Sunday, September 30, 2012

Polly and Dorothy

So I'm finally siting down to write some thank-yous to people who were especially comforting or helpful or thoughtful during this sad month. Here's a note from Beverly, Michael's sister, that came when I got home to SLC which I wanted to share:

"I had only a few occasions to be around Polly, but they were so memorable and she made a big impression on me–I always felt welcomed, and cared for, and that she really knew I was there despite the full room. There was one Christmas when I was at our family's home and it was a big crowd–even though I knew everyone I was feeling a bit awkward and was by myself (I can't remember why!) and maybe was feeling a little sad. Your mother came up to me and said, "Come with me!" and she grabbed a book off a shelf, thumbed to a page and said, "Read this." It was the Maid-servant at the Inn by Dorothy Parker.
It was a wonderful moment. The poem was touching and your mom was so sensitive and observant to make a connection with me. I can feel it like it was yesterday–it's my Christmas ritual–I read it by myself and your mom introduced me to one of my favorite writers that I would enjoy for years to come.
I can only imagine how lovely and lucky it would be to spend more time with her. I have a feeling it was an ordinary moment for her and how she lived her life. She seemed to live fully and she enjoyed the things in life that really matter–family & friends, good food, good literature and more. (And she taught me that liberal politics and gracious living are not incompatible.)
Your mom was a very special person and I'm happy I got to know her, even just a little. She inhabits a place in my heart and that's how we live on–I hope she and Dorothy are having a good laugh.
Love, Beverly

Here's the poem:  

The Maid-Servant At The Inn

"It's queer," she said; "I see the light
As plain as I beheld it then,
All silver-like and calm and bright-
We've not had stars like that again!

"And she was such a gentle thing
To birth a baby in the cold.
The barn was dark and frightening-
This new one's better than the old.

"I mind my eyes were full of tears,
For I was young, and quick distressed,
But she was less than me in years
That held a son against her breast.

"I never saw a sweeter child-
The little one, the darling one!-
I mind I told her, when he smiled
You'd know he was his mother's son.

"It's queer that I should see them so-
The time they came to Bethlehem
Was more than thirty years ago;
I've prayed that all is well with them."

Sunday, September 23, 2012


I got home Friday evening and immediately invited three people to dinner for last night. Close friends–Louise and Harrison you met at my last wedding, Rebecca is our friend who lived in Florence. I spent yesterday buying wine, buying food at the Farmers Market, smoking trout, baking bread, making a complicated dish of corn kernels and caramelized onions. 

Everyone came over, everyone offered sincere condolences. Darling Harrison, unasked, brought a trumpet and played "Taps" in honor of Polly, with whom he'd corresponded a couple times since they met. We ate dinner (it was fabulous, yay me.)

And then I all of a sudden left the room, went upstairs and got into the daybed that used to be in the living room at Mother and Daddy's house. I didn't even think about it, I didn't tell anyone goodbye, I just collapsed. Glen came up to see what was up and then went down to make apologies. 

This morning I feel a little embarrassed, but I also realize that it's the first time I've let go since I got to Dallas for Mother's farewell party. There has always been something to do, or to take care of, whether it was taking care of Mother or Daddy or guests or whatever. Food. Jewelry. Notecards. Post-its. Phone calls.

I slept in the bed next to Mother's every night the last two weeks of her life. The lamp by her bed was always on, all night. Ardis and Diana would try turning it off, but Mother would get restless immediately, so finally we just left it on, right in her face. 
I woke up whenever the nurse came in to give her meds, change her diaper, reposition her. I woke up other times just to make sure her little chest was still going up and down. I lay down on the bed after she died, after David and Helen had left, and looked at her awhile to make sure she was dead. I watched them lift her body on the board and put it onto the gurney. I watched them zip the body bag over her face.

So last night, I finally fell asleep with the light on right in my face.  I kept waking up disoriented, thinking I was in her room.

I think about Mother every minute.It's not like remembering, it's like she's in my body or in my consciousness. I think about David and Helen and that it must be like that for them, too, and I think about Daddy and how it must be even worse for him.

I just realized today that instead of everything being over, a whole new thing is just beginning that's going to be much harder, because I can't do anything about it. I can only go through it.

Friday, September 21, 2012

A whole new place

Everyone has gone home and back to work now. The flurry of embraces and greetings and visiting and drinking and eating with long lost family and friends has settled down. I leave in an hour, and Daddy will try to get back in his routine–PrimeTimers today, Farmers Market tomorrow, church on Sunday, Sevy's on Monday…

Like everyone who has heard the news of Mother's death, Isabel cried when when she came to clean house this morning. It doesn't surprise me but it continues to amaze me how many people's lives Mother touched so deeply. From Joe who delivers the dry cleaning to Father Huddleston who delivered the homily at her memorial service, her loss has brought everyone to tears.

And her absence leaves a gaping hole in this apartment. I'm so glad Daddy has a full calendar.

This blog will continue, but we've reached the end of one chapter. I just want to say thanks to my sibs for keeping me in touch with Mother's condition, helping me feel I was not so far away. I love you so much!

And I want to say thanks to the people at Faith Hospice, our guides and counsellors during this sad time. Jeanne-Aimee, Mother's primary nurse, brought comfort every time she visited. A remarkably patient listener, she heard all our anecdotes and answered all our questions fully and directly and with compassion. Ardis was our rock, steadily attending Mother while hordes of friends and relatives came and went and laughed and cried and drank champagne. We all leaned on his intelligence and his perspective on Mother's changing condition. At times throughout the days, each of us would stop by his usual place at the dining room table for a personal conference and hour by hour prognosis. Diana, the night nurse, was expert and loving. Both these people became members of our family instantly, and seemed to love Mother's quirks, bossiness and high standards as much as her kindness.

Jeanne-Aimee, Ardis and, to me, especially, Diana, became our guides through the process of dying, which I knew nothing about, and didn't even recognize as a process until they taught me that the human body goes through a series of changes when dying as it does when giving birth.

On Mother's last night, this knowledge and guidance allowed her death to be as serene as it could possibly be. Diana was able to notice each tiny change in Mother's respiration and color, and very quietly coached us so we were all around her, holding her hands and talking to her and stroking and kissing her face, when she breathed her last. It was as good a death as there can be, and exactly the way Mother had wanted, and planned, for it to be.

Once again, she taught us all the best way to do something.

I'm at the airport now and when I come back, Texas will be a whole different place.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Family - Together

Dad early on
Mom Early On

A Toast
More Toasts

Hear, Hear!


Memorial Service for Polly

The memorial schedule for Polly has been scheduled for Wednesday, Sept 19 at 1 pm in the sanctuary of Saint Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church, 8011 Douglas, Dallas, 75225.

Music has always been a large part of our family. Polly and Don have long been season ticket holders of the Dallas Symphony and have been big supporters of organ music. In her notes concerning this service, Polly requested a performance of Cesar Franck's Prelude, Fugue and Variation and James Diaz has agreed to meet her wishes. The Prelude will be begin approximately 10 minutes before the service.

Services at Saint Michael are usually followed by a magnificent organ postlude. Mother was frequently heard to mutter under breath amid the rising din of conversation, "This is not background music..." In accordance with her wishes the congregation will be asked to remain silent and in place while Mr. Diaz performs Louis Vierne's Finale from his Sixth Symphony. 

 A reception will follow immediately in the parlor and garden cloister.

Don listens to the organ at Saint Michael.

Sad day for Dallas dining

Nancy Nichols posted this on D magazine's Side Dish blog this morning. Here's the link:
Sad Loss for Dallas Dining

Polly at the Original Matt's Rancho Martinez


I suggest that we paste various reflections and remembrances here. They can be taken from emails, Facebook postings, letters, anecdotes or wherever they are found. Readers should start with the comment from "Life so Far..." on the post "A Sad Morning." - dw

Most people who would see my Facebook post have already read this at least once. Polly was remarkably beautiful, intelligent, witty, wise, and loving - the matriarch of a family that includes, due to her generous world view, many not-necessarily-related-by-blood-or-marriage members. I am so grateful to be be part of Polly's family.

Nancy Nichols Sweet Polly. My second mom and traveling buddy Love to all Waddingtons.

Deborah Lindsay  Sending a Heart Embrace to you...and all of those you love. Your Mother: intelligent, wry, happy, inventive, educated, life-loving, interesting, real and whole; a woman whose world was large and beautiful...who made the world larger and more beautiful for others!

The outpouring of kind words, thoughts and prayers, food and even tree plantings has been overwhelming and greatly appreciated by our Family. My mother in law was a special person, smart, elegant, with a love of nature and mankind. She even donated her body to science so the cancer that took her life could be studied and the knowledge obtained used to save the lives of others. I am greatly inspired by her and will miss her dearly...
I just realized I probably used greatly too many times and she would have corrected me : )

Doric E. Earle  We will miss Polly's elegance, charm and wit. So glad she was surrounded by the family. We need to help Don be strong. 
All our love. We are here for Helen and you and the family.

The love with which your mother nourished us, and the example of her graciousness, make it easy to believe that she is closer to us now than ever before.

Jeremy Gregg Such lives give more than death can ever take away -- may her love remain forever a bright light in your heart and in all of our lives!

Marian Bogan-Bebeau  Love to you all and so happy you can all be together to celebrate one of the most beautiful ladies we have had the pleasure to know. What a woman....let us know what is needed when...prayers to you all!

Kim Pierce  It is so hard to lose a parent, becomes a time of reflection on our our mortality. Bravo to your family for helping to make your mother's transition a peaceful one surrounded by those she loved and who loved her.

Don Schanche
Sep 15 (2 days ago)
to me

Dear David,
My condolences, cousin.
A tough transition. So much must be going on.
I've always liked this passage from the Book of Common Prayer:

O Lord, support us all the day long, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world lies hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then in thy mercy grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last.

Thinking of you all with love,

Dearest friends,

I am so sad to learn of Polly's passing.  On the few occasions on which I was privileged to meet her, I was struck by her wit and her charm.  These characteristics and, I'm sure, many more are brilliantly reflected in the fine people she helped bring up.  Among these people are you all, folks who I am proud and grateful to count among my closest friends.  Although I'm not a member of your family, I grieve with you all at the loss, at once, of a matriarch and a loving mother and grandmother.  I ardently hope that you find comfort in the midst of your mourning and that you can derive from your memories of Gombu the strength to persevere in the spirit of vim and vigor that she helped to instill.  I love you guys, I miss you guys, and I'll be thinking of you all especially during the upcoming days.  If there's anything at all that I can do to be of help to you, or to any member of your family, please don't hesitate for a moment to let me know.  Jessie and I wish for all of you the peace that we found in the days after my grandfather's passing, almost two years ago now.  It was a peace premised on the knowledge of the great richness of the life that he lived and the confidence that he died where he was happiest in life - surrounded by his family.  It seems to me that much the same can be said of Polly's life and of her passing and for this, amidst all the pain, we can be grateful.  Please relay my condolences to the rest of your family, especially your Dad, your mom, and your Aunt Mary.

All my love,

From: <>
Date: September 15, 2012 3:14:53 PM CDT
To: <>
Subject: Polly Tree
Planted and dedicated September 15th by Doric and Aidan Earle. 607 N Buckner Dallas

As you all may know my sweet grandmother, Gombu, passed away this previous weekend on a saturday morning. She was a very, very special lady to me and many other people. I just want to thank everyone for their support. The comforting, sweet, comments and thoughts have meant the world to my family and myself.

I greatly appreciate it and it warms my heart greatly! She will be missed! ♥
Unlike ·  ·  · 36 minutes ago · 
Sara Malowanczyk Anna, I just heard about this from my mom the other day. My condolences go out to you and your whole family. Polly was a great woman and I will miss spending thanksgivings with all of you.

From Scott Malouf: 

We are thinking of you and your family, and very saddened by your Mom's passing. What an amazing life, and a woman so extraordinary to bring into the world, nurture, love and preside over a beautiful family. Please share our thoughts and sympathies to everyone. Have lots of hugs and food!
I really wish I had some insight to share about the passing of a beloved Mom, something that would make it understandable or consoling. All I can I say is after 25 years of losing Mom, the tears well at thought of her. I do know that it is normal.
What a great gift in life to have a Mom whe genuinely loves us, and champions us. Who else does that? You are truly blessed.
You know I think the world of you, and always cherish the times we have shared, and I am so sorry that I can't just give you a big, tearful hug right now!
I know you will pass many moments of her love for you, her lessons to you, her encouragement to you to our precious Anna and B.

  • David,

    I just wanted to pass on my personal sympathies for Polly's death.I don't remember meeting her, but I do remember several conversations we had over the years on the phone. While I can't recall any specifics, I can recall her voice and how excited she always was to hear about what I was doing and how I was. Dad has also told me a ton of stories about the family, and Polly specifically. She seemed to me to be an ideal mother, and was certainly an ideal Aunt to Dad. I'm glad he was able to travel down to be with you all, and I hope that this finds you all well. Please pass on my love and sympathy to everyone, and may Polly's memory live ever warmly in your hearts.

    I hope to see you all very soon.



Saturday, September 15, 2012

A Sad Morning

After a long week, Mom died Friday morning at 3:34. She was lying peacefully in her bed surrounded by her husband Don, her children David, Mary and Helen one of her grandchildren, Adrian, and her daughter-in-law Susan.They were holding one another and holding her when she took her last breath.

The family had been together most of the day and had gone home around 10 to get some rest. The hospice nurse woke Mary around 2am and told her to wake Dad and call the family. Mom decided to donate her body to UT Southwestern Medical School. A memorial service will be scheduled.

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Quiet Friday

It's quiet right now in the apartment.

Ardis the hospice day nurse sits at the dining room table, Buddha-like, where he can keep an eye on Mom. Mary is working on her latop. Ever the journalist, I think she's drafting an obituary. Adrian is sitting in Mom's spot on the sofa, in the captain's chair, working on his laptop. I am without laptop, so I'm using Dad's PC, just back from the computer emergency room with a new motherboard.

Dad just walked down to the apartment office and walked in with a beautiful bouquet of flowers from June Bishop, an old friend (going back to grade school) of Mom and Dad's sister Marybelle. Helen and Will walked in at the same time as Dad. Susan just called, she's out of school for the day and so she's headed over. Travis called before that and he's going to be on the road up from San Antonio either late tonight or first thing in the morning.

It's quiet now, but it's going to get noisier.

I doubt it will get as noisy as it did last weekeend when EVERYBODY was here, laughing, telling stories and drinking champagne. It put a smile on Mom's face to hear the music of her family. Her grandchildren were thrilled to see one another and their energy was contagious and continuous.

Her response has lessened during the week. She did not turn her head to me when I visited on Tuesday. Today is the first day Ardis has officially confirmed that she is non-responsive. But her heart keeps beating. She continues to breathe.

It's hard to imagine that her body can continue, that she can get any weaker, but she does. Living proof of Zeno's paradox of Achilles and the tortoise.

But ultimately the paradox will be proved wrong.

It's just a small matter of time.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Bleak and Joyful

It was a true celebration of Mom.

As the family gathered for the weekend, we were concerned that we would be too loud for Mom. Turned out, she liked the noise. It was her family enjoying being together and that made her happy.
As a matter of fact, she wanted more of the party in her room. We obliged.

People trickled in all day on Friday and each had their time with Mom. On Friday she could still converse, if slowly.

On Saturday, Mary and I got Mom to tell us stories. I will type them later. It was her last sustained vocal conversation. I say vocal because she can have a whole conversation with her eyes.

Saturday evening the whole family gathered at the apartment to toast Mom. We passed the champagne and Dave gave a toast. Mom took a sip of champagne.

Funerals can be joyous because everyone comes to a funeral and you see loved ones you haven't seen in ages. The reason for the funeral is always there with you, surrounding the gathering. The future without the deceased is final and bleak.

So in true Polly fashion, we planned ahead and had a funeral-ish gathering before her death. Best of both worlds. Always thinking ahead. It seemed much more important to have a gathering to say goodbye than a gathering after the fact.

Stressed? Yes. Complicated? Yes. Exhausted? Yes. Wonderfully at peace? Absolutely.

So thank you all for coming so far. And for those who were only with us in spirit, we love you.

More Gifts

I spent about an hour sitting with Mom on Monday afternoon. Not talking or touching, just sitting. My thoughts wandered to our lives together. The past. Forgiveness.

I remembered during the worst of our relationship when I was 16 probably and I sat on her bed and told her that I hated her. I remember looking straight in her eyes and mustering all the emotion I could into my eyes, shot the hatred at her like a bullet. I don’t remember her expression except that it was blank. A poker face, I realize now. The reason that I know is that I had similar experiences with my children during those same bad years. I’m sure that I had the same poker face. Now I know the emotion behind the face. It hurts.
I thought of times that she had wronged me. Not one specific incidence but many over the years. Times when she wasn’t there for me because she was drunk. I didn’t know that she was an alcoholic. I just knew that she wasn’t there.  It hurt. Now I know that I did the same to my children. I was severely depressed (with no meds) at times and I know that I wasn’t there like I should have been. Or wanted to be.
So the gift? Forgiveness. I worked all this out on Monday and talked to her about it on Tuesday afternoon. I asked her forgiveness and gave her mine. I talked about the light and letting it in. I told her I love her. I know she loves me. A gift.

Some poems

Helen and I were sifting through all the lovely letters and pictures Mother has received from the apparently millions of people who love her. In a stack of papers I found a list of Robert Frost's poems. Mother had put check marks besides those she particularly loved. These are the poems. They sound just like her:
The Pasture
The Telephone
The Birches
The Rose Family
A Time to Talk
The Last Word of a Bluebird
A Minor Bird
What Fifty Said

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


A joyous weekend in the face of profound grief: I'm proud and grateful I'm part of a family that can muster that kind of karmically perfect response. I believe Mother could feel the love as much as Daddy did.

She had a new nurse last night. Mother seemed a little huffy about that at first, but she got over it.

The hospice has okayed continuous care for the foreseeable future–great news. Although Mother sleeps most of the time, and hasn't had anything to eat or drink since Saturday, she is not comatose and all her systems have not shut down. Her blood pressure is low but stable, her respiration is within normal range. She purses her lips to give me a kiss and opened both eyes wide when Louise and Bob King came by today. They brought some split pea soup; like everyone, they are concerned about Daddy as well as Mother.

I postponed my flight back to SLC indefinitely.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

And to all a good night

Mother finally drank a half-inch of Coca Cola this afternoon.

I fixed pork chops, squash and tomatoes and salad for dinner for Daddy and me. And we ate a few of Beverly's grape leaves.

Ardis left at 8 and after some discussion, Daddy decided he was more comfortable having a night nurse, too, so Diana is here again. Glen may sleep with Daddy.

She gave Mother the hydromorphone (Dilaudin) and some lorazapam before she went to bed, after she watched about half of Obama's speech and greeted Glen, who arrived about 8: 15. Just mustering the energy to be the happy hostess for a few minutes wore her out. Visits will have to be brief, all right.

Although she did have the energy to tell me to get a bev nap for his Sam Adams. And which drawer they were in.

First things first, Mom!

She received a pile of letters today: another from her "secret angel," and others from Doris, Helen Mary, Jim Frensley and Judy Shackleford, who sent a copy of a picture of Mother serving punch at Judy and Leon's wedding in 1946.


Arrival and beyond...

Mother liked her night nurse very much; she left this morning when the new day nurse, Ardis, came, but she will probably be back when Glen and I leave.

The swelling in Mother's face has subsided, and her lips are a not as puffed up, though they are still red and she's had a little bleeding today.

Sharah came today. And so did Isabel. So Mother and the house are clean.

Mom had a little anxiety attack this morning, so Ardis gave her some lorazopam to calm her.  She is also taking dilaudid instead of morphine; Ardis calls it the "Mercedes" of painkillers. Well, of course.

But Mother has been extremely lethargic today. She rallied a bit this morning to talk to Betsy on the phone, but most of the day she has been sleeping. Really sleeping, not just dozing. We had to wake her up to take her shower and wash her hair. Then she was awake long enough for me to read her some of her fan mail, but not all of it.

She is weaker, Daddy says, but the main change he sees is how sleepy Mother is. And, he says, "I don't like it."

Ardis says she will probably continue to sleep more and more until she slips into unconsciousness.  He, of course, has seen this before. She hasn't eaten or drunk anything all day.

It does not seem like a good sign. Maybe we should toast on Friday night.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Now for a Great Weekend

It's been a roller coaster of a week.

Sunday ended with us planning up a storm for this coming weekend and the arrival of the rest of the family. Two main issues: was Mom going to make it? and how to break the news to Mom about her impending visitors. (She doesn't always take well to surprises unless she's in on the surprise. No surprise!)

Susan called her cousin Debbie who has had a long career in social work most recently in hospice. Debbie can talk about such things, she lost her own father last year. End of life does not always come quickly. As long as the patient is drinking water, urinating, is talking and has reasonably good blood pressure and oxygenation, life can go on for quite a while. Susan's concern was that Polly stay around to visit Mary the following weekend. She called Mary with a report that things seemed marginally stable.

Then I called the apartment to talk to Dad. Of course Mom answered as well, but she was not conversant, a radical change from the previous day. I was left with quite a dismal impression. Michael Malouf visited the same day and did not have an alarming impression as you can read in his comment to the Sunday blog post.

Susan's sister Meg visited Mom Tuesday and had a good visit. She stayed with Mom while Dad went to his rehab class and found her time in Mom's room to be slow, quiet, peaceful and relaxing, much as Susan had found it relaxing Sunday morning. However Mary talked to her yesterday afternoon and had the same alarming reaction that I had had. So much so that she flew down Wednesday, a day earlier than planned.

Mom's nurse was surprised as well by the sudden decline in Mom's condition. She suspected an allergic reaction to the morphine and has switched her to synthetic opiates and a strong dose of benadryl. Mom's skin had become exceedingly dry and her lips were swollen and cracked. Her mouth and throat were inflamed as well, making eating painful as well as difficult. I hope the synthetic works as well as the morphine making her attempts to breathe more comfortable. Jean-Aimee (her nurse) also ordered round the clock nursing as well, so someone will be there besides Dad.

Wednesday I took a long lunch and spent a couple of hours with her and saw the changes for myself. Mom was in good spirits and Dad said she was having a much better day. We had a good visit. Before I left, I asked her if she remembered that Brother Stephen (nee Andrew, Michael's best friend growing up) was being ordained Saturday. "Oh, of course, yes. And you received an invitation!"

"Yes," I said, "Well I think he's going to have a surprise guest."

"You mean Travis is coming up?" (From San Antonio.)

"Well, Travis is coming up, but that's not the surprise I was thinking of."

She looked and me and her eyes got wide. "You mean Michael is coming?"

I nodded. "Yes he and Laura will be here Friday morning."

She closed her eyes, took a breath and said softly, "I'm going to get to see Michael."

And she's going to see Britt who's flying in from Los Angeles. Anna is coming from Salt Lake and Caitlin is coming as well. Mary will get to see the joy on Mom's face when she breaks the news.

It took a chain of 23 emails to get everyone moving on the same page. The big question was whether to come all at once or one at a time. Britt used mathematical notation to express it best: