Memorial Day 2021

It is the very last day in May this year.

In St. Bernard, Ohio the little town surrounded by a bigger town in which my wife of fifty-plus years grew up and left at an early age, they had a simple recognition ceremony of those who were killed in the two world wars, the Korean conflict, the Vietnam war and the current excursions into Iraq and Afghanistan. It is a day of remembrance. Sometimes a day of sadness and grief.

Last year the ceremony was non-existent due to the COVID-19 restrictions. This year it was poorly attended. There were perhaps fifty people and half of those were participants.

A DJ played music before the gathering (including the green beret song), the appropriate marches for each branch of the armed forces (the new Space Corps was not included) as the particular flag was raised and “Hang on Sloopy” before the Ohio pennant was raised. “Hang on Sloopy” is the official rock song of Ohio. The Smooth Transitions, a quartet singing group, did a great job singing “Grand Old Flag”, “God Bless America” and “Our Land St. Bernard”. It had the feel of an outdoor religious service.

Wreathes were place by several civic groups to honor the fallen servicemen. The fire chief of St. Bernard read the names of those who died and as he was doing that a small flag was placed for each man at the foot of the small rise that is topped with flag poles and a monument.

Cheryl was feeling good today so I took her to attend. Afterward we drove around St. Bernard. We drove through St. Mary Cemetery to view her mother and father’s grave sites. Later we drove through Gate of Heaven Cemetery where my parents and Aunt Margaret Dwenger are buried. My mother’s older sister made a career of the Navy and retired as a Lieutenant Commander. She was never married.

It is Memorial Day. It is a day of remembrance for us all.

Carpe Diem.

A Prescription

Many years ago my family doctor gave me this prescription.  “6 weeks on a sunny beach” — He has since retired from private practice.  Looking back to that year from today, there was a lot going on in my life.  Looking at the date on the prescription, June 28, 2006, it was the first year that Cheryl started noticing symptoms of Parkinson’s. There is still much happening in our life.

None of those things is as peaceful as this rose. Thanks to Edie Kynard’s Art I have this wonderful rose to contemplate.

In a couple weeks I will travel to California to be with my sister and others to celebrate my nephew’s marriage.

In one week Ohio is officially open for mask-less escapades to wherever.

Last evening our stock club met in our favorite bar for the third time this year.  (We talked about death stocks.  See previous post.)  The presenter of SCI did not solidly endorse it as a stock for the club to buy at this time. Perhaps the club is not solidly interested in deathly stocks. Kroger is in our portfolio and it was up for revue (yes it is misspelled on purpose). Part of the discussion settled around how much Joe Biden’s $15 minimum wage proposal would affect Kroger’s bottom line. ( I am not sure why it is Joe’s idea but there are many conservative capitalists in our club.) A quick search of the internet of all knowledge turns up the information that the average folk starts at $11.62 at Kroger. If you can wield a knife in the meat department or can read a pharmacy order you can get more. Last year Kroger had about 465k employees. Assuming 10% of those are new employees which seems high but bear with me, 46.5Kx3.38 = $157170.00 per hour increase in base pay or $314,340,000.00 per year assuming 40 hour week and 50 weeks per year or .24% of sales for that same time. A surprisingly small percentage number when you do the math. If they collected an extra penny on all items they could pay the $15 minimum wage and pocket the extra $1G or so. Nice.

Our society is slowly, steadily climbing out of the darkness of the pandemic shutdown but it still goes on in the world. Donald wanted to make America great again.  It already was great.  Here is the chance to make it greater.

There are many things to fix that would make America greater. Overall though, just merely treating others with kindness, patience and dignity will make America greater.

Why is it important for some folks to control others life experience?  Is it simple jealousy or envy? Maybe changing that attitude in those folks would improve life a bit.

Is there societal value to imposing one’s own personal values on another? Look inside and think about how you would react to unsolicited advice about your particular situation or perhaps unreasonable restrictions on your actions and then answer that question. Of course everyone’s situation is different. Income disparity affects health and healthcare choices. Income disparity affects diet.

Perhaps Andrew Yang has the correct approach. It is at least a different approach.

I did not start this post with the thought of chasing the minimum wage or a universal basic income but Carpe Diem.

Lately I’ve Been Reading

Matthew McConaughey’s book Greenlights is a collection of diary entries, stories and journal entries that he has written through life. He is not a hero by any means but he pulled himself up and spent a large portion of his life trying to impress and live up to his perceived view of how his father perceived him. He is doing okay.

He did get me thinking about life and where we go from here. What if there is no here?

Neptune Society

I became tired of reading Matthew, so on a particularly morbid Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago I remembered that Cheryl and I had planned to collect information and preplan our funerals. Once in a while Cheryl thinks about this as her PD takes her occasionally down a dark road. She has expressed interest in cremation, so on this Sunday I poked “cremation cost + cincinnati” into Google and the Neptune Society popped up as the first or second hit. So, that sent me down the rabbit hole of death, dying, funeral cost, yada, yada, yada.

I filled out their form thinking I would be buried in email about cemeteries and crematoriums. Not so simple, just like senior living facilities and “aplaceformom” I started getting calls from them. Eventually I mistakenly answered their call and found out some interesting info.

Their parent company is Service Corporation International (NYSE: SCI). I am interested in stocks so I used our stock club’s analysis to check them out.

It sounds morbid but death is up. And as Jim Morrison of the Doors once said, “No one here gets out alive!” He may have been drunk at the time but truer words were never spoken.

SCI

Summary: [from Reuters] Service Corporation International is a provider of death-care products and services, with a network of funeral service locations and cemeteries. The Company’s segments include Funeral, Cemetery and Corporate. It conducts both funeral and cemetery operations in the United States and Canada. As of December 31, 2016, it operated 1,502 funeral service locations and 470 cemeteries, including 281 funeral service/cemetery combination locations, which are geographically diversified across 45 states, eight Canadian provinces, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. It offers various brands, such as Dignity Memorial, Dignity Planning, National Cremation Society, Advantage Funeral and Cremation Services, and Funeraria del Angel. Its funeral service and cemetery operations consist of funeral service locations, cemeteries, funeral service/cemetery combination locations, crematoria, and related businesses. It sells cemetery property, and funeral and cemetery merchandise and services.

Various Opinions: CFRA recommends BUY (5/13/2021); Research Team recommends HOLD; Reliable Research – We do not recommend investors buy SCI; Ford Equity Research – We project that SCI will perform in line with the market over the next 6 to 12 months; Barchart Technical Opinion – Strong BUY; Zacks – Add to Portfolio (2-buy)

Few want to think about it but death seems to be an expanding market. Last year was a good one for sales and 2021 continues to be one. Regardless of the pandemic pandemonium and which side of the mask you are on, a lot of people died last year. From SCI’s first quarter guidance announcement:

UPDATED OUTLOOK FOR 2021 – Today we are reporting earnings per share of $1.33 and net cash provided by operating activities of $298 million for the quarter. The $0.88 growth in earnings per share in the quarter was primarily driven by increased comparable preneed cemetery sales production and continued elevated COVID-19 mortality, which resulted in an increase in both funeral services performed and burials in our cemeteries. Comparable preneed cemetery sales production grew $130 million, or 67%, during the quarter driven by an increase in sales velocity, sales averages, and large sales activity. Net cash provided by operating activities grew approximately $118 million over the prior year quarter, primarily due to increased operating profit.

Based on our first quarter results, we are raising the midpoint of our full year adjusted earnings per share guidance fifteen cents to $2.85 and the midpoint of our adjusted operating cash flow guidance to $687.5 million. Our long-term earnings growth framework remains in place, we will maintain focus on our core strategies of growing revenue by remaining relevant to our client families, leveraging our scale, and maximizing our capital deployment opportunities in a disciplined and balanced manner.

That was probably more business information than you intended to read. The stock club analysis reports SCI as a “buy”. Although it will not be a shining winner like a bunch of tech stocks, it will probably double in value over the next 5-ish years and along the way produce a 1.5% dividend per share.

Death is on the rise in America.

But wait there’s more! (morbid thoughts that is) Cremation is less expensive that other forms of disposal. Urns are available on Amazon for less than $50.

Carpe Diem (or at least the afternoon)

Oh Come, Divine Messiah!

Janice Elaine Farmer (nee Torbeck)

Today a mass was said at the Nativity of Our Lord Church in Cincinnati with Janice Farmer as one of its intentions. Cheryl had mentioned to someone at Nativity while she was relating her schedule of support group meetings that her sister had passed away in Florida of the virus outbreak there in August. A few days later we received a mass intention card from Nativity. “On Tuesday, December 15, 2020 a mass would be said with Janice Farmer as one of its intentions.” It is hard to explain how much this meant to my wife.

The covid pandemic has stopped and severely limited many gatherings and travel. We were unable to attend her sister’s funeral mass in Florida. We watched it on “live-stream”. Church services are disappointingly uninteresting on live-stream. It is better to be there and participate and cry a little and grieve with your family. It is better to gather and tell stories. A funeral mass is a ritual grieving. A luncheon gathering afterward is a celebration of life. All of this collectively allows people to express their feelings in a socially acceptable fashion. — Everyone cries at funerals, as many cry at weddings.

Cheryl chose to make this a celebration of Janice’s life. She brought this image shown above of her sister so that Janice could be present with us. This was a school mass. The church was filled with socially distant kids from the seventh grade. They were remarkably quite in church but created a presence in this special (to Cheryl) mass for her sister.

I, for my part, intended to take Cheryl to a late breakfast and allow her to talk and tell stories about Jan. Alas the small restaurant I wanted to take her to was closed. Their hours were severely limited due to illness in the staff. The virus finds us even if we do not want to find it. But all was not lost. We talked a bit about Janice while driving home.

Julie Krug played the piano and sang O come, divine Messiah! as a recessional. It is one of my favorite hymns. It seemed apropos of the sadness of today and hope for tomorrow.

O come, divine Messiah!
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph
And sadness flee away

Dear Savior, haste
Come, come to earth
Dispel the night and show your face
And bid us hail the dawn of grace

O come, divine Messiah!
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph
And sadness flee away

O Christ, whom nations sigh for
Whom priest and prophet long foretold
Come break the captive fetters
Redeem the long-lost fold

Dear Savior, haste
Come, come to earth
Dispel the night and show your face
And bid us hail the dawn of grace

O come, divine Messiah!
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph
And sadness flee away

– If you want to hear it

Cheryl is resting now. Later she will have her exercise and fitness class at Parkinson’s Community Fitness. This evening we will have pizza with our neighbor and I am sure Cheryl will tell stories and talk about Jan.

Janice also had Parkinson’s disease. She was one that Cheryl could commiserate with about the nuances of dealing with chronic disability. She is missed in this household.

Death and Dying and Left Behind…

My sister died in 2008.  I have written about her before.  She was our baby sister.  I will always think of her as my baby sister.

She died of complications to pneumonia.  It is hard to breathe with pneumonia.  Not breathing well contributes to low blood oxygenation.  Effectively one drowns from pneumonia.  Laura had myelodysplastic syndrome.  It did not kill her.  I was her blood stem cell donor.

During Laura’s treatment it was discovered that she was allergic to virtually all the antibiotics they gave her as a prophylaxis. The treatment for pneumonia is antibiotics.  The solution for MDS is kill off the bone marrow and as a result the patient’s immune system.  The antibiotics given during this process put her in a coma for six weeks.  The doctors supposed that she had veno occlusive disease, a liver problem with a low survival rate. She did not have that.

At the beginning of her treatment before I donated my luekoblasts to her, a nurse and social worker and I discussed the possibility that my blood cells which came with my immune response could actually attack her and kill her.  The discussion centered around, how did I feel about THAT.  I was certainly not excited about the fact that I could kill her.  Presented as my call.  A moral dilemma- Laura will die if I do nothing; Laura may die (sooner) if I do something.  Looking back from the distance of thirteen years my reaction is the same – tears come to my eyes. [I had to stop.]

I remember thinking that I should ask Laura if it was okay if I killed her. I did not. This procedure is presented as do this then that then this and … you are healed. I suppose that they discussed with Laura the survival rate. She did not survive. I will always be somewhat skeptical of doctors and cancer cures. The fact that she died specifically of pneumonia is a distinction of no import. I was there when she took her last breath. I will never forget the silence.

My brother died this year in May. He was my big brother. I have written about him too. He was six years older than I less nine days.

He followed his dream job to Florida many years ago and from that job he went to others always in Florida. His last job was a coder/programmer for a subcontractor to Microsoft. He was a smart guy or at least that is my perception from little brotherhood. Every time I turn on my computer I think of Bill.

Families are complicated. One wants to believe that there is a close personal connection between siblings in the family but that does not always occur in life. Gaps in age, education, life choices, geography and beliefs tug at simple family ties. Our family is no different. We held no animosities but we did not live in each other’s lives.

Our parents Virginia and Robert died about eight years apart. Dad passed away in 2007 about a month before Laura. Mom passed away in 2016. Every time I throw away a box from Amazon or Boxed Up, I think of Mom. I hear her voice, “Paul, don’t throw away that box! That’s a good box.” Mom kept a lot of crap in boxes.

I think of Dad in various situations. He was what we would call today a hacker. When I was a kid our basement was full of old electronics. When he retired he became enamored with computer equipment. He spent a lot of time futzing with computers and programming them. Visual Basic and he were friends. He was always working on something called his Bingo Program. He occasionally journaled too but although I inherited all his computer stuff I have not found any of his writings. I think of him when I write random comments in this blog/journal of mine.

Now it is only Joyce and me. We talked yesterday for about an hour. We did not talk about anything special. I called her merely to hear her voice. It has been thirteen years since our original family group started dying off. For some reason it is important that I hear her voice more often.

She mentioned in our conversation that she is not very excited about turning 70 this year. (Wow has it been that long?) She sent me the picture below many years ago in a birthday card. Laura is in the middle. In her note she wrote – I’m so glad you are my brother. I am so glad you are my sister, Joyce.

Remembrance of occasions and enjoyment of those fade with time. I have often pondered why I remember some things and have absolutely no memory of others. What we were excited about on this occasion is lost in my memory. Joyce found the picture and sent it to me. Obviously it is Christmas time. I am swallowed up in abject joy and laughter. No memory at all about it. I am grateful for the picture of us.

Life and death? — Dad was not afraid of dying. He said as much to the doctor when he was given the news that an X-ray photograph of his abdominal area revealed a mass on his colon. I do not fear dying. I worry that Cheryl will be provided for after I am gone. I wonder if Laura would have lived longer if she and I had not exchanged blood cells. I wonder if she would be alive today if her doctors had simply been smarter about what was going on in her body. Maybe she would not have spent six weeks in a coma. … could have, would have, should have.

Laura told me about a month before her death that my stem cells had taken up residence in her bones. Our life experiment was working. I speculated – how do they know? Her response was – I think because they can look in there and see little X’s and Y’s. Yes, I imagine they could detect those somehow.

In the background of the conversation between Joyce and me was a thought like, I should have asked him (her) that when Dad was still alive, when Mom was still alive, when Laura was still alive, when Bill was still alive. As I talked to Joyce I thought about how short our time on Earth is. Seventy years seems like a long time but it is not. I thought about how fragile our existence here is. At this time in our life a virus threatens lives. Ask those questions. There may be little time to get an answer.



Other morose thoughts — In his late years, Dad would not hesitate to tell you that he was older than his father. Dad’s father died when he was 82. In Dad’s mind he felt that he would live to be 82. As he got closer to that age, he resigned himself to the fact that his life was almost over. He was not worried about dying. His only concern was, would it hurt? I think that was his only fear.

Pain is the only thing that makes me uncomfortable about death I believe that I do not feel pain as others do. I understand Dad’s point of view about pain. I wonder if it hurts to drown. I wonder if it hurts to die of pneumonia. Does a sudden massive heart attack hurt?

Death causes a gap in the family. I have become very aware of that gap in our family. Joyce and I are closer. I believe we are. It is just us now.