#BeatTheHeatIn4Words

The trending hashtag today on Twitter is #BeatTheHeatIn4Words. It is wrong that I instantly thought of Dairy Queen? My 4-word suggestion: Dairy Queen Turtle Sundae. This is part of DQ’s “hidden menu.” I think it used to be on their regular menu, but ever since this confusing Dairy Queen-Orange Julius merger, things have gotten a little weird. But whenever I think of caramel, whipped cream and hot fudge, I instantly think of the Sister Wives.

You see, the Sister Wives and I made a commitment to each other long ago. Our lifetime of depriving ourselves of hot fudge and caramel sundaes in the name of chasing junior-sized clothing will officially end once any one of us is on our deathbed. When we’re ready to take that final dirt nap, we’ve all committed to each other that at least three of us will be administering hot fudge, caramel and whipped cream in one final, delicious cornucopia of calories, gently poured down the throat of the dying Sister Wife in a flavorful fare-thee-well.

Death by dessert.

Proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

 

It’s only fitting (since our clothes are fitting, due to extreme dessert deprivation). The only discrepancy will be Sister Wife Heather, who confounds me. You see, she doesn’t like whipping cream. (I’m saddened, just thinking of all the fun she must have missed in college…).

There used to be a really great series on Showtime called “HUFF,” starring Hank Azaria, Blythe Danner and Oliver Platt. Blythe played this salty, sassy, aging mother. One of her card-playing friends was on her death bed after a major stroke, so Blythe gathered up her remaining friends, went to the hospital and administered the final solution out of mercy for her friend. That touching scene, and that act of friendship, has haunted me since I first saw it. This was well before I ever knew the Sister Wives.

Call us morbid, but we discuss and refine this final chapter of our lives ad nauseam. We plot our final move to Oregon with the same level of care and detail that some folks put into planning their family vacations. The last time we were together, Heather sought my reassurance that I’d be okay with generic whipping cream. She was concerned that if mine was a sudden, imminent death, she might only have time to do rushed shopping in a gas station or 7-11 on her race to the hospital. I acquiesced. I might be so drugged up as to not be able to taste the difference at that point. I also agreed to Cool Whip, if things got really desperate. Hopefully, she remembers to pack a large spoon.

The Sister Wives’ annual “glamping” trip is coming up shortly. (Glamping involves air conditioned, fully furnished housing with cable TV in a campground setting.) I’ve drawn up the legal documents, and I’ve already identified the notary in Baraboo, Wisconsin. When it comes to these kinds of commitments, we Sister Wives are. dead. serious.

Speaking in Shorthand

My cousin Jeff and I share the language of shorthand, born of years together appreciating the same pop culture, inside family jokes, and death-defying adventures, the latter involving my ’73 Cadillac. When we’re together in person, a shared glance speaks volumes. We’re fluent in reading each other’s micro-expressions. There were times we’ve shared the same the brain in ways that were downright eerie, like the time Jeff’s dad, my Uncle Mick, died in an ultralight plane crash. Within a few month’s time of his passing, I had a vivid dream that Uncle Mick was in between Jeff and me, and we were all holding hands, walking over the border from Illinois into Wisconsin. I have this weird affinity for remembering my dreams every morning, but when someone passes over and I have these super-vivid dreams, they are different from my regular dreams. I know I’m supposed to pay attention. I called Jeff’s house to tell him about my dream and his roommate Kelly answered the phone. I told her about it and she freaked out. Jeff had just regaled her with the story of the very same dream from the night before. And then there was the time we were playing Scattergories (we’re a competitive, game-playing family–Jeff was part of that marathon Euchre match I mentioned recently) and we both were tasked with naming a villain with the first letter “I.” We both wrote down “Injun’ Joe,” surprising everyone with our weird groupthink.

When anything funny bubbles up in everyday life, and it often does, as we both see the comedy in everything, Jeff and I shoot each other a fast text. Aside from Blazing Saddles and Throw Momma from the Train, Chris Farley-isms are our oft-quoted go-to phrases. If you’ve never seen SNL’s “Best of Chris Farley” DVD, it’s a must for any comedy collection. (And the recent Chris Farley biography, “The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts” co-written by his brother Tom, is a must-read. For me, it was a gripping, emotional roller coaster of laughter and tears.)

Such an unforgettable life of comedy and pathos.

Such an unforgettable life of comedy and pathos. I’m always thankful to my BFF Darlene for loaning me this book.

The first text today from Jeff (the 2nd text was not for mixed company, so I won’t poke the bear) gives a snapshot of our never-ending conversation, replete with the reference to Farley and Sandler’s Zagat’s Restaurant Guide skit on Saturday Night Live:

 

This scene doubles me over. Every. Time.

This scene doubles me over. Every. Time.

The shorthand of our shared language in a never-ending conversation.

The shorthand of our shared language; it’s a Jerry Seinfeld-esque, never-ending conversation about nothing, but it means everything to me.

 

It takes just a moment out of your day–maybe five seconds–to send a text and show someone you care. If there’s a takeaway from today’s blog, it’s just a reminder for everyone to take the time. Send that text. Jeff and I both learned that hard lesson the day of that devastating ultralight crash. Life’s too short.

RIP, Christopher… “Like Pieces of Glass in My Head All of the Time…”

The last image taken of Christopher, holding his new niece.

The last image taken of Christopher, holding his new niece.

I wave the white flag. I cry “Uncle!” I can bear no more losses this year. There’s been too much death. (In a future blog, when I’m feeling ready to talk about it, I will share the story of my bio-mom’s death in March of this year. That, too, was heartbreak.)

If there were any way I could take away the pain Darlene, my BFF since kindergarten, is feeling, I would. Her heart is broken. In a million pieces.

My BFF since kindergarten, my beautiful friend Darlene, and her beautiful son.

My BFF since kindergarten, my beautiful friend Darlene, and her beautiful son, gone too soon.

Here is a link to the eulogy she wrote, and below is the funeral program I wrote for her son Christopher. While one of the saddest assignments I’ve ever received, it was also the greatest honor and privilege that they entrusted me–the irreverent friend who attempted slipping a “There Once Was a Man from Nantucket” poem into my own wedding ceremony–to do this for them. (Darlene was my official photographer that day.)

So…here it is:

Christopher Ryan Nauman grew to become a big man with an even bigger heart. In fact, he had one of the biggest, most loving hearts many of us ever knew. Like John Coffey, the character he loved so in The Green Mile, Christopher lived his life vibrating on a different frequency than the rest of us…feeling things more deeply and intensely than we could ever possibly understand. He was God’s instrument, so sensitive and finely tuned…so fragile inside of a body seemingly so sturdy and strong.

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There was never a doubt of Chris’s deep, abiding love for his family and his friends, which knew no bounds. He was loyal to a fault. There were times in his life when those who would prey on loving souls mistook his kindness for weakness. But that was not Chris’s journey. He continued being kind, overlooking their faults.

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From the time Chris was small, his love for children was obvious to anyone near him. He relished his time with every one of the children in his orbit—Riley, Mazie, Colbie, Teagan—protective and clearly smitten, always playing with the little ones and loving on the babies.

Chris was blessed in being raised with family who always saw the essence of who Chris truly was, despite the challenges he faced; they saw the true potential in his God-given gifts. They nurtured his love for reading, feeding him on westerns by Louis L’Amour, adventures by Clive Cussler, and the diverse fiction of Stephen King, informing his vivid theater of the mind.

They also encouraged his natural talent for art. Illustration came easily to Chris. His parents helped him parlay that gift into the imaginative tattoo art that was innate to Chris. We treasure those who forever carry the touch of his ink on their skin.

Christopher, the Illustrated Man.

Christopher, the Illustrated Man.

Being outside surrounded by nature gave Chris so much peace; mowing the lawn was the chore requiring the least amount of prodding. One of his favorite jobs was installing piers, since it combined being on the water with being outside, although his fair skin would pay the price at day’s end. He loved working in the yard, helping Darlene build their brick flowerbeds and plant the gardens in front of their home, working tirelessly alongside her on those ambitious outside projects.

The beautiful flower bed Christopher helped build and plant with his mom.

The beautiful flower bed Christopher helped build and plant with his mom.

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Another joy in Christopher’s life aside from music, art, books, and video gaming, was his dad’s cooking. He’d regularly call home and query Robert with “What leftovers do you have?” or “Dad! What are you going to make?!?” His favorites were Robert’s spicy chili mac and his barbecued pork steaks. If he’d had the luxury of choosing, those would have been on the menu for his last meal.

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Joining his Uncle Darrell, another gifted artist, we believe–no, we know–Christopher is in heaven, collaborating with all of the artists in residence, making heaven an even more beautiful place.

We ask that you pray for each member of our family to heal our heartbreak, and that you always remember Christopher in your prayers. He will hear you.

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My sweet friend wrote this on Facebook just now:

True Blue.

True Blue.

RIP, MIA

If I had to name a theme, I’d characterize the last 14 months as heartbreak and loss. I sure hope it ends soon.

Last weekend we memorialized my friend Mia, who died way too young unexpectedly–at age 42–from mistakes made during surgery. While I cried for all of us, I cried especially hard for my cousin Becky. She and Mia were next-door neighbors and best friends since childhood. Becky wept for an entire week. How she, or anyone, found the strength to eulogize Mia last weekend, I will never know. Again, it’s something I can never do because I totally lose it. But, I wanted to share some thoughts about Mia here.

Becky & Mia, BFFs.

Becky & Mia, BFFs.

Mia and her brother Chris (my cousin Jeff’s best childhood friend) were both adopted at a young age. Since I spent so much time at the family farm, they became my extended cousins. I remember as a child being so excited to meet Mia and Chris, because I was the only adopted child I knew. Although I never said it aloud, I always felt a special kinship with Mia and Chris. Adoptees carry the albatross of an inner monologue for which the rest of the world is simply unaware. We are always asking ourselves “Why?”

The lasting impression we all have of Mia is that of her smile. It would bathe the coldest, darkest room in the brightest of light. I loved her wit and sarcasm, and the way she and Becky–like true sisters–were always busting each other’s balls. It was always so much fun being with them.

Mia and Becky - smiles like sunbeams.

Mia and Becky – smiles like sunbeams.

In the photos Mia’s family shared of her during the service, there was only one where she wasn’t smiling. We learned that it was her photo from the orphanage in Korea. Later, at Mott’s Lounge, Becky told me how Mia always had problems with her one wrist. Finally, as an adult, Mia saw a doctor about it, who asked her, “Were you ever in an orphanage?” She confirmed it, surprised the doctor would know that. He told her it was common to see this wrist malfunction in children who stood hanging onto their cribs for hours on end in an orphanage. It’s no wonder that was the only photo where Mia wasn’t smiling. Becky wishes the doctor had never told Mia that, adding one more dark thread to her life’s tapestry.

Since Mia passed and was buried in Colorado, a tree was planted at the cemetery just down the road from my uncle’s farm. This is the same cemetery where my uncle, my adoptive dad, and my other relatives are buried.

The gravestone that took 10 months to get finished, all because I demanded there be a lower case "C" in McDonald and it fouled up their stonecutting logistics.

My dad’s gravestone that took 10 months to get finished, all because I demanded there be a lower case “c” in McDonald and it fouled up their stonecutting logistics. I’m still unhappy with the size of the “c.”

My cousin Jeff, his wife Janell and I made the mistake of standing together at the tree planting portion of the service. In retrospect, we should have realized this error in judgement. An elderly gentleman standing in front of us punctuated everything the pastor said with a resounding fart. I started giggling with my hand over my mouth, muffling the sound. My shoulders were shaking, and I hoped it would be mistaken for weeping. It was not. Knowing me all too well, Jeff glanced over at me, saw my shoulders shaking, and it was GAME OVER, MAN!

Jeff, Janell, and I briskly walked far away from within hearing distance, to find my father’s grave and not have our cackles overheard. We didn’t want to convey any irreverence to Mia, but truth be told, I could feel her standing with us, doubled over, laughing. Soon Becky and her husband Sean weren’t far behind us, in the same state. Whenever we all get together, we are groupthink reduced to the mindset of a 13-year-old boy. It feels good to return to that happy place, where we are all still untouched and not yet pummeled by life and heartbreaking loss. It just feels good.

 

Cousin Judy

Beloved Cousin Judith Anderson, RIP

My Beloved Cousin Judith Anderson, My Life Saver

My cousin Judy never, ever sought the limelight in her life, so I wanted to cast the kliegs on her, just this once. I owe her that. I attended Judy’s funeral on Monday. As usual, when asked to say a few words, I couldn’t do so without totally losing my shit, so I decided to say a few words about Judy here, where my eyes can leak in private.

I owe my life to Judy. At age eight, I had all of the symptoms of an appendicitis. My mom rushed me to the hospital that January afternoon in the midst of an ice storm. Judy worked there as an X-ray technician. It was Judy who connected us with the right doctor and fought to ensure they didn’t send me back home, as they were trying to do. Thanks to Judy’s feistiness, I got the surgery I badly needed. In those days (a lifetime ago) they kept you in the hospital forever, it seemed. I was there for 10 days. Judy visited me daily without fail. I always looked forward to seeing her. She was the steadfast ally I needed at that time.

Judy was a quiet, private person. On the rare occasion that Judy would talk with me about her job, she would share her rage over the children and women she X-rayed, who were clearly victims of physical abuse. Judy’s highly charged emotions over this–usually dormant–stayed with me. Made an impact. Later in life, I worked for projects in Northwest Florida like Children in Crisis and Shelter House, advocating for protecting children and domestic abuse victims–the vulnerable among us–from further cruelty.

When I was a kid, Judy had her own boat, and she would take us boating and fishing on the Fox River and the Chain o’ Lakes. It was Judy who taught me to fish. She seemed to intuit the magic spots where the fish were always biting. I can remember one instance where I could barely keep my hook baited long enough to handle all of the fish I caught. Judy also taught me to clean my own fish. Anyone who knows how squeamish I am finds it unfathomable that I clean my own fish–I can’t even watch surgeries on TV. During one of our fishing adventures, we were caught on the Chain o’ Lakes when a storm arose out of nowhere; it was Judy’s masterful boating that got us back to shore unscathed in that terrifying, wicked weather.

A hysterectomy in her 50s set Judy off on the medical odyssey that she suffered in silence. The blood transfusions at that time weren’t as closely scrutinized, and they gave her hepatitis.  She was unaware she had hepatitis until her liver failed. The liver transplant they gave her was from a cancer patient. Adding insult to injury, she had to go through chemo. She endured so much pain the past two decades of her life with little complaint, other than yearning so for another dog that she physically could no longer care for. It broke our hearts that she couldn’t have that dog. I’d like to believe that now she is surrounded by the black flat-coated labs she loved so  much in this life–her show dogs.

Judy never married, and never had children. She is the final person with the last name of Anderson in this lineage, which makes her passing the exclamation point on a storied family with more impact than you can imagine on the history of Elgin, Illinois. Wing Street. McLean Boulevard. In fact, the hospital where she worked–Sherman Hospital–was named after the side of our family that included a Civil War hero with the same last name. I doubt her co-workers ever knew that. Judy preferred to remain in the shadows. In fact, she’ll probably haunt me for casting the kliegs on her today, but as I said, I owe her that.

God bless you, Judy.

 

New Hashtag: #FirstSundaeBarAtAFuneral

 

Sundae assembled by my cousin Tami (Follman) Borman to commemorate my dad today at his funeral. Photography by Tami, also.

Sundae assembled by my cousin Tami (Follman) Borman to commemorate my dad today at his funeral.                               New Hashtag and Photography by Tami, also.

Jack’s Eulogy Today for His Grandfather/My Dad:

Grandpa is cool and awesome and he is funny and he likes eating fudge sticks a lot.

Grandpa was funny and we would always eat our fudge sticks together while watching “Gunsmoke.”

We used to play bowling on Wii sports and Grandpa would always beat me.

My favorite thing about Grandpa was that he made funny jokes. He was always happy and he would always be smiling.

Grandpa liked taking naps with Jonesy the Cat, and he liked playing with Jonesy.

I love Grandpa and I will miss Grandpa very much, and every time I find a penny, I will know he’s thinking of me.

A Post Today About My Dad from Darlene Nauman, My BFF since Kindergarten:

#WordsThatMakeMyEyesLeakWater

#WordsThatMakeMyEyesLeakWater

That’s Amazing, Grace! Introducing The Reverend Pastor Dave Dorman

As my beloved father rests comfortably in a local hospice facility in the end stages of his life, we here at home are scrambling to organize funeral arrangements and plan ahead. Unfortunately, my mom’s current pastor isn’t on his “A-Game” when it comes to funerals. At my uncle’s funeral last year, he not only mispronounced the names of my cousins, but also printed the same hymnal verse twice in the funeral program, and you all know how I am about typos – an unforgivable offense. So…in the spirit of giving my dad a more dignified send-off, Dave volunteered to become an ordained pastor and do the service. I know, I know, I couldn’t believe it, either, but he did. I remembered you could do this via the back of Rolling Stone magazine, back in the day, but now it’s all online here.  Here’s proof that for an $80 investment, Dave can now park in the “Reserved for Clergy” section of any hospital parking lot:

Pastor Reverend Dave Dorman - Official Credentials

Pastor Reverend Dave Dorman – Official Credentials

Dave suggested that he customize Dad’s service to what attendees might expect from Dave, peppering the service with “In the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, and Obi-Wan Kenobi,” but that’s where I had to draw the line. My mom will go non-linear if anyone messes with her Lutheranism.

As I cut together a video of my dad’s life from old photographs, I’ve found some rare treasures in the old photo album, which are giving my Facebook friends a good laugh. Here’s Dad and me on one of our many hikes in the mountains in Colorado.

Dad and me, hiking in Colorado, circa late 1980s.

Dad and me, hiking in Colorado, circa  mid 1980s.

As you can imagine, my Facebook friends are all blowing me shit about the photo below – deeming me “Molly Ringwald” – here’s my Junior Prom, back in the day when I was still pure as the driven snow. To quote Grandpa Simpson from the Strike Busters episode, “…because that was the style at the time…”

Junior Prom

Junior Prom

And here are some shots from my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. I threw a huge pig roast at the family farm (yes, my Aunt Karen actually has an “Old McDonald’s Farm” in Burlington, IL) with 200 of our closest friends, hired hula dancers and a fire eater, and naturally, chaos ensued, but it’s too much to write here and now. If Marovich and Nancy Peshel are reading this, I think they’ll readily recall the background drama they created during this precise moment below–tapping into my sophomoric poop humor. My only regret is that we didn’t catch it on film.

Hula Lessons at Mom & Dad's 50th Anniv. Celebration

Hula Lessons at Mom & Dad’s 50th Anniv. Celebration

I have no idea what a ball on a string has to do with Polynesian customs, but this was another hula “lesson” we endured. Dad was always game for my silliness:

Polynesian Ball-on-a-String Lessons

Dad, Mom & Me: Polynesian Ball-on-a-String Lessons

And before I forget to mention it, speaking of “The Reverend Pastor Dave Dorman,” Dave will be appearing this coming weekend at Salt Lake Comic Con from Thursday through Saturday, so if you’re in greater SLC, please be sure to pay him a visit. He will have his new limited edition Marvel variant cover Star Wars comics from retailer M&M Comics on hand!

If you’re not doing so already, you can follow my hijinks, shenanigans, and tomfoolery on http://facebook.com/comicbookwife or on Twitter where I’m @WriteBrainMedia.