the Rainbow Bridge

I didn’t really start believing in an actual higher power until I lost a parent. Many others that I know say the same thing. The notion of a magical place in the clouds that houses our loved ones after they shed their mortal shell, where they look as they did in their prime before sickness or age took them away from their pain is a far fetched notion in this day of science and reason. But it sounds like a hell of an idea and if it gives you comfort, then go for it. It did for me. We all grieve differently.

Grief is a powerful thing. When someone suffers a loss we want to say something, we want to do something. The bitch of it is that there is nothing we can say or do, it’s a personal process that really never ends it only gets less difficult over time. If you are lucky. It is a matter of patching the giant hole that the loss of a loved one leaves in us.

Our human vanity challenges the notion that the loss of a pet can be as traumatic as the loss of a human. They’re only animals after all, right?
Wrong.
I won’t go so far as to say that an animal is on the scale of a human but I will tell you that to many, most(?), our furry friends are not just pets. They occupy our hearts and minds and command a level of love and companionship that comes in a photo finish second.

I lost my first dog when I was in High School. We adopted a Brittany Springer Spaniel from a shelter when I was 4. He was a hunting dog that was trained too early and was gun shy, rendering him useless to hunters. He was my absolute best friend in the world. To call him a loyal companion would be the understatement of the century. He was by my side everywhere I went. He saved my life once. I was crossing our street and a school bus was barreling down the hill. He ran across the street and tackled me. The bus missed us by inches. He wasn’t just a pet. When I drove to NH one summer day over Summer Vacation I was met with the dour faces of my parents, who told me that he was put down. I was crushed and remained that way for a long time. There was a hole in my life. It was at that time that I saw the poem “the Rainbow Bridge.”

We have had a series of dogs since then. I wasn’t as close to any of them as I was to my first but I loved them so very much and losing them was never easy. Recently we put down our Laso Apso of 14 years. That was a tough one for my mother and I, he was an amazing companion. Smart, loyal and goofy and a constant presence. His loss crushed my mother. This time she said “no more dogs. It’s too hard to lose them.”

I agreed with her on the “hard to lose” them part. But I didn’t agree with the no more dogs thing. The one thing about animals that differs from humans is that, while you can’t replace them, you can fill the hole left by a pet. The mistake we make is that we don’t want to do them a dishonor by “replacing” them and in the process we forget that we have an opportunity to at least fill the empty place in our lives.

Having said that, six months after putting down our beloved Laso, we got another dog. A beautiful Cocker Spaniel named Sammy (Samuel L. Spaniel).

My mother’s frown turned upside down from the first day that we got him and I have to say that her life is better with him in it. He is loyal, friendly, funny, goofy and absolutely full of love for her. He has chosen her as his favorite and I’m fine with it, it was her hole to fill more than mine.

If you are a person who doesn’t want a dog because you feel that their lives are too short and the pain is too much, please focus on the wonderful times you are missing out on. Having something that is always happy to see you, missed you like you had been lost at sea, adores you unconditionally and can comfort you without having to know what’s bothering you is a treasure in and of itself.

If you are a person who doesn’t want to get another to fill the hole, remember that it is not about replacing, it is about mending the massive void in your life. Once you’ve known the unconditional friendship and admiration of a pet you really can’t go without it. As you sit on a park bench worrying about everything, your dog is sitting next to you thinking that you are their entire world.

How many people can you say that about?

I’m more likely to believe in heaven if I were to have all of the wonderful dogs I have been blessed to know waiting for me to walk by my side once again as I cross over.

the words left unsaid

I love my dialysis nurses. I think they do God’s work and I appreciate them. They do more than stick needles in my arm, they monitor my welfare and genuinely care about me and make a very difficult transition for their patients easier. Of course, I can only speak for myself but the nurses have a special place in my heart.

One nurse I am particularly fond of is Jesse. Jesse is one of the youngest nurses at the clinic and I have felt a special chemistry with her since the day I met her. We share a devilish sense of humor which is tampered by her strict codes of conduct in the clinic regarding patient interaction. Still, we manage to have flirty and somewhat sexy conversations in sneaky ways, even the exchange of glances or funny faces. I love it when she’s there, it makes the time pass a little better. It’s safe to say that if there wasn’t a clinic policy against dating patients, we would be a couple. Just one more example of how my life is.

C’est La vie.

I have gotten to know her over the last year and she tells me a bit about her personal life. I know she doesn’t share with many patients, we have a special connection. I know that she has 2 very cute daughters, aged 5 and 3. I know that their father used to live with them and watch the girls while Jesse was at work. I know that he recently moved out and she is single (not that I can do anything with that knowledge). I also know that Jesse hasn’t spoken to her father in years. She has revealed enough for me to know that her relationship with her dad was less than stellar. Let’s call it what it is, she hated him.

Last Tuesday Jesse was in a terrible mood. She was quiet and frequently teared up. She wasn’t speaking to anyone with the exception of the communication necessary to get someone set up on the dialysis machine. It bothered me a bit to not have our usual back and forth but it had nothing to do with me and I figured whatever it is will work out and she will be in a better mood next time. Unfortunately, the next time I saw her she was no better.

I decided to engage her. I remarked to her that she was in a bad mood again. She then came over and said “I’ll tell you, but you’re one of two people I’m telling. I haven’t told anyone else. She paused and said, “My father was killed in an accident last week.”

I was stunned. Of course I had no words to offer. I offered her a hug and half-joked that maybe I can give her some of my strength. She teared up. She wasn’t working that day so she soon left. I had several hours left and most of them were spent thinking of her.

She had a difficult road ahead. She has lost her father. In addition she had the burden of knowing that they had a terrible relationship. On top of it all, I know that she had to be torn by those words. You know those words…the ones unsaid. I’m sure there are regrets. I’m sure there are unresolved issues. I’m sure that she was right in how she felt about him but never had the one thing we all crave in the end. Closure. She has a long road ahead of her and there is nothing that I can do that will help her reach closure. I wish I could in the worst way.

See, she’s not the only one with unresolved issues and things unsaid. I wanted to tell her how I feel about her. That I have been pining for her for a very long time. Hopeful that there is a way around the clinic’s policy against patients fraternizing/dating staff. I wish she knew that I would ask her out in a New York minute if I could. I want to be with her so very badly. And I can’t until I am no longer a patient of the clinic or if she leaves the company. Neither seems viable right now, I need a transplant, it’s the only answer. Until that unlikely event, it’s just not going to happen.

I went to a local fair today and it wasn’t 5 minutes before I ran into her. She met my daughter and my friend Eric. It felt naughty to be talking to her because it was forbidden on so many levels. But we talked for a few minutes and it was really nice. Not to mention that she looked beautiful in the early afternoon sunshine. As we parted ways, I hugged Jesse and bluntly said “We need to find a way around that company policy because I want to be with you.” I amazed myself at how bold that statement was. But I felt better for saying it. They were no longer words unsaid. I said them. It was the truth after all and now it was out there. I think she knows that I’m into her, now it’s confirmed.

When we parted ways and walked away my daughter, who already knew my feelings for Jesse said, with her usual candor, “ You need to marry her. She’s beautiful, she’s awesome and she’s into you.”
“You think so?”
“Oh yeah.”
“Well, a lot has to happen before that happens.” I said. “But I think she is worth waiting for.”

Friendship in the age of social media

I first met you in the courtyard of our Apartment complex.

You were walking your Boxer. Your buzzcut, upright posture and tattoos immediately revealed that you were military. I welcomed you to the complex and happily found out that you lived above me. I told you we should hang out.

I learned your story. You were active duty Army, 3 tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as an MP. You were stateside and reassigned as a Recruiter. Your wife and 2 beautiful daughters were so happy to have you home. I immediately respected you.

You were half my age. You sought my friendship and advice over frequent drinks. As we became close you alternated between treating me as a friend and a father figure. I was happy to be both.

We worked out together. You hated the fact that I was twice your age but could outrun you. Eventually you asked me to help you get in better shape to pass your PT test. I threw pebbles at your balcony window to wake you at 6 am to go for a run. Most times you didn’t feel up to it. You were hung over.

You desired fitness, but you were a slave to Alcohol. You didn’t deny it. You couldn’t just have a drink, you could only get hammered. Jack Daniels was your best friend and your wife was getting jealous of your relationship.

I tried to get you to slow it down. I warned you of the damage you were doing to your family. I treaded lightly because I knew you had seen some shit overseas and needed your coping mechanisms. But I saw the writing on the wall.

Eventually, your wife, tired of you passing out on the sofa and your belligerent behavior when drinking grew tired of your antics and sought solace in the arms of another. A mutual friend had betrayed you, broke a cardinal law and coveted your wife. When you found out, you went on a binge.

I got your call at 11 PM on a Sunday night. You were very drunk and driving around. Your life, your marriage and your military service were on the line. I pleaded for you to park your car and let me come get you. You succumbed. I drove an hour to pick you up. I offered to take you home but you didn’t want to go. I took you to my home. We talked into the early hours of the morning. You were heartbroken. Angry. You wanted to lash out. The one person you refused to blame was your own self. I listened to you, talked when appropriate and tried to set you on the right course. You passed out on my bed. I slept on the floor that night. You were worth it, we were friends after all.

The next morning, while I was at work you called me and thanked me for my friendship. You promised that you were going to make it right with your wife.

You went home to find your bags packed. It was over. You moved back into your mother’s house the next day.

We promised to stay in touch. Due to the distance we were reduced to the phone and Facebook. I monitored your progress through Facebook until the day I noticed that I wasn’t seeing your feeds. You had “unfriended” me.

I called you and asked you why. Was it a mistake? It had to be, after all, we were such good friends weren’t we?

You told me that because I was FB friends with the guy that banged your wife you couldn’t be friends with me. I was flabbergasted. Could you really be that childish? As it turned out, you could indeed.

I pride myself in doing for the sake of doing, not for recognition but I lowered myself to asking you if my friendship and the associated deeds mattered to you. You said they did but you couldn’t be friends with me in real life if I was FB friends with the other guy.

I asked you if you had fully thought this through. You told me to “unfriend” him and it will all go away. I refused. While I wasn’t thrilled with what he did, it wasn’t my place to judge him and there was a principle involved. I told you so. You stood firm.

I made it easy for you and I told you that we were no longer friends.

I hope you do well in life, my friend. I regret the manner in which I lost touch with you. I enjoyed your friendship and I also valued it. More than the “Friends” list on a stupid Social Media outlet. But that’s the difference between you and I. That, and accountability. And honesty. And the appreciation of true friendship.

I hope you do well in your journeys. Should you ever grow up, you know where to find me.

Rest well, my Brother

“The roll of the workmen has been called, and one worker has failed to report”.

I dutifully hung my head as the familiar dialogue of a Masonic Funeral was read. I’d been in many Masonic funerals in my years as a Freemason. It is a beautiful ceremony, the same one performed for George Washington, and a show of respect for the fallen brother and a glimpse for the family into the ways of the fraternity the brother’s family never saw. They always make me sad, but this one really hurt.

This brother was also a very close friend whose loss I know I will feel for a very long time.

I first saw Adam from across the room at a meeting. The first thing I noticed about him was the absurdly round face. I observed that he was heavy, but his face was bloated beyond that. When he stood up I could see that he was in pain. This man had a story to tell.

As the room cleared at the end of the meeting I saw the small crowd gathered around him. Handshakes, hugs and greetings abounded, it was obvious that he was a beloved member of the lodge. I made a goal of getting to know him.

During cocktail hour I walked across the room and introduced myself. Never one afraid to approach a stranger, I stuck out my hand.

“Greetings, Brother. My name is Bill”. He stuck his hand out, “Adam.”
And thus began a beautiful friendship.

Adam had joined Freemasonry at the suggestion of his father. It was suggested that he would make friends, enjoy the fraternal bond, if nothing else to have something to do to get his mind off of his problems. He had many, chief among them being a Cancer survivor.

Adam was diagnosed at the age of 30 with Mantle Cell Lymphoma, a highly aggressive cancer with a very low survival rate. Newly married, with a flourishing career and a young son, his life came crashing down. He survived, thanks to the wonderful gift of a bone-marrow transplant from his brother. It was an agonizing, extremely painful surgery for both, but his family continued to make every sacrifice they could for him.

A year later, Adam was living with his parents, sleeping in his childhood bedroom, a mountain of prescription bottles at his bedside. Divorced and friendless because his wife couldn’t handle his illness and his friends stopped calling him. Seeing his son every other weekend was the only glimmer of hope for him, he would tell me one day, keeping him from taking his own life.

I learned part of his story from mutual friends before he and I actually spoke of his travails. As our friendship blossomed he gladly told me the rest. Over lunches, cocktail hours at the lodge (his lodge, that I joined to spend more time with him) and hanging at his house he would tell me the stories about the events that led him to this point.

He was grateful for his new friends and humbled by the support of his new brethren. His father had been correct. His father was a 50 year Mason when Adam entered the fraternity and his father was enormously proud. His mother proudly beamed at the results his new circle had created for him. I vowed to be one of the best friends he would have.

Adam didn’t just take friendship, he gave it back. When he learned of my health issues he became one of my biggest advocates. He spent time at home on his computer researching possible treatments being developed, texting me his findings and always checking in to see if I was eating right, taking my meds, or just to see how I was doing. It isn’t lost on me to this day how someone who felt like garbage almost every day could manage to check up on me, and all of his friends for that matter, to see how we are. He was a special friend.

In the course of our friendship Adam had a rollercoaster of health challenges. On a flight to St. Louis he contracted a virus that caused him to spend 7 weeks in the hospital. He almost died, but he pulled out of it. He had two knee replacements, a hip replacement, a pacemaker and was hit by two more staph infections, one that required removal of both knee replacments. At the end of all of it, there he sat with his absurdly swollen face, a result of a massive amount of steroids and other medications. He was a fighter like no other I have never met. As his Facebook announced another setback, myself and all of his friends had faith that the tough sonofabitch would bounce back and smile that huge smile again.

This past December, Adam met a foe he couldn’t overcome. Another staph infection that the Doctors, despite their Herculean efforts, could not pull him out of. He was forced into a medically induced Coma at the end of January.

I found out too late, for some reason his father’s FB wasn’t showing on my newsfeed and by the time I knew it was too late to visit him. Had I been sitting next to him he wouldn’t know I was there. All of my prayers from afar wouldn’t change it. His parents thanked me for my friendship and support, I knew in their voices they had given up this time.

He died a few days ago.

I miss my friend. I regret not being able to thank him for his unwavering friendship and his eternal optimism. His selflessness in the face of adversity that would cause so many to wallow in a pool of self-pity. He was an amazing human being.

As I stood silently in a moment of prayer, I was flanked by dozens of brothers who knew Adam as I did. We all knew his family. We all knew the efforts he made for our lodge as he took different assignments to keep himself productive, a concept that meant the world to him. We all knew what a loss we had experienced.

I waited patiently as the procession slowly entered the funeral parlor, each waiting our turn to place a sprig of evergreen, a masonic symbol of the eternity of life, on his simple coffin. A rare tear fell onto my cheek, one of many that would fall that evening.

He is resting now, his pain is gone. The irony of it is that the cure for his disease killed him. If he were here right now he would laugh at that line, we shared a morbid sense of humor. Sharing the burden of Chronic Illness, we knew that laughter is the best medicine. I want to laugh at the funny exchanges we had over the years. I can still see his big, round face that initially caught my attention. The smile that shone through some tremendous sadness, the face of a truly great person.

Rest well my friend, I hope to see you again someday in the Celestial Lodge above that we, as mere mortals hope to achieve at the end of our journey.

Making amends

When I worked at the finance company I was presented with some difficult but wonderful challenges. The company was going through some growing pains and I was immediately tasked with some big issues. Their need was in the “back end” of the business. That is a nice way of saying “repo”.

When I joined the company they were being inundated with cars coming back due to bad loans. My background in appraisals and remarketing proved to be a valuable asset. I had connections with auctions all over the country, offered alternative outlets such as salvage auctions and private sales, and I created a valuable network of tow companies.

One particular tow operator was a local guy named Mike. I essentially inherited him when I joined the company but his role was minimal and I expanded it. I always try to do business with a local guy, it’s just good business.

Mike is a really likable guy, the kind of person I enjoy doing business with. He was a independent with one truck but willing to work all day to earn a living. I gave him a lot of tows. He did a pretty good job for me for a few months and then I began noticing a side of him that didn’t work for me…he “Yes’d” me to death and wasn’t honest about his availability. He was growing his business through AAA tows and had begun to fall behind. He failed to tell me that he hadn’t gotten to previous assignments while gladly accepting new ones, which chaffed my ass greatly. I had to cut him back.

It wasn’t long before Mike came to see me in my office to apologize for his underwhelming performance. We talked at length. I told him how the demands of my job required a more reliable transporter and that I would keep him on but on a more limited basis. He reached across my desk with his big, greasy hand and shook mine, thanking me. He was hard not to like.

Mike continued to work for me for many years and was of great service on the AAA end of things helping me and my family with our five cars.

One Saturday I was getting ready to go out and my car wouldn’t start. I tried jumping it, it was dead. I called Mike and asked him if he could help. He was there in 15 minutes.

He pulled in with his rusty old Ford pickup, his dog and wife in the cab with him. I said hi to his wife, a very unpleasant and morbidly obese woman who I had never seen smile. She grunted in my direction.

Mike somehow got my car started. I asked him if he took credit cards. He didn’t. I was at a loss. I had no cash on me. He said don’t worry about it, remarking that I give him so much work that it more than worked out. I sheepishly thanked him.

His wife scowled at me.

I always felt bad about that day. Yes, I did give him a lot of work but I should have been able to pay him. I lost my job soon after. Mike and I lost touch.

Last week I saw on FB that he had a birthday. It caused me to reflect on my past dealings with him and how much I liked him. I decided that it was time to right a wrong. I took out my checkbook and made out a check for $100.00. I grabbed my stationary and wrote a short note.

Mike, I always felt bad about never paying you for the AAA service years ago. You’re a good man and you deserve better. Please accept this check as good will for a good deed.
Take care,
Bill

I mailed it that day. He FB inboxed me 3 days later thanking me. He said I shouldn’t have. I disagree.

My mother likes to tell me that I am determined to spend every penny I have. What she doesn’t get is that I am charitable within my means and I am not afraid to make amends.

Besides, the check to Mike isn’t about money.

It’s about respect.

Perception vs. Reality — MSich Chronicles

Have you met Steve? If not, you should. I challenge you to read this post and not “follow” him. This is the attitude that we all need to have, one that those with chronic illness can teach all of us if we open ourselves to it. It will definitely influence the way you look at others when you pass them on the street.

 

“I wonder what people think when they see me.” That was a common refrain of mine once the symptoms became entrenched and my mobility became compromised. I was never one who liked to stand out in a crowd, preferring instead to blend into the background. MS made that impossible. My inability to walk in a straight […]

via Perception vs. Reality — MSich Chronicles

Why me? Why NOT me?

“Listen carefully, Billy”, my Grandfather said. He looked me straight in the eye.
I cried because I had no shoes. Then I met a man who had no feet.”
“What does that mean Grandpa?”
“It means, Billy, that you should never complain because there is always someone who has it worse than you. Be happy with what you have.”

I was a young boy when he said that to me. I don’t remember what I was complaining about but after that exchange I learned that men, men like my Grandfather, don’t complain.

Have I complained since then? Of course, it happens. But my brain immediately flashes back to that quote. And shuts me down. It has served me well, in fact it was one of my greatest life lessons and shaped who I am today.

People often told me during the height of my Illness that my positive attitude, and crippling denial, inspired them. I wasn’t waking up with the intention of inspiring others, I was just listening to my Grandpa. I was keeping my kids from worrying about me. I didn’t want to burden anyone.

People tell me now that my jokes and overall positive attitude about my current situation helps them. How else am I supposed to be? Should I complain? It’s not my style. It’s not becoming of a man. And nobody wants to hear it.

Why?

Because someone always has it worse. I know it. I’ve seen it.
I have friends who have lost children at the toddler stage to cancer.
I’ve been to Children’s hospital in Boston and read books to children who would never leave that hospital.
There are families everywhere dealing with dead children, wounded Veterans, mental illness, MIA’s and POW’s, gun violence, terminal illness, no Health Insurance, pending bankruptcies, the list just goes on and on.
They all have it worse than I do.
Most of them wish they, or those that they lost, were only on dialysis.

I’m strapped to a dialysis machine 3 days a week. So what? I’m alive. It may kill me, and then again, I may get a donor. It could be always be worse. One thing I have learned in my 53 years of walking this green earth is that I’m not special, I’m just a cog in a great big wheel. I never say Why me?
Why not me?

I have always said that where I am is where I am suppose to be. That applied wherever I was. Why isn’t it feasible that I am right where I am supposed to be doing what I am supposed to do at this moment?

I was given a brutal reminder of this tonight when I got a call from my friend Steve. I met Steve when I lived in an apartment complex as my family tried to bounce back from the foreclosure. We were instant friends. We hung out often and had a lot in common, in particular crumbling marriages and the love of our children. When he got divorced and moved, we stayed in touch.

Steve became very ill after he moved. His diabetes, once under control, had destroyed his liver. He needed a transplant. When I had mine, he was the first friend to visit. He had questions of course, but he was there as a friend.

Flash forward a few years. Steve was deteriorating. It was affecting his job as a Teacher. He was missing work and couldn’t find a balance in his meds, the side effects were destroying him. Soon after, a group of Teachers that praised him to his face went on to stab him in the back. He was forced to defend his ability to enlighten young minds to a committee of people who wanted him gone. After suing the Teacher’s Union he claimed a meager, insulting settlement and he walked away with his dignity in his pocket. No accolades or thanks for his 20 years of service or retirement party.

Steve lost most of his friends. Or they lost him. He is now pending disability. He just sold his car because he can’t make payments. His ex-wife is taking him to court over child-support he can’t pay. She knows he’s trying without income but wants to punish him. He can barely talk, an hour after he takes his meds he loses control of his voice. He is on a list for a cadaver transplant, it’s his only hope. Unlike a kidney, a Liver cannot be given by the living.

Tonight, I asked if he would drive up and spend a couple of days with me. He can’t because he has to be nearby in case there is a fatal car accident that will produce a proper tissue match. Plus, he has court tomorrow because his ex-wife is not done ripping his testicles from his scrotum.

Steve would love to be me. Right now, I love being me. I have friends and family who support me. My wife acted with dignity and compassion in our divorce. My children love me and will never be a pawn in a big game. I won’t die if I don’t get an organ donation in the next few months.

I worry about Steve right now, he has been a good and loyal friend. I am not worried about me right now at all.
Why?
As sick as he is, he was the one to call me to see how I was doing. How about that?

Were you to ever utter the words “what else can go wrong?” the universe very well may take it as a challenge.