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Of Bitches and Bastards

Posted by Cathy Douglas on January 6, 2011 at 11:25 AM Comments comments (0)

Okay, so I'm on my own now.  There's a lot of stuff I need to learn how to do, and not just home maintenance stuff that used to fall on Dan.  I've got all this money:  insurance money, survivor benefits, retirement accounts.  The catch is, it has to last for the rest of my life.  I have to learn how to invest and budget, and use the latest techy-tools to accomplish such things.


And then there's work.  They had their annual owner's meeting last week, and gave me a promotion.  Same pay rate, but more hours, an affordable health insurance plan, and a title.  (I'm now an assistant manager, which is a little silly since, aside from the store owners, there's only one other regular employee.  Poor Kat--if all three of us are there at once, we'll have to take turns managing her.)


The store is getting new software, so we can really promote our web store.  Web business is growing, and there's plenty of room for someone to develop an online metaphysical store that doesn't just sell products, but has free information on topics of interest to our customers.  New Age is enough of a specialty that there aren't that many attractive store sites, and the ones I've seen don't excite me.  Someone who can present these subjects really well, without all the woo-woo dewey-eyed-let's-commune-with-the-unicorns nonsense that turns people off, can draw in a lot of curious people.  We can do this.


Needing to learn so much has sent me to the self-help section of the Kindle store.  I bought myself one of those babies last month, and received a bunch of Amazon gift cards for Christmas.  So I'm amassing a little library of useful mini-texts, most of them with numbers in the title:  4-Hour Workweek, 8 Minute Meditation, {i}Nice Girls Don't Get Rich:  75 Avoidable Mistakes Women Make with Money.  . .


There!  That's the other thing:  The latest thing in the self-help world is to stop being a Nice Girl and turn into a Bitch instead.  The consensus of titles is that Nice Girls don't get good jobs, can't manage their money, fail at relationships, and end up fat and depressed.  Whereas Bitches are skinny, loved by men, on a righteous budget, and generally in control of every aspect of their life.  I feel like I've stumbled into Love Yourself Or Else! Bootcamp.


I guess it's no longer hip to be nice.  That would explain a lot of things, wouldn't it?  I blame talk radio.  In any case, this isn't the future we were expecting.  Back in the seventies and eighties, the feminist movement sought middle ground.  The ideal was shared power:  men who'd clawed their way to the top would see the advantages of a more feminine style, and adopt strategies of cooperation and consensus building. 


Guess that didn't work.


So don't be surprised if I turn into a Bitch.  I'd rather be a Bastard, but for some reason girls can't be Bastards.  Doesn't make a lot of sense, since a bastard is literally just an illegitimate child.  You'd thing there would be as many girl ones as boy ones.  Maybe it's simply that the boys were ahead of the game in the Me First, Screw Everyone Else competition of life, and now us chicks are ready to take a shot at winning. 


Ready, Bitches?


Unfamiliar Surfaces

Posted by Cathy Douglas on December 19, 2010 at 12:23 PM Comments comments (1)

I wasn't sure I'd be able to handle being present the death of someone I love.  It turned out to be a blessing; being present during the work of dying was the closest I could come to being part of his new world.  You'd think it might be horrible, seeing this man I knew intimately go from warm and breathing to cold and stiff, but the reality of it gave concrete form to the idea of death as a transition, rather than an end.  


My husband declined rapidly in the days preceding his death.  Despite my worries, it became intuitively obvious when the end was near.  I couldn't think of anything to do but stay by him, so that's what I did.

His words and gestures showed no sign of suffering or struggle.  It was more as if he was learning the words of a new language, words that raced through him in a torrent.  He spoke both to me and to others who were not visible, but in words without consonants, as if the ideas he wanted to communicate were coming so fast that his lips and his tongue couldn't keep up.  Even after he stopped talking, I could observe that he was moving between places, active and aware. 

A month ago I wondered whether dying might be like being born.  In many ways it was, but it also felt like watching somebody learn to skate.  The learner talks himself through the motions at first, moving across the ice in jerks and halts, hanging onto a chair for balance.  Eventually the body gains intuition about  the unfamiliar surface and understanding takes over, until finally the skater is ready to let go.

Dan's obituary

Posted by Cathy Douglas on December 9, 2010 at 7:23 PM Comments comments (1)

MADISON – Frank D. “Dan” Richwalski, age 58 of Madison, died peacefully at home on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2010, following his fight with pancreatic cancer.


He was born Oct. 4, 1952 in Baraboo, the son of Francis S. and Lorraine (Burns) Richwalski. Following his service in the U.S. Army, he married Cathy Douglas. Frank worked as an electronics technician for many years, gaining experience and responsibility along the way. He was most recently  at Research Products until his illness would no longer allow him to work.



Dan volunteered at WORT Radio for many years. He enjoyed building things, including computers, bicycles, and other electronic devices. Following his diagnosis, he decided to travel with Cathy.



In addition to his wife Cathy, he is further survived by his two sons, Daniel and Samuel Richwalski; two sisters, Marilyn Withers and Jeannie (Jeff) Otteson; nieces and nephews; Ben and Elizabeth Otteson; Michele, Michael and Derrick Withers; father-in-law, Ernest Douglas and four brothers-in-law.



He was preceded in death by his parents and mother-in-law, Geraldine Douglas.



A memorial service will be held in the chapel at the HOSPICECARE CENTER, 5395 E. Cheryl Pkwy., Madison on Thursday, December 16, 2010 at 11:00 a.m.



The family would like to extend their warmest thanks to the staff at HospiceCare, Inc., the people at Research Products, and at Mimosa Books and Gifts, Cathy's employer, for their friendship, understanding and help during Frank's illness.


Good-bye my love

Posted by Cathy Douglas on December 7, 2010 at 3:40 PM Comments comments (3)

Dan died a little after midnight.  His last sensible words were, "Keep loving me."


Here's how the last four days went:


Friday was a great day.  I even got down to work for an hour or so, and to the grocery store.  Dan even drove somewhere, to see about getting a tune-up for the car.


Saturday he was not making so much sense.  The previous day having been busy, it was no surprise that he slept a lot.


Sunday he hardly slept at all and was not in his right mind.  That was my last post.  He must have been awake for eighteen hours that day.  I think if he'd lasted very long like that, I would have needed some serious help.  But it ended up just being that one day.  That evening, in my room, I lit a white candle for life and a black candle for death.


Monday, he seemed about the same when I woke him up at 4 am to take his meds.  He thought I was waking him up to go to work, and insisted on getting all his clothes on.  I needed to dress him, of course; his coordination and strength were gone, along with his mind.  Once he got it through his head that he didn't need to go anywhere, he was very, very tired and let me get him into bed.  When I asked if there was anything else he needed, that's when he said, "Keep loving me."  I told him that would be no problem.


I put a call in to Hospice, asking for Sheryl, our nurse, to come over that morning.  We talked about how to treat him now, especially about getting him on a morphine pack so he wouldn't have to be woken up to take the pills.  We had to wake him to take his noon pills, though, and when we did he was really, really out of it.  He didn't really know how to take the pills, so I put them in his mouth, leaned his head back, and squirted some water into his mouth with a syringe.  As soon as we were done, he went right back to sleep.


The next time I had to wake him was when the evening nurse came to install the pump.  He had a lot of guck in his lungs and was sort of flailing.  The only thing he communicated was that he wanted the two nurses to quiet down.  This pair did talk really loudly, for some reason, as if he were deaf.  I like dealing with Sheryl when I can, but because the equipment didn't come until evening, the ones we formerly called The Spanish Inquisition had to come over to install it.


Once the nurses left, I sat with him most of the rest of the night.  He was talking a lot, but in jerky grunts so you couldn't understand him, and moving around in strange ways.  He had his elbows bent and was moving them around as if they were wings.  He pointed to one arm and was trying to tell me something about it, but it was impossible to understand his words.  His eyes he kept fixed on the ceiling the whole time.


At 9:00 I sent each of the boys in to say good-bye to him.  Then I came back in.  I stood above him and spoke as clearly and directly as I could:  "You are loved.  You are forgiven.  You are free."


At that point I felt really sleepy, and I don't know, just like he was working on something he didn't really need me for, so I went into my room and slept a little.   When I woke up at 11:30, he was sleeping soundly, like a man who'd done a hard days work and was resting, snoring.  I made some coffee and brought in a blanket and just sat, dozing a little now and then.  I lit a blue candle for freedom and set it on his nightstand.  As it burned, his breathing became more and more irregular, more and more ragged.  An hour later, when the candle was done, I didn't hear him breathing.  I set my blanket in the chair and got up to check on him.  His face was cold and his arms, under the covers, were rigid.  His eyes were still fixed on the ceiling, until I closed them. 


I wanted to stay in the chair, so I fetched myself some water and a regular candle to see by.  Then I just sat.


There was something going on in the corner of the room, just off the right foot of his bed.  Some sounds, and I don't know, something.


I stayed in there.  A couple times I thought I heard another breath, but it was just the morphine pump, so I turned the thing off.  A voice in my head told me to go to bed around 3:30.  So I went to my own room.  I slept well until 5:00, knowing my husband had finally put pain and sickness and worry behind him.


Take a Sad Song

Posted by Cathy Douglas on December 6, 2010 at 3:54 PM Comments comments (0)

I'll tell you a secret, about surviving in difficult times.  Every day, fix something.  Anything, the more trivial the better.   Mildewed shower enclosure, a nasty kitchen shelf, a torn quilt, a dissheveled pile of paper.  Take something that is broken, filthy and ugly, and make it better.  Then tomorrow you can look at it and say, There, yesterday something got better, and it was all because of me.

Cutting loose

Posted by Cathy Douglas on December 3, 2010 at 7:25 PM Comments comments (0)

We've had a string of good days.  Yesterday, the car even started--yay!  So Kid B was left in charge of the house, while Kid A and I went off to look for one of those little hotplates you put your coffee mug on, and a pair of warm, fuzzy slippers.  Two things Dan needed; no sense in waiting for Christmas.


It was a little scary, because the day before Kid B and I had been about to go, but the car acted up.  He started it, but remembered that he'd left his glasses in the house.  When he got back out, the car refused to move, and when he tried turning it off and on again it wouldn't do a thing.   Since it was about ten degrees that day, it was no great surprise.  We gave up.  What Kid A and I were most worried about, trying again the next day, was that the car would take us out past the mall and then refuse to start up and leave us stuck out in Mall-land.   The kids are both new drivers, while I don't drive at all; none of us knows from zilch about cars.


But the thing had been sitting in the sun all day, and it started right up.  Kid A may have just learned, but you'd never know it.  He drives like he was born with a steering wheel in his hand.  First thing he did was crank the radio.  Him and me, we always talk music.


"What are we listening to?" I asked, as we peeled out of the driveway to some dude with a nasal voice going crazy with one of those voice-pitch machines.


"Hip hop.  D'ya like it?" 


Neither of us normally listens to hip hop.  "Hip hop?  It sounds like some white guy playing with an Auto-tune machine."


"Hey, I like Auto-tune effects.  But yeah, that's what they do on this station--bunch of posers trying to sound fly by putting misogynistic lyrics on top of fake techno.  Ain't it great?"


We spent the rest of the ride cracking up to this stuff.  The lyrics went something like:


I want my wee-wee

oh my honey

dog meat

take it on my--



mush mouth

take me for a--

Oooo, la la dookie motor


hook me with your

wee-wee, doggy killa

mush mouth

oh my honey


We were both in stitches.  "What the hell are they talking about?"


"I dunno, I just like the techno stuff in the background."




We went to Target, where there are 30,000 pairs of warm, furry slippers, all in women's sizes.  There are kitchen appliances that will press the likeness of Hello Kitty onto your toast, but no coffee warmers.  We bought an insulated mug and went to Burlington Coat Factory for the slippers.  Same deal with the slippers there.  I guess men, being tough, like to have cold feet?  But we found a women's extra large in these atrocious fake-fur booties that we thought would do the trick.  In spite of the dismal holiday season, it was a blast--walking fast, talking fast, making fun of all the dorky-looking clothes, and generally just getting out in the world and looking around a bit.


Ye gods but it was good to get out.


Feeling Gone

Posted by Cathy Douglas on December 1, 2010 at 10:47 AM Comments comments (2)

It's not like me to be depressed, but I'm acting like it--not doing the things I usually do, not doing much of anything, and not missing any of it.  I'm taking a leave of absence from work, not doing any writing, not submitting any writing, only getting out of the house long enough for one short chore or jog every day.  No interest in music or nature or cooking, or much of anything, really.  Yeah, I take care of Dan.  But he sleeps most of the time, and isn't ever very demanding. 


There's beaurocratizing.  Today I ran our application for a disabled sticker down to the post office.  First snow of the year, just enough to disguise a very slick bit of ice (ow my head!).  I've got all sorts of forms and documents to read and look into, but they've waited this long and can wait some more.   I thought I would want to draw, but I can't seem to pick up a pen.  I'm caught up on the work for the store I can do from home.  I've got home repairs to do, but everything left is noisy and Dan is sleeping.  I could bake a cake, but I don't know if anyone wants another one; I'm certainly not going to eat it.  I started to get sick, but my body lost interest in the germs before they ever took hold. Which leaves nothing to do but piddle around the house, reading and cleaning, until the Hospice nurse and social worker show up. 


I especially don't feel like writing.  I'm one revision short of finishing my poetry course.  Before I took off from, I put all the stories and poems I'm working on into word processing, to edit and/or send out.  Some of them don't need anything but a hook shot off to another venue.  I just can't get into it. 


In a lot of ways, looking after a dying person is like having a baby.  And you know what?  One day when my kids were teens, both old enough to do a lot of things for themselves, I took a look at myself and noticed that I was still there.  Under the layers of Mom, there was still a me.  Crazy chick:  refuses to drive or dye the gray out of her hair, has no idea what the headlines are or whether she's got money in the bank, paints her kitchen purple, has houseplants crowded in every available spot, insists she's a pagan but won't join any pagan groups, spends her time wandering around in the woods and writing poetry and doofy stories. . .  Yeah, I suppose she'll be around again.  One of these days.

It wasn't really a dream, and it wasn't really a poem.

Posted by Cathy Douglas on November 25, 2010 at 10:04 AM Comments comments (0)

I was a young woman. I was sitting on the ground in a very flat place, with my legs tucked to the side and a pitcher in front of me. The pitcher had something in it that looked and smelled like water. In front of me, behind an almost invisible barrier, lay a featureless desert. Six or seven men crawled through the desert toward me, on their knees and elbows and bellies. All of them were emaciated and wrinkled and sunburned.  They must have been very, very thirsty, but I couldn't cross the barrier.  It was only passable from their side.



I'm sure they believed I was a mirage. But having no better hope, they fixed their eyes on me and dragged their bodies through the sand.


The quiet life

Posted by Cathy Douglas on November 20, 2010 at 8:18 PM Comments comments (0)

I was too stressed out to work yesterday, and took off early, and asked for today off too.  I called home to make sure everything was okay, and then (are you ready for this?), I went shopping!  Yes, retail therapy.  I cashed my paycheck and the birthday check Dad sent me, and then instead of heading eastward towards home, I went west to Hilldale mall, where I raided Anthropologie's sale room and then went next door to Title 9 to snag a spiffy weather-proof jacket.  For a couple hours, I didn't think about anything except what I wanted.  Me me me!  And it was great.  Truly therapeutic.

Eventually, of course, I had to go home, where the world doesn't revolve around beautiful colors and textures, but around human frailty and brokenness.  Dan's been doing an okay job of taking his pills on time, but even with the meds straightened out he's very frail, and mentally he's just not all there.  He has a hard time with even very simple things--telling time, and heating up a cup of coffee in the microwave, rolling a cigarette.  He says a lot of things that don't make sense, at least not in this world.

So, this morning, I asked for a leave of absence.  Here's the e-mail I wrote:

Dear Diane and Ashley, Thank you so much for letting me take some time off yesterday.  I really needed to de-stress and get some rest, and I feel much, much better now.  The whole time I was at work yesterday, it was like there was a voice in my head, saying over and over again, "You shouldn't be here.  You shouldn't be here."  Actually it's been like for my past few days in the store, as you could probably tell.

After getting home and assessing the situation, I think it would be in everyone's best interests if I were to take a leave of absence through the Christmas season.  Dan, at this point, needs someone with him 24/7.  At any time he's awake, he's in danger of doing something that could harm himself and others.  He's also unable to deal with things like social security paperwork, appointments, timing of medications, etc.  While I think I could probably come back to work Wednesday and be more put together mentally, I'm simply unable to be very reliable at this point. I'd have to come in when I could, leave at a moment's notice, take days off unpredictably, etc.  You need better coverage than that, especially during the holidays.

Nobody likes to make predictions, but based on what I've been able to get from online forums and such, I think it's highly unlikely Dan will make it more than a couple more months.  Honestly, I expect him to pass before Christmas.  It's sad, but that's the way things have to be.  The man I married is already gone.  I feel that the better part of him is truly in the next world already, just waiting for his body to wear itself out so that he can move on.  It will be a blessing when this whole struggle is over.  In the meantime, he's no more able to care for himself than a small child.


I don't know how it would be best to work this.  If Kat and Zach would like to pick up my hours, that would be perfect.  Or maybe Darla could come in?  If you like, I can still do the activity room/newsletter stuff from home, and work on the web.  Since I'll be out of touch with the store you might want someone else doing the newsletter, but I would be willing to try.  I could stop by every week or so to drop off activity calendars and flyers, do the board, and pick up news and POS print-outs, etc.  (And, of course, shop!)  It's totally up to you guys if you want me to continue doing what I can from home.  And as far as organizing my store hours, I want to do it in a way that's fair to the other employees.  I'm sure whatever works for others will be fine with me.

I know I asked you guys before to keep my troubles private, but at this point if anyone wants to know where I am, please feel free to tell them.

Anyway, let me know what you think.  The boys can watch Dan while I'm out for short periods of time, so I could come down to the store to talk if you like.  And I want to just let you know that I love my job, and Mimosa, and both of you. 



Diane and Ashley each wrote back with very kind, supportive letters, saying that of course they understood and that they would work it out for someone to take my place for the next month or so.  Both of them reassured me that I can come back when the time is right.

So for now, I'm neither writing nor working, and I'm only taking morning runs when I feel secure about leaving the house.  I did a grocery run and a library run today, since we actually had a very good day.  But if I have to send the kids out to do these things in the future, so be it.  Mostly, I intend to be at home.


Posted by Cathy Douglas on November 19, 2010 at 9:46 AM Comments comments (1)

Magazines and internet sites keep coming up with lists with titles like "Ten things everyone should do before they die."  I've never had any such list, pernonally, but I've decided on one thing:  I want to visit Faial.

Faial is the Azorean island my grandparentscame from.  My mother grew up every bit an immigrants' child, with all the clashing expectations that come along with that.  Between parents, the Portuguese immigrant community, the Catholic church, and the American culture she met when she went to school, it's a wonder she knew whether she was coming or going.

The farming town she grew up in-Irvington, California--no longer exists.  Irvington's population in the Depression years was about a third basic American, a third Japanese immigrants, and a third Portuguese immigrats.  So much happened during the time she was growing up: the country worked its way through the Great Depresion, Okies poured in from the dust bowl, and during the Second World War, the Japanese population was evacuated and dispossessed and all available young men were hauled off to fight.

Mom grew up speaking nothing but Portuguese, but learned English as soon as she went to school.  And never looked back; from that time on, she only spoke Portuguese with her parents.  She stopped going to church as a teen.   By the time I was born, her life was almost entirely in English.  She gave us kids just a smattering of Portuguese language and culture.  We always had linguica for dinner on Christmas Eve.  Wild dill is called "funsch" (not sure about that spelling).  Halloween didn't use to be for kids:  on Halloween night, young men would go around town, tipping over outhouses.  Then the next day they had what they called a Holy Ghost, where the priest would lead everyone through town, carrying all the statues and the crucifix.  At any rate, I think that's about how it went.  I heard these stories so long ago.

To me, this made my grandparents the most wonderfully exotic figures.  We always visited them; I don't remember them ever coming to our house.  They'd already sold the farm to developers by the time I was born) Despite living in America for many decades, neither of them spoke a whole lot of English.  Why should they?  Everyone they knew spoke Portuguese.  Grandma cooked strange yellow bread to go with her all-American fried chicken and Jello.  I had to walk through her bedroom to get to the bathroom, and I still remember it:  the smell of lavender sachet, the statues of the Virgin and Jesus, the old quilt she used for a bedspread. 

Outside, Grandpa grew hydrangeas, roses, dozens of varieties of fuchsias, and all kinds of other things.  I used to walk around the outside of the house via the brick path, under the fuchsias he had trained up into trees, and imagine I was back in what they called the Old Country.  In my mind, this was a place where they'd never heard of cars or television, but spent their time in peace--growing things, making things, being with each other.  Then I'd come in the house, where Grandma kept a huge jar of old buttons for when I came to visit.  I'd dump them out onto the carpet and make up my own worlds full of button people, button animals, and button things.  And, of course, stories to go with them.

That was the Faial of my imagination.  I know it's not something I'm ever going to find on this Earth.  I just want to go to the real Faial before I die--learn a little Portuguese, see the flowers and fruit trees, find out if anything feels strangely familiar.  Most of all, I want to compare it with the Faial in my head.