on the mend, but being a longtime rheumatoid arthritis sufferer on immune system-compromising medications, he needed to be very careful and concerned whenever he was sick.

He had lost his wife some years earlier to a bad infection that hospitalized her and eventually took her life. It was a devastating loss for him.

He relapsed that week after Thanksgiving. Eventually his daughter needed to call an ambulance to get him to the hospital. His condition deteriorated quickly and he ended up in intensive care with a bad infection.

He was on a respirator and it was hard for him to speak but at least he was still present and fighting. The one thing that truly disturbed me was that he was in the same hospital room that his wife died in. Deep down, I knew he would never leave this room.

His conditioned worsened and his organs began to shut down. They had to start dialysis as his kidneys stopped working.

I could not believe that this was happening and he was going to die in that same hospital and that same room. I hope I never need to step into that hospital again — ever.

Christmas was awful that year. His children stayed with him at the hospital on Christmas Eve when we traditionally all got together.

Two days after Christmas his son and daughter decided to stop the machines and treatments.

He went quickly. I did not make it to the hospital before he died. I did not get to say goodbye.

They kept him in that room until I could get there — my poor brother in that same room that his wife died in. I hope there was some connection for them and they are together now.

I have not sent out Christmas cards since his death. I also used to do a yearly Christmas letter and have not done that either. I’m not sure when I will start those up again.

Is this still mourning? I can’t imagine what it is like for his two kids: They lost both parents way too soon.

Unfathomable.

Fuck you God. What the fuck is wrong with you? You suck. Sorry that’s just how I feel right now.

I know these feelings are raw and harsh even after the years since these events, but my mom and my brother were the most influential people in shaping the person I am today.

My brother was a sort of surrogate father to me growing up as for many years my father worked two full time jobs to provide for us and save in order to purchase a home for his family.

I spent a lot of time with my brother who taught me how to work on cars, build things, etc. All things that a dad would typically would do.

In my dad’s absence, my mom took me to the park and taught me how to hit and throw a baseball, ride a bike, and many things you would think your dad would do.

I’m not knocking my dad for not being around as he did what he needed to do to provide for his family but the other members of my family stepped in and filled the gaps and helped each other with our everyday lives.

My mom and brother were more important to me than I can begin to describe here.

Related content:

Remembering Mom and Dad

Remembering My Late Fiancee and Her Crazy Made-Up Vocabulary

Note: Today marks 10 years ago that Christopher Mele’s fiancee, Carla Carlson, died.

Those who knew her celebrated the larger-than-life character she was. For those who never met her, this tribute — in the form of a Carla-to-English dictionary — will give you a better sense of who she was and why she was unique.

Rest in peace ODB. You are missed.

English was a second language for Carla. Her primary language is something I call “Carlaese” or “Carlaspeak.”

She had a shorthand expression for so many things. Here’s a glossary of some:

Earchs: Ears, or sometimes referring to her hearing aids

Moo: Milk

Mock milk: My skim milk

Pussycat list: Her favorite actors who were hunks or sexy, as in: Sam Waterson is on her pussycat list

Leguns: Legs

Bunnies: Butt, behind. As in “Nice bunnies.”

Put my eyeballs on: Put on her eye glasses

Pray to St. Yolanda Vega:  Her homage to the woman who picks the winning Lotto numbers in the hopes that she would pick Carla’s numbers

Boogeritis: A runny nose, a bad cold

Frowzy: To be in a state of disarray or unkempt, as in: When he woke up, he was all frowzy looking.

Scrunch: To get a rub or massage, as in: Can you give my shoulder a scrunch?

Gripper pads: Usually referring to the cats’ padded paws, sometimes referring to devices with Velcro

Eggie wegs: The plastic Easter eggs the cats like to play with

Gum snapper: A term generally applied to a young, inept cashier or receptionist, as in: Some gum snapper couldn’t find the price of the carrots.

Belly warmer: A reference to a young girl, generally in her late teens or early 20s, often in a relationship with an older man, as in: Yeah, that college professor was seen having coffee with some belly warmer. Derived, I think, from the notion that if they were together that she’d be on laying on top and keeping his “belly warm.”

Forshnoricated, to forshnoricate: To get organized, to tidy up, as in: Before we go on vacation, I need to get the bills forshnoricated. This is one of my all-time favorites.

Handyman: A reference to the handicapped sign to hang on the rearview mirror of her truck so she could park in a disabled person’s parking spot

Glom: To steal, to take without asking

Gonif: A thief, or someone crooked not to be trusted

Fish eye/Godzilla eye: To be looked at sideways; at a glance; with one eye open and one closed; to be viewed with disdain or distrust, as in: Yeah, she was giving me the fish eye from across the room.

Pike off: Spy on; check out; snoop

Dirt alert: Juicy bit of gossip, high-priority dish

PUD file: Potentially Useful Dirt, something to tuck away for a rainy day

Amies: A reference to animals, as in: We are going to the zoo to look at all the amies.

Hidey hole: Some secret spot for stashing things

Hide in plain sight: Usually referring to something that went missing that was right in front of her

Perp chirp: A reference to my First Responder pager, which would sound a little chirp with bulletins about police activity, hence Perp chirp

Whoziwhatsis: Her all-purpose term for an item the name of which she could not remember, but somehow I would always understand what she was talking about.

Walking sideways: To be a crab, or to be in a crabby mood, as in: I can tell you had a bad day at work because when you got home, you were walking sideways.

Lit up like a whorehouse on a Saturday night: A house with lots and lots of lights on

As Irish as Patty’s pig: Um, I guess this one is self-explanatory. I never quite got it.

As bold as brass: Again, self-explanatory. Usually reserved for when the cats got caught doing something bad, like jumping up on the table, and then denying that they had done anything wrong

Poooooor: An expression of sympathy, sometimes in a mocking way, but again usually reserved for the cats, especially if they’ve not been fed yet, as in: Pooooor baby. Nobody fed you yet?

The hairless ones: A reference to the boys as pre-teens who were sans body hair

EBS: What the cats suffered when they had not been fed: Empty Bowl Syndrome.

The Man/Daddy: Talking about me in the third person to the cats, as in: Are you glad Daddy is home? Did the Man feed you?

Keeplock: A term from her days in correctional services, meaning to put the cats in solitary confinement, as in: When I serve the turkey, the cats are going into keeplock.

Big Perch: When she got her new bedroom set years ago, the queen-sized bed became Molly’s “big perch” where she liked to stay during the day and sleep. The name sort of stuck and the house in Lords Valley, with its viewshed, also became “The Big Perch.”

MBC: Might Bitey Cat, a reference to Misha, who likes to gnaw on feet and toes.

Tumbleweeds: To brawl or fight; to roll around in the street in a fight, as in: If she makes one more snide comment, we’re gonna be tumbleweeds.

…or know the reason why: This usually came at the end of some kind of question or statement, as in: I’m going to find that bank statement or know the reason why. Never quite grasped this one either.

Lemonsucker: A sourpuss, someone who thought they were high and mighty or uppity, as in: That priest was a real lemonsucker.

Looked like a bum in a fit: I don’t know the origins of this, but it means to look disheveled, unkempt; see “frowzy.” Also could be used interchangeably with: “Looked like the “ ‘Wreck of the Hesperus.’ ” (After a poem by Longfellow.)

Slit-eyed: Tired; eyes like slits from not being able to open them

Garb: Garbage

Rags: Her beloved rags, The National Enquirer, The Globe, The National Examiner, Star. Fridays were “Rag Day,” because that’s the day they hit the newsstands. And woe unto you if you forgot to bring home the rags.

Fershstunken: Stinks, smells bad, as in: I need to take a shower to get rid of the fershstunken.

Whoopin’ it up: Partying and drinking pretty hard

Price of rice: To set someone straight, as in: I’m going to tell him about the price of rice

Purpsi: Her favorite soft drink: Pepsi

Guzzoline: Gasoline

The Disease Store: Her name for the local supermarket, which is called Mr. Z’s.

Sunday goin’ to meetin’ clothes: Your finest threads; dressed up for special occasion

No big whoop: No sweat, no big deal; also No biggie

Clutching their pearls/Getting a case of the vapors: Sort of evocative of Victorian upper society and being offended at something relatively small and feeling faint or light-headed over it; think the straight lady in a Marx Bros. Movie, as in: When I cracked that joke at the meeting, the chairwoman was sitting there clutching her pearls.

Crazy hour: Not any particular time or not even an hour long, but it referred to that point of the night (usually the night) when the cats would be so hyper and frisky, jumping around, springing backward, etc.

Whimwhams: Feelings of anxiety, butterflies; insecurities

Don’t touch my shit: One of her golden rules. Just leave her stuff alone and no one gets hurt.

Since Hector was a pup: I have no godly idea where this comes from. It is used to refer to a significant passage of time, or age, as in: That store has been there since Hector was a pup.

Knee-high to a kitten: Again, another measure of age, usually referring to kids who have now grown up, as in: I remember him when he was knee-high to a kitten.

Growth experiences are a bitch: Sort of a variant of what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. This one is a Band-Aid to get you through a tough time by making you laugh and reminding you that you will get through it.

Shit happens: A bit of a variation of no big whoop. A general dispensation and way of addressing something big or small that has gone awry, especially if it’s out of your control, as in: Yeah, it sucks that the tree limb fell on the car, but you know, shit happens.

Plo-plos: Pillows. Especially used if she was switching from the dayside decorative pillows to the nighttime ones, as in: Can you get the plo-plos out of the closet?

Smokin’ dope: To express disbelief or something absurd, as in: I looked at the prices for steak at Mr. Z’s. Forget it, they were smokin’ dope.

Beams: Indoor lights, as in: Why are all these beams on?

When the student is willing, the master/teacher will appear: Very Zen like. More or less that when you are ready to change or to learn, an opportunity will present itself for you to grow or change.

Ambiance: Yes, this of course is a legitimate word, but she would draw out the ‘a’ so it was “Aaaaambiance” but it would refer to her desire to have the lights turned off and candles lit in the room.

White trash tables: Folding snack tray tables, the white trash reference comes from the notion that white trash uses them as everyday dining ware.

Appropriate: Here it is a verb, as in to appropriate something, which in Carla’s case, meant taking it, usually on the sly. Not exactly stealing but not exactly kosher either. As in, I needed to appropriate some office supplies from the jail.

Dipseydoodle: Flim-flam, to con, to get away with something, as in: I had the cashier so dipseydoodled that she forgot to charge me for the bread.

Parlay: Just one of those words she liked to use as in, I parlayed my coupons.

Three thousand nine hundred ninety nine: Again, one of those words she used a lot. For some stupid reason, this one grated on me. Maybe because she never used a different number, ever. Example: We have 3,999 rolls of toilet paper in the closet but none in the bathrooms.

Babies: The deer. Again with the elongated pronunciation: “Baaaaabies.”

Hurty: To hurt, to ache

Clicker: TV remote control

Heaterarator: The heating elements, the baseboard heat.

Nappy: Nap, sleep, as in: The cats and I are going to take a little nappy.

Ching chow: Chinese food

Wontonton: Wonton soup

Poofy: Her way of describing swelling, as in: My feet are all poofy.

Firin’ around: To be running around, especially doing chores or work; sort of implies an aimlessness to the effort

Sue my ass and get a fart: Especially popular expression when it came to bill collectors

Go scratch your ass with a broken bottle: An all-purpose insult

Eat shit and bay at the moon: See above

Snout: Shout, the washing pre-treatment

Greedy Gus: Someone who wants a lot, takes a lot

Friends in low places: We like these people, such as clerks and secretaries

Better to be lost than found: Sometimes it’s better to keep a low profile

Pataki cigarettes: When the governor signed legislation mandating that cigarettes flame out quickly if they’ve not been puffed on as a fire safety measure, Carla went nuts because her smokes kept snuffing out, hence her hatred for “Pataki cigarettes.”

Gussied up: To be all dressed up, spiffed up, could be implied to be in a slutty kind of way

Naked cats: When the cat is without its collar, it is naked

Cut from the cheek of his/her ass: Someone who is very much alike someone else, as in: Michael is cut from the cheek of his dad’s ass.

Slam’s Club: Sam’s Club

Wrinchkey: To tear, mangle, break; to make more difficult; or sometimes to twist, turn, remove as in: I need you to wrinchkey this bolt off or Don’t wrinchkey the envelope, use an opener.

Sleept: To have slept

Grade Z movie: Really, really bad movie. A stinker but possibly fun anyway.

Kidney killer: The muscle-enhancing supplement creatine that Garth would take

God squad: A holy roller, someone who is very religious or preachy

Cat’s paw: Someone who is being manipulated to do something on behalf of someone else, as in: Danny will sometimes unwittingly be Michael’s cat’s paw.

How you doin?/Whatya doin?/What’s shakin’ baby?/What’s on your agenda today?: All different ways of asking what’s going on.

Check please! Meant to convey a desire to get out of there, to remove oneself from a tight spot, as in: When I saw security coming for me and Arl at the mall, I was like check please!

Fleabagus: What she would call the cats if she saw them scratching

‘She’ is the cat’s mother: I don’t know the origins of this and it was not cited too often, but it would come out if one of the boys used the pronoun ‘she’ in some context where it was no clear who she was.

Dead: As in empty, broken or flat, usually referring to her cans of Pepsi which might have been left open for some time, as in: This one is dead. Can you get me a new one?

Bird bath/whore’s bath: To get scrubbed up just using a washcloth and water in the sink. It’s a quick bath to get ready vs. a full-fledged shower.

Hire the handicapped week: Usually said in connection with shopping at ShopRite where the baggers or the cashiers were slow-witted, or in some cases, outright retarded

Getting a bath: When the cats would lick her hand or arm

One toke over the line: A person who is a few fries short of a Happy Meal. They are just a little more crazy than the average person. Someone who is a bit of a burnout.

Cocksuckers from hell: This is an all-time fave of mine. Used only in the most extreme of stress and anger, especially if she was trying to fix something and it would not work or if something broke, spilled or if she was scared badly enough from one of my practical jokes.

Ease into the day: To lounge in PJs in bed, reading the paper or watching TV until about noon or so; the idea being not to act too rashly by jumping into the daily chores (just the opposite of me!)

Sidewalk superintendent act: Someone who watches from the sidelines but does no work

Farfel mouth: I don’t know the origins of this one, but it was a reference to the cats meowing

Would you jump in my grave as fast? Usually reserved for someone who cut in front of her on line

Muscular spiders: Big spiders that needed the exterminator’s attention

I’d rather clothe him than feed him: A big kid

..could put a saddle on him: Usually a reference to a big dog

Scuffs: Slippers

Kicks: Sneakers

Felony fliers: Expensive sneakers

Lounge wear: Comfortable pajamas

Fuck me where I sit: An exclamation of agitation

Didn’t even get kissed first: The notion that she was getting screwed over without the benefit of a kiss first

Case of the ass: Someone who is a state of disagreement or unhappiness; pissed off

Drunkin Doorknobs: Her nickname for Dunkin’ Donuts

Marlboro miles: Someone who looked like they had been around the block a few times and had the wrinkles to prove it

Fellow traveler: A member of AA, a recovering alcoholic

If I were president, there would be one brand of toilet paper: One of her soapbox speeches. Always made me laugh

Tapdance on your eyelids: What she would threaten to do to you if she got pissed off and angry

Staring at the inside of my eyeballs: To sleep

Valley of Fatigue: Getting sleepy

I’m getting in the car: Her oft-repeated threat that, if carried out, meant she was getting in the car and headed to do harm to someone. This one was especially used in the direction of Pat, who pissed her off to no end. So I would often have to talk Carla out of the treetops and convince her that it would NOT be a good idea to go to Pat’s doorstep and shoot her.

Paying for the sins of others: Her lament that other people were causing her discomfort. For instance, because Oxycotin has been so widely abused, it was that much more difficult  for her to get her legitimate scrips filled in a timely way. Or the docs would hem and haw about giving it to her. Because “others” had abused the drugs, she was now paying for their sins.

Tut!: What she’d shout at the cats to get their attention and to reprimand them for doing something they should not be doing. Also worked well on sons and significant others.

Jailin’ it: If someone’s pants were droopy or falling down, they were jailin’ it, a la gangbangers or inmates who would dress that way for fashion

Beat it biscuit lips: What she would say to the cats if they were trying to beg for food, or to the kids if they were eavesdropping somewhere they should not be.

Arthur-it is: Referring to arthritis, especially with Molly

Fart smella: Her play on words. Instead of saying “smart fella” someone would be a “fart smella”

In addition to her shorthand expressions, she also had a nickname for many people:

St. Josephite

The Maje

Big Gay Al (BGA)

The Oompas

Bugman

Weepster

Roger Dodger

Miss Saigon

The Skipper

Pute

Itchy

Icky

Kevin Bibi

Officer Special

The Padre

MS

Wonka

The Boy

The Ungrateful One

Frowzy

JT

HFB

The Kid

His Nibs

Her Nibs

YMD

The Divine Miss M.

Pops

Little Kruchev

Little Pute

JJ

Sue B.

The Crow Lady

The Bear Man

Kip

Plumer the Plumber

Hizzoner

MP

Pipster

Mary Mac

The Rat Bastard

Muscleman

Fig

Beardsley

Mondo Video

CM2

Related links:

More Than Just A Hat: A Story of Loss

Man in Mourning: Where Do You Put the Pepsi and the Pain?

No One Gets Out of Here Alive

The older you get, the closer your mortality appears to be gaining on you in your rear-view mirror.

Once you cross the threshold of 50, you’ve lived enough of life to have experienced some losses personally, seen others who have suffered them or just simply are more aware that no one gets out of here alive.

I recall as a kid my dad watching old movies, and when certain actors and actresses would appear on screen, he would run through a check list aloud:

“Oh, he’s dead.” “Yeah, she’s dead.” “Oh, wow, he’s gone, too.”

(As an aside, for those concerned about the actor Abe Vigoda, who has been prematurely declared dead, there’s a website dedicated to keeping tabs on his breathing: http://www.abevigoda.com/)

Hollywood stars aside, I’ve mulled over the question of how long I want to live in a previous blog post.

And in a recent conversation, my mom lamented aging as being a pointless process of biding your time. There again, my folks live in a retirement community that they not-so-euphemistically call “God’s Waiting Room.”

In this latest podcast of About Men Radio, Pedro and I explore the question of death, dying, facing our mortality and what, as grown-ups, we should do about preparing for it in terms of wills, medical directives and other cheery stuff like that.

Don’t shuffle off this mortal coil without giving it a listen.