....LMB: "The Final Curtain"....

January 15, 2004

Sheíd been fighting cancer off and on for about ten years, but it was never as scary as this past March, when they told my mom that she had about six months to live. When my dad told me over the phone, I think I dropped it. I donít remember dropping it, but I seem to remember picking it up from the floor with numb fingers. So I drove to my parents' home in San Diego to try to help out however I could. As always, my weird work-from-home style job came in handy.

Honestly, momís cancer was usually manageable. It would just be a few tiny spots on a lung or a vertebrae, but it was dangerous to let those go without treatment. It was the awful paradox at the center of her condition: she was sick yet felt fine; and to make her fine, they had to make her feel sick.

But this time was different. I still donít like saying it. Cancer in her brain and spinal fluid.

We emailed my brother, who had barely begun his long-anticipated trip to Europe. He and his girlfriend were slated to spend six weeks traveling about. I hoped that heíd never stop at an internet cafť to read our message, because the longer he remained ignorant, the longer he could continue enjoying himself. Obviously, as soon as he received word, he made plans to head back to the States.

Momís condition got worse. Her headaches became severe. She was increasingly confused, and sometimes said things that made no sense. He balance got so bad that we had to settle her into a wheelchair and roll her into her doctorís appointments. It was as though someone had replaced my momís 50 year old body with an 80 year old one.

The pain sometimes reached dizzying levels. Thereís nothing that will make you feel more helpless than seeing a loved one scream and cry in pain, and thereís nothing you can do to make it any better. Nothing.

It was hard, emotionally wrenching just about every day. I tried to maintain both lives, the one of family, worry and doctorís appointments in San Diego, and the one of work, friends and politics back home in Los Angeles. I would spend about half a week in each location, then drive back to the other. It was exhausting, and I frequently woke up in the middle of the night, with no idea where I was.

Miraculously, her conditions began to improve, thanks to a combination of radiation, drugs, and chemotherapy. Her pain receded, her balance started to return, the confusion was less frequent.

Then, the doctors apparently gave her an overdose of the chemotherapy, which put her into a state somewhere between autistic and catatonic. She laid there in the hospital bed, sleeping, and when she awoke, she wouldnít speak, just looking up at us with bewilderment, like a newborn baby. We didnít know what was wrong or how it had happened. Was it temporary or permanent? Would it get worse? These were the scariest two days of my life. She did come out of it by the end of the second day, but it was only something of a relief. This weirdness had come on so abruptly, so mysteriously. There was no guarantee that it wouldnít happen again, so I felt sick and scared all the time.

But momís healing resumed. In fact, after a few months, she seemed out of the woods, back to what weíd come to consider "normal". Unfortunately, "normal" for us meant mom receiving frequent doses of low-level chemo and making near-daily trips to the doctor, with the rest of the family taking turns to transport her there and back. But still, it seemed as though the doctorsí grim predictions had been wrong, and things were going to be okay. One nurse even tossed around the term "remission." We all began to relax and settle back into our old routines.

Until October.

Mom was having trouble on her feet again, and took a couple of bad falls. During the springtime illness, the doctors said that momís lack of balance was a side effect of some of the medication they had her on. This time, they said that it was due to the illness itself.

My brother called me a few days later, after my parents had returned from an important doctorís appointment. "I think you should probably come down," he said quietly, "when they came into the house, mom was crying hysterically and they went straight into their bedroom, and they havenít come out since."

Oh fuck.

I came home and dad laid the news on me. The doctors had essentially told her "You are getting worse. Our current chemo treatment doesnít seem to be having an effect, and we donít have any back-up treatments to replace it withÖ You should probably get your affairs in order."

Yet at the same time, the doctors had also said "but donít give up hope, weíre going to keep on fighting this thing." Yeah.

My parents both resolved to maintain a hyper-positive attitude, that we were going to beat this thing, somehow. But this time I could not muster a shred of hope. Maybe that was wrong of me, maybe I should have tried harder. But this time it seemed that optimism was a pipe dream. Sure, I knew that it was possible that my mom would get better, but I didnít really believe she would.

We spent the next three months watching my mother die in slow motion.

My father took his vacation time, then his sick days, and then just quit his job to stay home and take care of her. It wasnít even an issue. He became her primary caretaker. My brother had moved in with my parents after his curtailed European vacation and stayed there, working part-time while making plans to attend law school this coming fall. And I came back, this time spending nearly all my days in San Diego, with just short weekly trips to L.A. to check my mail and make sure my apartment hadnít burned down. Again, I felt fairly helpless, because there wasnít much I could do. Dad took care of Mom, so I did what I could to take care of Dad. I suppose it was helpful for me to cook and shop and launder, but it sure didnít feel like much.

We did have a bit of help from the State health departmentís nurses, and later by nurses with the local hospice. I canít thank these people enough for helping with my mom, and helping take some of the pressure off of dad.

My mom slowly degenerated, losing her strength and coherence. In early October sheíd been almost fine, as functional and outwardly healthy as you or me. By mid-December she was confined to bed, sleeping most of the time, barely moving, barely able to speak. I could sometimes get her to say hello to me, and sometimes even get her to give me a one-word response to "how are you today?" And then even that went away. Sometimes Iíd hear my dad talking to her, or reading to her, hoping that sheíd hear or respond. It broke my heart a hundred times to hear that.

Mom went to sleep Christmas eve and didnít wake again. We noticed Christmas night that her breathing had gotten very labored. It got worse, louder. We all sat by her side, terrified and sad, knowing that each single solitary breath she took might be her very last. Us watching, one breath, then another. Perhaps an hour later, she stopped breathing altogether.

I guess it was about as good as we could have hoped for. She died peacefully, with (hopefully) little pain, at home instead of a hospital, surrounded by the family she loved. I can be morose and say that she died late Christmas night. Or I can say with a tiny smile that she was strong enough to make it all the way through her favorite holiday before passing on.

So thereís some light shed on my slightly mysterious ways this past year. All the trips to see the family, the unexplained time in San Diego, all the doctorís appointments, the weeks of infrequent and shoddy blog posts, the numerous missed radio shows, references to personal misery and dark days. Itís been a shitty year, and I only hope that as I round the corner into 2004, that things might start to get better. They certainly couldnít get much worse. But I donít know how long I have to walk before I feel the warmth of the light at the end of the tunnel.

So most of you are probably wondering how Iím doing. It varies from moment to moment. Overall itís a sharp-edged muddle. Itís like a break-up, like a natural disaster, like a holiday, like every other day, like a reunion, like a sickness, like a fury, like betrayal, like forgotten songs, like happy reflections, like a defeat, like aging, like losing a limb, like numbness. Like thereís a knife party in your heart and everyoneís invited.

But feelings and perceptions shift. Sometimes a whole day passes as usual, work and play and laughs and routine. Sometimes Iím quite mood swingy. Some sights, words, memories rip right through me or crush like a cave-in. Most embarrassingly, you start being moved by idiotic things, finding deep emotion in the words of a stupid sitcom character, or the photo on a billboard.

And it was not easy sitting through Return of the King, with its constant themes of death, loss and friends gone forever. Great movie, but I probably had a lot more emotional investment in it than most.

All of this, my experiences and the fictions Iíve seen on TV and movies during this time, have led me to one conclusion that seems profound: the most deeply sad words in the English language are "but I donít want you to go."

To the friends whoíve helped me through this (and continue to do so, of course), I love you like youíll never know. Sorry you always have to deal with my stoic, stony exterior, but I need that covering to keep my fierce fires inside. If you ever doubt how much I care, just say the word and Iíll give you an embrace that will burn us both to ashes. Yíall are what make my life worthwhile, and I thank you for everything.

Iíll get through all this, I know I will. And so will my brother. But I do worry about my father. This has been hardest on him, as heíd made my mother the very center of his entire world. So Iíll continue spending most of my time in San Diego to try to help him out, if thatís at all possible.

I do have to return to normal, maybe slowly. Life does go on, moment by moment.

If you want to do something that would have made my mother happy, Iíd say donate some money to the American Cancer Society. Or, this summer, she went on a minor crusade about a Congressional bill sheíd heard about that would cut medicare funding for cancer patients. If someone wants to research that for me and let me know if the bill is still alive to oppose, Iíd appreciate it (email me and Iíll give you the details).

If you want to do something for me, Iíd say examine your life and if possible, find a way to cut out behaviors that expose you to carcinogens. The ACS is fine and all, but they are all about treating people once theyíve been diagnosed with cancer. Iíd prefer that you avoid it altogether. Iíll do some research on this and post my findings, but you know the general threats: hormone additives; fatty meats; low exercise; smoking; toxic pollutants; large electromagnetic fields, etc.

The post below this one will be a eulogy for my mom, Iíd appreciate it if youíd read that too. Itís not good enough yet, but Iíll probably spend some part of the rest of my days trying to make it just right.

No good way to end this one. Find someone you love, tell em how you feel about them, and donít let them go till they know. Go ahead and blame it on me, if you have to.

Posted by Jake at 11:07 AM | TrackBack (0)

Well, I'll spare you of the obligatory "I'm so sorry." I imagine that you and your family will pull through okay. Time and routine are the best remedies for grief. It's strange though, isn't it? This kind of thing is something that is inevitable for all of us, but yet once it hits, you're never prepared. But it's the way we face this inevitability that is often more difficult than the event itself.

Posted by: Eric at January 15, 2004 01:15 PM

In case the obligatory "I'm so sorry" is what you need right now, you can get one from me. Eric is right, of course, with what he says. It is all about the way we deal with the internal struggle than the external events, but still I am sorry for your loss.
As one of the strangers whose life you have touched in many profound ways, let me say that whatever your mother's failings and blessings, I am glad that she did all she did that evoked in you your high qualities. I hope that someday my son shares your passion and commitment.
Take care.


Posted by: Aaron at January 16, 2004 10:51 AM

I'll spare any attempt on my part at being eloquent.
Just wanted to send you my sympathies. Life sucks sometimes. and the effects of cancer are something i've seen way too often.

anyhow, keep the chin up.


Posted by: Datsun at January 16, 2004 05:00 PM

ps: if you need info on cancer and what causes it...shoot, you know what i do.

i've moved on, but give me an email.
i'll give you more than you ever wanted to know about cancer.


Posted by: datsun at January 16, 2004 05:07 PM

I am going through much the same situation with my grandmother of 90 years. She lives with a caregiver who is less than caregiving at best, and I feel a lot of guilt about not just moving in with her to take care of her myself. There must be a certain amount of relief that your mother's pain is over, but I cannot begin to imagine what a loss like that would be like. All of my loved ones are still with me. My mother has always told me that if she was in a position where she couldn't pull the plug herself, that she wishes I would do it for her. I hope I am never confronted with having to make that decision. I really am sorry for your loss. It sounds like she had a loving son and a loving family, and for giving her that, you should feel an immense amount of pride. I want you to know that your story moved me to call my mother, and as well as telling her how much she means to me, I also took the chance to insist that she undergo prescreening for cancer, which she hadn't done for quite a while. Thank you for sharing such a personal story with us all.

Posted by: nobody at January 18, 2004 04:02 PM

I'm sure you know that an Irish wake is a drunken party, or at least that's the generalization of it anyway. The idea behind an Irish wake is a celebration of a person's life and not their passing.

You remember the joys you had with that person, the good times, and the bad, and you think of how much you have been blessed by knowing that person.

While this is little comfort, I hope you can remember that you were blessed by knowing your mother, and all the good times you had with her. Remember these things, because as long as you remember her, she will never be far from you.

Take care,

Posted by: Qikdraw at January 18, 2004 10:25 PM

Thank you for this post - it reminded me of so much. It's odd isn't it? All those emotions and feelings unfiled but somewhat contained while trying to do everyday things. What people forget is that one day, they will be filed but your everyday will be completely different.

Posted by: mare at January 19, 2004 10:53 AM


You are so deeply loved.

It's a testament to your mother's love for you that you turned out so fantastically intelligent, thoughtful, and committed to doing what's right.

And reading all these warm and caring posts makes me see her influence expanding out in even wider circles--she's touched everyone who loves this work to which you are so profoundly committed.


Posted by: michele at January 19, 2004 01:52 PM

Loved your articles in DestroyAll Monthly, and always anticipate your posts. Thank you for expressing your feelings, about your loss, in writing because it helps heal not only yourself but others' anxieties about how to deal with their own personal losses, past, present and future. Maybe you could do a follow-up piece about three-to-six months from now, telling us how you've put things in perspective and how it's affected your views on everything about which you normally blog. Just a thought.

Posted by: Mike at January 19, 2004 03:36 PM

I am sorry. I hope that the pain fades quickly and that it's replaced with the happy memories of your mother.

Posted by: polichick at January 20, 2004 03:57 PM

Sending you good thoughts and wishing you Peace, brother, at this difficult time.
The love we share never goes away, not even at death.
Keep heart.

Posted by: m at January 21, 2004 10:50 PM

I too watched a person in my family "die in slow motion" from cancer, and I have to admire your ability to express, so accurately, the feelings I had and still have for what happened, when words tend to so inaccurately describe emotions. I'm not going to riddle you with advice on how to feel better because I doubt that I'd be very good at that considering I'm not you. I have no idea where your email address is, but I'm getting right on that bill information for you, and a letter that I've been trying to write for a while now that explains how insanely much your work has inspired me to question what the fuck is going on in the world. You must know what a feat that is coming from a 16 year old raised on mtv, suburbs, and dateline. Of course, I give you my condolences.

Posted by: Alyssa at January 23, 2004 06:44 PM

No words can fill the gap, nothing can replace what you, she and your family have gone through. I lost my Dad last summer to a long decline due to congestive heart failure.

All I can say is Thanks.... for being one of the good guys.

Posted by: Kevin Hayden at January 24, 2004 06:56 AM
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Lying Media Bastards is both a radio show and website. The show airs Mondays 2-4pm PST on KillRadio.org, and couples excellent music with angry news commentary. And the website, well, you're looking at it.

Both projects focus on our media-marinated world, political lies, corporate tyranny, and the folks fighting the good fight against these monsters.

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Media News

November 16, 2004

Tales of Media Woe

Senate May Ram Copyright Bill- one of the most depressing stories of the day that didn't involve death or bombs. It's the music and movie industries' wet dream. It criminalizes peer-to-peer software makers, allows the government to file civil lawsuits on behalf of these media industries, and eliminates fair use. Fair use is the idea that I can use a snippet of a copyrighted work for educational, political, or satirical purposes, without getting permission from the copyright-holder first.

And most tellingly, the bill legalizes technology that would automatically skip over "obejctionable content" (i.e. sex and violence) in a DVD, but bans devices that would automatically skip over commericals. This is a blatant, blatant, blatant gift to the movie industry. Fuck the movie industry, fuck the music industry, fuck the Senate.

Music industry aims to send in radio cops- the recording industry says that you're not allowed to record songs off the radio, be it real radio or internet radio. And now they're working on preventing you from recording songs off internet radio through a mixture of law and technological repression (although I imagine their techno-fixes will get hacked pretty quickly).

The shocking truth about the FCC: Censorship by the tyranny of the few- blogger Jeff Jarvis discovers that the recent $1.2 million FCC fine against a sex scene in Fox's "Married By America" TV show was not levied because hundreds of people wrote the FCC and complained. It was not because 159 people wrote in and complained (which is the FCC's current rationale). No, thanks to Jarvis' FOIA request, we find that only 23 people (of the show's several million viewers) wrote in and complained. On top of that, he finds that 21 of those letters were just copy-and-paste email jobs that some people attached their names to. Jarvis then spins this a bit by saying that "only 3" people actually wrote letters to the FCC, which is misleading but technically true. So somewhere between 3 and 23 angry people can determine what you can't see on television. Good to know.

Reuters Union Considers Striking Over Layoffs- will a strike by such a major newswire service impact the rest of the world's media?

Pentagon Starts Work On War Internet- the US military is talking about the creation of a global, wireless, satellite-aided computer network for use in battle. I think I saw a movie about this once...

Conservative host returns to the air after week suspension for using racial slur- Houston radio talk show host (and somtime Rush Limbaugh substitute) Mark Belling referred to Mexican-Americans as "wetbacks" on his show. He was suspended for a couple of weeks, and then submitted a written apology for the racial slur to a local newspaper. But he seems to be using the slur and its surrounding controversy to boost his conservative cred with his listeners.

Stay Tuned for Nudes- Cleveland TV news anchor Sharon Reed aired a story about artist Spencer Tunick, who uses large numbers of naked volunteers in his installations and photographs. The news report will be unique in that it will not blur or black-out the usual naughty bits. The story will air late at night, when it's allegedly okay with the FCC if you broadcast "indecent" material. The author of this article doesn't seem to notice that Reed first claims that this report is a publicity stunt, but then claims it's a protest against FCC repression. I'd like to think it's the latter, but I'm not that much of a sucker.

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Mission: Mongolia

Jake's first attempt at homemade Mongolican barbecue:


What went right: correctly guessing several key seasonings- lemon, ginger, soy, garlic, chili.

What went wrong: still missing some ingredients, and possibly had one wrong, rice vinegar. Way too much lemon and chili.

Result: not entirely edible.

Plan for future: try to get people at Great Khan's restaurant to tell me what's in the damn sauce.

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