Saturday, September 27, 2014

I’m out in the world now. It feels slightly scary. These people don’t know what happened yesterday. They don’t know that I need them to be nice to me. Most of the people are good. Some are bad. I’ll regain my defenses soon.
Marcella’s dad, Mike, is one of the good ones. I dated his daughter for two-and-a-half years, but I think that, in a way, we were never properly introduced until he heard me sing for her Monday night.
I was dressed in some of my autumn clothes - red corduroys, green socks, my “aerial view of autumn leaves” dress shirt, the brown “Sad Professor” jacket that Marcella bought me. But emotionally, I was naked. I had trouble making it through R.E.M.’s “You Are The Everything.” And for some reason, when I got to their song “Find The River,” I had trouble singing the line, “there is nothing left to throw but ginger, lemon, indigo, coriander stem, and rose of hay.” I don’t even know what that MEANS! There’s just something about Michael’s voice.
I think that, along with my friend Nick, I was able to transform the room a little bit with my voice. I saw a lot of tears in the eyes of the gathered family members, but it felt OK. It was a good time to cry.
It was a two-part concert. Let’s retroactively call it an “early show” and a “late show.” My good friend Righteous Jolly drove me to the hospice facility in the morning. We shared some ideas about love, life, creativity, and success on the way there. He entered the room, perhaps not knowing what to expect, and immediately rose to the occasion, charming the faces off of everyone present.
He told an Italian-themed joke that he’d texted to Marcella The Great (as she appears in his address book) about two weeks earlier, as well as her response: “you’re a funny character, my friend.” He delighted everyone just by being himself.
We proceeded to perform three Irish folk songs - “Easy And Slow,” “Black Velvet Band,” and “The Leaving Of Liverpool” (which we perform as “The Leaving Of Tullytown”). The room was full of people, luggage, snacks, and medical equipment, but was somehow very acoustically resonant. My guitar was tuned a little lower than usual and we took the opportunity to focus more on creating beautiful harmonies than on projecting our voices. I felt that we connected - to the music, to the family, to the beautiful girl silently resting in the middle of the room.
Righteous had to meet Joe Trainor in Delaware, so he gave us one last gift; an a capella performance. I knelt to the ground, closed my eyes, and put my hands on Marcella.
Ya know, one of the first times I connected with Marcella was at a St. Patrick’s Day show I was performing with Righteous and other pals. She would’ve heard this song that night. I remember an emotionally raw moment in which I looked into her eyes from up on the stage and thought, “who are you and what do you want from me?”
Here are the words to “The Parting Glass”:
“of all the money that e’er I spent 
I’ve spent it in good company 
and all the harm that ever I did 
alas it was to none but me 
and all I’ve done for want of wit 
to memory now I can’t recall 
so fill to me the parting glass 
good night and joy be with you all
oh, all the comrades that e’er I had 
they’re sorry for my going away 
and all the sweethearts that e’er I had 
they’d wish me one more day to stay 
but since it falls unto my lot 
that I should rise and you should not 
I’ll gently rise and softly call 
good night and joy be with you all”
I found myself in adulthood with a pretty hard outer shell. A free spirit from a working-class town. A child from a single-parent household in the judgmental environment of Catholic school. Owner and operator of a body with a variety of kinks, some painful. I was different in a lot of places where sameness was celebrated. I’m proud of growing into a complex guy who accepts the good with the bad and has a special place in his heart for underdogs. For anyone suffering. I’m not necessarily proud of the rough outer shell, though.
It is not impenetrable, though. Marcella got through. You can bet your ass that Righteous’s performance did. It brought out tears from my deepest reserves. Top-shelf, $9,000-a-bottle tears.
Righteous said goodbye to the grieving, grateful family and made his way into the hallway. Another resident’s “special transport” was about to take place, so he quickly made his way to an elevator after I hugged him and told him I loved him.
It might read more like a movie than the events of an otherwise typical Monday in Center City Philadelphia. It was real life, but certainly felt cinematic. Who better to co-star in one of my life’s most dramatic moments than one of my most talented actor friends?
I texted him some thoughts - told him the family spent a good hour talking about how transformative his energy was, I told him how meaningful his performance was to me. But, most importantly, I told him that he made Cleo, Marcella’s mom, happy.
Not long after Righteous left, I got a text from another singing partner - Nick Crocker. I’d had in mind to invite him to come sing with me, but before I had a chance to ask him, he asked me. He didn’t have a particular reason to think today would be the perfect day; his instincts just led him to it.
While I waited, I jotted down some song ideas on my hand, loaded up the lyrics to some songs I’d never sung before, and warmed up by singing her Neil Young’s song “Feel Your Love.” I took a photo of my hand in a makeup mirror to remind myself that I can still do some work that could have an impact.
Nick walked into the room as bright and bald as the afternoon sun. He charmed everyone with stories of his Italian relatives, the derivation of his family name, and marveled at the resemblance of Marcella’s older relatives to his own. He smiled his infectious smile.
We played them “(All I Have To Do Is) Dream” in our best two-part harmony. Then I loaded up some lyrics and sang “Across The Universe” for the first time in my life. I was next to Aunt Laura and could see that she was instantly moved by the selection. It reminded me of a time when Marcella sat at her family’s piano with me while I played my song “Imagination 2001.” She was moved to tears just from hearing the piano intro. Sometimes, the melodies alone can grab you by the heart.
While I tried to think of some more tunes, Crocker took the reins and sang a few - “And I Love Her,” “Oh, My Love,” “Give Me A Kiss To Build A Dream On,” “You’re Just Too Good To Be True.” He suggested I sing Neil Young’s “Sail Away.” While I sang, I thought of the impressive amount of time Marcella and I spent traveling. I sang “I Am A Child” and thought of her kind, strong dad. “I gave to you/now you give to me.”
Someone suggested “Harvest Moon.” I didn’t realize at the time that September 22 was the night of the harvest moon. Marcella came from the summer but was an autumn girl at heart. I remember whispering to her, “you made it to fall. Welcome.”
I played some lead guitar while Nick sang “Into The Mystic,” then I borrowed songs from The Big O and The Byrds - “Blue Bayou” and “Goin’ Back.” I’d never played them before, but I gave ‘em my all. Aunt Laura reminded me how much Marcella liked my songs, so I played “Unseasonable Sunrays” and “Do You Think She’d Mind?”
Every time I’d glance around the room, I saw an attentive, teary-eyed audience. Marcella’s parents and siblings were there, aunts, cousins, friends. Other guests filtered in, including a priest who blessed Marcella while I played.
After “You Are The Everything” and “Find The River,” I knew I’d given all I could give. Like true entertainers, we left on a high note. The family gave thanks to Nick and I. I left my guitar, thinking I’d return later that night.
Nick and I made our way to Ralph’s Italian Restaurant with his daughter. I was happy to have a night out on the town with great food and great conversation, but also carried with me a heaviness, a darkness. The music pried open my heart and left it open wide. I could feel all of the love of family and friends, but also all of the horrific sadness of seeing my girl in some strange netherworld between life and death. The presence of these positive, spiritually-attuned friends helped me stay in a progressive - if heavy - state of mind.
Nick offered me a ride home. I accepted his kind offer and texted the family to say I’d see them tomorrow. I knew that I gave Marcella all of my spirit as I sang to her, so I was comfortable going home for a night of sleep.
Over these seven months, I’d occasionally catch myself falling into dread. Dreading different moments of her health struggle. Trying to plan my navigation through days that were still months away. Throughout the course of her illness, I learned to silence that part of myself. To spend more time in the moment. To not overthink the future so much that I miss the present. Besides, my pal Jenni reasoned, the big moments will NEVER be exactly how you think they’ll be.
“Stella started pulling me in a different direction in the backyard than she had before. She was taking me around that cherry tree. It was like she was running with someone.”
“My body felt so warm and I instantly smiled. Thank you for letting me know you were okay. I needed that.”
I got the phone call at 9:19 AM. I was in shock and I understood that. I pushed my body through the motions of getting dressed, eating food, drinking water, and finding someone to accompany me. I put on a nice outfit - elements of which had been added to my wardrobe by Marcella - and headed to Philadelphia with my sister Pam. I am lucky to have a good selection of people I would’ve felt comfortable spending the day with. Pam represents my past, my present, and also - waiting in her big belly - the future.
The most difficult steps were the ones immediately after the elevator door opened. I imagine I’d been operating at half-speed up to that point. As we entered the sixth floor, I probably walked the way I do in a swimming pool. I had faith that spending time with her family would make the day bearable, though, so I just kept pushing myself.
Cleo and I both look good in black. We were dressed for mourning, but not wearing anything we wouldn’t wear on a regular day. We hugged for a long time. All of us, actually. They’re Italian, remember?
I got the sense that everyone was more connected than ever before; Marcella had given us that extra week of herself and that was a lot of time for people to share meals, anecdotes, jokes. Who knew that Marcella’s dad had traveled to Woodstock in a VW bus? Not me. Some of the quiet ones have the best stories.
Her dad and I had a nice rapport with each other, but had essentially been two quiet men being quiet near one another. This morning, however, he opened up to me, thanking me for giving Marcella the gift of music, advising me to keep being me and to not let any of the bad people affect me as I pursue my fortunes. I have to imagine that Marcella observed the moment when her dad and her guy had a soul connection and shared a big hug.
Another moment that stopped me in my tracks was when I learned that I’d unknowingly had a presence at the moment of Marcella’s ascent. Unbeknownst to me, her sister Daniela recorded the bedside concert we performed Monday night on her phone. The next morning, she was playing back the recordings for Marcella. My guitar was still in the corner of the room and my voice was still in the air. I was the soundtrack as she made her way out of her body. I can barely comprehend how great an honor that is. Thanks, Daniela.
When Auntie Donna got the news, she was looking at the awe-inspiring view from Indian Rocks at Delaware Water Gap. She was at peace.
“I was asking her to let me know if she was okay. The picture of the kids came flying off and fell on the dresser. See how it is tucked behind the other one in the picture? I definitely felt her. She can hear us!”
I have a lot more to tell you.

Monday, September 22, 2014

There’s a little black boy going room-to-room, peeking in and saying “hi!” to anyone who makes eye contact. We love him. I’m back in Quiet Room and I can hear him in the next room playing games on a computer and talking on a cell phone. “WHO DIS?!?” I have to imagine that he lingered outside Marcella’s door for a moment or two while I played her a 45-minute bedside concert.
I played my songs “Knit Hat Girl” and “lets make folk babies,” Neil Young’s “Silver And Gold” and “Razor Love,” The Everly Brothers’ “Crying In The Rain,” “Long Time Gone,” and “When Snowflakes Fall In The Summer,” and R.E.M.’s “Suspicion,” “Sad Professor,” “Electrolite,” “The Lifting,” and “I’ve Been High.”
I played part of my concert in the bathroom that connects to the room. It sounds huge in there. I figured her eyes were closed anyway so I’d go where the good sound is. I wasn’t sure if she was listening, but I just kept going. It had been a while since I put everything else down and just played a bunch of songs off-the-cuff.
The first moments always feel like the first time. Like stepping into a pool and not being sure if the water will be warm, or if I can even swim. Before long, I’m swimming and I can barely remember life on the ground. Phil Everly said he thought of music like a river. Nobody owns it, but we can all flow down it.
Grieving seems cyclical for me. Today, I’m tired of heartache. Tears depleted. The pendulum has swung. Now, I’m reading a lot. Making plans for recording music. I’m in Me Mode.
I missed my train so I have a bit of time to observe Suburban Station. I think the man sitting across from me with a similarly well-dressed woman is an MSNBC anchor.
During the train ride here, a man named Fran sat down next to my guitar and I and decided to strike up a conversation. He got on the train in Bristol. I’d gotten on in Tullytown, just one stop earlier, but my appearance had him convinced I was from New York City. Fran is a recovering alcoholic with twenty-two years of sobriety. He has the exuberance and lust for life that I’m drawn to in Craig Ferguson. I was craving the silent meditation of a train ride, but I remembered “there’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be” and entered the moment.
I’m beginning to feel like a guy with a story. To quote my ex-girlfriend Megan, “I’ve LIVED.” I told Fran some of my story and he told me some of his. He told me he is a Buddhist. He told me he believes our life in the waking state is almost as much of a dream as our life in the dreaming state. He believes Marcella’s energy will be with me even after she’s not in a body.
Aunt Laura and I ate lunch together. We reflected on the difficult week we’d had. She shared an anecdote about Marcella taking her to her favorite tree. I told her I thought Marcella might have photographed me laying under it once. We both shared super-dark, morbid jokes that Marcella told us post-diagnosis. We agreed that we didn’t know if they were tragic or hilarious. Then we laughed. I guess that’s what survivors do.
I walked past some beautiful stained-glass windows glowing into the evening air on Lombard Street and I reflected on death and people’s attitudes about it. Humor seems to be one way to tell death you’re not afraid of it. I titled my recent self-portrait “first let me take a hospice selfie.”
Fran and I talked about the way that you have to open yourself up enough to feel true pain if you want to feel real joy. Not bad for a conversation with a stranger on a train, right? Plus, they somehow forgot to ask me to buy a train ticket.
The next morning, I emerged from the underground under grey skies in a sketchy part of town and had no idea how to find the subway. I had an urge to tell the world how angry I was that the conductor made me get off the train four miles from my destination because I was $2 short, but I remembered that I hadn’t told the world how HAPPY I’d been about the previous day’s POSITIVE transit experience. Immediately after having that realization - as in, during the precise moment when I could’ve been whining on social media to the benefit of no one - I noticed a beautiful scene I wanted to photograph. The exercise in positive thinking continued as I entered the appealingly decrepit subway station and found something to photograph in practically every corner. Twentieth century mass transit artifacts withering away in 2014. My camera ate it up.
I hadn’t planned to be here today, but I got the word that there are signs it could be the last day. I can report to you that the mood is as heavy as you’d think it would be, but that there is also much more laughter than you might expect. Whitney is telling stories of her college days with Marcella. One of the family members is fighting off accusations of being a loud snorer. We’re taking turns telling stories of Marcella’s stubbornness.
She had a post-diagnosis birthday party. The house was FULL of people. There were mountains of food everywhere, including an entire room of dessert. She asked if there was any french onion dip. She was astonished that there wasn’t and DEMANDED it be purchased immediately! It was perhaps the only food available in North America - or Italy - that was not already at the party.
Whitney said Marcella wouldn’t let anyone sing along to Andrew McMahon songs on her car radio because she didn’t want anyone to ruin them. It was her time alone with Andrew. We played her some of his songs on her iPad today.
Her mom, Cleo, spoke of the endless reserves of energy Marcella would tap into when she wanted to get her way. Absolutely NO backing down, EVER. Her other kids would eventually acquiesce. She wouldn’t. I told her I saw that side of her when I spent three months being wishy-washy about getting into a formal relationship. She decided she was gonna have me and she got me. I imagine my stubbornness drove her out of her mind at times. I suppose she met her match.
The unexpected hug from out-of-the-blue on Tuesday night could prove to be our last interaction. I told her I was about to leave to catch a train and she reached out as if to say “no, no, no!” It was followed by our last reciprocated kiss. So far. I will go into the future and see what happens there.
I’ve been fortunate to have made it here five of the past six days. I am finally cancelling rehearsals, gigs, nights out with friends. I maintained a balance for the first seven months. Things are different now.
It’s a long goodbye. More than half a year so far. What kind of goodbye is best? A lot of people got to tell her how they felt about her and that she heard them loud and clear. That’s huge. New memories were made. She’s probably already inspired thousands of people with her braveness. She’s raised about $35,000 to research the rare disease that disrupted her life so many times.
Cleo told a story of Marcella as a six-year-old. They have a gorgeous, acoustically vibrant foyer. Marcella’s bedroom was to the left on the second floor, her parents’ bedroom was directly across. Both had Juliet windows facing the foyer. One night, she finally had enough of her dad’s snoring so she marched into the bedroom and screamed at her mom, “TELL YOUR HUSBAND TO SHUT… UP!!!” She always got what she wanted.
One day, while giving her a wheelchair ride around her family’s long, winding driveway, I wrote my most terrible song ever. I sang this into her ear today. It’s so terrible that I was hoping it would cause her to regain full consciousness and slap me. Didn’t work. But I tried. It’s meant to be sung by Ini Kamoze.
CHELLA CHELLA CHELLA/CHELLA CHELLA CHELLA/CHELLA CHELLA CHELLA’S/GOT A DOGGY NAMED STELLA/STELLA STELLA STELLA/STELLA STELLA STELLA/CHELLA CHELLA CHELLA/GOT A SISTER NAMED DANIELA/‘IELA ‘IELA ‘IELA/‘IELA ‘IELA ‘IELA/GO TELL ALL THE FELLAS/IT’S CHELLA CHELLA CHELLA/I’M JUST TRYIN’A TELL YA/IT’S CHELLA CHELLA CHELLA
She didn’t respond. I don’t just mean tonight; I mean last month when she WAS speaking. It’s that bad. Maybe her lack of speech is a protest against that song?
I could have stayed at the facility, but I opted to come home so I could take a shower, floss, say hello to my cats, put some money in the bank. I’ve had one Dogfish Head Namaste beer in my fridge for about two weeks. I think this is a time for sobriety. The mind has a way of slowing itself down during times of grief, anyway. I’m giving myself the full experience. It’s a sad situation but it’s also a opportunity to get a crash course in parts of the human experience that I don’t really know about. I want to learn more about life by learning more about death; the only thing, I remind myself, that EVERYONE will do.
My friend Righteous Jolly reminds me, “it will be past tense, but what you express won’t.” I am writing a lot lately for my own well-being. Other people have been responding positively and it’s a great thrill. To my amazement, through my writing, I’ve impacted other people going through crises and helped them with their own grieving process. I don’t know what to make of that yet. Maybe I have been writing a book this whole time?
I’ve gotten into the habit of talking to Marcella as if she’s listening. It’s conceivable that she is. I tell her about the walks I take around the city. The photos I take. I told her I treated myself to some medicine of my own - gummy bears.
I felt a little sick to my stomach as I thought about leaving for the night, so I tried to think of something to say, in addition to “I love you” that would be an acceptable final message to her, just in case.
I told her, “you made me a better person” and kissed her on the head.

Friday, September 19, 2014

I just took a walk around the emergency floor. I don’t understand how someone can have the constitution to be an ER nurse. I don’t get it. But I’m glad they’re here.
I got some texts that scared the hell out of me so I raced here to St. Mary’s. Her immediate family and some friends were surrounding her bedside. I had just been watching The Roosevelts with Jamal and Tater Tot. I’d even dozed off a few times. But when I saw the number six, I knew the evening had changed. During my hurried drive to the hospital, I recalled that I’d recently taken a picture of a set of die displaying the number six on Marcella’s patio table. As I took the picture, I thought, “I bet six will mean something to me soon.”
Her aunt told me “this could be it.” I walked out of the house into a beautiful, late summer evening. Everything looked the same but somehow fake. 
A priest came in to do last rites. I didn’t know who called him and I didn’t know if he knew anything I didn’t about her chances of making it through the night. I hugged her mom very tight while he prayed. 
I started to wonder whether or not I could take the stress of the evening. My thoughts began to race. I tapped the brakes by telling myself, “just breathe.” I looked at the ground and focused on the rhythm of my breath. 
Once I knew I was stable, I focused on trying to connect with her. I tried everything I could think of. Squeezing her hand, singing into her ear, looking into her eyes and smiling. 
Suddenly, hours had passed. She was stable but not speaking. I looked into her eyes again and said, with blind optimism, “remember to wave at that priest on your way out of the hospital.”
Her Aunt Laura shared a story with me. That afternoon, she asked her where she would be if she could be anywhere in the world. She said she wanted to be in Chapel Hill with Laura and me. She said we’d probably “have to” go to a coffee shop first, as I’d demand it. She laughed, apparently for the first time in a while. “Then he would drag us to a vinyl store.” She smiled, apparently for the first time in a while. 
I am loved. A lot. 
It is the next day. I can feel that last night was full of moments that I will have with me for the rest of my life. Terror, sadness, but also another vivid reminder that the human animal is capable of so much strength. We can take on so much more than we’d think we can. Yes, a part of me started to panic. But we have the ability to pause and take control. Somehow, I experienced that evening, safely drove home (well, after getting lost in the hospital for twenty minutes), and allowed Jon Stewart’s humor to ease me to sleep. 
The next day, I tried to tag along on a thrift store journey my mom and sister were undertaking, but I just couldn’t handle being out in the world. I needed to stay seated and limit my time talking to people. I was beginning to grieve and I instinctively gave myself the space to do it. 
I can’t imagine what Marcella was thinking as a priest came in to pray for her soul. I probably won’t ask. It is terribly sad to contemplate, but it’s no less true that she is on better drugs than any of your college friends - 24/7 - and could conceivably be in less pain than anyone around her. 
It is the next day. I am in a room labeled Quiet Room. It largely lives up to its name. I can hear Steve Harvey Steve Harveying down the hallway, but only a little bit. I’m pointing my exhausted stare at Center City Philadelphia’s big, blue skyscrapers. I can’t tell you the name of these buildings; I’m from out-of-town. I like them. They remind me of being a little kid and returning home from a trip.
I’d been staring at them for about ten minutes before I realized that the relatively small, concrete-colored high-rise in front of them has a team of two men dangling from it. I am trying to decide if they’re window washers, creeps from TMZ, or Spiderman’s understudies. I want to go to Marcella’s room and get my camera, but some part of my psyche needs me to be still and passively gaze at a huge city that needs nothing from me.
I’ve taken on a lot in the past forty-eight hours. Not nearly as much as her, though. 
Every once in a while, even in the first month I knew her, she would break down and cry at the thought of her cancer returning. She feared I would leave if it did. After all, she’d met a guy who was looking to date casually, unprepared for a commitment, and not afraid to tell her so. My house had burned down the week before we met and my Dad had suffered a series of strokes just weeks before that. My goals in dating were not the most high-minded ones. I just wanted to let off some steam, not risk adding something new to my life that I might lose.
She mentioned cancer on the first date. It says a lot about her that she took the risk of immediately warning me that things could go terribly wrong. It must have been very difficult to let down her guard for me, but when she did, I think she was hooked. I didn’t fully comprehend how lucky that made me. We’d go to one of our favorite restaurants, walk around Newtown, get a cup of tea. Hand-in-hand. She made everything seem OK. I was the luckiest guy in the world.
We basically had one good year. We didn’t know it was a good year at the time. It was actually pretty damn hard. But we both had our health. Health is huge.
I emailed her on a dating website because she was creative, pretty, and she was wearing a white fedora. I think I kept it simple and said “nice hat.” Simple works. We met at the Starbucks near her house. She was curvy but concealed. Dressed exactly like herself. Enough hair to make a very comfortable pillow if you really needed to. Enough funky, layered fabrics to make some classy pillowcases and comforters if you really needed to. 
Comforter. That was her. I thought I wanted fun minus love. I ended up getting both.
I said “that ‘was’ her.” That’s misleading. Over the past two days, the total amount of communication she gave me was one squeeze of the hand. That’s it. No words. I don’t even remember if she kissed me back when I was on my way out last night. But I still felt a warmth in my heart because I was with her. So, now you could say it’s love minus fun. The opposite of what I thought I wanted. No travel. No sex. No humor. Literally ONLY love. Love and only love.
She did kiss me back on Tuesday. It caught me by surprise. She seemed to become agitated when I said I was leaving. I stayed for a few more hours just in case that’s what she wanted. I drew a little post-it note doodle of us and left it at the foot of her bed. She, the little short-purple-haired lady, me the overgrown beatnik.
Prior to this week, all of the changes that occurred were gradual. One thing at a time. She CHOSE the moment to shave her hair off. She CHOSE to dye it purple. She decided she would spend her time painting. She started using a wheelchair, but SOME walking was possible. With Monday’s rapid succession of seizures, she lost her ability to communicate with ease. We’ve just gotten a few words all week. Over these seven months, I’ve cried my face off, I’ve had moments of shock, moments of grieving. 
This is different. She’s in there but I can’t reach her. To imagine that she’s conscious of everyone’s presence but can’t access the ability to speak hurts me deeply. It might improve. I have to be ready for the possibility that it won’t. Either way, I imagine I will leave this chapter of my life with a radically changed appreciation for many easy-to-take-for-granted elements of the human condition. Certainly communication. 
In the meantime, I decided I would sing and play for her. It is my superpower; the one thing I can do that no one else in her circle can. It’s also something I can do that doesn’t require her to be anything but a listener. I played her some of Robyn Hitchcock’s most beautiful songs - “Heliotrope,” “Full Moon In My Soul,” “Raymond Chandler Evening,” and “Alright, Yeah.” No applause but it’s OK - I already know she likes my voice.
This place is gorgeous. It’s a hospice facility and apparently the best one in the region. Two days ago, I was fascinated by the job of ER nurses, the idea that catastrophic medical events are a NORMAL part of your day. Today, I am fascinated by people who work in hospice facility, a place where death is the expected end result for every resident. 
It is the next day. I keep saying that because it feels like it’s been the same day since Monday. On some level, I’m getting used to this new normal. Once I’m off Philadelphia’s horrendous highways, I enjoy being downtown on foot a lot. We are right across the street from OCF Coffee House, a cafĂ© so progressive that I almost feel wrong being heterosexual. As I stopped in for a latte and a snack, I realized there were an equal amount of people and dogs there. Perfect. I try to read a little of the Leadbelly biography but I’m having trouble focusing. 
I go back to the facility and see Stella The Dog, accompanied by Marcella’s sister and her friend Julia. The ever-restless Stella lets us know she wants to go outside again, so we walk back to Lombard Street. Stella moves down the sidewalk at about an inch per minute, apparently overwhelmed by the variety of piss on every tree, bush, sign post, and curb. The world is suddenly much bigger to Stella, but she’s still only seen about two roads in her life. 
Stella was born in Wisconsin on Valentine’s Day 2014. Stella doesn’t know it, but she is a therapy dog. As she entered the world, Marcella and I were at Blue Sage, her favorite restaurant, and she was experiencing the beginning of the pain of her tumor. She was having trouble reading the menu. She ordered something, practically at random, and was ultimately unable to eat it. I was aggravated that we were having such a hard time connecting. I didn’t understand why I had to read the menu to her. I sometimes feel a twinge of guilt about that, but I remind myself that I had no way of knowing what was happening to her. When we were back at my home and we realized her pain wasn’t subsiding, I tried my best to massage the pain away. It didn’t work. 
Now, it’s September. Seven months into “six to twelve months.” It’s an honor to be part of her life as she fights her final battle. 
Aunt Laura said, “there are blessings we are given in life and this is one of them. It was shorter than we would have ever wanted, but it’s a blessing just the same.”