RIP, Richard Ira Siler, 1935-2020

One of the odder changes in my life since the coronavirus became a thing is that I’ve become the type of person who scans the obituaries every couple of days. It’s rather surprising how many people I’ve found that I know at least tangentially; the former owner of OtherJob, an occasional relative of a student, that sort of thing.

And today I came across Richard Ira Siler’s obituary, and … well, it raised an eye.

Luther Michael Siler, remember, is a pen name. Each of the three names is a family name; Luther is my paternal grandfather’s first name, Michael is my mother’s maiden name, and Siler is my maternal grandmother’s maiden name. As it works out, my great-grandfather’s name was Jesse Siler.

And damned if this gentleman doesn’t have a “J. Clifford Siler” as his father’s name and a “Jesse Jr.” among his brothers. I have seen Jesse Siler’s grave; he is buried next to his second wife (my great-grandmother divorced him, which must have been quite a thing back then) whose name is Minnie Jo Buck, according to her tombstone. Richard Siler’s mother’s name is Miriam Siler, according to the obituary; it doesn’t seem that much of a stretch that Miriam might have been called Minnie. My grandmother was born in 1917 and was the oldest child, so Jesse still having children in 1935 with his second (or possibly even third, as the family seems to have mostly lost track of him after the divorce) wife is entirely possible. Hell, my mom’s oldest sister and youngest brother are 17 years apart.

If I search the Internet for “Jesse C. Siler,” I find an ancestry.com link for “Jesse Clifford Siler,” too, so it seems entirely reasonable to believe that that’s the same guy, and further confirmation that “J” stands for “Jesse,” as if there’s any real chance that it wouldn’t given that there’s a Jesse Jr. in the family. I didn’t look any further, because I’m not signing up for ancestry.com at the moment, but I’m willing to take that as evidence enough, given what else we have in front of us.

So it looks like this guy was my (half?) first cousin once removed, or at least is reasonably likely to have been. I never met him and never knew he existed until about twenty minutes ago, but he seems to have been a lovely fellow. I hope his family is holding up as well as they can be under the circumstances, and may his memory be a blessing.

(The punch line: Great-grandpa Jesse’s first wife, my biological great-grandmother, was named Juanita. Her maiden name? Pence. My uncle assures me that he has dug into it and we are not related to That Pence, but it’s skeevy enough just that there’s a chance.)

(EDIT: The plot thickens. I just spent half an hour digging through a bunch of paperwork my dad gave me after mom passed away, and it looks like “my” Jesse Siler was Jesse Edward, not Jesse Clifford. J.E. Siler’s father was Harry, and it was his wife who was Minnie Jo. I don’t have any additional information about his family– no siblings or anything like that. I continue to think the guy is a cousin of some sort but the 1st-once-removed link now looks a bit less likely.)

(Also, George Washington Pence’s obituary, dated 1903, if I remember right, is a trip. I may try to get a good scan of it and post the whole thing.)

I don’t have it today

Losing John Lewis and C.T. Vivian in the same damn day was rough. I was not prepared to discover how much Lewis’ death, in particular, was going to fuck me up. Losing both of them in the same week where Grant Imahara died out of nowhere and Naya Rivera’s body was found after she drowned saving her child … which, like, I’m not really a Glee fan but that story is going to mess up anyone with children, right? That shit starts to border on unfair, or at least it would if it wasn’t already 2020 and literally everything in the world wasn’t fucked up as is. Oh, and the federal government is kidnapping people off the fucking streets in unmarked cars.

I’m trying to use the word literally less frequently but I feel like its presence in that previous paragraph is justified.

Point is, I’m not really all here today, and all I really have brain cycles for is rage and despair, and I’ve spent most of the day trying to ignore that and channel my nervous energy into fucking video games, which … could I at least channel it into, like, cleaning, or something to make me useful to my family in some way? No, apparently.

Go hug somebody. I don’t even care who; chances are they need it.

Mizu, 1998-2020

Mizu, frequently referred to here as the Great Old One, decided last week that eating wasn’t something she was especially interested in any longer, and I bowed to necessity and had to have her put to sleep yesterday afternoon. I got her right after starting graduate school in 1998; she was a kitten, having been born (in Japan, believe it or not) in March; I probably got her in September or October. She was 22 years old, was the first pet who was really mine, and has been with me for my entire adult life.

Despite how I usually react to these things, I’m finding that I don’t really want to talk about this one. I’m having a very hard time with this. I hope everyone understands.

In which I have reawakened the beast

… not for roleplaying, mind you– for buying dice. I took my son to the Griffon yesterday and it somehow managed to end up costing me fifty bucks, coming home with a new set of dice for him and my wife (each) and several totally unnecessary new sets of dice for me, including that metal d20 right in the middle there. I have, since then, taken to perusing Amazon for full sets of metal dice, since the Griffon’s metal collection appears to be limited to individually purchased d20s and not entire sets.

I have enough dice. I already had enough dice before I bought more dice yesterday, and I do not need to buy more dice to complement the more dice I just bought and the many dice I already had, and the part of my brain that is going dude your mom just died you’re entitled to blow some money on bullshit that makes you happy needs to shut up and go away. If I’m not careful I’m gonna end up with a dice tower this week and I don’t need that even more than I don’t need more dice.

The boy, meanwhile, is getting more demanding on a daily basis that we actually start playing. We’re gonna have to start designing characters soon. I mean, hell, we’ve got the stuff, right?


On a more serious note, I want to take a moment and thank everyone who sent thoughts or prayers or well wishes or sympathy or naked pictures or really anything my way regarding the loss of my mom this week. I was originally planning on going back to work tomorrow but I don’t think I’m quite ready yet; I’ve been reasonably busy the last couple of days and I think I need a day to be alone and quietly stare at the wall, by which I mean “read and play video games,” before I go back. I am doing a thing right now where I feel like this process should be harder, because I have not at any point in the last few days cracked open like an eggshell or collapsed into a sobbing heap, and everyone around me has told me that there is no wrong way to mourn, so believe me, I have heard the message. There is still a lot to be done, but I need some normalcy, too, and a couple of days at work worrying about other people’s problems– which, I note, will be immediately followed by a three-day weekend, since Monday is MLK day– will actually do me some good, I think.

And, hey, if you really feel bad for me and want to do something, you could always buy me more dice.

(That was a joke. Do not buy me more dice.)

In memoriam

I saw a random factoid on Reddit once. There will come a day, it said, where your mother will pick you up, and put you back down, and then will never pick you up again. And you won’t realize it when it happens.

I have been trying to pay close attention to firsts and lasts lately. Especially, as it turns out, lasts. If you have been around here much lately, you will likely be familiar with the phrase ongoing medical crisis, which I have been using a fair amount lately, without a lot of explanation.

The Ongoing Medical Crisis is over, more or less. My mother passed away sometime between 8:30 and 9:30 PM Saturday night. She spent the last six days of her life in a nursing home; we were beginning to discuss whether to move her into hospice care. I have no reason to not believe that she passed peacefully and in her sleep; as the nurses tell it, she was alive and sleeping for one bed check, and for the next she was gone. She was 68.

My mother and I were very, very close. I …

… I don’t know how to do any of this, as it turns out. I have her obituary open in a second window right now; I’ve got all of the easy bits done; grandchild here and aunts and uncles here and date of wedding and following a lengthy illness. Facts and figures; all bloodless. That part’s done. I don’t know what to write about her. And right now I feel like I have ten thousand things to do today and that I don’t have any idea what I’m supposed to be doing right now.


I have, I’m pretty certain, told this story in this space before, but I sort of suspect this won’t be the last time I tell it in the near future, so I may as well get some practice in: when I was in high school I started growing my hair out. That lasted through college, when my hair was down to the middle of my back and curly enough that I could tuck it in front of my ears and pass as an Orthodox Jew if I wanted to. And then I decided to spend a month in Israel after graduation on an archaeological dig. Long hair in the desert, I decided, would be a bit of a liability, so I went to the barber and got my hair cut short, instructing him to take my ponytail out in as close to one sweep as he possibly could. I then, as a joke, dropped my ponytail into an envelope, mailed it to my mother, who had been advocating for shorter hair for years, and promptly forgot about it.

This was in 1998, by the way, before anyone had cell phones, so if I was on campus for the day it was literally impossible to get ahold of me until I got home. And a couple of days later, my mother got an envelope in the mail containing about half a pound of hair with absolutely no context of any kind, and … well, concluded, perhaps not entirely reasonably, that I’d been kidnapped. And couldn’t get ahold of me for several hours, and … didn’t really see the humor in the whole thing, all that much, once I got ahold of her and explained what I’d done.

Fast forward, oh, right around two decades. My mother has been diagnosed with breast cancer. The lump has been removed successfully with surgery and she is nonetheless going through a round of radiation and chemotherapy to make sure they got everything. I live in the same town as her by now, and we both have cell phones, and I talk to her nearly every day, so when I discover a padded envelope in my mail with my mother’s handwriting on it I am more than a bit confused as to what it might contain, as she hasn’t mentioned mailing anything to me lately, and why would she bother in the first place?

The envelope is full of hair, the punchline to a joke nearly twenty years in the making, and my mother is the first– and, as of yet, only— person I have ever known to successfully make the side effects of chemotherapy funny.


The obituary is not any closer to being done than it was a few minutes ago. This is, I admits bit of a mystery to me; one fairly consistent aspect of my personality throughout my adult life is that I process my emotions by writing through them, and … well, I don’t know. Is it bad, to admit that I’ve been writing and rewriting this post in my head for something like six months now? We thought we were going to lose her in June; she’d already been sick, and had just been released from the rehabilitation place they’d put her in to try and get some of the strength in her legs back, when her duodenum abruptly ruptured and she had to be rushed into surgery in the middle of the night. I called my brother in Chicago and told him to get home immediately; the doctor who did the surgery came as close as I’ve ever seen a medical professional come to saying I am going to try my best to save her but it is not going to be good enough.

She survived. The wound from the surgery never healed, and I mean that literally; she had a hole in her abdomen that stubbornly refused to close for the rest of her life, and spent most of that time attached to a wound vacuum, and while I think the immediate cause of her death was probably congestive heart failure, ultimately the duodenal rupture is what killed her. It just took a lot longer than anyone expected, and I got six more months with my mom that I might not have gotten otherwise.


“This won’t be what gets ya,” the oncologist says, as we are discussing the cancer diagnosis. “It’ll be heart failure, same as everybody else.” I find myself simultaneously angry at him and entertained by his frankness. He reminds me, oddly, of Joss Whedon.


It is Saturday afternoon, and my father and I are at my mother’s bedside at the nursing home. Neither of us know this, of course, but she is in the final six or seven hours of her life. She is semiconscious at best, occasionally waking up enough to say a sentence or so, or to ask us to move a pillow or adjust a leg, but I can’t really call it talking. In the background, a television is on, and Indiana University’s basketball team is beating Ohio State. My mom and dad met at IU; my dad, my brother and I all graduated from there, and while my mom is a woman of few hobbies, IU basketball is one of the few genuinely enduring passions of her life.

She wakes up at one point long enough to look at the TV; of the two hours or so I will spend with her today, “Oh! IU basketball!” is probably among the most coherent sentences I hear her speak.

She says “I love you” when I leave. It is the last thing I ever hear her say.


This is the second relative where my final memory of her is sitting at her bedside and watching IU basketball, by the way, as the exact same thing happened with my paternal grandmother. I spent my last couple of hours with her watching basketball. I don’t remember who won that game, though.


My son has been put to bed, and my wife and I have had a brief conversation about what needs to be done in this upcoming week. We are about to start a TV show.

My phone rings.

It is the nursing home, and my heart sinks, because there is only one reason why the nursing home might be calling me. I call my brother and go over to my mom and dad’s house; this is not information I can give him over the phone, and I have to let myself into the house and wake him up to tell him that his wife of 47 years is gone. For the first couple of minutes of the conversation, I’m not entirely sure he realizes he isn’t dreaming; I’m sure that he hopes he is. I realize something that surprises me: I want to see her. I have never been good at viewings and had you asked me just a few hours ago if I wanted to see her body I would have said no, and done so emphatically. We go over to the nursing home. She looks peaceful; the first time in many months that I have seen her where she is not in any trace of pain. An anecdote from Reddit floats through my head.

I do not remember the last time my mother picked me up, and I do not remember the last time she put me down. I will not allow myself to not know the last time I hugged her.

I love you, Mom.