What can I say about Duane?

It’s been a week since my dad’s funeral. No, it hasn’t really sunk in yet that he’s gone. How could it? Duane was always larger than life, one of those people you just can’t talk or think about without smiling–maybe because you’re remembering one of the racy jokes he used to tell.

It’s hard to write about Duane…there’s just too much to say. Every thought of him leads to a story that leads to another memory that leads to another person that leads to another story. It makes it hard to figure out where to start (and it feels impossible to share it all). And Duane was a guy who loved a good story.

Duane knew everyone and everyone’s stories. He collected them, catalogued them, filed them away. He knew everyone and their stories because he cared. He knew people’s stories because people mattered to him. And the funny thing about Duane is that it didn’t make a difference whether he knew you for 30 seconds or 30 years, no matter how/when/why you found your way into his orbit, the result was always the same–he would CARE about you. You’d start out sharing a drink or an elevator ride and then the next thing you know you’re borrowing his truck to move into your apartment or watching him adjust your son’s training wheels because he noticed they were a little wobbly when he rode by on the sidewalk.

Duane was a person who left everything better than he found it. Every house or apartment we ever lived in was cleaner when we left than when we moved in. Every person Duane met or talked to always walked away in a better mood, with a better outlook, or with a funny (and slightly inappropriate) story to share. This world is a better place because Duane was in it, and that was made clear in his final days, as I watched friends and family and near-strangers flock to his side to say goodbye.

It makes you think a lot about life, to see your father there bravely facing the end of it–watching the aides and nurses and therapists and doctors staying late and coming in on their days off, telling him that they loved him, squeezing his hands, kissing him on the forehead.

It makes you think about what is most important in this life as you sit with someone you love through their last days. And while I’ve often said that the thing I value most in this life is connection (and that I truly believe the one purpose we all share here as humans is to find ways to connect with each other), I think the power of human connection has never been so clear and powerful for me than what I’ve witnessed in these last days, weeks, months since Duane went to the hospital for the last time.

Duane loved life. He LOVED life. No matter how beautiful or brutal or complicated or challenging, Duane was down for the ride. And even after the cancer diagnoses and the difficult surgeries, he didn’t really slow down much at all. He was determined to squeeze every last drop out of this life and move onto the next on his own terms–and I’ll be damned if that’s not exactly what he did. I always knew my dad was strong–working as hard as he always did, raising Lindy and I, dealing with his own obstacles and life lessons and losses, graduating to grandparenthood, navigating all the health challenges, etc.–but somehow everything he endured before now seems so small compared to the things he faced these last few months.

For almost three months, we watched Duane get sick, recover, relapse, keep fighting, go on hospice, go off hospice, go on a ventilator, go to rehab, refuse to give up, and then finally surrender. He tried everything, exhausted every opportunity, never gave up, right up to the moment when he told us it was time to go. And I think, out of everything, I am most thankful for that extra time, because it gave us a chance to make his last day his best day, so we could come together and let him go.

We prayed and took communion. He shared a cold 6-pack of Busch Light and Dot’s honey mustard pretzels with Harry and Stevie and Thorin. He dictated all his wishes for a simple graveside service and luncheon to Mom, with a handful of other instructions for after he was gone. Lindy and Richard and Odin and Henry came after school. Cadence said her goodbye to Papa the day before. Jim and Cindy arrived, and Jim mixed Duane his first Windsor & 7 in months. Then the four friends settled in to watch the Husker women’s volleyball team take down Indiana. We all laughed a bit and cried some too. One by one, we all said our goodbyes.

One of the things I find most remarkable about my dad is that for all the genuine care and love he put out into this world, he never really said it: “I love you.” If I’m being totally honest here, I don’t know if I never heard my dad say those words. I would joke with him about it sometimes, trying to illicit some reaction or make some sense out of why those words always seemed elusive.

Duane never said “I love you” but he showed it in a million ways, and anyone who ever knew him can probably tell a story about how my dad showed up, helped out, or just listened or gave advice when they needed it most. He always wanted everyone to leave a little better than they came in. He made sure everyone was taken care of, no matter what. He never said, “I love you.” It was always a finger wave and a “Yep, I’ll see ya.” But somehow, even if he never came right out and said it, he always had a way of making everybody feel like they were the most important people in the world. And we saw so much of that love come back to him as so many gathered last week to pay their respects and welcome him home. (Smartest decision Mom and I made was to upgrade to the big room at the Bertrand Community Building…I just had a feeling there might be a few people who needed to tell my dad goodbye).

That last night, I needed him to know that I loved him. I needed him to know that I knew he loved me too. So I waited until we had a quiet moment in the room together before I left. I knelt down beside the bed and touched his arm.

“I love you, Dad” I said. “We all love you. You know that right?”

He nodded and reached for his electro-larnyx. Then he said, “I wasn’t ever much good at saying it.”

I nodded.

“Maybe you never said it, but you showed it in a million ways. Remember when I would drive home from college? I’d always wake up the next morning and my car would be in the shop for an oil change and a tune-up, and the tank was always miraculously full of gas.” He smirked and nodded. I went on. “And remember the chairs you bought me after I had Cadence and Henry? You were worried about me being able to get up off the couch after my surgeries, you insisted I have the right chairs to recuperate.”

We were both crying then, and it was time to go. I told him I loved him and I kissed him on the forehead. He waved a finger at me and smiled.

“Yep, I’ll see ya.”

I’m not a religious person. It’s not for lack of trying. I just can’t seem to find one that holds sacred everything I do…no exceptions or exclusions. So, I always settle for just saying I’m spiritual and that I believe in something so much bigger than me and all of us that includes and embraces and IS all of us (and then at that point even I start getting kinda dizzy, so I just leave it at that and move on). But ask me right now, this moment, how I KNOW that there is something so much bigger than this and that death is not something to fear because it’s not really an “end.” Ask me how I know death is just a temporary interruption, a small glitch, a thin veiled passage between this place to something else. I know this, because when I said goodbye to Duane that night (and we both knew it was the last time we were saying goodbye in this place), when I told him I loved him and said good night, he smiled and waved a finger and said with absolute certainty, “Yep, I’ll see ya.”

Yep, I’ll see ya, Duane. And until it’s my time to join that epic party I have no doubts you’re now busy orchestrating in the place we all graduate to after this, all I hope is that I can spend my precious time here making this life and this world better than I found it and taking good care of the people around me…just like you showed me how to do.

CLICK HERE to watch Duane’s graveside service. And if you have a memory you’d like to share, feel free to leave it in the comments or email it to lori.romano07@gmail.com.

My thoughts on the overturn of Roe v. Wade

I am a woman who stands in the very intersection of this pro-life/pro-choice debate, so I feel moved today to share my thoughts on what happened today as the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. I mean, it’s not every day the government of your country votes to make you and all the other millions of women into second class citizens. It’s not every day you are told you don’t matter, not if you have a uterus. Nope. If you have a uterus, only your uterus matters…and the government just better go ahead and decide exactly how that uterus gets to exist, how that uterus will be used, and how that uterus will quickly be forgotten (along with the rest of you), when it’s no longer working the way the government thinks it should.

I have a unique perspective on this one…maybe one that a lot of people on both sides of this issue may be unable to see or articulate. I was adopted as an infant, born to a mother who was just 15. She chose life for me, because even at that tender age, even with a mountain of hardships in her life that would have made it impossible for her to keep me and provide the kind of life she thought I deserved, she also understood that she had some privileges she could leverage, too. She was a young, healthy girl who had the support of her family to get her though the pregnancy and the trauma of birth and placing me for adoption.

I’m going to stop and say that again, because I need you take a moment and really hear me—the trauma of birth and placing her baby for adoption.

Because even in the best of circumstances, and I would honestly say mine are pretty close to the “best of circumstances”—where a healthy young woman had some support and access to good food, a roof over her head, and some prenatal care—there is still a deep and undeniable trauma that comes as a result of the separation of mother and child. Period. Most people don’t like to talk about that, let alone create and fund the support services needed to help the mother and child AND adoptive families deal with that trauma. But you don’t ever hear anyone talk about that when they lift adoption as the beautiful, ideal solution for those mothers who are unable to take the best care of these babies they are compelled to have. It also doesn’t seem like mothers matter enough in this country to even warrant actual maternity leave to allow the time needed for their bodies to heal and recover after growing and birthing a brand new human. I was still bleeding and in pain from my c-sections when I had to return to work, and I used up every scrap of paid and unpaid leave I was allowed to take.

So here is one of my mothers, faced with an impossible situation, and she had to make the best decision she could for her and her unborn child. She chose to give up part of herself and her life to give me mine. And that should be her choice, and hers alone.

Her body. Her life. Her choice.

My other mother, my adoptive mother, was older, married, relatively financially stable, and longing for a family. She had three miscarriages trying to conceive and carry a baby to term. She and my dad got close, once, and there’s an old photo album and tiny gravesite to mark the pain of their loss. They decided then to adopt, and were able to adopt my sister and I just 1 year and 16 days apart. It sounds like the best possible situation for everyone, and I will agree it truly was the best possible situation because I’m here, right? I’ve had this life.

But all of it came at a cost to all of us, and the effects rippled through our families. And yes, while overall, I will always be positive about what I have had and experienced in this life of mine, it hasn’t been free of pain or heartbreak or sorrow. All three of us have experienced the absolute best and worst of this world because we’ve had this shot at life together, but ALL of that came because both of these women came, in some way, from those privileged places where they had the means and the support and the safety nets they needed to make those choices.

Most women in this country today DO NOT have those privileges and support and safety nets. Many women in this country don’t have access to nutritious food, safe places to live, jobs to support themselves and their families, equal access to education, even basic healthcare. Many women don’t have the means to support a child—financially, physically, emotionally. And that doesn’t even begin to touch on the complications that come from situations where a woman is raped, or when a hopeful expectant mother is told her baby is suffering from a genetic disorder or a life-threatening disease that could endanger her life too, if carried to term.

In some states, even miscarriages could be deemed “illegal” now. So my adoptive mother, with all of her best intentions to have the American Dream of getting married and having a job and starting a family—even she becomes a villain, a criminal, in this new world we’re living in today after the Supreme Court’s ruling. I have to hope that some of those Justices just didn’t think all of this through before they voted as they did. The alternative—that they had thought through these scenarios, and still voted the way they did—would make me seriously question both their sanity and their motives.

And then there’s this whole unimagined scenario where my birthmother decided to keep me. At 15, she may have had to drop out of high school—or at least college would have been out of the question (which she started after I was adopted, but is still trying to finish today after stopping out when my half-siblings were born a few years later).

And my birthfather? He’s a wonderful man, and his family were good, hardworking people, but they were poor, and he was just 17 when I was born. His football talent offered a scholarship to college, which he may have had to forfeit if he took on the role of full-time dad.

So maybe before we decide that EVERY woman in this country should be forced to bring EVERY pregnancy to term to bring as many babies as possible into this world because, “Yea! Babies! We love babies!”, we should actually think what essential systems must be in place so we can, as one large human community of the United States of America, ensure that ALL babies have access to what they need to survive and thrive and become well-adjusted, supported, productive, accepted, and genuinely cared for members of society.

Maybe we should keep our politics off each others’ bodies altogether. Unless, of course, along with this strict control over the output of every uterus in this country, there also comes a 2-for-1 deal on vasectomies for every penis. We want to keep things fair, don’t we, because we’re all in this together, right? For the babies?

I’m home with laryngitis. My voice literally just disappeared yesterday. And when I went to the doctor, she told me I needed to just rest and not talk for a couple days, so I was camped out on the couch at home working and sending emails and joking with my colleagues that the universe was telling me to be still, be quiet, when the news broke. And it started to dawn on me as I felt the anger rising and the words itching to come out, that maybe the universe knew I needed to be home for this, because it hits me at home in deeply personal ways—as an adopted child, a sexual assault survivor, the mother of a young daughter, and a woman still of reproductive age with hella white privilege in this country at this stage and station in my life where I have a good job, decent financial security, a big supportive family, a community of friends who are just as close as family, reasonable access to healthcare, a home, a car, health insurance, and two beautiful children who were wanted, planned, and a choice that all of those other privileges allowed me to make in order to bring these two beautiful lives into the world.

But what kind of world did I bring these beautiful lives into?

Is it a world well-prepared and able (and willing) to come together as one large community to help those precious lives feel loved and cared for? Is it a community where ALL of the beautiful, precious lives are celebrated and included and supported to be the best, most authentic versions of themselves? Because that’s why we want them to be born in the first place, right? To BE exactly who they are? Because to want them to be anything but EXACTLY who they are isn’t really protecting their “right to life” is it?

Whew! Okay, good. Glad we could take a second and clear that one up for all the folks in our country who are feeling unseen, uncared for, unappreciated, discriminated against, targeted, or encouraged/required to show up in this world as anything other than their beautiful, uniquely authentic selves. Thanks! We’ll be sure to be on the lookout for the rulings and the laws to make sure that happens…though someone might want to get Justice Clarence Thomas on the same page, because it sounds like he’s already looking to ban the contraception that allowed me to plan my pregnancies so I could give my babies and myself the best possible lives. Oh, and while he’s at it, he’s already talking about taking away rights from same-sex couples, which would pretty much decimate their right to live their lives as the actual humans they were born to be. Let’s see if we can get on the same page there too, while we’re at it, okay?

But this isn’t just an issue that hits hard at home for me. It’s an issue that hits at work, too, because I sit with students in those moments when they get assaulted and have to worry about the possibility of an unwanted pregnancy on top of the trauma they just endured and haven’t even begun to process yet. I sit with students who learn they’re pregnant and suddenly realize their immediate future is falling apart…but they don’t have time for that. They’ve got decisions to make because the clock is ticking if they even happen to live in a state that allows them the possibility of having an abortion.

And does it soften the blow that word—abortion—tends to have on folks if we throw in circumstances like the student is poor and the pregnancy was the result of abuse, only compounding the trauma of the abuse with more trauma if she is forced to carry the abusers’ child to term, and then attempt to place the baby for adoption?

And we haven’t even touched on the effects of gestational trauma that babies experience in utero, or the effects generational trauma this child will carry with them into their adoptive family, who have all of their own experiences and traumas.

Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? And a really healthy environment for everyone involved.

This country is poised in a very precarious position, where they could either start making some massive mistakes (the first of which happened today when the U.S. Supreme Court abolished Roe v. Wade and stripped all humans with uteruses the right to make decisions about their own bodies, regardless of their wants or needs or privileges or lack thereof, which, if I’m not mistaken, is sort of a twisted violation of their own “right to life” now isn’t it?) And it hits me that maybe the universe silenced me today so I’d pick up my pen instead, because maybe someone like me on a day like this might have something important to say, maybe even something worth listening to.

Because just as we are poised at the edge of one of the most colossal failures in the history of human existence, I think maybe we’re also poised at the edge of this incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity too. An opportunity to actually get this whole life thing right for ALL of us for a change. ALL humans. And maybe even every other creature on this living, breathing planet we have been entrusted to care for, too, so it can, in turn, support and sustain our existence…and all these babies!

I think it’s truly our CHOICE where we ALL go from here.

So if you are a human with a uterus, or perhaps more importantly, if you are a person who loves a human with a uterus, it’s time to pay attention, to rise up, to speak out, and to start making some choices of your own that can lead us closer to that world where every human with a “right to life” has the right to a life worth living in the first place. A world where we will, as one large community, care for each other and for those babies longer after they’re babies, because that “right to life” can’t matter at conception and then suddenly NOT matter after birth. That just doesn’t make any sense, does it?

Here’s the truth I see from where I’m sitting—we humans could do some really incredible, meaningful shit if we focused our attention and intentions on the kind of life we can create for each other and those precious babies OUTSIDE the womb. We sure spend a lot more time out here, don’t we? Seems like it might be a pretty great return on investment if we stop and really collectively think about that for a moment, and then come together, collaborate, support each other, love each other exactly as we are, and make it happen.

Maybe that’s the work that starts tomorrow.

I’m ready. Who’s in?

%d bloggers like this: