Tag Archives: ancestry.com

Do YOU want to follow in my footsteps?

I need to apologize that I’ve been so obsessed with my Ancestry Commercial–it must get pretty boring for most of you.  It has been lots of fun, I’ve heard from friends I haven’t heard from in years and years.  When they put my mug on their homepage (click here) and other pages (click here), well, it kind of exploded.  As a result, I’m not so bored.

But I learned today that the end is nigh: Ancestry sent out an email to all its members, asking them to submit their stories to possibly be made into a commercial.

I clicked-through the email, and there I was, again.  Plus, they created a video about shooting the commercial.  If you’re not too sick of me, click here for the webpage and here for the video.

So I guess this star is starting to  collapse on itself, soon to be sucked back into the black hole of obscurity.   It’ll probably take them a month or two to have the new commercials ready, so I’m still going to enjoy my little piece of fame while I can.

But this is good news for youyou might have your moment to shine–why not submit your own Ancestry story?  Tell them the guy in the Lederhosen sent you.

 

Kyle

PS – click here and give my commercial a few thumbs up now and again, maybe they will keep it running!

PSS – any idea how I can send this out to casting agents or casting directors?  I would love to parley this into something more, but don’t really know anyone or how to go about it.  I do need a retirement career.

PSSS – or maybe I’ll be come a Genealogist?

 

© 2015 Kyle Merker

click on the links, dammit!

 

What my DNA had to say, and how it took me to LA.

I am writing this on an airplane, flying from LAX to JFK. I have a story to tell, all true, and it requires your patience. It’s kind of long. And it goes back in time. Way back.

But I need to start closer to the beginning, back to 2011 when we cruised to Alaska. Our entourage included my mother, my Aunt Georgie, and my future in-laws Glen and Elsa. During the cruise we learned from our fellow passengers Jeff and David that marriage equality had passed in New York, which was kind of a shock since we always said we would only get married if it was legal in our home state. We never imagined they would call our bluff. With our families looking on, we were immediately engaged.

After dinner, Aunt Georgie told me that Uncle Phillip was gay, and so begins my tale. My response was “who the hell is Uncle Phillip? I never heard of Uncle Phillip!” and instantly realized I needed to know more. My mother later whispered in a matter of fact tone “Uncle Phillip was not gay!” Still, I was intrigued.

 

A few years earlier I had poked around on Ancestry (formerly Ancestry.com) and thought I’d fire it up again and try and track down my Great Grand Uncle Phillip. The way Ancestry works is you input what you know, like you parents’ and grandparents’ information. If you’re lucky, Ancestry comes imageback with “hints” to their past, include who their (and by definition your) relations might be. You can see other people’s family trees, along with public records like wills, deeds, census information, passenger lists, etc. From there you can find kernels of information to help build your tree. So, finding Uncle Phillip took a little searching, but wasn’t hard. Getting some dirt, well, that is more of a challenge.

I became obsessed with trying to figure out if Uncle Phillip was a Friend of Dorothy’s or not. I learned a few key facts about him and used them to my advantage. Mom said he was a bachelor, a geologist who lived in El Paso, Texas. I tried to make a survey of the people around him, just to see if there was a “friend” who would consistently appear. Unfortunately the government–with the possible exception of the FBI–doesn’t keep records of who your buddies are. I compared census records at Uncle Phillip’s residences over time to see if the same name would pop up with his (didn’t happen). I googled is name and address (he mostly lived in a boarding house), I searched newspapers, land records, and wills. There wasn’t much, until I discovered that he had lost his passport. I hoped that this was my break.

Back then, if you lost your passport, you basically had someone certify that you’re American. This was 80 years before 9/11; things were a bit looser back then. I somehow stumbled upon the letter written by his friend to secure his documents. “Eureka!” my inner voice rang out. I started investigating his buddy who wrote the letter. His name was Clarence Chester Chase, and it turns he was indicted in The Teapot Dome Scandal in 1924. He was Collector of Customs and, his Father-in-Law, Albert Fall, was a former US Senator and Secretary of the Interior, serving in the cabinet of Warren Harding. Fall went to jail. Nice people you’re hanging with, Uncle Phillip.

Interesting, but my digging didn’t reveal anything about their relationship, in fact Mr. Chase had a wife and kids. Not that that disproves anything–back in the day gay men had a family at home and a boyfriend at the Athletic Club. I never did figure out Uncle Phillip’s orientation, but it really doesn’t matter. I hope he had a full and rich life.

 

Great Grand Uncle Philip
Great Grand Uncle Philip

 

The arrow points to my Great Grandfather, Albert Zimmermann.  If you look where the hose curves, you can see my Grandfather holding my Mother.
The arrow points to my Great Grandfather, Albert Zimmermann. If you look where the hose curves, you can see my Grandfather holding my Mother.

But now I’m deep into the Ancestry website, and I continued tracing other relatives. I didn’t realize my maternal great-grandfather was, like me, a volunteer firefighter–until I found him mentioned in the The Daily Star newspaper. My mother confirmed that he was a volunteer firefighter, and she even had his shield and some pictures, which she gave to me as a present. But the real gift was the connection I now felt with him and my family’s past.

 

I traced as much of my mother’s family as I could, but the trail would sometimes grow cold. My Mom gave me lots of oral history, filling in the blanks where Ancestry could not. I’m still working on it.

image

 

We didn’t really know my Dad’s family, the only person I ever met was his half-sister, Marie, who served as my Godmother, but my christening was the last time we laid eyes on each other. The extended family I knew and loved was solely on my mother’s side. So it was ironic that tracing Dad’s side of my tree was much easier—the Merker branch of my tree lit up like Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

Melvin Edgar Merker II, DDS.  This is a page from his book, Dependable Dentistry, published in 1938
Melvin Edgar Merker II, DDS. This is a page from his book, Dependable Dentistry, published in 1938

I knew his grandfather–my great grandfather–was a dentist, but not much more. Through published business listings I found the address where he practiced, which was on 39th Street in Manhattan. Since we lived on 30th street I strolled over, just to see the building. I also found him on a passenger list from Bermuda. Digging deeper I discovered he held a patent on what seems to be the precursor of the dental implant, and he wrote a book titled Dependable Dentistry, which the University of Michigan digitized in 2008. Apparently it’s still referred to today!

Research was a bit slow. Ancestry allows you to copy information from others’ family trees, but who’s to know if they are right? I found lots of people whose dates didn’t line up—daughters giving birth to mothers, people married to themselves, or, my favorite, the 102 year old woman bearing children. Lots of people had that one. To avoid perpetuating such errors in my tree, I built each branch slowly, adding ancestors only when enough circumstantial evidence was discovered to support it.

Information would come in waves. When Giles Claude Merker drowned in Illinois in 1892, it was covered by the local paper, which disclosed the names of many grieving relatives—this helped me greatly in filling out even more my tree.

 

Newspaper story on Gile's downing.  (Click to enlarge.)
Newspaper story on Gile’s downing. (Click to enlarge.)

 

Karen and Kirsten with their dance partners, me on the floor.
Karen and Kirsten with their dance partners, Kyle on the floor.

Merker. It’s a German name, and my late father’s own genealogical research traced us back to a small town in Germany called Groß-Bieberau. Dad embraced his German heritage. Big time. We ate German food like leberkäse, schnitzel, landjäger and wursts. He belonged to a German social club and we were member of it’s kindergruppe. We were dancers, performing the schuhplattler in parades, fairs and festivals. My father danced the schäefflertanz. I wore lederhosen, Karen and Kirsten wore dirndls. My sisters were even on TV—The Bell Telephone Hour: The World of Christmas with Victor Borge.

Christmas was a celebration of our German Heritage. A miniature Bavarian village glowed under our tannenbaum while we munched on stollen and marzipan. My parents spoke German, but usually just when they didn’t want us to know what they were saying.

We did everything but goose step. We were as German as anyone could be.

 

Kyle with his dance partner.
Kyle with his dance partner.

 

I was understandably confused, therefore, when Ancestry told a different story. Sure, the Merker line went back to Germany, but only one person named Merker. In fact, I couldn’t get back to anywhere else, not for generations. I traced the Merker tree through Illinois, Kentucky, and Maryland. I connected us to several revolutionary war fighters (MERKER FAMILY: get your DAR and SAR applications ready–you’re in!). It’s seems like we fought in every major conflict, including both sides of the Civil War.

Then I found something remarkable. I came upon an ancestor, my fourth great grandfather Samuel Magruder Thrift, in a book called City of Decatur and Macon County, Illinois: A Record of Settlement, Organization, Progress and Achievement. Once upon a time they published these biographies of the local prominent families. These books told where they lived, how much land they owned, and, if it was even remotely interesting, a bit of ancestry. Toward the end of Sam’s entry was a line about his wife, Sarah Fleming Cowan, my fourth great grandmother. It made me sit straight up in my chair while my neck hair did the same. It says:

“Samuel Thrift was united in marriage to Miss Sarah Fleming Cowan, a descendant of the Stuart family of England, her ancestry being traceable directly to Mary, Queen of Scots.”

Now I’m dumbstruck. Could this be true? My research went into overdrive. Before I get your hopes up, let me say this: I am NOT a direct descendant of Mary Queen of Scots, although at the time I didn’t know that, so I was motivated to do a lot more research.

 

But hey, back up! Wait. Breathe. Deep breaths. What about Germany? I still hadn’t gotten there, except one person on my father’s side. What the hell am I doing in Illinois, trying to make my way back to Scotland? What about the beer steins decorated with edelweiss I was supposed to find? This can’t be right: We’re German!

So, what does Kyle do? He gets his DNA analyzed. Yes. Yes I did.

Ancestry has a DNA testing service, so I spit into a vial and mailed it off. The results came back fairly quickly, and my jaw dropped when I opened the page with the results.

The first hit was, understandably, 52% British Isles. No surprise there. My maternal grandmother, who I miss dearly and think of almost every day, her family was from County Cork. 52% seemed high, but it made sense. 52%, I’m good with it.

The next hit: 28% Scandinavian! What? Hold on, think. OK, Scandinavia is up there, just northeast of Germany. Right. But 28%? Hmmm. Borders were fluid back in the day, and everyone was always invading each other so, maybe. But I never heard of Scandinavian as a background for us.  OK, Scandinavia. Great. Maybe I’ll get a discount in Ikea. Wait ‘till I tell Chief Fridsberg!

Next hit: less than 10% Central Europe. Huh? Really? 10%? Even if all 10% is from Germany, we’re not really very German. Still confused, I called my sister Kirsten and we tried to do the math. “Maybe I should get my DNA tested” she mused. “Uh, unless you know something I don’t know, they should be the same…” I suggested before we both laughed so hard my sides hurt.

Not even 10% German, but rather the more generic and ordinary Central European.  Alright, 10%. I wish I knew that when they called me Kraut in grade school, and–maybe–I could have been a good guy once while playing war.

From time to time Ancestry reruns your DNA, and they eventually got back to me. That 10% turned out to be…wait for it…: Greek and Italian! Now it claimed my DNA is less than 4% Central European. My world, and my lederhosen, were turned upside down.

 

My DNA results!
My DNA results!

 

As I said, thanks to Sarah Cowen’s mention in her husband’s biography, coupled with the revelations hidden in my DNA, I really buckled down and went to work, painstakingly finding evidence to get to the bottom of this. What I found was pretty remarkable. If you’re still with me and haven’t fallen asleep yet, or decided you had better things to do (the high dusting comes to mind, have you seen the top of your bookshelves lately?), I’d like to get on with walking you through the more interesting part. The Scottish part. And I’m going to start with me. Let’s climb a tree!

 

To quote Dickens opening title in David Copperfield: Chapter One: I am Born.

Little German Kyle
Little German Kyle

And I was, on August 17, 1961, the third child and only son to Melvin Edgar Merker III (1925 – 2001) and Arlene Zimmermann. Dad wanted to name me Melvin Edgar Merker IV but my mother dug in and named me Kyle. I love you mom, clearly you had my back from day one. Unfortunately I need to leave my mom here and climb a few rungs up the Merker side of my tree.

 

My grandfather was Melvin Edgar Merker II (1903-196?) and my great grandfather was, obviously, Melvin Edgar Merker (1873-?). He was the dentist, and was born in 1873. Think about it—no Novocain. Ouch.

My great-great grandfather was born in 1834, his name was Charles Lewis Merker (1834-1886) and it was his son, Giles Claude who drowned in 1892. It was Charles Lewis’ father who came from Groß-Bieberau.

But we are going to leave the Merkers here in Illinois. It is Charles’ wife, my great-great grandmother, we follow next. Her name was Isabella Lorraine Thrift (1840-1886), and she came from a fairly prominent family. She was born in 1840 to AJ Thrift and Minerva Jane Hawkins (1819-1851).

Her father, Andrew Jackson Thrift (1815-1888) was a jackpot of information. He was my 3rd great grandfather. I found his application to the Sons of the American Revolution, and once I input my ancestors listed on his application, my bonsai-sized tree started to grow into a sequoia. Both of his parents came from very wealthy families, so there is a very discernible trail. Rich people leave wills, deeds, newspaper stories and marriage records in their wake. The poorer you are, the more anonymous you are.

AJ’s parents both have interesting pedigrees. I can trace his father’s ancestors back to Nathaniel Thrift, my 10th great grandfather, who was born in Scotland in 1598 and died in Virginia in 1675. But, while AJ’s Dad’s roots are fascinating, it’s his mother–my 4th great grandmother–Sara Fleming Cowan’s (1792-1864) tree we will continue to climb today. She’s the one who erroneously thought she was a direct descendant of Mary Queen of Scots.

Samuels family goes back for generations in America, and then further back to Scotland
Samuels family goes back for generations in America, and then further back to Scotland

I’m going to climb faster now: Her father was Issac Cowan (1755-1809); his mother was Susannah Fleming (1702-1751); her father was William Fleming (1662-1726); his dad was Patrike Fleming (1657-1754); his Dad was Jon Fleming (1635-1665); and he was fathered by John Richard Wigtown Fleming (1610-1665). It was William and his father Patrike who moved to the United States from Scotland, settling in Pennsylvania.

This is the part of the tree we just climbed.
This is the part of the tree we just climbed.

Whew, let’s rest here a second and catch our breath, and I’ll quickly tell you that during my research I found five men I am descended from with the title Sir, and their wives with the title Lady! Those family names include Kerr, Steuart, Stewart and Fleming. We aren’t climbing any of those branches now, but I was pretty stoked—if nothing else I descended from fancy people with fancy titles!

Let’s climb. I told you that because it gets even better, because John Richard Wigtown Fleming had to address his Father’s Day card to Lord John Second Earl of Wigtown Fleming (1589-1659). My 11th great grandfather was both a Lord and an Earl! Pretty cool, ey? Of course, he was the Second Earl because his father was the first. His name was Lord John Montrose Fleming (1566-1619), who inherited his title of “Lord” from his Dad, John the 5th Baron Lord of Montrose Fleming (1528-1572).

The Flemings
The Flemings, back to Lady Janet

 

He was the 5th Baron Lord and, if we continued to follow his tree we would find a succession of titles. But, as interesting as that story is, it’s his wife we are going to follow now. Her name was Lady Janet and she was my 14th great grandmother. Her full title? Lady Janet Baroness Fleming Princess of Scotland Stewart.   Princess? Of course, because “Pops” was King James IV King of Scotland! Lady Janet was Mary Queen of Scots Aunt and Governess. (Sarah Fleming Cowan was close, not a direct descendant of MQoS, but a distant relative instead.)

Kings of Scotland, my 15th, 16th, 17th great grandfathers and beyond! I’m blown away. One more thing: King James IV’s mother was Margarete Oldenberg and her parents, my 17th Great Grandparents on her side, were the King and Queen of Denmark and Sweden!

 

Lady Janet's, and our, Royal Lineage.  I plan to take it back further, much further.
Lady Janet’s, and our, Royal Lineage. I plan to take it back further, much further.

So that’s my family tree and DNA story, or an interesting fraction of it:  I found the dirt on Uncle Philip, although not the dirt I was looking for.  I feel a new connection with my great grandfather, a volunteer firefighter.  And, after living my life as a German-American, it turns out we’re not only Scottish, but descendant from royalty.

I recently found a book that claims to trace Lady Janet back to Charlemagne, so I still have more digging to do.  Lots more.

I’ve been working on this for years, but never told anyone because, well, it sounds like bullshit. How do you bring this up in conversation without sounding like a pompous jerk?

 

So, what does this have to do with my trip to LA?  I’m coming out of the Royal Closet now for a reason: I was in Los Angeles because Ancestry.com was so interested in my story that they cast me in a commercial! They need to decide which of the 5 commercials they shot will be aired, and let’s hope they choose mine! Those that are chosen will air starting June.  Keep your fingers crossed and I’ll keep you posted.

Me on my set!
Me on my set!

 

But this missive was long enough. I’ll tell you all about taping the commercial in my next post, but it was super fun and I’m very excited!)

 

©2015 by Kyle Merker

 

 

Feel free to like and share. Click the links for more information, and click the pictures for a bigger version.

 

 

 

Karlyn DeBoer 1928-2014

Two people were permanently ensconced in Karlyn’s room when I arrived the next day. They were monitoring her vitals and constantly adjusting machines and medication to keep her alive. She was hooked up to a perpetual EKG machine, she had a respirator down her throat, and a feeding tube. There were other things hooked up, too, but I wasn’t sure what any of it was.

I spoke to the doctor who again asked about family, and restated that his hands were tied. They were required to keep her alive by all means–exactly what she didn’t want. I was beginning to question my decision to call 911. She wasn’t moving and she was ashen gray. I was surprised she was still alive.

I stayed for a little while holding her hand, until I had to go to her apartment, meet George, get the dogs and head upstate.

I called Mom and said I’d have to wash the dogs as soon as I got there, and she agreed. The dogs smelled horrible, still I had no choice but to hold them on my lap for the two hour drive. On the way up we discussed a few points. We didn’t think we should alert her landlord just yet, we didn’t want anyone entering the apartment and going through her belongings. Not that there was anything of value, we just didn’t want her papers disappearing. We also didn’t know what would happen if she was incapacitated for a long time and then needed to return home. With her history of harassment, we thought we should just be quiet.

When we arrived at Moms, she wanted us to wait to wash the dogs—I don’t think she knew how badly they smelled, so I took them up to the shower and did my best. Demi washed-up pretty well, but Minnie’s hair was so thick that you couldn’t really get the smell out, but I was able to reduce it greatly.

I ended up spending two nights at my mothers. My sister lives very close, and I went to her house to use the internet. I wanted to find a family member, any relation, who might have legal authority to make decisions, or find a way to prove that she had no living relatives. But how do you prove a negative?

I went onto Ancestry.com and built her family tree. I had her birth certificate, so I had a good starting point, as it included her date and place of birth, her father’s name, and her mother’s full name including her maiden name.

Have you been on Ancestry.com? I’m fascinated by it. I built my own tree and was amazed by the wealth of information. I’m a paying member, so I have unlimited access to a trove of documents. Also, when someone in your tree matches someone in another member’s tree, they let you know. You can look at their tree and try and determine if there is a match and, if so, you then can build-out your tree even more.

I didn’t get far, and yet I did. The first thing that came up was the 1940 census. Her family was living in Hicksville and Karlyn was 11 years old. It listed only her, her parents and two servants. This was good, I now could prove that when she was 11 she was an only child, so chances are she remained an only child. Servants were a good sign, richer people tend to have more of a paper trail than poorer people, so there was a good chance I would find more. For example, two days before she was born, her father arrived on a ship from France. It must have been a business trip because he wasn’t traveling with his very pregnant wife.

Ancenstry.com told me I had a hint, which means something in her tree matched something else. Often it’s records, but in this case it was another person’s tree. Turns out she had an aunt, her father’s sister, who was married and had a child. If the child was alive, he’d be a first cousin. Hmmm. I kept digging.

The child, Lester, was no longer alive, but if he had a child then there would be a first cousin once removed. I didn’t know if that was good enough for the hospital, but it was worth a shot. Although I could not find evidence of a child, I did find that there were relations of his wife’s that were still alive. I kept digging. That’s when I found Ed. Ed Fitzgerald. A relation of Karlyn’s cousin’s wife.

I sent him a message on ancestry.com. You can send a message to another member and Ed had built an extensive family tree. I also found two other members that had distant relations by marriage to Karlyn, and I sent them ALL messages. I must have sounded like I was the King of Nairobi who won the lottery and I needed help to get my money out—because no one responded. But I’m tenacious, and Ed was my best lead. I started googling his name, doing searches here and there and, low and behold, I had a phone number. I left a crazy message and Ed called me back.

I told him the story, stopping to sob into this stranger’s ear now and again. He was able to confirm that Lester and Helen had no children and that was that. Karlyn had no living relatives. Ed was very kind and promised to help however he could, and I promised to take him up on it if I needed him.

I called the hospital and, to my surprise, the nurse gave the phone to Karlyn’s social worker. She had a social worker! She was in the hospital for two and half days and I never heard from this person, but I was glad to have her on the line. I told her what I found out and she said “Yeah, I have to start working on this. If she has no relatives then we can make you her guardian, but I need to start my due diligence.” I said “Yes, please, if you could, I really hate to see her suffer” and on the inside I was screaming “WTF! She been in there around 60 hours and you haven’t lifted a finger to start the process? WTF are you waiting for!!!” But, instead, I promised to follow up the next day. She reminded me the next day was Thanksgiving and she’d be gone until Monday. I did not curse her out. Fuck. Monday. Fuck.

Then it started to snow.

It snowed so hard that my mother, sister, and I decided that we could not drive down the next day to Queens for Thanksgiving and we were right: the snow was pretty deep and it didn’t make sense. I spent most of Thanksgiving searching the internet for more relatives, but Ed was all I had. I called the hospital a few times and her condition had not changed.

Mom seemed to like the dogs, and while I was there I had them on “puppy schedule”. Since Karlyn let them go on papers, I was not sure if they were well trained and, indeed, they weren’t. So I figured I’d walk them every two hours, praise them lavishly when they went outside, scold them when they went inside, and if they went on the papers, well, that was neutral territory. Once they got that, I would expand from two hours to three, then four, then more. That was my plan. But I wasn’t going to be there.

One problem was the name Demi. My mother couldn’t remember it, so she called her Debbie and that was that. It was close enough for her to respond, and easy enough to remember.

Towards the end of Thanksgiving Day the plows had done their job and Mom drove me to the train. I needed to get to the hospital.

 

The next two weeks are a blurr. Let me give you the short version, even if it’s not short.

When I got to the hospital Thanksgiving night, a very nice young Doctor said he was glad I was there. He talked to me about Karlyn. She was not getting better, ever. He had spoken to the Legal Department to begin the process of making me her medical proxy, but wanted to be sure I was willing to do it. I told him that the social worker would begin her research on Monday, and he said he was going around her.

Karlyn’s arms were tied to the bed. She was clearly uncomfortable. In fact, I would say she was in pain. She kept pulling out her IV’s and tubes, so they had to restrain her. She would try and move her hands, and shake her head back and forth in either frustration or pain. She was miserable. I held her hand, then I went and found the doctor and said I would do it. I also asked him give her more pain meds.

On a side note, the doctor was very cute, in a nerdy kind of way, and I told my niece she should come up from the ER on her break and meet him. I know, terrible, right? She had just started seeing someone, but why not have a back-up plan? She never came up so they never met, but I have his name and noted the absence of a wedding ring, just in case she changes her mind.

It took two days to get medical authority, until then they monitored her closely. The staff was very good. Before giving me final authority, they came in and tried to get her to respond one more time, to see if she could express her wishes by blinking or squeezing his hand. She could not. Everything was now up to me.

Now I had hard decisions to make. I had them take her off the respirator as this was causing the most discomfort, and she was breathing on her own. I instructed them not to take extraordinary means to revive her if she coded again. This meant she no longer needed to be in ICU, since she would not be needing their services.

They moved her to a regular ward, but with a doctor who specialized in geriatrics. When I met with him, he said it was just a matter of time. He didn’t outright recommend removing the feeding tube, but he hinted at it. This was a tough one. I asked him a lot of questions about her condition and what it would be like for her if we removed the tube. He thought she would pass away in about two weeks with the tube removed, and it could be a month or longer if we left it in. She wouldn’t feel like she was starving, she was not aware of much sensation. I had to think.

When I got there the next day, they had moved her to another room. She was still miserable, and I asked them to give her something to make her settle down and be comfortable, and about 20 minutes later they did. When I thought about it, they always gave her something when I asked, but why did I have to ask? The nurse said it had to be requested. What??? I would have called every four hours and requested pain meds had I known. Hospitals are no place to be sick.

Seeing her so miserable, I ordered regular pain medication and I decided to remove the tube. If I didn’t she would be miserable for weeks on end, but the final result would be the same. She didn’t want to be here, she didn’t want to be kept alive. She had told us so. It was my job to keep her as comfortable as possible, not to keep her heart beating.

She was moved again, this time to the hospital’s new geriatric ward. She still had the feeding tube in, and she was still miserable. The nurse was great, she said it wasn’t in her chart for pain meds every four hours as I had requested.  “Should I page the doctor for you?” she hinted, and I said she should.

I waited two hours and had the doctor paged again. When she arrived I tried to remain very calm, but I was very upset. “No, it’s in her record for pain meds every four hours” she said, then looked at the nurse who was still in the room. I said “look, someone is wrong, and I don’t really care who. I care that Karlyn gets her pain meds regularly, that she does not suffer”. I was crying now, I couldn’t help it, but I was remarkably calm. “Someone had promised she would get meds.  She needs constant pain meds. And we need the feeding tube removed.”

The doctor apologized, and said the feeding tube could not come out until the Medical Ethics board met the next morning. I said that was fine.

The next morning the nurse met me. Karlyn was on regular meds and was much more comfortable. And her feeding tube was out. “I got permission to untie her, and she pulled it out herself and immediately calmed down went to sleep” the nurse admitted. I loved this nurse.

A new day, a new nurse, a new social worker, a new room. I was starting to get dizzy. And this is how it is. You develop relationships with the staff and then you have new staff and have to start all over. Most of the staff was great, but now and again I came up against someone not up to speed. Like the transport nurse who moved her from ICU into the ward. Karlyn’s arm was hanging out the side of the bed. The nurse ignored me when pointed out the dangling arm, so during the move I made it my job to protect it. This lady was not just indifferent, but a bad driver as well. Karlyn’s new team comprised of three solid, unamused Jamaican nurses. These ladies were tough, and I trusted them completely. The gave it to the transport nurse who, right in my face, lied and said she fixed the arm several times but it kept falling out. They didn’t believe her—clearly they’d dealt with her before.

The new social worker was trying to get her into hospice. This hospital did not have hospice, so she would have to be moved. “How do I do that?” I asked, confused. Turns out they put her in an ambulance. I don’t know what I was thinking, of course that’s what they do. Did I think I would hail a cab or give her a ride on my Citibike handlebars? Sometimes my brain just freezes up.

They moved her to Belleview Hospital where the Visiting Nurse Service of New York has a hospice ward. They could not have been more wonderful. She was comfortable, there were no beeping machines, volunteers came in and talked with her, although it this point she was not responding at all. They also did a good job of taking care of me. I was so emotionally drained at this point that I needed to be here, too.

The hospital’s job is to keep you alive, so access to pain meds require several levels of authorization. Hospice’s job is to keep you comfortable, so they are more liberal with medication. This was the right place to be.

Less than 72 hours later I got the phone call in the middle of the night. This two week period felt like two years, and I while I was sad for Karlyn, I was relieved.

I was informed that I now had to make the decision for disposal of her remains. Karlyn had wanted her body donated to science, she had said so several times. Apparently I had the legal authority to have her buried or cremated, but not donated. The Hospice Social Worker went to work, and got the Albert Einstein Medical College’s legal staff to work with the Hospice legal team to grant me the authority to donate her remains as, again, she had nothing in writing. It took 24 hours, but she got her wish.

They listed me on her death certificate, which should totally confuse future Ancestor.com members.

This entry is long enough, it is time to post it. I have a few quick tales related to this, but they’re not so sad. I’d also like to tell you about the rest of our time in New York, and our current stay in Ecuador.

Before I go, a word of advice: put your wishes in writing. Do it now. Make sure your family has a copy. Update it regularly. Don’t wait. You’re not too young to do it. Take the pressure off of your loved-ones. Make all your decisions yourself. Now.