The Barb Blogs -- in Memory of My Wife, Who Died December 4,
Barb Blog #1 -- The Eulogy
It's natural on such an occasion to look back and recount fond
memories. Barb died of a rare intestinal condition that she
born with, that could have killed her at any time, without any
-- just randomly. So it's amazing that we got to know her and
love her for as long as we did. For me 39 years of marriage,
some of you here 62 years of friendship. Years filled with vivid
memories and continuous quiet love.
But in her last couple days, Barb did some things clearly intended
encourage us to look ahead, not to be paralyzed by the emptiness of
absence, but to find a path forward.
On Wednesday, Barb's heart stopped three times. And three times the
medics got it started again. As she was lying there in the
Emergency Room, and I thought there was still some chance she might
come back -- a slim miraculous chance -- I couldn't help but think
yes, she had died three times, and that if and when she came back,
tales she would tell.
Recalling that now, I realize that she wouldn't talk about her
experience at all. No, she would talk about the people she had
met on the other side and what mattered to them and what they
That's the kind of person she was, she is -- with an innate ability
connect with people, to emphathize, to care. She connected,
deeply, with all of us assembled here, and many others who can't be
here now. She would put our feelings and interests ahead of
own. She'd be there for us when we needed her.
Sitting together on the sofa watching television on Tuesday night,
couldn't have had any clue that she would be dead in twelve
hours. But over the two days before, she had taken a
of uncharacteristic steps that ended up helping those she would be
She finished her Christmas shopping, long before normal for
She designed our Christmas card, which she had always procrastinated
on. More often than not, we sent our card out after
Christmas. And she designed and printed 15 copies of another
as well, one intended to accompany a Christmas gift of a compass.
She had all of the Christmas gifts organized in stacks, gifts for
nearly thirty people. But there was no way to tell what was for
who. That led us on a treasure hunt through her computer files
and through the house, trying to find the list. Which we did
eventually find, tucked in a notebook she never used on a desk she
never used. And with the list, the family who had gathered to
cope with the shock and grief were able to sort the gifts so they
be distributed at the wake, together with the Christmas card.
Only the gifts weren't wrapped. So someone ran to the store to
buy gift bags. And while she was gone, the others found a bag
full of gift bags right there in the room with the gifts.
uncharacteristic of Barb, who always wrapped her Christmas gifts;
just what was needed for this totally unlikely circumstance.
As for the cards about the compass, she had never mentioned them to
me. I found them on her desk after she was dead. The
picture on the front and the basic product description came from
where she bought the physical compasses. But I have no idea
the rest of the text came from. Two related poems not to be
on the Internet -- where most everything can be found. She may
have written them or have seen them somewhere and loved them so much
that she made them hers. And those words were just what I
to help me through that day, and the day after, and that could serve
inspiration for all her friends and relatives. I'd like to
those words with you now:
To Help You Find Your True North
to find north
one must know where south is
to find south
one must be willing to dive
not by sight
but by sound
not by fact
but by mystery
dive ~ dive deep
for therein lies the way
of the spirit
Essential to guide a man's travels,
In journeys o'er sea and the land.
Its needle, a simple reminder
O' the Power inside every man.
If each could only remember,
The Compass of mind is the heart,
So quiet it speaks, if you listen
Love is its passionate art.
Compass roses are little assistance,
Seeking Truth each man must find,
If drive for Success tears the man's heart
He's lost his moral compass of mind.
Barb Blog #2 -- Afterthoughts
Increasingly I'm realizing how very lucky we were. When Barb
appendicitis ten years ago, the doctors had a hard time diagnosing
because her appendix was on the left side instead of the
thought it was appendicitis and said so loudly. But I'm not a
doctor. And the doctors had never seen an appendix on that
side. Her pain came and went. (She had a very high
tolerance for pain). And right before they rolled her away to
an MRI, she wanted to go home, because she thought the problem had
The MRI showed that it was appendicitis, and they did emergency
surgery. The appendix was beginning to rupture as they took it
out. Some toxic material (no one knew how much) leaked into
abdomen. We had to keep watch carefully afterward, in case for
complications. A further delay of less than a minute in doing
that surgery would have probably led to her death. It didn't
real at that time. Death didn't feel real. We just felt
good that she came out okay, that we didn't focus on the fact that
was a very close call.
The doctors explained that her bowel was not firmly attached to the
body. It was "untethered", floating freely. Hence the
appendix wasn't where it was supposed to be. They did not
any further problems from that anomaly, which she was born with.
Then, four years ago, one of our sons had a similar problem --
intestine -- and nearly died from it. We were very fortunate,
probably didn't fully grasp the enormity of the risk.
So this was the third potentially fatal incident, from the same
cause. This was the third time when we needed a hail-mary pass
with just seconds remaining. Only this time it didn't work.
Strangely, that thought makes me feel a little better. (Not
but I'll grasp at anything). The notion that she could have
from this cause at any time, without warning, is abstract,
unreal. But the notion that we were lucky to have her for the
last ten years hits home. For me, those years were the best of
our marriage -- particularly the last three, when she was home and
had much more time together than ever before, and grew much closer
together, and had a hell of a lot of fun together...
Barb Blog #3 -- Calm at the Middle of the Storm
Until smashed in the face with the hammer of death, I thought
acted, naively, as if I and those I love were immortal.
near-death misses felt normal, and death was an unimaginable horror,
that I tried not to think about.
In contrast, Barb understood the pain of loss -- her brother Bobby,
Nana, Papa, and Anne.
Now I understand why she repeatedly, over the years, told me that
wanted to go first.
She understood life and death deeply, at an emotional level
Surprisingly, as she often told me, her favorite movie of all time
the original, 1934, version of "Death Takes a Holiday". (There
was a recent remake called "Meet Joe Black" that she didn't like as
much). As I recall, when Death (a humanlike character) decides (I
forget why) to not let anyone die, that blessing turns out to be a
disaster, with many people mortally ill and in deep pain, lingering
and on. At the end, life and death return to normal.
When death came, without warning, on some unconscious level, she
surprised, and she wasn't afraid. She lay down quietly --
a scream. She relaxed, and the pain went away.
Barb Blog #4 -- Premonition?
On Friday, November 16, the nursing home where my father lives sent
to the hospital (by ambulance) because of swelling in his right leg,
which they (being cautious) thought could have been a sign of a
clot. I was in the emergency room with him from about 10 PM to
about 3 AM. It turned out to be a false alarm. That
incident made me less inclined to go to an emergency room unless I
there was a real problem.
The next day, for reasons unknown, I got a rare urge to to sort
boxes under the eaves, I needed to see if by rearranging or
eliminating unneeded/unwanted stuff, I could make room for other
which was cluttering the upstairs hall. I went through a few
boxes, left behind our kids. I wound up putting together one box of
trash -- not enough to make any difference. At that point, I
found myself suddenly overwhelmed with sadness, like the grief I
now, with wave after wave of uncontrollable tears. At the time
attributed that to sadness at thoughts of good times past ("where
the snows of yesteryear"). But the emotions were far out of
proportion to the event.
It was when carrying that one box down the front stairs to the
and feeling another such surge of sadness, that I lost my balance
fell, spraining my left ankle and right leg. I didn't go to
emergency room. This was recognizable -- something that would
heal on its own over time.
Three weeks later, when hobbling my way to the pulpit to read the
eulogy, it occurred to me that the accidental stagecraft of my limp
made the moment even more poignant and dramatic. My lameness
a tangible/visible tribute to how much she meant to me, and how
and weak I felt without her.
Barb Blog #5 -- Public Health Data and the Importance of
to Determine Causes of Death
Barb died of a twisted intestine, and her son nearly died of a
condition, four years ago. Apparently, there is no record of
another instance of a parent and child both having this rare
condition. Hence the condition is deemed non-hereditary.
According to health statistics, it is extremely rare for the
abnormality to lead to serious problems. But there is no
test to determine if a healthy person has this abnormality; and only
someone suffering from twisted intestines is operated on or if there
an autopsy would anyone ever correctly guess the cause of
If she hadn't been operated on, Barb would have gone down in the
as "heart failure".
Because so few autopsies are performed and those are done mainly in
case of deaths deemed suspicious from a legal viewpoint, our
cause-of-death health data may be very inaccurate. And such
inaccuracy could lead to flawed diagnoses and misguided distribution
health resources and of emphasis is medical education, all of which
could have long-term negative impact on public health.
As an experiment, randomly select some large sample of deaths and
perform autopsies. Compare those results with pre-autopsy
estimates of the cause of death. Based on the discrepancy
extrapolate the overall effect on cause-of-death health
statistics. If the difference is significant, perform more
autopsies to generate even better data. Perhaps mandate that a
certain percentage of all deaths be autopsied -- to further refine
data as an early warning of previously unknown or underestimated
Based on the new data, revise recommended treatments and estimates
risks from various conditions and estimates as to whether various
conditions can be inherited.
I am not a doctor, not a medical researcher. But it seems
that this kind of investment could significantly benefit public
health. It is hard to understand why this hasn't happened yet.
Barb Blog #6 -- Farewell Messages
On the desk in the bedroom, in the same notebook where I found the
Christmas list, I just found a handwritten poem on the first
page. Barb recorded it sometime in 2010). The other pages of
notebook have miscellaneous practical notes and scores of gin rummy
games we played.
Here's the text of the poem:
Miss me, but let me go
When I come to the end of the road
And the sun has set for me,
I want no rites in a gloom filled room!
Why cry for a soul set free!
Miss me a little, but not too long
And not with your head bowed low!
Remember the love that we once shared.
Miss me, but let me go.
For this is a journey we all must take
And each must go alone.
It's all apart of the Master's plan
A step on the road to home.
When you are lonely and sick of heart
Go to the fried, we know
And bury your sorrows in doing good deeds,
Miss me, but let me go.
-- Author unknown
I checked online and found that the poem is by Edgar A. Guest.
You can see it at a site called funeral-poems.net
Another notebook on the same table has just two entries, the address
a friend and the "goals" list below, which is from September 9,
Find what you love to do
Do what you love
Spend time with people you like
Surround yourself with things you like
Be discrete -- don't tell everything!
Tucked in one of the notebooks, on stationery from AED Academy for
Educational Development, Conference Center (probably something she
to for MSH, hence 3+ years old):
1) Pop the cork!
a) Open Mind
b) Tough it out
c) Requires skill and balance
d) Que sera -- sera
This must have been a question with multiple-choice answers from
personality quiz given to participants. But the phrase "pop
cork" and all four definitions seem to match her.