Rest in Peace

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Today was the funeral service for my father-in-law. We expected there to be some family drama but there was hardly any, and the service was very nice. We survived intact.

My wife did tear up during the service, as both she and I expected, but it was brief. I expect that at some point it’ll finally dawn on her and she’s have a good cry over it. I may be wrong. They weren’t very close except during the last year of his life, and even then it was a temporary thing.

We did get an opportunity to visit with some SCA friends of ours that have moved out to Phoenix. It was great seeing them and we miss seeing them more often.

The big social event this evening was a pizza party in the lobby of the hotel for the same family members that went to Texas Roadhouse last night.

As I write this my wife is very busily trying to get us as packed as she can for the trip home tomorrow afternoon. We leave the hotel at 9:30 am to head for the airport, and neither one of us want to leave things until the last minute.

As hectic and chaotic as things got at times this weekend, I’m still glad that we got a chance to see family. While this is all my wife’s people, they’ve taken me in and accepted me as family, and coming from a very small family myself, that’s a good feeling.

Tomorrow night we’ll be in our own apartment, petting our own kitties, and relaxing on our own couch. It’ll be a welcome rest after what’s been an emotionally charged and busy week.

As for my part in it, at no point during the trip did I feel anxiety. There were some situations that felt a little awkward, but that very familiar “fight or flight” instinct that I so very often get in social situations wasn’t there. My wife has been worried about how I might suddenly and catastrophically relapse back into being too anxious to function, but I’ve tried to assure her that it’s not going to happen. If it weren’t for just feeling better and not experiencing any anxiety, I’d put that on the back burner to deal with after we got home. This trip was for her to say goodbye to her father, and my job has been to keep her as together as I can during this time. But as I said, I’m fine. Tired, a little homesick, but fine.

Phoenix is a lovely city. The views are gorgeous and I got to see one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen while I was here. But it’s oppressively hot during the summer, and neither me nor my wife do well in extreme heat, so this wouldn’t be a viable place for us to look to relocate if we ever decided to leave Austin. Austin has its own problems with heat, and we willingly left a climate that has four distinct seasons in order to live there among our friends again, and I don’t see us leaving Austin for the foreseeable future. I wouldn’t mind coming back to see Phoenix during the winter. My wife’s brother and his family live here, and it will always be a good thing to see our niece and nephew. But I think we’re going to avoid it during the summertime.

It’s been a good trip, but I’ll be glad to be back home.

The Call You Never Hope Comes

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Yesterday afternoon we got confirmation that my wife’s father had been moved to hospice care. This was expected. He’d been suffering from pancreatic cancer which has a one-year survival rate of 20% across all stages and a five-year survival rate for Stage IV, his diagnosis, of 1%. On top of that, he’d been fighting other health issues for a few months: pneumonia, severe GI problems, and most recently sepsis of the blood. Things have not been looking good for some time, and yesterday, we got word that the doctors had done all they could do for him. There would be pain management, but given that he’d signed a DNR directive, they wouldn’t be treating his illnesses anymore.

It’s a very sad thing to get to that stage of an illness. Given my fear of dying, I can’t imagine being at the point that you’re just waiting to go. But that’s where we had found ourselves with her father. It was a matter of when, not if.

My wife got a call at about 2:00 am this morning and learned that he’d passed on.

It’s still sinking in for her. She didn’t cry until she got to work today, and even then she fought the tears that would inevitably come. Part of me is expecting her to break down at some point soon and let it go, but not for the reasons that you would think.

My wife and her father had a very strained relationship. My wife’s parents adopted her in 1975, and adopted her brother two years later. Her father always wanted a boy, and when her brother came along, most of her dad’s attention went to him and stayed there from that point on. Whenever my wife’s parents divorced, her brother was devastated that their father didn’t make an attempt to gain custody of at least him (my wife’s brother), whereas my wife’s mother often referred to my wife as the “bitter ex” in the relationship. It took my wife a long time to come to grips with her relationship with her father and as long as I’ve known her, most frequently referred to him by his first name and not ever Dad unless it was to his face. (During this blog post, I’ve been careful to respect that boundary by always referring to him as “her father” and not “her dad.”)

It’s my opinion that her grief is more for the loss of the potential relationship that they might have had. Earlier this year when he started to really go downhill, they seemed to reconcile, and I was hopeful that things would start being different, but as soon as the immediate life-threatening scare was over, things were back to the way they always have been. I think that momentary lapse of estrangement between the two of them really drove home that sense of loss of potential at the end.

I can relate to what she’s going through somewhat because I’ve experienced both the loss of a parent and the loss of potential in a relationship. I lost my dad in 1995, and my half-brother – who I had only the most tenuous of relationships with – in 2008. Dad’s death hit me hard, but my brother’s death barely registered with me emotionally – until I started to realize that the ability to build a stronger relationship with him would never come, and then I started to grieve. I can’t really say that I know what she’s going through, though. Neither my brother nor I seemed to value a sibling relationship enough to want to pursue one, yet my wife spent her entire childhood and a good portion of her adult life desperately wanting her father’s approval. This has got to be extremely hard on her for the so very many emotions that she’s experiencing right now, and I don’t envy her that. I’ll help where I can, supporting her through the whole thing, but it’s her grief to have.

As for me, my own relationship with the man wasn’t very good, as you might imagine. His solution to my mental health issues was always “get a job.” He didn’t understand that it was painfully difficult for me to do so most of the time, and he was always convinced that he knew what was right for me when he barely knew me at all. Most of my experiences with him were strained at best, though always cordial. Generally I existed in his world and that was that. The only time that he ever wished me happy birthday was this year, when my wife was visiting him on the occasion and she had to tell him what day it was. That instance always felt more like a situation that wishing me happy birthday was the only course of action that he could really take given the circumstances, and not a very genuine gesture.

I’m mourning because my wife is, and not much more than that.

I feel bad about that, I really do. I wish that he’d have acknowledged me as a son-in-law rather than just the guy that married his daughter, but it always felt more like the latter to me.

Part of me is relieved for him. Pancreatic cancer is a hell of a way to go, and I know he was in a lot of pain. I’m glad that he’s not hurting anymore.

 

Unresolved

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As I mentioned a few days ago, I have an irrational fear of dying. It’s not the being dead part that scares me; it’s the fear of the sickness and pain and suffering that’s associated with death that gets me. I talked about how the book I’m currently reading, The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, Sixth Edition by Edmund J. Bourne PhD, has a section that covers the fear of death, and how I was looking forward to getting to that section to hopefully find some guidance in how to get over my fear.

Today is the day that I got to that section, and it is … lacking.

It explains that some of the most common types of thanatophobia (the official term for a fear of death) are a fear of nonexistence; a fear of the unknown; a fear of negative afterlife based on religious beliefs, such as hell or purgatory; my situation, the fear of the negative aspects of the process of dying; fear of the death of a loved one; fear of what will happen to loved ones after you die; and an outright fear of dead things.

The book goes into some detail about the fear of nonexistence. It talks briefly about the fears of death that center around religious beliefs. It has a couple of paragraphs on how some people respond favorably to literature on near-death experiences. It mentions a couple of therapeutic options for people whose fear of death began with a traumatic experience of watching a loved one die.

And this is what it says about dealing with the pain and suffering of the process of dying.

“The fear of pain and suffering associated with death may arise from a traumatic experience of witnessing a loved one go through a protracted process of dying. Often the death of a loved one may lead to an increased fear of one’s own death as well as a fear of sights and objects associated with death.”

That’s it. That’s all the book offers.

First off, I’ve had this fear for as long as I can remember. My mom’s dad passed before I was born. My dad’s dad passed very suddenly in a town three hours away. We lost dad’s mom after a protracted illness, but because of my age I wasn’t allowed in to see her throughout most of it, and Mom and Dad didn’t go into much detail about what she was going through. My first memory of a protracted illness in a loved one was my mom’s mom, who died when I was 25 after a years-long deterioration into dementia. A stroke finally took her in November 1994 after spending over a year living at a nursing facility that I never visited. My first hands-on experience with death was with my father, a year later. He suffered a heart attack and then a second one took him a week after that. I had that week with him in the hospital and woke up the morning of his death knowing that it would very well be his last day on earth. But my fear of death dates back long before my father and my grandmother. It wasn’t anything to do with a loved one dying.

Secondly, There’s absolutely no real help here at all. Just two sentences speculating about the origin of the fear, and another sentence later in the section that says that hypnotherapy or eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing could be helpful in instances where the fear of death originates with the death of a loved one.

I’ve been eagerly anticipating what turned out to be nothing useful.

I’m a little frustrated about this. I was really hoping to find something that would address the dreams that I have about dying, the ones where I wake up in a cold sweat. I was looking forward to getting some tips on how to combat the immediate sense of panic that I feel anytime the thought of my death crosses my mind. And instead I’ve got nothing concrete that I can use to alleviate that fear.

Well, no matter. It’s something that I can bring up with my therapist and we can work on it together.

Getting Down to Brass Tacks

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As longtime readers of this blog may know, every day I try to read a section in a non-fiction, usually self-help book. Right now I’m reading The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, Sixth Edition by Edmund J. Bourne, PhD. It’s a bit of a slog, and it’s an incomplete read, because there are several exercises that take weeks to complete, not to mention some chapters and sections that aren’t relevant to my particular situation. Nevertheless, I’m reading the whole thing cover to cover, and then going back and doing the exercises recommended for me.

I’m currently on Chapter 11, called Ten Common Specific Phobias. It’s pretty much as advertised, a listing of ten phobias and some potential methods of overcoming each one. Most of these don’t pertain to me. The most common phobia, performance anxiety (public speaking and the like), is something that I only marginally deal with, others listed don’t bother me at all. The tenth one, however, is my single greatest fear. I’ve awoken in a cold sweat dreaming about it, and I can feel the panic rising in me even now just thinking about it, because it’s something that I WILL eventually have to face.

I have a tremendous fear of dying.

I’m not scared of being dead. That part doesn’t bother me. I’m not worried about my soul in the afterlife, and an endless, dreamless sleep if there’s nothing is just that. What bothers me, however, is the process of dying, the panicked gasping for breath that doesn’t come, the potential for a long, drawn out illness, the chance that it’s going to hurt very badly. That’s the part that I’m terrified of.

Fortunately, there appear to be some concrete things that the book suggests to help ease that fear. I only today discovered the section existed, and skipped ahead briefly to scan it. There appears to be more reading that I’m going to have to do after I finish my work with this book, but I’m okay with that. I just hope that it helps. I really wish I didn’t fear this so much, but the older I’m getting and the poorer my health becomes, the more I’m forced to face the fact that I likely don’t have as many years ahead of me as I do behind me. (Hopefully I’m wrong about that, and if I’m not, I hope I miss it by just a few years.) It’s a crippling feeling to know that I’m helpless to prevent it from happening.

I’ll have more on this in a few days when I get to the actual section itself.

We Are Orlando

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I’ve tried to avoid being political or deal with what would be controversial topics on my wall and in my blog. I’ve tried to put the focus on me and my own struggles. But this is my struggle today, and so here it is.

I’ve tried unsuccessfully for the last 36 hours or so to put into words my feelings about the massacre in Orlando yesterday morning. I felt shock at first, and then almost immediately anger. It was my earliest belief that this was a hate crime, that no one would randomly choose to open fire in a gay nightclub – this was a statement. The first I heard about this was when the news alert woke me on my phone in the middle of the night, and there were only 20 confirmed dead at that point. By the time I had woken up the next morning, the death toll was at 50, and I was horrified at the senseless loss of innocent lives. Twenty is bad enough, but a mass shooting with 50 fatalities is unprecedented in this country.

Snippets of information came out about the shooter. He was Muslim – this was likely a terrorist attack. The shooter had called 911 beforehand pledging his allegiance to Daesh – this was definitely a terrorist attack. The family of the shooter almost immediately apologized about their son’s actions and mentioned that their son had become enraged when he had seen two men kissing in public. He wasn’t a practicing Muslim, they said. He was born in New York. He had been investigated twice by the FBI and was still allowed to purchase a semi-automatic rifle. His father was sympathetic toward the Taliban and had once run for the presidency of Afghanistan. We also started to learn about the victims. The shooting occurred during Pulse’s Latin night, and the vast majority of the victims’ names that have been released to the public appear to be Hispanic in origin.

One of the unfortunate side effects of this tragedy is that instead of bringing us closer together as a nation, it’s splitting us apart. The information that we’ve been given is a veritable soup of marginalization: Gay Hispanics shot by a Muslim proclaiming terrorist allegiances. This is a hateful crime and we have to point our hate somewhere.

Some are pointing fingers at Muslims in general. This is just further proof that we need to ban every single one of them from our country, they say. But the fact remains that this isn’t a zealous and devout Muslim – this attack occurred during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, a period of time in which murder is especially disavowed among practicing Muslims.

Some are pointing fingers at the LGBT community. One tweet stated that the shooter was a hero and the cops should be sued for killing a hero doing social justice. There are many others that similarly cheer the shooter for his actions. The LGBT community, however, was doing something that has been fleetingly rare in their history – gathering in what they thought was a safe place, having a good time.Was that their crime? Or was it the fact that they exist at all? Recent Supreme Court rulings have favored the LGBT community, with the capstone being marriage equality. But this incident shows that the fight for true equality is nowhere near over.

Some are pointing fingers at gun owners. It’s because guns are easy to get that these shootings occur. We need to tightly control Americans’ access to firearms. Yet every firearm owner that I know, and I know many of them, are trained with the weapons they own and are 100% responsible with them.

To be honest, unless the shooter left behind a manifesto of his actions somewhere, we may never know with absolute certainty why this tragedy occurred. It would be easy to speculate, and speculation is ripe with preconceived notions, but for now, we can’t be sure. Did he act on his own rage at coming face-to-face with a same-sex couple? Was this a radicalized lone wolf making his mark for his terrorist organization? We just can’t tell. We all have our suspicions, though, and I have my own.

But I think one of my friends on Facebook said it best. “We are all Americans. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.” The fact remains that this is the worst mass shooting in American history, and there are many stories to tell.

There are the survivors, those that were there and lived to tell the tale, who will never be the same again.

There are the families of the deceased, whose lives will be forever diminished because of their loss. There is also the potential that one or more of these families will be learning of their loved one’s sexual orientation for the first time in the aftermath of the killings.

There are the investigators, who in the commission of their jobs have to listen to the unending ringtones of the victims’ cellphones from loved ones trying to check in. At the other end of every ring is a family or a friend that will eventually need to come to grips with that cellphone never being answered again.

And there are the helpers.

Fred Rogers, the host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'” And the helpers in Orlando are many. The lines to donate blood were several hours long. A GoFundMe page was established to raise money for the survivors. In just over a day, it’s raised over $2.1 million. Counselors and social workers are going to Orlando from all across the nation to help the community begin the healing process.

Earlier today I posted to Facebook, “I cannot vocalize the mix of emotions that I experienced yesterday as I learned about the news from Orlando and then read subsequent news and opinion about the tragedy. All I can say is that yesterday was incredibly difficult to stay plugged into social media and today, my heart still hurts for Orlando.” I still stand by that. I have many emotions that I’m still trying to process, and I haven’t gone into much detail about them here. What I have tried to do instead is put some perspective on the situation that’s still unfolding as I write these words.

Until we know for certain, I prefer to think of this as a single man, acting alone, that for whatever reason thought that killing 50 people in a nightclub was an appropriate action. Everything beyond that, at this point in time, is speculation that we’ll hopefully clear up with fact someday, so that we know why. And I believe that when we know for certain why this tragedy occurred, we can all begin the healing process.

On Bowie and Rickman; or, Callahan’s Law

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My social media feeds have exploded with remembrances of David Bowie and Alan Rickman.

The parallels between them are notable: both beloved for their extensive bodies of work, both British, both dead at age 69 from cancer within days of one another.

The public was shocked by the news of David Bowie’s passing – no one I know even knew he was sick – and was still adjusting to a world without the Thin White Duke when news about Alan Rickman’s death came and opened that wound anew.

Social media is notorious for its signal-to-noise ratio. Meaningless and sometimes erroneous memes are distributed in a desperate attempt to chase one’s 15 minutes of fame. Clickbait is the new journalism. Don’t read the comments for anything, lest the madness be infectious.

But every once in a while, the Internet becomes an online version of Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon.

For those not familiar with this work, Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon is a compilation of short stories that revolve around Mike Callahan, his bar, and its regulars. Written in the late 70s and early 80s by Spider Robinson, it tells magnificent science fiction tales full of empathy and acceptance. No one could really tell you where Callahan’s was, but if you needed to find the place, you would. Puns flew like darts (and both are relevant to the story, in their own way), but the overarcing principle of Callahan’s is the Law of Conservation of Pain and Joy, or more simply put, Callahan’s Law.

Callahan’s Law states that “shared pain is lessened shared joy, increased – thus do we refute entropy.” Alternately, it’s worded to say that “Just as there are Laws of Conservation of Matter and Energy, so there are in fact Laws of Conservation of Pain and Joy. Neither can ever be created or destroyed. But one can be converted into the other.”

Callahan’s is a wonderful, thought-provoking, hilarious read that I would recommend to you – that is, if you can stomach puns. The novel and its sequels are thick with them.

But I would propose that in times like these, whenever we mourn collectively, the Internet becomes our Callahan’s, with the Law firmly in effect.

As I stated earlier, my Facebook feed is almost completely comprised of remembrances of both Bowie and Rickman. There are a lot of my friends, myself included, that have been moved to tears by the two sudden losses. Their deaths are affecting many people that I know and millions that I don’t, and so we’re pausing the usual drivel of social media to make it a forum of substance.

In our stories about how each man touched our lives in their own special way, we are sharing our pain with the legions of followers many of us have on social media. And sharing that pain helps to lessen its impact on us. We’re remembering happy times where Bowie’s music was particularly meaningful or Rickman’s performances made us smile and even laugh. One story details something that triggers another story, and so on, and so the Internet collectively has become the world’s wake for these beloved men. In our sorrow, we remember what it was about them that made us happy, and we’re reminded of those times.

Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased.

One more thing about the bar. Drinks carry two prices at Callahan’s. You can either drop a dollar in the cigar box on the bar and pull out two quarters’ change, and drink your drink as you normally would, or you can leave the whole dollar in the box to make a toast. To make a toast at Callahan’s, you need only step up to the line in front of the fireplace, and the whole crowd will quiet down to hear what you have to say. You make your toast, you down your drink, and then you throw the glass into the fireplace as hard as you can. It’s okay, the fireplace is hyperbolically designed to prevent shards from flying back out into the crowd. And often, that one glass is followed in short order from glasses flying into the fireplace from everywhere in the bar. Mike has to make a point of sweeping out the broken glass every night. He doesn’t mind, though, he gets a bulk discount on the glasses.

So, having left my dollar in the cigar box on the counter, I will walk to the line, raise my glass, and simply state in a clear, ringing voice: To Bowie! To Rickman!

And the sound of shattering glass from within this virtual Callahan’s shall be deafening.

Saying Goodbye to a Friend

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Regular readers of this blog might have noticed that I haven’t written in almost two weeks. That’s been by design. Here’s what happened.

I finished my last post and realized that I needed a few days to process everything that had happened in therapy, so I took the rest of the week off. Then on Sunday, I made the conscious decision that I was going to take a week of from any obligations of any kind, save for meds and vitals. I thought it would be therapeutic to have nothing to do. I was wrong.

By Thursday I was going nuts with boredom. I would literally sit and stare off at the walls in an attempt to NOT do anything. I was expending more energy trying to accomplish nothing than I would have been trying to stick to my checklist. I promised myself that I would get back on track on Monday, and then I got the message.

A friend of mine passed away last week, and her husband asked me to be a pallbearer. There are some things that you just don’t say no to, and that’s one of them, so my wife and I started making plans for her to be out of work for the funeral on Monday (the funeral was three hours away).

Her death was unexpected. She spent the last two weeks of her life in the hospital battling a sudden illness that no one could have foreseen.

Normally we’re in bed around 1:00 or 1:30 am, but in order for us to make the service, we had to leave the house by 7:00 am, which meant waking at 6:00 am to get things packed and out the door. I was restless that night, and still awake at 2:30 am; my wife didn’t get much more sleep than I did.

Monday morning rolled around and off we went. As is typical, my wife did all the driving, and I only caught a few minutes of sleep on the road. The service started at 11:00 am and was lovely, and then we drove the hour to the cemetery for the gravesite service. We were back on the road by 2:30 pm.

When we got home, we put away our dress clothes, unpacked what we had packed for the trip, and laid down for a nap. That was at 5:30 pm Monday afternoon.

At 8:00 pm we woke up and ate a bowl of chili, then laid back down.

At 11:00 pm, I woke and took my evening medications and vitals, then laid back down.

At 9:00 am the next morning, I awoke again, long enough for meds, vitals, breakfast, and coffee, then laid back down.

At 11:30 am, my wife came to wake me up to see her off for work (she’s working four ten-hour shifts this week to make up for being out on Monday), then I laid back down again.

I finally rolled out of bed for good around 2:45 pm. I was out for about 19 of the previous 21 hours. This put rather a crimp in my plans to get back on track on Tuesday, and so today, Wednesday, is the first chance that I’ve had to try and get back to the usual and customary. It’s more likely that it’ll be tomorrow or Friday before I can really stick to it, but I’m making the effort today.

I’m going to miss my friend. She had a sharp wit and was a fierce protector of her son, as well as being a talented artisan. I didn’t see her a lot for the last ten years of our friendship, and now I never will again.