Friday, November 4, 2011

This is the Story of Roger Alan Cushing

"We all — in the end — die in the middle of a story. Of many stories." - Mona Simpson, from her eulogy of her brother Steve Jobs

Roger was born on April 5, 1961 here in Loveland at the “old” hospital that was just 2 blocks around the corner from where Art and Sarah and Roger’s 2 brothers and 2 sisters lived. Roger lived in Loveland through the 12th grade, where he was known as “Little Cush,” since he was always following an older Cushing sibling. After graduating from Campion Academy, Roger took a year off to follow his first passion: skiing. He bummed around the slopes for a year before packing up for a year at Union College in Lincoln, NE. He then received an associate’s degree in computer science from Aims College in Greeley. Roger moved to Boulder where he eventually got into the computer industry. He was very industrious and invested wisely– he was a landlord with several properties in the north Denver area. Roger was married to his long-time best friend, Mary Ann Fernandez, just this last July. Roger died in a tragic accident October 29, 2011.

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But that is not the story of Roger. There is so much more to tell about our Brother, our Husband, our Son, our Uncle. We want you to get a glimpse of how special and good and kind-hearted this man was. He was loved by his wife; he was adored his nieces and nephews; he was sought-after by his friends and family; he was respected by his colleagues… He is mourned and missed by all of us.

Those of you who knew Roger, know two things about him: first that he tended to be late……………….. and second that he likes to tell a good story. Or, more correctly, he likes to tell a LONG story.

If you knew Roj, then you knew that an agreed-upon arrival time was more of a conceptual thing than it was an actual point in space and time. Yet, Roger was NOT a procrastinator – he was the opposite, he did everything NOW. He wasn’t late because he slept too long. He was late because he had to make one more call; send one more email; read one more article; clip one more coupon. He wanted to experience it all. See more, do more, be more. He soaked up life like a sponge and enjoyed it all. And, he always wanted to share that life with others…

Roger loved to tell a story, and he often carried his own visual aids to emphasize whatever point he was making at that time. Armed with his manila folder full of clippings and notes, cartoons, coupons and articles, he would start in on his spiel almost before you had a chance to say hello. He always believed that his enthusiasm for a topic was so inarguably infectious that he could CONVINCE you to be a willing participant in whatever newest process or gadget he was telling you about.

There are a lot of stories that were relayed around the family circle this week. …the time Stan and Ron thought it would be fun to put the air compressor gun in Roger’s mouth and watch his cheeks puff out. Not realizing that his nose was full from having the measles, they were the ones who got the surprise when his sinuses ended up splattered over their hands. …the time Roger lit an open gas can on fire, lucky that the can was full so it didn’t explode. …the time that Dad was washing his motorcycle and set down the hose, only to turn around to find it in Roger’s hands, hosing down his tricycle – just like Dad.

Roger loved a silly story – from Dilbert to Ren & Stimpy, Dr. Seuss to Monty Python. (“What’s on the Telly?” “Looks like a penguin to me!”) Roger laughed at the little things and believed so much in the power of a positive attitude and his god-given right to have fun that he would often exhort us with, “Everybody Laugh! Ha-HAaaa!” He loved a good joke, and a bad joke was often even better! He loved to make horse grins and lizard necks. Every day with Roger was fun!

His free-wheeling antics endeared him to the kids, but sometimes grated on the old fuddy-duddies. One year at the Cushing Christmas Gift Exchange, in a house particularly full of kids and chaos, Roger gave every kid a Screaming Monkey. This obnoxious fur-ball emitted a hideous scream when you stretched back his elastic arms and launched him across the room, driving most of the adults out into the cold for some peace and quiet, and driving the kids into a hilarious frenzy.

When she was young, Lisa liked to line up all her dolls in chairs with Roger in the middle and play school – her, the teacher; Roger, the student. She worked tirelessly with Roger to improve his penmanship. Her lack of success in this area may be one of the reasons that Roger went into computer science – he figured typing was a better way to be understood.
Roger, on the other hand, was a great teacher. He LOVED to be the tutor. He was especially good at teaching skiing and snowboarding, patiently stressing the salient points and giving positive reinforcement all the way. He had a knack for pointing out the perfect skiing tip for each person that would turn their day around, dramatically improving their performance and enhancing their enjoyment of the day. He never made anyone feel criticized, just encouraged.

He taught several of us how to ski and several more how to ski better. He was patient and rarely made fun of our lack of skiing skills except to shout out, “Yard Sale!” if you had the misfortune to fall where he could see you; and you had to be careful to not sit on the slope waiting for him to catch up unless you want to be buried by a Roger-lanche.
He sky-dived high above the earth, and scuba-dived below the sea. He snow skied in the winter and jet-skied in the summer. He was fun-loving and adventure-seeking. But he never wanted to go alone. He always wanted to make you want to come too, and sometimes didn’t understand why you weren’t as excited about it as he was.

Roger would talk your ear off when he had a story to tell. He was the king of sidebars, related stories and “too much information.” But he really did know everything. He professed to not read books, but his knowledge was deep and wide. He would argue his point until you would either agree with him… or just give up and go along with him. Yet somehow, he neglected to tell any of us the story of saving Daniella’s life. We never knew the story of how he took in a run-away fellow student. We didn’t know how he gave a tenant a second chance. He went around his noble business quietly, never looking for a pat on the back. He did what he did because he was a good man who did the right thing. Now those stories are coming out and we’re so proud of him.

Roger loved the mountains, hiking 14’ers in the summer and skiing the trees, knee-deep in powder, in the winter. We stayed close together when hiking, but he would often disappear into the trees as we skied the tamer slopes. We’d stop to rest and wonder where Roger was when we’d hear his familiar, “Koo-Whee!” and see him waiting for us just down the hill at the edge of the trees – grinning from ear-to-ear and usually covered with powder.
Roger’s first passion became his life’s passion and grew into 2 loves on the slopes: One love was racing – man, could he fly! The other love was Mary Ann – he LOVED skiing with her and was so excited about how good she was getting last year. It was hard to get together with Roger on the weekends. In fair weather, he was fixing something at the apartments or helping somebody move. In winter, he skied. We’ll never go skiing again without seeing Roger schussing by in our memories – perfect form, graceful turns; the wind literally singing as it vibrates through his racing poles.

Roger and Mary Ann loved skiing together so much that they wrote their marriage vows in “powder talk.” They were married in a storybook wedding just three months ago. He was the perfect Prince Charming in white tie and tails. So proud, so happy, SO in love. He was absolutely smitten by Mary Ann. She was truly his soul mate and we’ve never seen him happier than these last few months. His nieces told me this week how excited he was to call each of them and personally tell them the whole story of his marriage proposal – the mongo ring, the matching cufflinks, the surprise breakfast with Mom & Dad and his brothers. He was so proud that he kept his tuxedo a secret and looked like the king of the world as he walked down the aisle.

His storybook closed shut just as we were enjoying watching the fun and joy that he was obviously experiencing as he and Mary Ann began to share their home together. This probably wasn’t all that easy since Roger is known to push for his own way and come out on top. But throughout deciding which d├ęcor stays and which goes, Roger’s love for Mary Ann always came out the winner. Mary Ann would say, “I Love You,” and the emphatic, inevitable reply from Roger was, “I Love You More.”

One of Roger’s tenants told us this week, “He was a really great guy. I have tons of respect for him. We had no credit or history and Roger gave us a chance. He was understanding and would do anything he could to help us. He changed our lives; we owe him a lot!” One of the posts on his Facebook page this week said, “Roger and Mary Ann did more for me than anyone will ever know and when I told him that, he didn’t believe me. What a great and humble man.” We hear more stories like this every day.

This last week, another renter was helping Roger cut down some high-up, storm-damaged tree limbs. Roger was up in the tree – about 20 ft – with his chain saw, cutting off the upper branches so that he could cut the whole tree down. He had told his brother, Ron, earlier that day that he planned to take his stress out on that tree. It was the last of the BIG trees on his rental properties and it was a constant danger to the houses and cars and people, and he was “just done with it.”

Somehow, Roger fell out of that tree. We don’t know exactly how or why. No one saw him fall. All we know is that his story ended “in media res.” His story was cut short, with so many possible endings left untold. But for the last 50 years, his was a story that inspired us, and encouraged us, and made us love and laugh, and finally, made us cry.

We are so sad that there are no more chapters to write, but will keep him alive in our memories; our memories of all the stories he had to tell us.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Janis Cushing Foote - Memorial Life Sketch

Janis was a native Coloradoan, born in the Loveland Hospital just around the corner from her parent’s house on April 26th, 1956 – one of five Cushing kids all with birthdays within 31 days of each other. (Different years, of course.) Being the first girl in the family, she became the little doll for Stan and Ron to play with, and later, became the second mother to Lisa and Roger who made all the kids play nice together. (“Fight nice! Don’t fight!” she said.) She was the peacemaker, always acting with love and compromise; she was the caretaker, always showing empathy and compassion – both for her family & friends and for complete strangers. She will be missed by all who knew her.

Janis was a petite and demure redhead, the runt of the litter in stature. But she always stood her ground – stubborn as the rest of her Taurus & Aries siblings – and didn’t take any guff from 3 rowdy brothers and a very confident younger sister. Her Dad, Art, used to say, “There was a little girl / Who had a little curl / Right in the middle of her forehead / And when she was good / She was very, very good / But when she was bad, she was horrid!” In her adult years she stood up for kids who couldn’t stick up for themselves. She adopted the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund as her charity of choice and worked tirelessly to collect donations for this worthy cause. She finagled matching funds from her employer, the Pioneer Seed Company, so that over the years, Janis collected well over $100,000 in donations for the JDRF. Ironically, after working so hard to help find a cure for this disease of the pancreas, her own pancreas succumbed to cancer. Though she fought it bravely, Janis couldn’t win this fight. For her courage and compassion, she was respected and loved by all her friends, co-workers and family.

Janis was a picky eater who , when told to clean her plate, once flung her hated green beans under the counter with such vehemence that they stuck to the wall behind the breakfast bar, only to be found there by Mom days later. Her sweet innocence made it hard to disbelieve her when she said she didn’t know how those beans got plastered on the paneling! Her culinary tastes changed over time though and she grew her own beans (and tomatoes and corn and okra) later in life and I’m pretty sure that none of those garden delights ever ended up staining her kitchen walls. She cooked every meal for her husband Ron, who proudly (and cleverly) claimed that he couldn’t even make a peanut butter & jelly sandwich by himself. I suspect it wasn’t so much “couldn’t” as it was “why should I cook when I have my own June Cleaver to cook for me?” In many ways, she nourished everyone around her.

Janis loved to play dress up and when she got tired of dolling herself up, she’d play with her dolls. When dolling up her dolls got old, she’d put her beautician skills to the test and practice on Art or Stan or Ron – curling their hair and clipping bows and ribbons into the curls to make them pretty. The boys would grudgingly put up with these antics but no pictures were allowed. (Unfortunately, it turns out, now that we’re all grown up, we have the sense of humor and fun that would make those pictures priceless.) She had a great sense of humor – it would be hard not to enjoy a good laugh if you grew up in the Cushing household, a family of wise-crackers and jokers. She used to beg her brother, Ron, to say “parlez vous” – a silly game that irritated everyone not in on the joke, but would send Janis and Lisa into gales of laughter that only ended when someone finally begged, “Stop, before I wet my pants!” Her friends and family loved to get her emails – often with a cartoon or funny picture; often with a long story, punctuated with “awwws” and “sighs” (but NEVER with a capital letter) that would both crack them up and make them shed a tear. She loved to laugh and make others laugh.

Janis went to Platte Valley Academy in Nebraska, and then to Oak Park Academy in Iowa before deciding that boarding school was boring and that living at home was a better option. So, she returned to Loveland and graduated from Campion Academy in 1974. She then went on to nursing school in Iowa to become an RN, a truly fitting vocation for someone who loves to care for others. The Iowa connection must have had some magic for her because she eventually married an Iowan haberdasher, Ron Foote. Janis loved Ron more than anything else in the world and they enjoyed 23 years of marital bliss. You could see their love in the way they held hands and kissed – not caring if someone was looking. They were the perfect couple with the same likes and dislikes, habits and foibles; soul-mates in the truest sense. He liked to be doted on and taken care of, and she lived to do just that. He is lost without her and the rest of us have “holes in our hearts the size of Janis,” as one of her Facebook friends put it.

Janis was just like her own Mom, Sarah – kind, generous, helpful and loving. She was never able to have her own children, but she would’ve made a great mom. Instead, she practiced her mothering skills on her siblings and her husband and her nieces and nephews and her pen pals. To her nieces (Chelsa, Bryn, Mindy, Kendra, Briana & Ksana) and nephews (Chance & Christian) she was always known as Aunt Buggie. To her pen pals – which hailed from literally around the world – she was one of the “Twisted Sisters,” Stephen King fans who conducted book reviews through e-mails and traveled on pilgrimages to Maine to visit the real-life settings of his not-so-real-life novels (and secure an autograph or two.) Connecting with her friends and family was very important to Janis, especially since she lived 2 states away from the old family homestead. She was loved by everyone who knew her, and especially by Ron.

Though physically Janis had a weak heart, her emotional and loving heart was queen sized and beat strongly in all she did. She gave of herself to her husband, treating him like her king and as her best friend; she gave of herself to her family, always helping, always interested in their well-being; she gave of herself to her friends, her co-workers, and her numerous pen pals around the world; and she gave of herself to the kids she never had – her nieces and nephews and grand-nieces and grand-nephews, and to the nameless kids who suffer from diabetes. This Fall her family will honor her charitable passion by joining as a team in the annual JDRF benefit walk. They will keep her spirit alive and know that she walks with them in their hearts.

Janis liked motorcycles and small foreign cars driven smartly and stylishly in road rallies on back roads between the high cornfields of her adopted state. She loved to garden in the sweltering Iowa sun and sent us the most amazing vine-ripened tomatoes and sweet onions and fiery-hot jalapenos through the mail. She loved pigs and had dozens (if not scores) of figurines and stuffed piglets. Her first and favorite pig was named Charles (Ron’s middle name) – a gift from Ron on their first date. She loved to sit by the pool and soak up the sun. She loved reading and eschewed commercial, network TV. I believe that her imagination was far more entertaining than anything that could come out of Hollywood. But, she loved nature and nature shows, so she would often call Dad in the evening to tell him, “Quick, turn on your TV,” to some channel that was showing wildebeests getting chased by lions, or butterflies migrating across the hemispheres. Janis loved Colorado and the mountains, and told me that she always felt closer to God when she could take a drive “uppa-mountain”. When she came to Colorado to visit, she would always set aside time to drive “uppa-mountain,” whether it was to see the wildflowers or the waterfalls or the Aspen or the snow. Janis always felt at home in the mountains – they reenergized her – and they will be her final resting place when her family scatters her ashes in her favorite hiking spot. Her memory will always bring us thoughts of her love and spirituality.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Last Journey

The ambulance and the paramedics came at 5:30. They didn’t have their lights on or their sirens wailing, but their mission was no less important, if not as urgent. They had a precious cargo – my Sister, Janis – to transport from the hospital to the hospice where she would undertake her last journey. I wasn’t there for this gut-wrenching moment, but I can imagine it…

…caring hands, stifled sniffles, low voices, “Are you comfortable?” “Don’t forget your Joe Hill book – do you like it?” The clatter of the gurney. The sobbing of my Mom and Janis’ husband, Ron, as the finality sinks into the flood of their tears. The paperwork is signed; the doors click shut, and the ambulance swings slowly into traffic. My brothers and my Dad hugging as I open the text from Stan that tells me that there is nothing more to do. No more tests to take. Janis is going home, but not to the house she made a home with Ron. She’s going to a home with angels.

At the hospice she’ll be cared for by angels. Angels whose sole purpose is to guide her along her last journey with comfort and love. Angels who know that the travelers they care for are in pain and afraid, and will only be staying a short while as they make their journey to their final home – one with brighter and even more loving angels.

I was with Janis and Ron a couple days ago, hugging her as if I could transfer my strength to her frail body (that traitorous shell that gave up on her beautiful mind and loving heart); hugging Ron as if I could somehow make it better for him – though I knew I couldn’t, I had to try. I held her hand and brought her ice and asked her if she was comfy and sat with her in the early morning hours when the pain meds finally let her sleep. We talked some of better times. But we didn’t talk about THIS time; about why I was there with my wife and my two daughters and my grandson Ethan – the one with diabetes. We didn’t talk about the times to come.

I told her I loved her and to be strong, but I didn’t tell her much else and I’m terrified I failed her in that regard. I should have told her to be brave. I should have told her how she has blessed so many lives with her kindness and love. I should have told her that the angels are waiting for her because she deserves to live with them. I should have and I could have. But I didn’t. Maybe I can do it here where my voice doesn’t crack and betray me like her body has betrayed her.

The multiverse has a twisted sense of humor – cutting her down with cancer of the pancreas when she has done so much to help others with malfunctioning pancreases. Every year, Janis raised money for the Juvenile Diabetes Relief Fund. Every year, we donated to her account and cheered her on as her goals were reached and then blown away. Then, we joined her fight in earnest in 2009 when Ethan was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. She raised thousands and thousands of dollars before that, though, for the benefit of kids she didn’t even know. That was how she loved others; that was how she earned her wings.

We were close as kids. Janis is two years younger than I in a family of 5 kids. She used to call me Nonald-dee-dee-&-Nonald-dee-dah. An excruciatingly silly name that typifies our family’s silly sense of humor. I put napkin rings on my face and said “par le vouz” in a Peewee Herman voice that would send her into gales of laughter. “Say par le vouz,” she’d squeal along with our sister Lisa, “say par le vouz.” Over and over and over, and I would oblige because I loved to hear her shriek with laughter. She cuddled up to me on the couch as we watched TV or listened to Beethoven’s 5th. She put curlers in my hair that was Beatle-cut in those days.

We’ve always been close, though we grew apart a bit in our teens as our separate misdeeds and escapades got us both expelled from Campion Academy. We finished up our high-school education in separate states and started lives of our own. I dropped out of school; she went to nursing school because she loved to care for others.

Janis also loved pigs; she had a room full of them – stuffed pigs, flying pigs, pig-urines, pictures of pigs, books of pigs. It seemed like we gave her a pig-something for every birthday and every Christmas for years. Yet, somehow my daughters grew up calling her Buggy. Today, I can’t seem to remember how that term of endearment got started, but it’s stuck. A few years back, we started giving her Lady Bug paraphernalia and stopped gifting pig-aphernalia. Chelsa and Bryn loved their Aunt Buggy.

She married Ron Foote and moved to Des Moines. They were the perfect couple – Ron was old school and liked to be taken care of; Janis loved to take care of people. They both liked fast cars and NPR. They’re touch-y and feel-y and you could always sense the love when Janis and Ron were around – big smiles and tender caresses with never a harsh word between them.

It was sometimes confusing to talk to Janis when her husband and I were both Rons. She started calling me Bro-Ron and him My-Ron (which of course got morphed – jokingly – into Mo-Ron.) I stayed with her and her-Ron when my business took me to Iowa. The perfect hostess, Janis always had the pig-room perfectly made up with a basket of towels and toiletries for my stay placed on the pig duvet. It was a quiet, homey house with always a cat, but never a kid.

But Janis would have made a terrific mom, just like our real Mom, if she could have. But, since she couldn’t, Janis mothered us other kids. Always the peacemaker. Never the instigator. Always ready with a hug and kind word. Never a negative thought about someone else. Always thinking of others first. She mothered her-Ron, too. He loved it, and she lived for him, but he was not her only friend.

Janis has a world-wide network of girlfriends, fellow book-a-philes who share her love for Stephen King and Terry Pratchett. She turned me on to SKs world of wonder and horror. I turned her on to TP’s zany alternate multi-verse. Her many “Sisters” are praying for her now and hoping her journey takes her to her own special place; takes her to a world of magic and angels. She’ll fit right in.

As I wrote this homage this morning, my Mom & Dad and my brothers, Stan & Roger, called on the speaker phone to say that her journey was over. Janis, our angel, died this morning in the arms of her loving husband and soul-mate, Ron. I hate it that she’s left us, but I am so glad that she is no longer hurting. It will take a long time before her Rons, and the rest of her friends and family, stop hurting like we are now.

I’ll be back in Iowa next weekend to see you, Janis, one final time. Our journeys have now taken us on separate paths. On your journey through life, I know that your path was good. You were kind and generous and loving and special. Though this last journey was not so kind to you, or to us that remain, it did take you mercifully away from your pain and to your final destination, and we are thankful for that.

Good-bye dear sister. You earned your wings. I’m sure they will fit you well. We love you very much!