Sunday, November 30, 2014

Let it Snow

Jill and I didn't always see eye to eye when it came to music.  She leaned toward country and radio pop.  I pride myself on favoring semi-obscure tracks...though Jill would refer to my default preference being 'sad bastard music.'  I can't disagree.

That in mind, for some unknown reason, I've always had a soft spot for holiday tunes.  From the day after Thanksgiving thru Christmas Day (only), I can't get enough of the festive music - primarily the standards --> anything by Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, peppered w/ Harry Connick Jr's first Christmas record.  I eat it all up.

Over the years, I've been told by my goyim friends that the reason I can even tolerate such music is b/c it wasn't jammed in my ear holes every holiday season since birth.  This makes sense.  Growing up, our Jewish household didn't fill the Chanukah air w/ sounds of Perry Como's "Do You Hear What I Hear."  If we had, I'd probably rebel, too.

But, then I met the goy/girl of my dreams and all bets were off.  I remember our first Christmas season together.  Jill and I drove up to meet her family in Iowa.  We rocked those holiday tunes the whole six-hour trip up.  Why?  B/c we both enjoyed the warm feeling we got from listening to it.  It's like an audio blanket.  There is just something comforting about holiday music.

So, for the Jew and the Jill, we embraced our appreciation for Christmas music each and every holiday season.

And as Rory and I drove home from Tennessee yesterday, we turned those holiday tunes up.  And as we listened, we talked about the songs that meant something to Mommy.  For example, Jilly loves "All I Want for Christmas" by Mariah Carey...but she despises Mariah herself.

It's these minute, arguably meaningless memories that add to the definition of Jill, the definition of Mommy.  And so we'll continue this conversation all season, every season.  We'll turn up Brenda Lee and we'll dance to the Drifters.  And we'll honor Jill with each passing track.  B/c it's the holidays.  And Jill knew how to do the holidays.  Here's proof...
All love,

J, J, & r

Saturday, November 29, 2014

"Every day's a good day"

Nearly seven years ago we were gearing up for our first chemotherapy treatment at Siteman Cancer Center.  We prepped thoroughly - reading online, checking out a few books, and pummeling our oncologist with question after question.  Still, this was new.  We were voluntarily allowing ourself to be pumped full of poison in an effort to eradicate the 'bad stuff.'

(Quick note: you notice I refer to Jill's treatment as "our" treatment, "our" oncologist, etc.  It's intentional.  I always positioned it this way.  It was one of the small, but hopefully meaningful, ways I wanted Jill to know that we shared everything on this roller coaster ride.  When she got treatment, I felt I was getting treatment as well.  We were in this together - the ups and the downs of this ride - side-by-side.)

So we're on the seventh floor, awaiting our callback, and the buzzer goes off.  This doesn't mean our table's ready.  It mean's our cocktail is ready - our chemo cocktail.  They lead us back to our 'pod' where we are grouped with approximately seven other patients in an open room, each sitting or lying in a recliner, each being pumped full of poison.

Now, these aren't all breast cancer patients.  This is a potpourri of cancer patients - bone marrow, lung, brain, etc.  And from chair to chair you can see the toll these horrific diseases have had on people's bodies.

Needless to say, our collective nerves spike upon entering the pod.

Jill plops down in the recliner.  I stand by her side.  A seasoned nurse comes to Jill, coldly asks for her name and birth date to verify the poison recipient.  "Jill Lustberg.  Seven - Fourteen - Seventy-One."  (She'll say this over and over and over again for many years.)

B/c this is Jill's first run, she has to read all of the 'potential side effects' of this chemotherapy.  Everything - minus leprosy, I think - was on that list.

Nerves climb.  Jill shows it.  I don't...ever.

They proceed to hook us up and begin what is unfortunately the best treatment option for people in this unfortunate circumstance.  It's not personal medicine.  It's mass medicine.  But, we'll get there.  I heart scientists...some more than others.

In our pod, there's a man to the left of us.  He's lying in a bed next to the massive window.  It's beautiful outside - blue skies in every direction.  We turn in his direction as he begins to sit up and slowly, slowly prepare to leave post treatment.  If memory serves, he's probably in his late fifties, early sixties.  He's alone.

His sweet eyes meet Jill's magical green eyes and he speaks, "First time?"

"Yeah..." Jill responds, concealing her fear with a friendly smile.  (She's very good at this.)

"I can tell.  I've been at this for awhile and can tell when someone's new to the process."

As he pulls on his shoes, he tells us that he's been in and out of treatment for many years, battling a different type of cancer each time.  And he says it with such ease.  What do you want for lunch today?  Maybe a turkey sandwich...whatever.  That easy...

Then he drops the line on us as he begins to shuffle past us for the door...

"Every day's a good day."

Again, he says it w/ such ease, but also w/ such great sincerity.  You can't let it escape you.

If someone had said this line to us while were pumping gas, it probably would not have the affect it did (and does) on us.  Coupled with the high emotions of that day, that line hit us hard.  So much so that we immediately began talking about it, about him, as our infusion continued.

"How can he say that?  After all he's been thru..."

"What a perspective on life this man must have to be able to utter such words...and mean them."

We never got the man's name.  And as far as I know, we never saw him again at subsequent treatments...which is odd b/c we had many, many treatments after that first round.

But, damn, did that man leave an everlasting impression on us.  We took that line and held it tight.  We remind(ed) ourselves of it when we needed to.  We shared it (along w/ the story) when we felt others needed to hear it.  We passed it on to Rory (who needs to be reminded of it w/ greater frequency these days).

Things are very difficult right now...and I know they will continue to be for a very long time.  I feel like I get punched in the gut at least two dozen times a day.  As I should; this is all still very fresh, very raw.

But, damn it, I have Jill in my heart forever.  I have Rory.  I have you.  I'm still lucky.  I'm still grateful.

Every day's a good day.

Damn right.

All love,

J, J, & r

Monday, November 24, 2014

Two of a Kind

I purchased my first new car in 2002.  This was a momentous occasion - as it is for many of us that have the ability, the luxury to make such a purchase in our lives.

A sleek, silver Honda Civic LX, 4-door sedan.  Contain yourself.

This may be the moment where some of you may be asking yourselves, "doesn't he drive a sleek, silver Honda Civic LX, 4-door sedan now?"

Yes, yes I do...w/ quite some pride, by the way.  If it ain't broke, don't give it away.  And she continues to purr like a 12-year old cat.  A few hairballs, but nothing major...

My first call after this extravagant purchase was to Jill.  I was thrilled.  She was proud of me.

Of course, I mentioned to Jilly that I needed to find a name for my new vehicle.  Or, to be more accurate, a name needed to find me.

Jill did what Jill did.  She poked at me, "A name for your car?  Why?"

"A car needs a name, Jill.  She needs a name," I explained.  I then had to explain that all vehicles require a proper name.  Had Jill been driving vehicles all of her adult life w/o giving them names?  This could have been beginning of the end of our relationship right then and there.  But, I decided to take the high road, accept her flaw, and move past it.

It was a week or so after the vehicular purchase and I remember driving south on Kirby Drive in Houston, Texas - windows down, music up (as Ro I and I often say and do).  And it hit me w/ such clarity - Moonpie.  Her name is Moonpie.

I quickly called Jilly, "Moonpie!"


"Her name!  She's Moonpie!  Her name is Moonpie!"

Without missing a beat, as if it struck her like it did me, "That is perfect, Jas - just perfect.  Mazel Tov!"

Mazel Tov indeed.

Time passed.  Jill moved to Texas.  We moved in together.  We married.  We bought our first house.

Moonpie continued to hold her own in the Houston did Jilly's 2-door Honda (that she refused to name).  All was golden on four wheels at a time.

Then Rory showed up...and the 2-door dilemma presented itself.  As Rory grew, it became increasingly difficult to maneuver her into the backseat of Jill's car.

It was a hot and humid afternoon in Houston (pick any date on the calendar).  I was attempting to get Ro in her carseat when Jill piped in, "I think it's time for a new car."

"What?  Why?  This car isn't broken."

"Yes, but we can't get our child in the backseat."

"Yes we can," I retorted. "Just give me a second.  We'll work this out.  The car still runs.  We're good.  We're fine." I began to panic.  A part of me knew Jilly was right, but I wasn't about to trade in a perfectly good, paid-for car for something I had to spend money on.  That's just me.  I also knew I wasn't going to win this one.

Jill's CR-V joined our family in 2007.  You may be asking yourself, "don't they have a sleek, silver Honda CR-V, 4-door SUV?"  Yes, yes we still do.

The day we purchased the CR-V I asked the question, "What's her name?"

Jill responded, "Give me a few days.  It'll hit me.  It'll happen."

I completely understood.  I gave her the time and space.  You don't rush into these decisions.

And then it happened.  We had been watching a lot of Arrested Development and the CR-V's name is an homage to what we consider to be a brilliant television program - Crindy.  (It's an obscure reference to Gob's knee-jerk response to Michael's push to find out Gob's wife's name.  He spits out "Crindy," incorrectly naming his new wife.  We always laughed at this quick dialogue.)

And so it was.  Crindy and Moonpie.  Two of a kind.

And today whenever Ro and I head out of the house, Ro asks, "What's it going to be, Dad?  Crindy or Moonpie today?"  It feels good.  It feels right.

It was a good ride, Jill Marie.  Thx for playing w/ me.

All love,

J, J, & r

Sunday, November 23, 2014

IMs & Nicknames

Like many couples, Jilly and I often gave each other nicknames.  Some slipped away, some stuck, and some one just stuck out.

When we made the collective decision for Jill to retire from Wash U a couple years ago, our goal was for her to have the ability focus on herself, on her own well being.  Eat well, exercise, get together w/ friends, meditate - all the good stuff.  Some of these had a tighter grip than others.

What I didn't expect was the daily barrage of instant messages (IMs) I'd receive during my work day.

I can remember on more than one occasion where I would literally be mid sentence - mid word - in phone presentation, intently focused on a slide on my computer screen, when my "Jillschmill' IM would pop up...

"How much do you love Mrs. Landingham?  What a unique and singular character, right?"

Mrs. Landingham, of course, was President Bartlett's secretary in NBC's the West Wing.  And yes, absolutely, Mrs. Landingham was a dynamite character, adding a much needed personal dimension to the White House.  But, midway thru an important presentation (they're all important), do I need to be contemplating the merits of a fictional character created by Aaron Sorkin?  The correct answer is no.

And while these interruptions occurred more regularly than I care to admit - clearly throwing me off my presentation game for all those on the line, the quiet truth of it all is that I loved them all.

I loved them b/c they were reminders to me that Jilly was right where she wanted to be - home, comfortable, and in this case, snuggled up w/ Jed, CJ, Josh, Toby, Leo, Charlie, Sam, and Donna.  (All West Wing characters.  Come on - know this.)  And she wanted to share this joy w/ me.

Quite simple, these IMs were pop-up reminders to me that Jill was content.

The IM platform was a perfect test space for nicknames - more so for me than for Jilly.  Over the years, I tried many on to see what fit.  Jill being Jill was accepting of all most of them.   And as I noted, one in particular stuck out.

It was a brief, meaningful back-and-forth one afternoon.  Jill's at home.  I'm at work.  I type out something like, "I need to get back to it, muffin top."  ('It' being work.)

Now, I had used 'muffin top' for several weeks.  It felt good.  It sounded good.  It was - in my estimation - endearing, loving.  I mean, it was the muffin top...not the stump.  Everyone wants the top.  Let's be honest - the stump is superfluous pastry.

At any rate, Jill responds to me, "You know what muffin top means, right?"

I pick up the phone.  Jill answers cheerfully, "Yeeeeeeees?"

"Muffin top means something?"

Jill proceeds to tell me the more common - and quite rude, though admittedly clever - definition often used to describe an overweight woman.  Well, obviously to both Jill and me, I had no clue.  She knew I meant no harm w/ this nickname.  She knew I was simply ignorant (on this topic...alright, and on many others).

We decided in that 2-3 minute conversation to come up w/ another iteration of 'muffin top' that would ideally be less offensive.  We threw a few options out - said them aloud, tried them on in mock conversation, and moved on to the next option as needed.

What we landed on was gold - pure and simple gold.

Fatty McMuffin Top.

Now, wait...just wait.  On the surface, sure, this may not appear to be as harmless and loving as a nickname between best friends ought to be.  But, that's just it.  It was.  It was ours and it worked.  Why?  Very simply, it made us smile when we said it.  And not just smile; it often made us giggle.
Seriously, try it.  Find a close friend, a spouse, a family member (maybe not a coworker).  Work it into the conversation or just blurt it out w/o context.  While I can't guarantee satisfaction from both parties, I have to think you will at least crack a smile.

Fatty McMuffin Top is our relationship in a nutshell.  It's quirky, unique, unexpected, and doesn't always make much sense...but it freaking works.  It fits.  We fit.

(As I'm typing this, I'm realizing these IMs are now in my rearview.  The links to rescue dogs for sale, updates on Gilmore Girls' plot lines, and Rory's school reminders, will no longer hit my screen (...until Ro learns to IM.  No rush.)  It's a new gap, one of many that I'll (un)knowingly confront for the rest of my life.  But, I think holding onto the bright spots - the Fatty McMuffin Tops - are the pieces that will help me navigate these gaps.)

If you have your own version of Fatty McMuffin top, hold onto it.  Value it.  Don't let it go.
If you don't, find it.  It's worth it.

Fatty McMuffin Top Forever


J, J, & r

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Dumpster Tour

It originated in Houston.

Jill and I would decide to hit a movie, head to the theatre, park, and walk in.  Innocuous enough, right?  Incorrect.

It was in this short walk from car to theatre that invariably led us past a dry-heave-inducing dumpster.  Let me be clear.  It didn't matter the theatre, the parking location, or even the time of day.  That stinky son of a bitch was always present.  And Jilly didn't miss an opportunity to razz me for it.

"Taking your girlfriend out on the town and showing off the smells of the city.  Well played, Lustberg," she'd poke at me.

That's fine.  I could take it.  And apparently Jilly could, too...b/c we kept going to the movies.

And then it spread...though still w/in Houston.

If you know anything about Houston, you know that this city is not short on good eateries.  Fantastic restaurants abound.  And we hit plenty of them.  But, for whatever reason, we Jill began noticing more reeking dumpsters.  Were they following us?  Were they multiplying (w/ exponentionally excessive stench)?  Was Jill working some angle w/ the city, positioning them just so, so that she could continue to rib me for these pre dinner smells?  Whatever the reason, these suckers were everywhere...every date night.

It occurred w/ such frequency that Jill quickly coined the term "dumpster tour," as in, "Oh, I didn't know this evening out included another dumpster tour.  Bonus for me."

When we moved to St. Louis, the dumpster tour moved w/ us (along w/ other cities we hit throughout our years together).

And I don't know if it's a positive that every time I walk by a (reeking) dumpster that I'll think of my best friend.  But I do hold this memory close and share it w/ Rory b/c it is a prime example of her mommy's effortless ability to turn something stinky into smiles.

I don't know how long I'll keep this blog going, but my intent is to go indefinitely.  If something strikes me, moves me, or just generally reminds me of Jill, I may be compelled to share it w/ you.  Selfishly, it's cathartic.  But, this space also gives me us a place to share Jill memories so that she lives on w/in us all w/ rich definition.

To that end, I request all of you to share your Jilly stories w/ me, w/ Rory, thru posts (here), texts, phone, and face messages.  Say them loud.  Share them often.  She's worth it.

Rory and I have made a promise to share at least one 'Mommy memory' with one another every night.  Join us.

All love,

J, J, & r

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


This is a difficult post.

The first - and most obvious - reason being that I have to express in writing that Jill - my wife, my best friend, Rory's mommy - passed away quietly in her home on the afternoon of Wednesday, November 12.

The second difficulty here is striking the right tone.  Though she rarely gave herself the credit, Jill was gifted in her ability to clearly communicate what was always an emotionally charged topic.  This was her point of control.  She controlled the message.  She found the funny, shared it, and put on the serious sombrero when she felt the time called for it.  And you stayed engaged and supportive throughout our tumultuous journey.

The third - and potentially most difficult of the difficulties in writing this post - is expressing the impact Jilly had on me and countless others w/o sounding cliche.  And while cliches are cliches b/c they are most often true, they also have a tendency to be glossed over when read.  Jill's life is not meant to be glossed over.  It was too precious, too meaningful.  And while I can truly only speak from my personal experience as her student, boyfriend, fiancee, husband, and best friend, I've read and heard innumerable ways she has injected her brand of positivity into your lives.  Cliches be damned, here's a touch, a taste of Jill's beauty...
  • Jill's smile lit up a room.  (And if you ask me, it still does.)
  • Despite her ongoing joke that "it's all about me," Jill was as selfless as they come.  No matter her personal challenges, her first thoughts and actions were always for others.  (I recall several occasions when she'd be wiped out sideways from a treatment, opening her eyes, and letting me know we need to get that special birthday gift for so-and-so.)
  • So comfortable in her own skin, she made others feel at ease w/ her and w/ themselves, making for a very relaxed, inviting environment to build a relationship.  (It's what wooed me.)
  • As she'd be the first to tell you, Jill was funny.  (I can't tell you how many times I got soaked with water by the sink sprayer on April Fool's Day.  Pure joy for Ro and Mommy.)
  • Above all else, Jill was positive.  No matter the circumstance, if the hill got steeper, her positivity meter climbed to meet the challenge.  And here's something personal.  Never once - not one time - while on this 'roller coaster ride' did Jilly ever ask 'why me?'  She held the cards dealt her way and tried to play the best - longest - hand she could possibly play.  And she did it w/ a freaking smile.  
Jill and I made the decision to re-up our wedding vows before she passed.  In true Jilly form, she rallied.  She was not well, but the girl put on her party hat and turned it up.  Rory conducted the ceremony and kindly shared the spotlight w/ us, allowing each of us to speak from the heart.  Despite telling Jill I had nothing planned, I had been drafting a rough outline to guide me thru what was sure to be emotional vows.  Sure enough, when the time came, I missed a large chunk of my vows to Jill.  This post feels like a good place to share these vows/notes in their entirety.  It's my own blend of humor and sincerity.  They're not perfect, nor comprehensive.  But they're all heart.  

Jilly loved life.  I love her.

First & foremost, I’d like to thank the Academy for this incredible honor…

Wait...wrong speech...

I’ve actually given this a lot of we’d be up here in front of family and friends...again…

And to be honest, there isn’t a lot that hasn’t already been said between us.  B/c we’ve been thru so much over the last 10+ years - especially the last three,  we haven’t shied from expressing our feelings to one another.  

So I can certainly talk about how…

-you serve as my life compass, pointing me in the right direction w/ your wisdom.
-I’ve always admired how comfortable you are in your own skin.
-you are the most thoughtful, considerate, and loving mother to Rory.
-you get me.  You see my eccentricities and somehow appear to love me more b/c of them.
-you always always always think about others before yourself.
-you are the wind beneath my wings.  Wait, how’d that get in here?
-you are - quite simply & without question - the strongest person I know.
-you’ve made me a happy person.
But you know all of these things already.  So why dwell on them?
Thank you for being in my life, being my wife, and making this beautiful person w/ me.

I am genuinely forever grateful to be with you.  Each and every day I acknowledge this...mainly to myself.

We’ve been through a lot together over these last 10+ years.  I want more...a lot more.  And I’ll do all that I can to make that happen for the three of us.  

‘I won’t give up on us.’

Monday, November 10, 2014

F--- IT! (Revisited)

(This is Jason.  I'm drafting this note on Jill's behalf.)

Break out the Ben & Jerry's...again.  We jumped back on the hospice train last Tue.

As I type, Jill is sleeping comfortably beside me in our bedroom.  (She has been asleep all day.)  The goal - cliche as it reads - is to ensure Jilly is comfortable.  Right now she is.  

As Rory and I have discussed on countless occasions, while we had hoped science would catch up, there are no more medicines available to make Mommy better.  

So, here we are.  Propped up by the generosity, selflessness, prayers, and unwavering support of family, friends, and hospice all-stars, we carry on.  We care on.  We care for Jilly as best we can.  

How do you close a post like this?  How do you tie it up?  My guess is Jilly would have the answer...

All love,

J, J, & r