The long, winding road…


The last few months have been difficult for me. The reality of my mother’s death didn’t really hit me until around Easter. Let’s just say I was very depressed, and my mind went into a very dark place. Mother’s Day was equally difficult.

With both of my parents gone, my connection to the past is now gone. Until that point, I had an anchor, and a connection. When times were bad, I could always turn to Mom for advice. I can’t do that anymore. If I no longer have an anchor, it’s because now I am the anchor. When I looked at my family tree, it used to be that I was one link in a chain. But now, there is no one ahead of me. I am no longer part of a line, but the beginning of one. And since I am at the beginning of my family line I am now, arguably, part of the outgoing generation.

I have become very aware of my own mortality. I have already seen and read about people in my age bracket dying. Lately I’ve been thinking about what I want to do or experience, and finding out what would be needed to make those things happen. I should have another twenty or thirty years, so I shouldn’t have to rush. But my time is still finite, and I’m quite certain that the time before me is shorter than the time behind. So I shouldn’t just sit around and wait for things to fall into place. Whatever was going to fall into place has, by now, already done so. The rest is up to me.

To anyone reading this, I would advise you to pursue whatever dreams and goals you can, while you still have time available. If you’re young, reach for the sky, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. If you’re old, enjoy the memories of your successes, no matter what they are. But at the same time, look around. You may still have time to squeeze in another dream or two. If you’re in the middle, like me, draw a line between the flighty dreams of childhood and the attainable ones of maturity, aim at one of the later, and forge ahead.

It’s been said so many times that it’s a cliche, but we only live once. Make it count.

Janet H. Pugh, 1936-2015


Some things are difficult, if not impossible, to talk about. So I’m not going to try. Instead, I’ll share her obituary from the Donald L. Barber funeral home, as it appeared on February 2.

Janet Habecker Pugh, 78, formerly of Warren St., Homer, passed away on Thursday, January 29, 2015 in Silver Spring, MD.

She was born August 21, 1936 in Lawrence, MA; a daughter of the late Joseph and Alice Langlais Habecker. She graduated St. Anne’s High School in Lawrence in 1954, Merrimack College in 1958, and received her Masters of Arts from Michigan State in 1962.

Janet and her late husband, David L. Pugh, settled in the Cortland and Homer area in 1962.

She was a communicant of St. Margaret’s Church, serving on the landscaping committee and as a religious education teacher. Mrs. Pugh also was a member of the SUNY Cortland Faculty Wives Club, Leisure Club, and the Little York Garden Club for 25 years.

She was employed for more than 20 years at SUNY Cortland as an English teacher and had also archived records for Cortland County.

Janet had also been a candle and craft designer, worked in cabbage pollination at Reed’s Seeds, and served as an adjunct professor at Michigan State.

Surviving are two sons, James W. (Jeanne) Pugh of Brookeville, MD and Richard J. (Lisa) Pugh of Boston, VA; four grandchildren, Connor, William, Caitlin and Michael Pugh; a sister, Alice Valliere and several nieces and nephews.

Funeral services will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, February 5, 2015 in St. Margaret’s Church, 14 Copeland Ave., Homer, where a Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated by Rev. Paul Alciati. Janet will be laid to rest beside her beloved David in Glenwood Cemetery at a later date.

The family will receive friends following the service in the basement of the church.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions in Mrs. Pugh’s memory may be made to The American Diabetes Association or The American Cancer Society.

The funeral arrangements are being handled by the Donald L. Barber funeral home. The Barber family have been long time members of St. Margaret’s parish in Homer. My brother and I both went to school with members of the family. This is the same funeral home that handled my father’s funeral, back in 1993.

The reality of this still hasn’t set in for me, yet. The idea of a world without Janet Pugh somewhere in it, is still unthinkable. I guess this is just part of the whole grieving process.

For a refresher on some of the events leading up to this point:

January, 2015, surrounded by her immediate family. This is one of the last photos of her ever taken.

With her grandchildren, in November of 2014.

With her two boys, in November of 2014.

Again with her grandchildren, Thanksgiving Day, 2014.

With Caitlin and Michael, May of 2014.

On my brother’s wedding day, August of 2002.

Again with her two boys, in October of 1987 at Letchworth State Park. She never liked my beard.

On her wedding day, 1964.

As a graduate of Merrimack College in 1958.

Christmas Yet to Come


Twelfth Night: the final night of the Christmas season, and the more or less official end of the holidays. So ends another Christmas season. And I strongly suspect that Christmas of 2015 will be radically different from any other Christmas to date.

If you’re read any of my other articles about this holiday season, then you probably know that our big holiday road trip was cut short. Truth be told, there has been a cloud over my head throughout this holiday season, and it’s been hard to deal with.

A few days before we left for our trip, my mother was admitted to MedStar Medical Center in Montgomery County, Maryland, with something they could only describe as “very serious.” We came close to cancelling our trip because of this, but she talked us out of that. She didn’t want us to miss this chance to see family and friends that we haven’t seen in a long time, just because she was cooped up in a hospital.

At the time I asked her, flat out, if the Grim Reaper was at her door. She said no, but she’s pretty sure he’s only a few blocks away. The problem is, I know my mother well enough that I could tell she was apprehensive, if not worried, and she was probably holding something back.

Half way through our trip, Mom asked me to come home. That pretty much told me everything I needed to know.

She has stage four cancer. The cancer started in her uterus area, and spread to other parts of the body. Of particular interest was some swelling against the heart, which was causing shortness of breath and fatigue. That’s what caught the attentions of the doctors, actually. I remember at Thanksgiving she was complaining about shortness of breath. Apparently that was this strange growth, and it was moving fast. Radiation has brought this particular issue under control, but the original cancer remains a problem.

In all likelihood, Christmas of 2014 will turn out to be her last.

And that is what has me in a funk. My mother has always been a strong willed and determined woman. Sometimes she was like a force of nature. She was widowed at a fairly young age, and watched several members of her family succumb to a variety of maladies over the years. But it looked like she had beaten the odds on that front. Roughly 18 months ago she sold her long time house in Homer, New York, and moved to Silver Spring, Maryland. She moved into a retirement community where she could be closer to her grandchildren, and the plan was that she would enjoy this relaxed, retirement lifestyle for several years.

Mom with her four grandchildren.

Fate apparently had other plans. She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease just over a year ago, so her ability to do a lot of things had been stunted. But she was managing, and the disease was being controlled. This cancer took us by surprise, though in hindsight the signs had been there for quite some time. We just didn’t recognize them for what they were.

She is now in the process of moving out of the retirement community, and into a nursing home. In her case, the nursing home will be serving as a hospice. Instead of several years, she only has a few months. My brother, largely out of necessity, has been handling most of the logistics of this transition, and it’s weighing very heavily on him. The next steps will involve dealing with her apartment and her various belongings. That will probably involve getting a storage area; I can help him with that part, at least.

Mom with her two boys, me (left) and my brother, James (right).

I suspect I’m projecting and/or deflecting, because this is proving very difficult to address. This will sound cliche, but mom has become a shadow of the woman she used to be, and it’s painful to see. The idea of life without my mother being somewhere in this world is a difficult one to consider. It’s one of those things that we all know is likely to happen, but when faced with the reality of it, it’s hard to truly fathom.

If there is a silver lining in this, she isn’t in any lasting pain, and she still seems to have most of her mental faculties. They are greatly slowed, but still present. At this point, all I can do do is hope and pray that these last few months will be peaceful and comfortable for her, and that when the Grim Reaper does finally arrive he has the decency to arrive while she’s sleeping. As for how these months will treat my brother and I, our wives and our children, is another story entirely.

Photo credits: Lisa and Richard Pugh.

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