Quality of life

“February?” I asked incredulously.

“Yup, that’s what they told my wife. They didn’t think I could handle it. She told me though”. He ripped open another box of frozen turkeys and moved them closer to the tailgate of his truck.”They was wrong. I can handle it.”

“I don’t suppose I should point out that it’s late November huh?”. Pete looked at me and shook his head. ‘Nuff said. This guy had stage 4 lung cancer, had less than three months to live and here he was; out in the cold at the local food bank handing out frozen turkeys with me to the less fortunate in our community.

After spending 10 minutes with Pete I felt that I was destined to have met him. He is the walking example of how I want to be when I have less than 3 months to live. He is aware, he is doing what he wants to do, he is following his doctor’s orders and keeping his house in order. He has focused on quality of life.

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With the exception of a few low points, I am not the feel sorry for myself type. I don’t believe in it. I continue to believe that if I take care of myself and do what the Dr’s tell me I may live long enough for a cure. And if one doesn’t come around, I will have inevitably added years to my life by not thinking negatively. I only have one caveat, I insist on having a quality of life. Until the day that I am not strapped to a dialysis machine 7 days a week, I will strive to have a quality of life.

I spent the entire 4 hours of the food drive with Pete. He told me his story in bits and pieces as we opened boxes and carried food to people’s cars. He never smoked, he was exposed to asbestos while in the military. He is a life-long member of the community. He is an avid game hunter and fisherman. He told stories of hunting in his backyard when he was 14  before all of the houses were built. He went hunting as recently as last week with his grandson. He still works in his yard. He hopes to take his motorcycle out for one last ride but it’s too cold. He’s taking a ton of medications that make sleep difficult but he doesn’t mind because he can “sleep all he wants when he is dead”.

I am so glad that I met him. He reminded me never to get sucked into the bottomless pit of self-pity. He won’t let his illness define him. He is doing what makes him happy for as long as he can. He is exactly how I want to be when I get to that stage.

It’s not the years in your life, it’s the life in your years.

 

 

 

 

 

Day 16…a letter to my family

To my Family:

This coming Thursday is Thanksgiving. It is one of my favorite holidays. It was always one of the three days of the year that we sat down as a family for a meal. Because of your mother and I’s career choices, the family dinner was never a part of our family routine.

Every Thanksgiving in recent memory has typically been a stressful letdown in some fashion. Mom would decline her mother’s invite to her beautiful condo and an amazing spread because her mother “stresses her out”. The end result would be you not seeing your grandmother on a holiday. I would wake up early and get the bird in the oven and prep everything else for the meal. Mom could be counted on to yell instructions that I didn’t need from the bedroom without getting out of bed. Once she did get up she would criticize the way I did everything.  Kids, you would be in the living room trying not to notice the rising tensions in the kitchen as I simply tried to be a good dad and make a nice meal. You knew Mom was aggravating me but you don’t dare to say anything for fear of setting her off. Thankfully, the guests still willing to come to our house will arrive and everyone will act cordial.

Appetizers would be served, I would pour the first of many cocktails that I would consume that day. Mom would be busy trying to be nice to my mother, who has never been anything but nice to Mom. I would poke my head into the living room periodically to see how everyone is doing while the meal progressed. When the turkey came out of the oven, we would gather everyone to the table and sit.

You kids would start eating until I remind you to wait. We never ate together as a family, and never said Grace so it’s not your fault. You just forgot that your mother would insist that we all go around the table and say what we are thankful for. When it is my turn, you will all make fun in anticipation of mine because one year I made the mistake of being sincere and loving and was mercilessly teased about it.

We would all eat too fast and run out of awkward conversation too soon. You kids would leave the table before I wanted you to, my fault for wanting to savor the rare moment of having all of you together and in front of me. Mom would have a panic attack on dishes and start cleaning the kitchen. The remaining of us would nurse our cocktails or coffees then retire to watch football.

If I was able to get this far without Mom telling me to “go fuck myself” about something then I was in the clear. She was full and content and it would be at least an hour before she started complaining about how fat she was.

The rest of the day would be smooth. Our guests would leave and we would all go our separate ways.

That is how most Thanksgivings went. Incredibly, I wish this year will be the same.

This year we will be at a restaurant because we don’t have a home together anymore. We haven’t been together as a family in almost a year. We will get a big table. Mom and I will pretend to get along and awkwardly smile over our wine glasses knowing that we just talked about divorce but we aren’t going to tell you kids about it yet. We will have a great meal and then go off in three different directions.

This is our life now. Everyday life is hard enough. Holidays just suck.

I wish more than anything that things were different. That we were the happy family that I always wanted. I am thankful that I have such a wonderful relationship with you, my children even though our family dynamic stinks. Maybe you know, maybe you don’t but I stayed for 10 more years, and holiday seasons, than I ever thought possible just to extract as much joy as I could from them.

My happiness will never matter as much to me as yours. I hope that your memories of our time together will include some happy ones, that your idea of family is a healthy one despite your own experiences. If you have good memories then I will have succeeded as a husband and father.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

buy me dinner first at least

Haven’t been on for a few days. I haven’t been feeling it. Some events last week have consumed me to the point where even writing wasn’t a welcome release.

I have been grappling with my wife’s bombshell announcement that she wants a divorce. I really can’t explain why I’m so upset, I have wanted one for a long time. If anyone has read my posts it is a pretty common theme that we have been separated for almost a year but I really believed that she had expectations that we would eventually recover financially and get another place together. I never thought that would happen but I didn’t want to broach the subject of the “Big D” for fear of hurting her. To find out that she was actually thinking the same way was shocking. For some reason, I wasn’t prepared. Now it seems real, and it makes me sad. I really wish it could have turned out differently.

At the same time last week I got a call from Social Security Disability. I was told to expect a decision on my claim this morning. I patiently crossed my fingers and hoped for the best all weekend. I am not working and all of the best minds in my circle, doctors included, pushed me to apply. I received a denial letter this morning.

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I have an advocate working my claim for me. In return for a very large fee they take my fight to SSDI and try to get it done. I called them this morning and asked about the next step, the appeal process. There is a 12 to 18 month waiting period for an appeal hearing. I am screwed, without income for the next 12-18 months because of court backlogs all because they hope that I will drop my claim. I am a year away from dialysis, my blood pressure is astronomically high and my overall kidney function is in the toilet. But I am not eligible.

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It’s been a long time but if memory serves the last time I got fucked I remember having a nice dinner and getting kissed first.

Day 15… A letter to my community

Dear small New England Town:

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There was a time when this town was my only vacation outlet. As a child, I spent every weekend of the summer here. We had a campsite in one of the campgrounds right on the banks of the lake. I spent some of the best times of my life in that campground. Sun-soaked days on the lake, campfires at night. I learned to do so many things and made so many friends. I fondly remember the excitement of everyone showing up at the beginning of the season after a long winter. Anticipating the fun ahead. Bittersweet memories of late summer nights, lying in the field and gazing at the stars knowing that the summer was almost over and school would soon start.

As I grew older, and my family moved on from a campground to a house I visited less. I was a young guy with a job, the occasional girlfriend, and friends. All of which made the 2-hour drive less desirable.

When I got married and had children we came up as often as we could. My children always loved it up here. They got to do all of the things that I did as a child. Just not as often. We were limited to day trips, and only if the weather was projected to be nice. We felt that other than the beach there is nothing to do here.

When Dad retired Mom and Dad made a life up here. They turned a small Chalet into a much larger, year-round house with a garage and a lawn. They became full-time residents here in 2001. I didn’t know how they did it. Other than the beach what was there to do here? I could never grasp the pace. With the exception of the 4th of July parade, the town seemed pretty dead.

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I am now a full-time resident of this town and I will be for the foreseeable future. While I was driven here by less than ideal circumstances, I have to admit I love it here. The town is beautiful. The air is clean. The people are nice. The buildings are old. And the pace is just the way I like it.

I have come to the conclusion that my body has been breaking for a long time. I blame it on trying to maintain a pace that I am not capable of anymore. The hustle and bustle of my former life were killing me and I am not cut out for it anymore. I don’t know how I managed so long. But my new pace will extend my life.

I can’t step outside without childhood memories washing over me. When I sit by the lake I still see Dad’s smiling, tanned face as he drove the boat. Mom in tow on waterskis smiling from ear to ear. At night, I take a deep breath and savor the smell of wood-burning stoves. I still look up at the starlit sky, but now I see hope.

I will experience my first winter in this wonderful town. I am here for better or for worse. I plan on enjoying it. Getting involved in the town. I want to meet as many of the people as I can. I want to be accepted, for I am now a resident, not just a seasonal visitor.

 

Day 14…a letter to my favorite professor

Dear Professor “AARP”

I want to thank you for the “elective” that I stumbled over and loved the most.

It was registration day, the second half of my Junior year of college and I needed a fifth class. I saw “Geriatric Psychology” on the list of courses with openings and I thought what the hell? I registered.

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Little did I know that you, the professor, were “Geriatric” as well. A very dapper, very vibrant but clearly elderly gentleman was teaching a course on the psychology of, well, himself! I knew I was in for a fun ride.

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You insisted on being known as “Professor AARP”. It broke the ice a bit. You spoke to us at great length of what it is like to be old. To feel minimized, irrelevant, past one’s prime. The significance of a driver’s license and how it ties into one’s independence. Asking for help with tasks that were once easy. And on a more intimate note, you made us think about how much advancement people your age have witnessed in your lifetime. I don’t think my classmates had thought much about these things until they met you.

As far as I was concerned, you were preaching to the choir. I have always enjoyed the company of older people. As a child, my Grandparents took me frequently to their events and their friends loved me. I was fascinated by their tales, by what they had seen in their lives. I love the stories of how “it” used to be. Dating was called “courting”. They “went steady” with their favorite “gal” or “guy”. Their music. The fact that they wore suits to go the supermarket.

You were no exception. When I asked you to join me for a coffee in the cafe one day after class you said: “why do you want to hang out with an old guy like me.” I told you that I saw no such guy. We talked many times over coffee that semester. You were at the tail end of your career, bordering on retirement. This was the last time you would teach this class because it was being dropped from the curriculum. You found that very telling in and of itself. I told you how much I was enjoying it. I think it mattered to you.

It was just an elective, but you sir were not just a professor. You were a very nice man with a refreshing outlook on life that many could learn from.  I can’t speak for everyone but I certainly learned a lot from you. I still, to this day have many elderly friends. I think of you often as I spend time with them. You were a friend.

I suspect that you have been gone for at least 20 years as I write this. Clearly, you made an impact on someone.

A grateful student.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 13…a letter to my body

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Dear body:

We need to come to some kind of an understanding. We can go around and around about who started it but it doesn’t solve anything. You were broken at an early age so I gave up on you. I didn’t ask for a failing body, I didn’t inherit it. I didn’t ask for it. It just happened. So as I ate junk food, boozed and generally abused you I did it out of sheer frustration for being dealt a shit hand.

You have to admit it, eventually, I came to terms with our differences and began to treat you better. I began to feed you better food, less booze and I even exercised you.

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In our 30’s I took great care of you. But you were already broken. When we were 31 we got cancer. We worked together to kick it out for good.

When we were 40 we got a staff infection that almost killed us. If not for a routine bed check on the 6th floor we would be worm food right now. Do you know that I actually left you for 4 minutes? But some yelling doctors got us together again.

In our late 40’s you decided that you needed spare parts in order to continue running, Somehow we got you a new kidney part and you loved it. Sure you tried to reject it a couple of times, that’s normal. But I fed you drugs that made you stop. For a while you worked with me. Then you allowed the original defect to come back in the replacement part. Even after being so nice to you for 4 years you let me down again. Now we are sick again. The Dr said today that the new part only has 30% functionality left.

I am proposing a truce. If I promise to continue to give you good food, plenty of exercise and sleep will you make an effort to make that 30% last as long as possible? You see, there are so many things that I want to do and many important occasions, still unplanned but I hope to see them in my daily planner, at which my presence will be requested.

I don’t like our relationship, but I’ve come to grips with it. As I said I don’t blame you. Please work with me, consider my proposition carefully. I am sincere on my end. All I need is time. Precious time. I can think of a few people that will also be eternally grateful.

Respectfully,

The soul

Day 12 of the 30 day challenge…a letter to my future ex-wife

My wife told me this afternoon she wants to discuss getting a divorce

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A letter to my wife:

That was quite a phone conversation.

I’m experiencing a lot of emotions right now. I can’t believe I wasn’t ready for you to say to me what I’ve been dreading, dare I say procrastinating saying to you. I actually thought that I was the only one thinking it. And it was killing me.

You want a divorce. An amicable, non-contested, let’s move on with our lives divorce. No harm and no foul. Why am I surprised by this?

I have agonized for months over a conversation that you brought up over the phone.

I’m sad. I wish I had done better by you. You deserve better. I warned you when you were pursuing me all those years ago that I wouldn’t be the guy you deserve.

I feel inadequate. If only you were in a better place financially. I continue to blame myself for our money woes even though I couldn’t help getting sick. You’re now broke and living with a friend. Your future looks as bad as mine.

I feel relieved. Relieved that you also recognize that this is not working nor is it going to.

I am surprised at how easy it was for you to put it out there. We were such a famous story at one time that I thought it would be harder for you.

I am grateful. Grateful that instead of blaming me you told me that I didn’t deserve what happened to me. That I was a nice guy. That I, we, deserved to be happy.

I don’t hate you. I don’t even dislike you. We spent some really good years together. Unfortunately, we spent more bad ones. Arguing over money, clichéd as it is, was the end of us. We took on too much, tried too hard to keep up with the Joneses, and then I got sick.  

I love you as the mother of our 4 wonderful children, our one great success story. And I love you for all of the ways that you straightened me out as a younger, fool-hardy man. Once compatible, we grew in different directions. It doesn’t matter now which one of us is different, the fact is we have nothing in common.

I loved you enough to always honor our wedding vows. I was never unfaithful and I put you and our children first. But I don’t deserve a cookie because you have been faithful to us as well.

I need time to absorb the events of this afternoon. I agree with everything you said, I’ve thought it myself, it just feels real for the first time. You are right that we don’t live together, see each other often or even talk. And you aren’t going to keep me from seeing the kids, my biggest fear.

I hate an unhappy ending and we were a great story. But I guess it’s settled. It’s time to turn the page.

With much regrets,

 

Your husband