Lessons unlearned

I came home today to be greeted by the sounds of Circular Saws and Hammers. The Contractors are finally finishing work on our Farmer’s Porch that they started in October. On the way into the house I paused to watch in fascination as they measured, cut and nailed with such precision and skill. And, as often happens, I triggered myself. Again.

I can’t hear a saw, a hammer or a drill without thinking about how much I didn’t learn from my father despite the many offers and opportunities. My dad was beyond handy, he could do almost anything with his hands. My earliest memories were of my dad rebuilding our house as we lived in it. He would work from 5 AM to 6 PM or later, slam down a quick dinner and then go to work until at least 10. The saw and hammer were sounds I knew at a very early age.

As I got older Dad tried to enlist my assistance, not because he necessarily needed help but instead to teach me. I was eager to help him but not very interested in learning anything new. This was odd for me because I was an eager student in every other aspect of life. I would pull nails from a pile he created, I could swing a hammer fairly well but offers of learning to measure, use woodworking tools and such were dropped due to lack of interest. Even offers of car maintenance were met with tepid enthusiasm despite our shared love of everything to do with cars.

One incident really stands out in my mind. One evening when I was in my late teens Dad offered to show me how to change the oil on my car. He had it already in the garage, the drive up lifts set up and all. The house phone rang (cell phones weren’t invented yet) and it was my girlfriend (she was goddamn gorgeous if that is relevant at all here) and she was imploring me to come over her house. I told her I was doing something with my Dad that was important and she insisted that it was very important. I had to make a decision and I can honestly say that I made the wrong one. I blew off my Dad.

The look of disappointment on his face was tangible. In my feeble defense, I really thought my girlfriend needed me. That almost helped me pull out of the garage feeling good about myself. Almost.

I arrived at my girlfriend’s house 20 minutes later and knocked on her door. She yelled for me to come up. I went upstairs, asking as I climbed the steps if she was ok, still very curious as to what the emergency was. As I entered her room and saw her lying there buck naked with a rose between her teeth I knew that I had been suckered. It was merely a sexual emergency. I somehow managed to get through it but soon after I began to feel bad.

I apologized profusely to my Dad the next day. He was curt and brief with me. He wasn’t mad, he was disappointed and that was always so much worse. He told me that he had offered to show me something for the last time. It was a pivotal moment in my relationship with my father and one of many regrets that I have from my childhood with regards to my dad. If I could talk to him for only five minutes it would be a priority in the conversation. He was such a hard-working and self-taught man. I admired him so. I take some comfort in many other things that I did learn from him that have made me the person I am but there is still a lot of regret.

Sorry Dad, how’s it go…If I knew now what I didn’t know then?

On Grief

She cared for her husband when he was sick and dying. He was a veteran with a pension and Medicare but he couldn’t secure a spot in a Nursing Home. For six long years she was Nurse and Caretaker until the day he left us. I never saw her cry. She claimed that she grieved his loss while he was alive.

A short six months after her beloved husband died she met another man. A man that adored her. It was a second chance for both of them and they were happy. They moved in together until they decided that their upbringings demanded that they get married. They did. 3 short months after he was diagnosed with Lung Cancer. He died 10 days from diagnosis. I never saw her cry.

She went on an online dating site 2 months after he died and began dating a man soon after.

She put her beloved dog down last Friday. I saw her cry for a brief moment. That’s it. She’s already talking about getting another dog.

She is my mother, and she does not Grieve.

I have grappled with and marveled at this for many years. I am no closer to understanding it now than before. If she was a closed-off person by nature it would make more sense. But she’s a warm, caring person. She is outgoing, friendly and kind. She had a caring, if not somewhat overbearing mother who showered her with love. Her father was, in my opinion one of the nicest men ever to walk the planet. But something or someone critical in her formative years taught her that women, not just men, don’t cry.

I tried talking to her about it the other day. I asked if she grieves in private or not at all. She revealed that she has her moments when she thinks about my dad and her second husband Frank. The memories are all over the house in the form of pictures and the fact that my Dad essentially built the house we live in. T0here are the triggers, the songs and smells and random nuggets that make us think of that one special person. They make her cry…a little. But not for long, no sense wasting time on what’s already happened.

This can only be the inherited toughness from her mother. Mom’s family cab be faithfully traced back to the ages of Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower and they were solid, steadfast people that frowned on weakness. Her mother was a stalwart example of that bloodline. I’m sure her mother taught her to “suck it up” and not dwell on that which is beyond our control. It worked for her when she was orphaned at a young age and was raised by her brow-beating Grandmother. I’m not sure she did her daughter right by passing this on to her.

I have no pretense of trying to change her. It simply cannot be done. I also inherited, or learned, toughness as one of our family traditions. It has served me well as my life’s buffet has been a seemingly endless supply of Shitburgers. But I do know how to let things go properly.

I wish my mother would just, for once, let it out. Grief is like a lungful of air after a deep inhale. If you let it out slowly it hurts. If you open up and let it go it leaves the body quickly and painlessly. I admire her toughness and her ability to trudge forward no matter how strong the wind is. But toughness at the risk of emotional health is the wrong way to go.

Yes, those of you that know me know that I admire and exemplify a high level of toughness and it is no exception with her. But before I tell something to Fuck Off from my life permanently I deal with it properly. I forgive once I decide that it’s good for me to do so. I cry occasionally because it’s too hard keeping it in. I admit when I’m wrong because it’s the right thing to do. I also know how to grieve, too well unfortunately. I’ve had lots of practice. My mother, on the other hand doesn’t deal with things, she just plays the waiting game in hopes that it will go away on its own. And she always wins. It’s not healthy.

Yes, let it go, but only after you have made proper peace with it.

Respect

I thought it odd yesterday when my son texted me out of the blue asking me for the date of my father’s death. I answered him anyway.
“December 3, 2013.”
“Are you sure?” he replied.
Jesus, maybe I’m not, I thought to myself. I pulled up the image on my phone of his stone. Dummy, it’s December 2nd. I always get that wrong.
“Sorry bud, it’s December 2nd. Duh.” I typed.
“Good catch.”
“May I ask why you’re asking this?” I queried.
“Nope. Tell you later.”

An hour later, I got this in my text messages.

That is the chest of my son, with his Grandfather’s date of death in memoriam on his chest. I was floored.

I’ve always said that my first tat will be in memoriam of my father. But being on a transplant list I can’t get a tat because I will be a Hepatitis risk and disqualified. My tat was to be RIP Billy Mac. A.S.N.F. I am a junior as you can see and the A.S.N.F. stands for A Son Never Forgets, from the outstanding Cuba Gooding, Deniro movie Men of Honor. A must see BTW.

I could have been upset that he beat me to the punch. I could have been dreading the shit show his mother is going to throw because she hates tattoos. But I was nothing but beaming with pride that my son chose to honor his grandfather, who loved him more than life itself, and me in the process. The kid gets it, he gets history, he gets pride, he honors family and he knows where he came from.

I asked him why he put it on his chest. He told me that one day, not any time in the near future, he would put mine on the other side. Close to his heart.

I’ve raved ad nauseum about how much I love my children and how proud I am of the amazing people and citizens they’ve grown into. Now, my dear reader I finally can offer you proof. I love that kid.

Of all of the unfortunate tattoos he could have chosen, I am just amazed at the route he took. Now, I must go. I think someone is chopping onions because my eyes are getting teary.


Goodbye faithful friend

You’ve been struggling for a while. The spring in your step wasn’t quite there. Your deep brown eyes lost a bit of their sparkle. Your playfulness had begun to wane.

We tried to call it a phase. We woke each day hoping that we would see that spark. Occasionally you showed us glimpses of your old self. But you were tired. You were in pain. Life wasn’t fun for you anymore. It eventually began clear to us that you were never going to come out of this.

This last week you provided us with no glimpses of former you. You moved slowly. Your pain was obvious. When you fell on the stairs and needed help to get up we knew that a terrible but necessary decision was made.

It was time to put you to sleep.

For 13 years you were the loyal family dog. You weren’t a pet, my heart can only be this broken for a family member or a dear friend. You were always happy to see me, even when no one else was. You were always by my side so that I never felt alone. When the house was empty, I had wonderful companionship sleeping at my feet. As only a dog could do, your friendship was omnipresent and unconditional. I was one of your pack.

As one of your pack, I vowed that when your time of need came that I would be by your side, tirelessly and unconditionally. That promise was called in today as we woke to find you listless on the kitchen floor. Your sad brown eyes said it all. You were done, you needed relief from your pain and we had to do what was right for you despite how hard it would be for us. We called the veterinarian and asked to bring you in.

I carried you in to the office. You never let me pick you up until today. The waiting room full of people knew why you were there. They avoided eye contact out of respect and the knowledge of what we were there to do. They let us right in and we placed you on a cold metal table. I put your favorite blanket under you. They gave you a sedative and fed you treats until you put your head down. We patted your head and told you what a good boy you are, and have always been. The Dr. asked us if we were ready. Mom was sobbing. I teared up a little. But I held your little paw and stroked your ears in your favorite spot as they shaved a small section of your leg and gave you an injection.

As you stood by me in life, I stood by you at the end of yours.

“He’s gone”, the Dr. gingerly uttered a few moments later. We were asked if we wanted a private moment. I left my mother alone with him. I had said my goodbyes.

He leaves a hole that can never be filled for reasons that can never be explained. I will cherish the memories, for that is all that remains of my loyal, silly, loveable little furry friend. He is in a better place, at peace and free of pain. Somewhere over the Rainbow Bridge.

Unlike those of us who wish he was still here.

Bad things to great people

I woke this morning to an absolutely beautiful, cloudless day. Spring and Summer have largely evaded the Northeast so far this year so I deduced that I really had no choice but to take the iron steed to my Nephrology appointment. I saddled up for the 50 mile ride south.

As my window had suggested, it was nothing short of a glorious hour ride and I’m pretty sure I smiled the whole way. I made excellent time so I rode around a bit before I pulled into the Medical building the suggested ten minutes early. I parked Bella, wiped the dust and pollen off of her and went inside.

After I checked in I went to sit in the waiting room. Seeing the helmet, several people struck up conversation with me about riding, the weather, etc. I’m still amazed at what a conversation starter a helmet is. After several minutes of small talk, I was called in.

My doctor, who handles most of my needs including monitoring my progress on dialysis, glanced at the helmet, surveyed my jeans, boots, tanned arms and face and said “Well, I guess I don’t have to ask how you’re feeling, do I?”

“I could lie to you, Doc but I feel great.”

After a thorough 30 minute evaluation he concluded that indeed, I was feeling great. He ordered some routine tests and sent his Nurse in to do some follow-up exams. Her name was Madison.

Madison was very good at talking to patients and we immediately began talking as she breezed through her routine. It didn’t take long for her to start talking about her fiancĂ©, and how he was critically injured at work. He is a tow driver and he was hit by a car. I suggested that maybe it was the opening for him to maybe get a better, safer job someday. That’s what I do, put a posi spin on things. She agreed. Then she said something that really resonated with me,
“It seems bad things happen to the best people. As a nurse I see it every day.”
“Can I expound on that?” I asked.
“Sure.”
“It’s been my experience that the illnesses and accidents create the best people.”‘
She was visibly intriguedby what I said. I kept it as brief as I could as I told her what Chronic Illness and my experiences in the blogosphere with the many Chronically ill bloggers that I loyally follow and interact with have shown me. That illness and injury bring out the best of us. I have stopped short of calling it a blessing, but it is undeniable that when faced with unpleasantness and uncertainty many people develop a true appreciation and zest for life that “healthy” people may never achieve. We love more, fight less, forgive more easily, breathe more deeply and waste fewer moments because we don’t have the luxury of guaranteed longevity.

Madison is young, I would guess no older than 23. She was enthralled by my thoughts but I suspect she is taking my word for it to a large degree. She is too young to have seen a lot of the ugly in the world. But I know that I gave her something to think about. She is a good nurse and I’m sure she is decent and kind to all of her patients. But I hope that she will learn to treat her more hardscrabble patients not with pity or sympathy, but instead as the warriors that they are.

Every day is a beautiful day if you take the time to find the beauty. It beats waiting for a better day that you may not be around to see.

The inconvenience of being happy

This happiness shit is wreaking havoc on my blog.

Yesterday my daughter said, “How’s the blog going, Dad?”
Without thinking much about it I replied, “I haven’t done much with it.”
“Why?”
“I guess I’ve been too happy.”

Even I had to take a moment to absorb what I had just said. Do I only blog when I’m unhappy?

I had a nice long ride to think about this on the way home and my answer is a sound, firm, fairly certain and resounding maybe.

I’ve written a lot of posts considered positive and uplifting and I have to have been in a good state of mind when I wrote them. But most of my earlier posts, in fact the inspiration for creating my blog in the first place was born out of a deep disharmony in my life. I was extraordinarily unhappy, dealing with illness, a divorce and consequent feelings of rejection, and having to move in with my mother. I had plenty to write about.

Nearly 2 years later I have completely reconciled those things within my control and have a firm grip on those that I don’t. Where once stood a confused, insecure and nearly defeated man now stands a man in a total Zen state with the world. I have forgiven everyone and everything. Even the most difficult of events and people. Everyone knows where they stand with me and I leave everyone as if I may never see them again. I am open to everything and kind to all. I walk around like a man with a secret when it’s no secret at all. My happiness is being free of negativity, resentment and hate. I am at peace with myself and in harmony with the world.

I spent years trying to find myself and I was me all along.

Ironically, my illness has progressed since I started my blog but I am in a better place with it than before. Dialysis, once a worse-case scenario is now my lifestyle. Some people live and act it, but not me. I am rocking it. I jump into the chair and 4 hours later I spring out of it. Instead of merely existing between treatments I instead pause my wonderful life just long enough to get a treatment. Last week I was asked to be a Patient Advocate for Dialysis patients. I asked why me and the Nurse Manager said,
“You ride a motorcycle to treatments. You ask us how we’re doing. You always feel good. You laugh and joke through your treatments. You do what you’re told. You’re the ideal patient to help someone else through this.”
I was deeply humbled. I’m also going to do it.

I feel so good I have to be reminded sometimes that I am sick.

Lastly, and by no means least important, Superman has found his Lois. A woman who has made me feel desirable, worthy and loved. It is a nice departure from feelings of inadequacy, worthlessness and loneliness. She may be my Phone Booth.

I’m not ready for a format change or a new name for my blog just yet. I’m sure I have plenty of good blogs left in me. But for now, I won’t be taking up my keyboard to exorcise fresh demons. I’m too busy enjoying my wonderful family and friends, spending time with my exciting lady friend, riding my motorcycle through the winding hills of NH, and being out living my life every minute that I am not strapped to a machine.

On paper I have so many reasons to be unhappy. But I have to tell you…

Life is good


Why not you?

I’ve talked about it before. The prevalent “victim” mentality that surrounds us. Maybe it’s a lack of general toughness in today’s world, a lack of people who, like me, were raised with a “suck it up” mentality. My parents taught me that everyone has problems to deal with, how we deal with our own will define us. Toughness was a virtue. Toughness evolved into kindness as we evolved into empathetic creatures who learned to treat all they meet with basic courtesy with the understanding that they are dealing with their own problems.

I’m a pretty tough bastard by all accounts. I’ve even been told that I’ve inspired a few people as I continue to persist against and fight like hell the constant obstacles in my path. I’m stubborn as a bull and I hate to lose. I may someday be the conquered, but I will never be the victim. It starts with one simple learned behavior. Never utter the words “Why me?”

Why NOT you? is the question that begs to be asked.

What makes me, you, or anyone so special? Whether it is pre-ordained or written in the stars, fate or karma what happens to you is your story and there is nothing you can do about it except deal with it. I choose to deal with it by defining it as my mortal enemy. Illness and death are foes to be vanquished, the bastards that cannot win as long as I have anything to say about it. Happiness is the ultimate prize, the Holy Grail.

I admire the strong among us. Today, I am downright enamored of one beautiful woman who is ten times stronger than I will ever be. She has been dealt one giant shitburger after another and has come back for seconds. Her story saddens me, angers me and inspires me. One thing I will never do is pity her because she is anything but helpless.

If I hadn’t actually seen her I would think she looks like one of the Amazon women from the comic books. Tall, packed with glorious muscles and adorned with a cape and wings. But she is not, she is a normal, if not beautiful woman with the heart of a warrior and her cape is only visible if you hold her delicate hand. There you see the scars. The scars of fighting back, of refusing to be the victim, the battle scars that come from never, ever giving up.

You are my hero. My inspiration. My partner in the fight against those bastards. It will be my honor to march headlong into battle together, as a team that can never be vanquished. Your strength will empower me. The bastards will never beat us.

“Why me?” will never be uttered by our lips.

You know who you are, now you know what you mean to me. You are my Lois.