Friday, September 30, 2005

Friday, September 30 2005

Friday, September 30 2005 -- 11:32am

My big bro Timothy Francis took off on his big trip this morning. There was the smell of coffee and frying potatos in the air, the sound of marshall tucker on the stereo, a warm chinook wind blowing through the window, and sun on the grass in the fields...

He woke up at around 5:00am and told Mary he was ready to go, and he told Leon he was happy.

At around 10:00am, Mary, Suzanne, Margaret, Pat and I were gathered around his bed, talking. With no preamble , and no fanfare, he left. We barely heard him go.

Timothy Francis Cullinane
July 16, 1960 -- September 30, 2005
Thank you for the days we traveled together, and happy journeying...see you when my own sun sets.


Your little bro

Friday, September 30, 2005

Friday, September 30, 2005

It’s 7:30am and the temperature is a staggering 42 degrees. It’s a heatwave here in North Idaho. Yesterday it rained all day, today the blue sky is poking around the edges and by the time the sun actually comes up, well, it should be a gorgeous day!

Yesterday defined uneventful. And in a month like this September has been, we’ll take it. Tim didn’t really wake up at all yesterday, just a few minutes here and there. He seems comfortable, goes for amazingly long stretches now without any pain medication, his breathing was deep and regular, and his pulse was steady and strong.

Yesterday morning, we were just sitting around and I looked at Mary and said let’s go for a drive. So we went to town, and bought lattes at the Badger’s Den and went shopping at Larson’s and bought indoor kids things for Liam and Maura, and drove around Paradise Valley and came home.

Kerry came back and is here until Sunday. Tom had to leave this morning. He sat beside Tim’s bed for a long time last night, with one hand on Tim’s head. I sat on the other side of the bed for awhile and we talked quietly, but mostly he was silent. Suzanne came by and sat with him and held him tightly as he cried. These goodbyes, fewer now than before, still have the capacity to rip at my heart.

I talked to Mom in Tennessee yesterday, updated her on what was happening. “Its so hard not to be there,” she said.

“I think he travels though,” I told her, “So look for him.”

And I think he does. As he sleeps, I think he goes out and comes back and goes out and comes back. I look at him lying there, his body slowly shutting down, his scarred face twisting his mouth open, one eye refusing to stay shut, and I know his spirit is stronger than this frail body. This container could not hold Tim. And while I love every inch of his exhausted being, inside it is a different Tim. A traveling Tim.

And as he travels, we go out about the business of living, so that when he returns he finds music, and laughing, and when he returned in the afternoon he found Margaret sitting beside him doing a crossword puzzle with his wife, and later he found Maura and Aidan and I playing war, a bit on in the day he would find Pat telling him about the amazing idea he had for finishing the front of the shop, and finally, when the light was gone he would have found PL and I dancing in the darkness to Chris Isaak, and he would think that was a good place to come home to for awhile.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Life here is so simple and slow and beautiful. PL and I were in the laundry room late yesterday afternoon, Tim had just woken up from a four hour nap. I was cooking dinner and she was doing laundry, and I turned the corner and saw her, and we just stopped and smiled at each other.

“I love the way things happen here right now,” I said. “There is just this simple harmony.”

“It makes me want to change my life,” she replied.

And I know what she means. Yes, this is a remarkable time, but we are learning so much about the simple art of being human. Of being kind. Of being loving. Of being strong.

The clouds rolled in late yesterday, and it looks like we may get a little more rain. For Pat’s sake I hope it holds off until he finishes the siding. I’ll have to ask how I can help when I get out there.

Tim was full of life yesterday morning. He had gone for a walk outside to see the stars at about 2:00am, and then taken a leak in the woods. He was up most of the night talking, and Mary, Suzanne and Leon were up most of the night with him.

He made many trips around the house inside and out, inspecting the work, offering suggestions. He wants a lot of hugs these days. And a lot of touching. He is happy to see everyone who comes within his sight range. And he needs to hug them. Its great to be around.

His speech is hard to understand, because his jaw is more frozen and the collar doesn’t allow for much mobility, but we understand him pretty well most of the time so he doesn’t have to get frustrated.

He doesn’t always close his eyes when he sleeps, so we have to close them for him so they don’t dry out. But when he’s falling asleep you can’t always tell if he’s still awake or drifting, so it’s a weird one. You push his eye shut and it pops back open and you push it shut and it pops back open. He isn’t talking or moving, but the eye is so after a bit you give up and wait, and then try it again later.

He likes to fuck with people. He gets all frail and sad and pitiful looking, so someone comes to hug them and he gets them in a death grip. Or if it’s a woman, he grabs their ass. The other day he said to Margaret when Jimmy Neumayer called, “Hey, want to see if I can make him cry?” and then he gets on the phone and says “Jimmy! I’m dyin!”

It was such a quiet afternoon. People were napping, I was cooking, Pat and Tom were upstairs working on the house.

Margaret sat with him most of yesterday afternoon. Before he fell asleep, they did cross word puzzles, and then for hours after, as he slept, I would look over and see her dark head close to his bald one, still working out the puzzles.

Mom came by and talked to Tim as he slept about the first time he came to North Idaho, in the spring of 1966, and how he jumped out of the Volkswagen bus and into the mud in the barnyard, and looked back at her. And she said, “Go on. It’s yours. Go explore.” And he was off.

He woke up at about 6:00. He said he woke up and looked out and saw the pile of boards, and heard voices and saws, and it was all too much for him. He knew how much he would miss all this, and he started to cry.

Suzanne held him and talked to him, and I got his pain medication ready. He called Pat in and hugged him close for a long long time, and cried and told him how much he loved him and how proud he was of him and how grateful he was for all the work he was doing. He did the same with Tom, and then when I came back he did the same with me.

He told us all how much he was going to miss us, and we told him how much we were going to miss him, and how much we loved him, and how proud we were of him, and how grateful we were that he was going to go on ahead and find the cool places, and all the cool music, and put a word in with the right people on our behalf.

He said he had been such an asshole to us, and we laughed and I said, “Tim I almost killed you with your own truck, it doesn’t get any worse than that.” And he laughed and Pat said it was a good thing he didn’t have any more sense than to buy a Datsun because if it had been a real truck I could have done some real damage.

He was only awake for a short time, and we took him outside and he sat by the fire and drifted back to sleep. We ate and sat around the fire, just like always, or just like always has become, and then we picked Tim up and carried him inside and put him in bed.

I kissed his head and said good night, and that was the day.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

7:38am, 19 degrees. Seems that that wants to be the official morning temperature right now.

Karen just left. She dropped in for an overnight to see Tim, and spent the night in the second bed here in the apartment. The circle expands to include anyone who comes by, and retracts when they leave.

Tim is sliding fast, but ultimately he will go when he is good and ready and not a minute before.
Yesterday, Mary and I drove to town to sign the cremation agreement, and drop off the Folgers can which had been cleaned and the holes welded. We stopped into BTC and picked up a can of M&J coffee for the bright blue lid as well, so now Tim’s urn is accurate.

When we got back Tim was asleep in the recliner, and sitting next to him was Gary Thurman, a fly swatter in one hand and a can of Miller High Life in the other. Gary is an old-time woodsman, and the guy who took Tim on his first hunting trip. After we all said hello, Leon told us Tim’s breathing had dropped to about 7 times per minute.

He was not responsive, barely breathing, sleeping peacefully. The hospice nurse stopped by as scheduled and said he probably would not wake up.

So for a good part of the afternoon we came and went in a circle around Tim, Mary, Leon, Suzanne, Margaret, Pat, Tom, PL, Jim, Jill, Mom, Doug, sitting and holding his hand, stroking his head, rubbing his feet, telling him we loved him.

We played Gordon Lightfoot and Bruce Cockburn, and cried a bunch. “Go find the new place for us,” Mary said, all sister no doctor now.

Off and on we worked on our projects, PL made dinner, Margaret cleaned the yard and the job site, I finished putting up the trim in the spare room, Doug made a shelf, Pat worked on the bathroom tile, and Jim and Tom put up the exterior siding.

I walked Aidan down to see the sheep and the horse next door at Shelby Cowley’s place.

But mostly we sat and talked and watched and cried and said good bye.

At about 5:00 with a blast of energy, he woke up.

“What time is it?”


“In the morning?”

“No, in the evening?”

“I slept all day?”


“Good God! I’ve got to get up and check on the boys.”

And that was that. He was up. On his way, lurching about from room to room. “I’ve got to take a crap.” “I need to go outside.” “Where is that little Karen?”

So as the sun went down, turning the clouds in the sky pink and casting a warm glow over Clifty, we built a fire and ate dinner at the big table outside.

Jim and Joann came by for awhile and, then John, Jenny and Jolene. Tim got a flashlight for Jolene and sent her on a bear hunt outside in the trees. Doug was the bear. We watched from his bed in the dining room as the light bobbed and danced in the darkness, and heard the occasional laughing shriek as the DougBear leaped at her.

Tim drifted off to sleep, Suzanne curled up next to him on the tiny narrow hospital bed. Jim, Pat, Tom, Karen and I sat by the fire until it burned down into coals.

Its morning, and the question is there again. Did he make it through the night? I don’t know yet. But the answer yesterday was “yes.” And he got up. And I dressed him. In a tie-died T-shirt, black work jeans, and a Hawaian shirt. And he lumbered down the stairs to see what happened while he was sleeping and to find out what the new day, with its bright sun might bring.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

7:15am, 19 degrees, no sun in the backyard yet. The frost still glistens like silver plating on the grass, and a deer just ran through the yard, a young one, spots just fading on his haunches.

Yesterday I arranged for my brother to be cremated. We decided it would be best to make these arrangements now, so that no one has to figure anything out, sign anything, pay for anything, really even do anything more than make a phone call when the time comes.

I had forgotten where the funeral home was, until I was driving there. Its behind the Laundromat where we washed our clothes when we were really young, and I remember we knew it was there, just beyond the fence and the jumble of trees, we knew there were dead people there.

Mick Mellett is the funeral director, and also the county coroner, so one phone call takes care of all your bereavement needs. We sat at a conference table and filled out the paperwork. I said no to everything. “Do you want a service?” “No.” “Do you want an obituary?” “No.” “Do you want an urn?” “No.” “What would you like the cremains in?” “A Folgers coffee can?”

He sort of stared at me, and I said, “Have you seen The Big Lebowski?”
“It’s Tim’s favorite movie.”
“And there’s this part of it where…”
“That’s okay, I’ve had pretty much every request you can imagine.”

Then I walked into this little side room, a showroom if you will, where you pick out the casket, or the urn or whatever. You have to pick out something for the body to be burned in, so I chose a large cardboard box with red string.

And this is exactly what Tim asked for. Actually he asked the other night to be “clocked behind the ear and tossed into the bonfire,” but this is as close as I can get.

Then I went to Northern Building Supply and got 20 5/16 5” lag screws with corresponding washers for Pat, and came home.

I finished the wall for the spare bedroom, got the door hung, trimmed it, and Doug built a shelf.

Tim came down and laid on the bed for awhile and watched the work. Then he went back upstairs. He’s on supplemental oxygen now, and sleeping most of the time. He’s much more clear headed with the oxygen, and able to make more sense.

He’s extraordinarily beautiful to me, sleeping or walking, spilling his milkshake all down the front of his shirt, or swaying back and forth as he tries to stand and we all stand poised like sprinters to grab him if he falls.

Emotions are running high right now, and we are rubbing up against each other and starting small fires. There have been a large number of people coming through, staying, leaving, dropping in, bumping into egos and setting off hurt feelings. Mostly we are kind and gentle with one another and sometimes not.

I look around and all I see are people having this same experience. We are all facing the same thing. Losing someone we love so much that living without him is a mystery. And whatever we say that is stupid and hurtful, whatever we do that inadvertently hurts a feeling, when we go our separate ways after doing or saying these things, its just two sad people who are confused and scared and just so incredibly sad about whats going on here. And I wish we could see each other that way before we say or do the things we do.

Yesterday I was sanding trim for the door, and I sanded part of it I shouldn’t and in the middle of it the piece of sandpaper on the pad sander came flying off and in one second Margaret looked at me trying to put it back on and laughed and said “what are you doing you spaz?” and in the next second Pat looked at the piece I was sanding and said “why did you do that you turd?”

And I lost it.

And with every word getting slightly louder I said, “Don’t fucking call me a fucking turd, I don’t fucking know what I am fucking doing, but I am fucking doing the fucking best I fucking can.”

And in a day where I arranged my brothers cremation and ripped a board to 2” at one end and 1 5/8” at the other, two things that are really not part of my reality at all, that sums up kind of what all of us are going through.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Monday, September 26, 2005

Monday, September 26, 2005

The sun is hitting just the tops of the trees, the bases still in chilly shadow. It’s 7:30 and Maura and Aidan are playing with the change sorters behind me. The thermometer outside the window tells me that its 19 degrees.

For the first time, this morning I wondered if Tim was alive. For the first time, I wondered if today was the day he would die. Yesterday was a tough day for him.

Margaret and I drove to Spokane yesterday to trade in her rental car. In spite of repeated phone calls, and pleas National Rental Car had decided to take advantage of the situation she was in to jack her rate from 40 dollars a day to 120 dollars a day, and of course, “there was nothing they could do about it.”

So we dropped it off and walked to stalls down and rented from Thrifty for 120 dollars for the week.

The girl behind the counter at National had the unfortunate name of Sumer, so that she could walk through life with a typo affixed to a piece of plastic above her right breast. Sumer charged Margaret an extra 100 dollars by mistake and then said she couldn’t do anything about it. We told Sumer that she was wrong and that she knew she was wrong and that she needed to do something about it right away. So she discovered that she could do something about it. Unfortunately for Sumer, she corrected her mistake by 20 dollars, instead of 100, and then informed us that in order to correct that mistake she would have to start all over. She stared at us like this bit of news should surely make us realize how unreasonable we were being, but we said, well okay, then. You better get started. So finally, Sumer actually discovered that she could correct her original mistake, and when she did, she refused to look at us, and stared at her screen and said perkily, “Have a nice day.”

I leaned over the counter, and said, “Sumer, a word of advice. You aren’t nearly pretty enough to be this stupid and lazy,” and then I picked up Aidan in his car seat and walked away. All I saw was that her pupils actually dilated from the shock of it, most likely because I had dared to suggest that she wasn’t as pretty as she thought she was.

I felt bad for a millisecond and then shrugged and decided that Sumer had it coming. That has now become a buzz word for this period as well. Sumer had it coming.

Thrifty was much nicer.

Beth and Laura left yesterday, just after Margaret and I got home, and that was incredibly sad. Beth has been a part of Tim’s cancer story since the very beginning and he is like a brother now. Saying goodbye shattered her, as it has everyone.

I know that is why I am staying. I can’t do it. If he leaves, so be it…but I will not leave first. I am not strong enough.

Tim stopped breathing late yesterday afternoon and kept turning purple, and scaring the hell out of us. He aspirated a good portion of his milkshake into his lungs and then demanded more. After we got him cleaned up, he was lying there and then suddenly he started turning purple again. Mary got him breathing and then went to call hospice and grab her stethoscope. I sat on the bed and he stopped breathing again. I got him to start again, and then he wanted to get up. Doug Dirks and I sat on the bed and held him down, which lets face it isn’t that hard, and then he stopped breathing again. So we talked to him “Take a deep breath Timmy. Okay, let it out. Now take another one…”

After he was feeling better his oxygen deprived brain told him to get up and go visiting, and since there is really no reason at this point to say no to him about anything, he got up and supervised the tiling for a bit and then Doug, Suzanne, and Tom went to visit Joe Neumayer with him but Tim forgot why he was there when he got there. Its all okay though, PL and I drove over on the 4-wheeler and got there a few seconds before them so we could talk to Joe before and after and let him know what was going on. He was of course amazing, and just talked to Tim as though he understood everything Tim was saying, and then we asked Tim if he wanted to go home and Joe could come over later, and he was fine with that so we went home.

I asked Mary if he was going to die tonight, and she said “maybe.”

Tim doesn’t want to die in his bed because he is afraid that Suzanne will be too freaked out to ever sleep in it again. So he asked to have a hospital bed set up in his shop for when the time comes. Last night the truck pulled up and Tom and I helped unload his death bed. It was just a regular hospital bed, ugly brown wood veneer, chrome siderails, institutional mattress, and when we got it set up Leon and Tom and I just stood there staring at it, like some strange and smelly animal had crawled into our midst.

Mary had also ordered a couple of oxygen tanks to help Tim get through last night. After we ate, we all sat around the living room while Tim slept soundly in the recliner, the hum of the oxygen tank in the background.

Like I said, today is the first day I woke up and wondered if Tim was alive. I feel this more profoundly today then at any time I have been here so far, I guess because there was no question watching him yesterday afternoon that this is a guy who is fading quickly.

Its funny though, as I was waking up this morning I didn’t know what to hope for. If Tim wants to go, I hope for him to go, but there is no way of knowing. Right now, he seems to be enjoying these days of friends and family, and so that part of me that wants to decide for him I guess what is “best” has to realize that even though it is messy and uncomfortable, for Tim right now hearing our voices and feeling the evening air on his skin as he walks around outside might be so precious that he wants to hold onto it until it slips from his grasp. He seems in no hurry to let anything go, and we will continue to give him anything he wants until he is ready to slip away.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The sun has finally stretched itself over the mountains and down into the valley where it has burned off the frost from last night. Its 8:30am, and Margaret has just left the apartment after coffee and talking. When I got up this morning the temperature was 19 degrees, and the grass was white and crisp. The other night, Jenny said she was so glad the frost was coming because she didn’t want to have to pick another bean or ear of corn fro her garden. This morning should have made her very happy!

Beth and her sister Laura arrived the other night. Beth was one of Tim’s nurses on the transplant floor back in 1987 when he had the bone marrow transplant at Hopkins. They have been close friends ever since.

Beth was standing in Mom and Doug’s kitchen before she drove back to her hotel. “Whenever things got hard, I could always call Tim and he made me feel like everything was going to be okay,” she said.

Last night they burned the slash piles in the field, so we had about 100 people over for a barbecue. The flames took off with a roar and shot at least 50 feet into the air just as the sun went down. Mary and Leon took a much needed night off and went to Sandpoint for dinner, so I was on meds duty. I dosed Tim up good, got him dressed in clean jeans and his Hopkins sweatshirt, just as the fires started.

“Dead man walking,” I yelled as we came down the stairs. There weren’t a lot of people in the house, but those that were there were suitably aghast, and Tim laughed so hard he almost fell down.

He was amazing last night. I don’t know where he got the energy, but he walked out to the bonfires several times. We made huge firecrackers and set them off, and they sounded like sonic booms.

It was hard for him because there were some people there he had to say goodbye to for the last time. Meg and Dom had driven up from Orofino, and when they left Tim had to sit down for awhile. I got him back upstairs and into his pajamas and then Stephanie and Liz came up to say goodbye. Suzanne and I stood at the top of the stairs to give them some time alone. We just put our arms around her and then Liz came over and the three of us stood there silently while Steph said goodbye.

Every time someone says goodbye it reminds me. I have seen Tim sick before, and sometimes I can, if not forget, just postpone thinking about what is happening. But watching grief overcome someone as they walk away from him, I am forced to face the fact that they are grieving because my brother is dying.

“This fucking sucks,” Tim said after they walked down the stairs.

I gave him his night meds and left him and Suzanne alone and went into the shop and sat in the dark and cried until I thought my head would fall off, and then I felt better, but I had locked myself off so I had to knock on the door to get back in.

It was a great party though, and Tim had a fantastic time and if there were moments of breathtaking sadness, well there were a lot more moments where he was just electrically alive.

Yesterday he told me twice that he was proud to be my brother, proud of the man I had become, and that he loved me. The funny thing is that I already knew that. And I know that he knows how I feel. I have told him, of course, but there is no better way I can tell my brother I love him then to make sure his face is clean, make sure he is feeling good, make sure his clothes are on straight, and yell “Dead man walking,” as he comes down the stairs…

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Every evening now, friends gather, some inside where its warm, some gathered around the fire outside. We talk and there is laughter and love and a blanket of stars overhead. This morning it was 24 degrees and frost was on the grass. Summer is fading and autumn has a hold. The wind on the back of my neck at night tells me winter is gaining strength.

Its late morning, and I’ve just spent a few hours with Liam, Maura and Aidan. Margaret came down and we sat around and talked for an hour or so, and then she went to take a shower and I got the kids for a bit. I tought Maura how to play a D chord on the guitar, and tried to keep them out of the M&Ms.

Yesterday I worked in the morning on putting the outside siding on the spare bedroom, which has turned into my little construction project. In the afternoon PL, Kerry and I took the 4-wheelers up to 4032. We sat around in the long grass and talked about Tim, and about this time, and whether these days are building this into something other than what it is, something bigger.

Like lets say Tim died suddenly in a car crash and there was terrible grief, but in a concentrated blast and then we picked up the pieces. Are these days building up to that, or are we digging a hole we will fall into and never crawl out of?

What occurs to me now, however, is that we have been given the gift that I think anyone facing the death of a loved one would hope for. That gift is the time, to be together, but also to have the knowledge of a coming change that allows for the greatest possible appreciation of the time we have with Tim and with each other.

These days have been precious. And yes, when its over, we will all be left staggering for a period of time, and I think we will all be changed as well, but I hope in some way that is profound and good.

More later…the last few days I have had a harder time with words.