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
was born with, that could have killed her at any time, without any
trigger -- 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, for 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
to encourage us to look ahead, not to be paralyzed by the emptiness
of her 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
that yes, she had died three times, and that if and when she came
back, what 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
to 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
her own. She'd be there for us when we needed her.
Sitting together on the sofa watching television on Tuesday night,
she couldn't have had any clue that she would be dead in twelve
hours. But over the two days before, she had taken a
series of uncharacteristic steps that ended up helping those
she would be leaving behind.
She finished her Christmas shopping, long before normal for
her. 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 card as well, one intended to accompany a Christmas gift of
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
could 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.
Totally uncharacteristic of Barb, who always wrapped her Christmas
gifts; but just what was needed for this totally unlikely
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
Amazon where she bought the physical compasses. But I have no
idea where the rest of the text came from. Two related poems
not to be found 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 needed to help me through that day, and the
day after, and that could serve as inspiration for all her friends
and relatives. I'd like to share 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
had appendicitis ten years ago, the doctors had a hard time
diagnosing her because her appendix was on the left side instead of
the right. I 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 get an MRI, she wanted to go home, because
she thought the problem had gone away.
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
her 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 feel real at that time. Death didn't feel real.
We just felt so good that she came out okay, that we didn't focus on
the fact that it 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
expect any further problems from that anomaly, which she was born
Then, four years ago, one of our sons had a similar problem --
twisted intestine -- and nearly died from it. We were very
fortunate, but probably didn't fully grasp the enormity of the risk.
So this was the third potentially fatal incident, from the same
basic cause. This was the third time when we needed a
hail-mary pass with just seconds remaining. Only this time it
Strangely, that thought makes me feel a little better. (Not
much, but I'll grasp at anything). The notion that she could
have died 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
we 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
and acted, naively, as if I and those I love were immortal.
Surviving 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
she 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
was 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 on and on. At the end, life and death return
When death came, without warning, on some unconscious level, she
wasn't surprised, and she wasn't afraid. She lay down quietly
-- without 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
him to the hospital (by ambulance) because of swelling in his right
leg, which they (being cautious) thought could have been a sign of a
blood 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 knew there was a real problem.
The next day, for reasons unknown, I got a rare urge to to sort
through boxes under the eaves, I needed to see if by
rearranging or eliminating unneeded/unwanted stuff, I could make
room for other stuff, which was cluttering the upstairs hall.
I went through a few old 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 feel now, with wave after wave of
uncontrollable tears. At the time I attributed that to sadness
at thoughts of good times past ("where are the snows of
yesteryear"). But the emotions were far out of proportion to
It was when carrying that one box down the front stairs to the
trash, and feeling another such surge of sadness, that I lost my
balance and fell, spraining my left ankle and right leg. I
didn't go to the 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
was a tangible/visible tribute to how much she meant to me, and how
empty and weak I felt without her.
Barb Blog #5 -- Public Health Data and the Importance of
Autopsies to Determine Causes of Death
Barb died of a twisted intestine, and her son nearly died of a
similar 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
underlying abnormality to lead to serious problems. But there
is no simple test to determine if a healthy person has this
abnormality; and only if someone suffering from twisted intestines
is operated on or if there is an autopsy would anyone ever correctly
guess the cause of death. If she hadn't been operated on, Barb
would have gone down in the stats as "heart failure".
Because so few autopsies are performed and those are done mainly in
the 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
of 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
found, 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
the data as an early warning of previously unknown or underestimated
Based on the new data, revise recommended treatments and estimates
of 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
obvious that this kind of investment could significantly benefit
public health. It is hard to understand why this hasn't
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
the 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.
I checked online and found that the poem is by Christina Rossetti.
You can see it at a site called funeral-poems.net
Another notebook on the same table has just two entries, the address
of 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
went 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
some a personality quiz given to participants. But the phrase
"pop the cork" and all four definitions seem to match her.