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.

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 fiancé, 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.

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.

The open road

You may or not believe me when I tell you this, but 32 years ago as I was lying in traction with 4 fractured vertebrae, 3 broken ribs and a nurse picking gravel out of my ass, that I was dreaming of my next motorcycle (and of course about the hot chick I was going to see when I crashed). I had to dream of the next bike because the one that I had just crashed was a mere pile of twisted metal.

People were amazed that even during my recovery I still loved the notion of the motorcycle. I was unfazed by my injuries, the lure of the open road always called to me since my boyhood days of clutching to my father’s waist as we roared around on his bike. I was barely 17 when I got my first one and only 23 when I had my crash.

I stayed away from the call of the road through my late 20’s and by 30 I was married with no expendable income and a wife that never entertained the notion even if I could afford one. She was amazed that after what I had been through I wanted another and just a bit fearful of me making her a widow. For the time being I had to be satisfied with daydreaming and slobbering over every bike that I saw go by. I craved the wind in my face and driving as if I were a very part of the road itself. I romanticized it to say the least.

Not needing the approval of anyone, I bought one last fall. Once I started her for the first time this Spring, I knew that I hadn’t romanticized it enough. It shook as if it were the heavy breaths of the mighty steed. It required taming and finesse. We name our steel steeds after a woman, because it’s a thing of beauty and at the same time, the moment we lose respect for her it will buck you off. I named mine Bella.

Bella and I have spent a lot of time together and have earned a mutual respect. We have learned to ride the bumps and hang the curves in unison. We are enjoying our trips and are experiencing an unexpected bonus. We are both celebrities and members of a very exclusive club.

Celebrity status comes in the form of strangers asking me at gas stations and stores what year she is and commenting on how pretty she is. In the form of people seeing the helmet and saying “Oh, I’m jealous.” Bored husbands in minivans teeming with screaming rugrats looking at me at stoplights with pure envy.

The exclusive club is other bikers. Apparently, it is courtesy and custom to wave at passing bikes as we zoom by each other on highways and side roads. We all do it. Harleys to Hondas, we’re all in the same wonderful club. And we watch out for each other, should a car mess with a bike it’s a lot like when a hockey player knocks over a goalie. Shit hits the fan as the protectors come off the bench.

I can’t tell you how much joy I have already gotten from Bella. She’s made a routine commute a religious experience. A ride to and from dialysis a complete and meaningful experience. It has become an escape, a way to become one with nature and a way to make an ordinary day one for the books.

I suppose one additional perk is that it is one giant FUCK YOU to those who say that someone in my position shouldn’t be doing it. I’ve had cancer twice, 2 near fatal accidents, 2 near fatal staph infections, a kidney transplant and I’m still going. Nothing has killed me yet, I’ll be damned if I’ll take the “safer” road for my own benefit. I want to die having lived, with a giant goddamn smile on my face.

Now if you’ll excuse me, the sun is out and Bella is beckoning to me to ride her…

Music Challenge

Pensitivity 101 has asked me to participate in the weekly music challenge. It looked interest so I’m giving it a shot.

Time once again for Laura Venturini’s Weekly Song Challenge! Here, as always, are the rules:

Copy rules and add to your own post, pinging back to this post.
Post music videos for your answers to the musical questions.
Tag two people to participate!

Post a video of a song that makes you think of the true meaning of Memorial Day.

Trace Adkins, and don’t tell me you don’t like Country, wrote this beautiful song from the perspective of a fallen soldier in his final resting place. If it doesn’t bring out powerful emotions then you may not be human…

this song is a beautiful homage to the fallen hero, in his or her final resting place

Post a video of a song that has the word war in title or lyrics.

this song was conceived while the band was touring Afghanistan and saw the war play out before them. This is for the soldier, about the soldier and the horrors they endure

Post a video of a song that is part of a movie soundtrack that had something to do with war.

this song is not about War, but as a critical part of the soundtrack of Good Morning Vietnam it has taken on a whole new context for me , and I suspect for many more who saw this powerful movie. As it played, horrific, visceral scenes of warfare, carnage and bloodshed that was the Vietnam War played out in front of us. Never has there been such a paradox to have such a beautiful song as a backdrop to senseless death and destruction

I nominate my lovely Bella and Good Buddy Steve if they feel so inclined to participate…

Living

I have gone on record as being divided on how I feel about Social Media, Facebook in particular. I hate the politics and the pursuant hatred and vitriol from idiots with “keyboard balls”. I hate the vague statuses in which some attention hound posts “ooh I’m so mad!” so all of her friends will reply “What’s the matter honey?”. Then there’s the 50 year old housewives doing duckface selfies. Enough already.

The one thing I have always liked about FB is catching/keeping up with old friends. I have deeply enjoyed this aspect of it. Having graduated HS almost 36 years ago I love that I can see what people who I don’t actually see often (or at all) are up to. One such person is Tim. The last time I saw Tim was after we had a fistfight after school in 9th grade. I don’t know to this day why we fought, but it was over quick and he moved soon after. That was 38 years ago. He and I connected on FB about 8 years ago and have been very friendly but never gotten together.

That changed this week. I posted a pic of my new (to me) motorcycle

and several minutes later a IM popped up. Want to ride?
Hell yea, I replied. We worked out the details for Monday, the weather was looking fine.

We met at a restaurant we both knew. He had come from 50 miles south of me and the plan was to ride into the White Mountains of NH where, I think it is safe to say that God himself designed these roads for Motorcycles and merely allows cars to use them as needed.

He pulled in right on time. I knew what his bike looked like and a fair idea what he did as well. He got off his bike, took off his helmet, lit up his trademark cigarette and just said, “Billy Mac. You haven’t changed a bit.”
“Well, gee Tim. I would think I’ve changed a little since 9th grade.”
We talked for a bit, mostly small talk and we then saddled up. I told him I was a bit of a Rook so I would follow him.
Off we went.
There are certain rules to follow when riding in a group, even if the group is two. I learned them from my dad. Don’t ride side by side, ride staggered. If the leader is occupying the left side of the lane, stay in the right so that another driver doesn’t try to occupy the lane. Don’t get too close. I was nervous at first but I did fine. At the first stop, Tim likes to stop frequently and have a smoke and talk, he asked how long I had been riding.
“Less than a month.”
“Wow”, he said. “You’re doing great.”

At the next stop I asked where we were going. He told me we were going up Cathedral Ledge. I asked more questions and he said to just follow him. Before long we were taking a left into Cathedral Ledge State Park. We then began an upward climb on the windiest road I ever saw. Cars were crawling up and we had to pass a couple because if we didn’t we would have rolled back down the hill. It was that steep. We reached the top and there were hundreds of bikes and cars. We dismounted and I followed Tim to a clearing. Where I saw this…

The view was breathtaking. We talked for a while, got into a little more detail about our lives, elaborated on things we knew about each other from Facebook posts. Finally, he said. “Dialysis, huh?”
“Yup. If you look over there (I pointed to a clearing not visible in this pic), that’s my clinic right there.”
“They’re there. And you’re here, huh?”
“Absolutely. When I’m not there I’m living.”
Tim’s a quiet guy, a man of few words. “You sure as hell don’t look like a dialysis patient to me. Not that I actually know what one looks like, but it ain’t this.”
“Thanks, man. That’s the point.”

We left, descended the hair-raising winding road and set out on the last leg of our journey. We ended up on a very winding stretch of 29 miles that begins with a sign “no gas or services next 29 miles.” The first 3.5 miles were straight up. Then the curves began. I followed Tim’s lead and we began a stretch of snake curves where you need to lean your whole body into the curve or you wouldn’t make it. It was do or die time for me. I summoned my courage and went at it.

Part of me wanted to slow down but I didn’t. I rolled with every turn, mimicking every move Tim made. The wind blew us about, the noise in my helmet was deafening, the adrenaline was pumping. I was exhilarated in the place of fright. At one point I screamed over the din of the engine to no one in particular
LIVING!”

No mortal man heard me, it was for the ears of God alone.

At the next break we talked about the rush of that section of road. I was in heaven. I felt accomplished, I felt like I had performed above my pay grade. I felt alive.

Tim and I later parted ways with a commitment to do it again. We will. I can’t wait. It’s days like yesterday that remind me why you have to deal with the bad stuff to get to the good stuff. The bike, good friends, good conversation, the outdoors on a beautiful Spring day, adrenaline. That’s the good stuff.

I may be stuck in a dialysis chair 3 days a week. But on the other 4, you’ll find me out doing something that someone told me I can’t or shouldn’t do.

I call it LIVING.