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About the looking glass

I see him every day
Looking back at me
I see his contempt
And raise him, loathing
We tried to be friends once
We merely tolerate each other’s existence now
I’m not sure I ever liked him.
Now… Our enmity is our common bond
I’d spit in his eye, but then I’d have to clean the mirror.

I’ve told the story “Tears Unbidden” regarding the death of my father, this is the story about Mom’s passing.

Mom passed on Friday, July 21st, 2006. This is the story that led up to her home going.

After dad died in ’77 mom grieved hard, very hard. There were days, that to tell the truth, I don’t know what kept her going. For the better part of the following year, every day I would come in from school and would find her sitting at the dining room table crying her eyes out. I had lost my dad and in some respects I had lost my mom there for a while. Often she would tell me that the only thing that kept her going was me …that if it wasn’t for me that she would just as soon die and leave this world so she could be with my dad and with Jesus, her savior, in heaven. I know that she was trying to give me comfort or something, but the way that she presented it was pretty rough to deal with at that time. So for at least a year it was very sad existence.

She finally decided that she needed to go to work and do something to get her mind off of her grief, because the way she was going was not healthy. She had the skills to work in the office, because that’s what she did before she got married and became a housewife and stay at home mother, but she chose to take on physical work so that she could work herself numb to where she could just come home and collapse. More than once she told me that she chose to do physical labor in the school cafeteria as a way to work herself to exhaustion so that when she came home she would be too tired to grieve. Unfortunately that’s not the way that it worked out she was exhausted and she continued to grieve.

In the meantime, I graduated high school, went on to college, went in the Marine Corps, and got married. The last year of my enlistment I got a call from mom saying that they had found cancer and she was going to have to have treatments. In 1991 the Marine Corps gave me a humanitarian transfer closer to home so that I could be near to help get her to her treatments and doctor visits. That was a fairly rough year on all of us. We didn’t realize the consequences of the treatment that she took and how that would affect her there at the end. The radiation treatments caused arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, from about the middle of her stomach down through her pelvis and down to just above the knee on both legs. She had surgerical replacement of the damaged arteries that would come into play at the end.

Thankfully she beat that round of cancer and was around for many years… so we fast forward to about 2003-2004. This time the diagnosis was lung cancer. Surgery was performed and they took out about half of her right lung in order to get the cancer. Things looked pretty good for a while. Unfortunately lung cancer is a b**** and you may beat it in the lung but it has a tendency to either go up into the brain or down into other vital organs. In Mom’s case it settled in the adrenal gland at the kidneys. Mom quickly developed renal failure and was put on dialysis. I can tell you with out reservation, because mom made it very clear, how much she detested being on dialysis. She got to the point where she actually made me promise her that if things got worse that I would not let her die at dialysis if it was at all possible. She begged me to not let her die at dialysis.

As the cancer progressed, and the renal failure took its toll she began having other complications, namely, that just below the arterial replacement on the left leg her own artery collapsed and her left leg was dying on her. If you have never seen that happen to a person you cannot imagine the amount of pain that they have, because the blood supply is no longer getting to where it should, we literally watched as her foot begin withering and dying on her. By this time hospice and palliative care had been called in to give us a hand but Mom was a very independent woman and she absolutely refused to go into hospice care at their facility. Another conversation that mom had with me was that I was not to allow them to carry her to the hospital or there to hospice care because she wanted to die at home. She did not want to die in a hospital, she did not want to die at dialysis, she wanted to die at home. And to the best of my ability I saw that her wishes were carried out.

After much pleading with the doctors regarding pain management of her left leg the doctors finally scheduled a surgery to put a stint in to open the artery back up so that she would have blood flow restored to that leg. At the time the doctors were not sure that she would even survive surgery but the pain was so bad that surgery was the only option. Mom was given the option of either the stint (the doctor gave it less than 50% chance of success) or they could do an amputation and take the leg off but she would probably still have phantom pain even if they took the leg off. The doctors had serious reservations about her even surviving that surgery. At the time I did not fully understand why they were not helping her more, but looking back I now understand that they just didn’t want to tell me that she was that close to death. The stint surgery went well and she pulled through and did much better with pain management after that. Unfortunately, she had some recovery problems and was in the ICU for a while and that was always fun with mom because she did not do well on high-powered pain medications especially if they were opioids and caused hallucinations …we had some interesting evenings with the ICU staff and Mom.

Eventually, she was well enough to come home and the pain was manageable, she was no longer in that awful moment by moment pain that she had before. But she took constant care, I had already been living over there at night and Tammy was dropping the kids off at school and coming over and helping her out until time to go get the kids from school and then we passed in the evenings and she went home to take care of the kids as I got off work and took care of Mom. That’s just the way mom wanted it… she didn’t want non-family taking care of her… that’s just the way she was. And when she would talk to other family members she was very chipper and she played her pain and her her problems very close to the chest, if you just talked to her on the phone you wouldn’t know that she was in the pain that she was in, and… you wouldn’t have known that she was as close to death as she was.

Which brings us to the evening of Wednesday June the 19th. The hospice nurses had told us that week, if Mom did not want to go to dialysis that was fine, because it was her choice and that she shouldn’t be made to go to dialysis if she didn’t want to. We didn’t realize things were so close to the end. I did not read between the lines and understand they were saying things were really close now.

That Wednesday evening mom spilled her drink sitting on the couch and got it all over herself and the floor, I knew something was up. Looking back I’m fairly certain that she had a stroke. We cleaned her up and we were able to get her back to bed and let her get some rest and sleep. The next morning she didn’t wake up normally and as we were talking to the hospice nurses they said that it’s time to call the family in. So I started making phone calls to let everyone know that if they wanted to say goodbye to Mom they probably needed to get here. Kasey and Daniel were on a church youth trip and we got a hold of the youth pastor and let him know that they needed to be brought back home as soon as possible. They made it back that afternoon of the 20th. The friends and family there on that Thursday got to see her rally. Sometime after noon, when everyone was in the room, she woke up. The kids were there and she was telling everybody that she loved them and it seemed like she was in good spirits but the hospice nurse told me on the side, that this is a rally …this is her saying goodbye to her loved ones. In fact she was in such good spirits that everyone left that evening thinking that there would be more time.

About 1:00 in the morning the hospice nurse came in and woke me up. She said that it was about time, that mom was having a very hard time breathing, her heart rate was all over the place, she was very agitated, very labored, and if I had anything I wanted to say I should say it.

The hearing is the last thing that we lose just before death, no one will ever be able to convince me otherwise. I went into the room and her breathing was very labored and she was fighting …you could tell she was fighting, so I started talking to her and knowing that her favorite song was, “Amazing Grace” I began singing it to her. The hospice nurse joined in and we sang “Amazing Grace” to Mom.

(Whew, this is tough to get through, I can’t see the keyboard)

By the time we got to the third verse, mom’s breathing changed, it was much less labored and she was no longer fighting. We sang it again along with several more songs that I knew she loved (I can’t remember what they were now but we just had Church right there that evening.) The Spirit of God with there in that room, that’s the only way I can explain it. That evening I was able to say everything that I needed to say to my mama, there were no shoulda, coulda, woulda’s. One of the last things I told her was that she could go ahead, it was time to let go, there was nothing holding her here and she can let go of this world with all the pain, all the suffering, all the heartache… and she could go home. That no matter how long I had left on this Earth, I’d be along directly. That I would do everything I could to make sure her grandchildren came along as well. At that moment I knew she had peace. I gave her a kiss, and told her I loved her. It was about 3:00 in the morning and I was wore out so I went and laid back down for a little while, then about 6:00am the nurse came back in and woke me back up, telling me, “your mom is gone.”

Mom had gone home to be with her Lord and Savior. For those who didn’t live that last year with mom, especially those last six months, you could never understand my reaction to Mom passing. I was glad for her! She was beyond the pain, the suffering, and the hurt of this world. Yes, I was rejoicing about her home going because I knew what it meant. I couldn’t cry then. That moment she passed from this world she was truly alive… More alive than she’d ever been in her life and I could not grieve that. She went home and I celebrated that. My tears flow freely now, but even now the tears of joy out number the tears of my loss.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom!

(if you want to know more about this peace, this joy, and the reason I celebrate my mom’s passing with joy I’d be happy to talk to you about it. It’s all about the Good News found in Jesus, the Christ. )

The Unexamined/Unlived life

who wants to live forever?

… especially if the life was never truly lived

If life was only a dreary existence in a tedious job, bereft of passion and imagination… Would it really be worth living?

And yet..

Here I am.

Re-begin the Beguine

A lesson in failure and just how much misery one is willing to accept and tolerate. The fact that I never followed through on this post is testament to the amount of failure I am willing to endure. I never really understood the phrase, “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink” until now. The horse has to want it. And until you want it you won’t do it, and you won’t want it until it becomes priority. Quite the commentary on my priorities isn’t it?


I have been loath to write this particular blog as it highlights the fact that I failed the first time.

One thing about life is that it’s always in flux, always changing, never really settled. Sometimes I feel that life is a series of attempts at nailing Jell-O to the wall. Case in point, my battle with the bulge.  7 years ago (8 now) almost to the day I started a fitness routine and I was very motivated. I worked very hard at it and I’d lost almost 80 lbs but… I then I ended up losing the battle, I lost my motivation.. I lost my will… I lost. And in losing I gained everything bad back and then some.

7 years ago I started off at 322 lbs, it was bad… really bad, I had let myself go and I really didn’t realize in how bad of shape I was. I vowed that I would never let myself go there again… It’s amazing how well we lie to ourselves.  We tell ourselves we will, or we won’t do something and then turn around and do the very thing that we vowed we wouldn’t.  Today, I weigh in at 342.5 lbs.

Somewhere along the journey I fell into self-sabotage. I remember reading about self-sabotage, somebody said that self sabotage takes place because there’s some some conflict, some issue in our lives that is causing us pain or suffering and we know that we should do something about it but we don’t therefore we react at a subconscious level, sabotaging ourselves in other areas of our life. An intriguing idea to be sure. But, no matter why,  I had begun a serious campaign of self-sabotage against my efforts to lose weight and get in shape. It killed my motivation and eventually, as with most things in my life, I quit… again.

I’m not saying this to necessarily beat myself up over it, it’s just stating facts.

So, why do we do the things that we do? I believe that we act out of either a great desire to make a change, or fear, or we just become so miserable that we I have no other option. I would like to think that I am acting out of a deep desire to become healthy and and get in shape, but the reality is this time around it’s the misery Factor. I have become so miserable in my own body that I’ve got to do something.

The thing about losing weight and getting in shape is that it’s never done. It’s a doing that will never be done because when you stop doing then you’re done.

Islands

John Donne said “No man is an island.”
I submit we have become just that, individual islands.
We are not self sustaining islands but islands nonetheless. More and more we insulate and isolate ourselves. The more we detach from others, the more we see others as a threat at worst, an inconvenience at least. The farther we draw away the easier it becomes to shut others out. It’s a spiral.
It’s a designed spiral.

The less we are around people the easier it is to dehumanize them. Once we start down that path we are lost. And I fear that in America these days we are a long way down that path already.

As Sparks Fly Upward

There are many truths that we take for granted each day but we still rely on them to remain true. We rely on the sun breaking the Eastern horizon every morning and bringing us light for a new day. We rely on gravity to keep us grounded but not so excessively that we are not able to move around. We rely on our senses to tell us something is hot, cold, wet, sharp, painful, sweet or sour, odorless or putrid. We trust when we feel “heat” something may burn us. When we feel rain, we know we are going to get wet.

 

There are other truths that we recognize regarding our feelings and emotions. Love, hate, indifference, foreboding, happiness, Joy, and justice. These are the intangibles that we call intuition, gut feeling, or our inner voice. We know something is wrong but we don’t know why. We sense someone is insincere but we can’t put our finger on it. We connect with someone almost immediately and we call it chemistry. Each of these are real and true even if we can’t give a tangible reason of proof.

 

Some of these intangibles are the anchors in life. Love, beauty, Faith, justice, hope and friendship: these are defining factors in our lives. I would even say they are life-sustaining. Life can become very dark for us all some times, and at times it can become totally blackened. Wars, depression, death, destruction, natural disasters, all of these try the human soul and spirit. I have often said that such times and circumstances bring out the true character in each of us. As the song goes, “I see your true colors shining through.”

 

The bullys will bully still. The takers will be takers with a vengeance. The fearful will cower and jump at every shadow. The manipulators will make full use of the opportunity to gain advantage for themselves. The haters will hate even more and look for someone to blame. But…

 

…But, there will always be those who find the light and shine it all around them for others so that it isn’t quite so dark. The giver’s, the helpers, the peacemakers; for in these we see love, beauty, faith, justice, hope, and friendship. Truth and light that we can rely on in our darkest hours. 

The Power of Touch

The power of human touch

I never thought that I would see the day we were under a pandemic. My generation has been the one that has made movies about pandemics, written scores of books, produced hundreds of TV shows about outbreaks, zombies and Contagion, martial law and post-apocalyptic worlds never realizing that we would be the ones who would actually live through it.

This has been a real wake up for most people. All the things that we took for granted, things that we did just out of automated response, we can no longer do. Places we can no longer go, things that (in order to keep from inadvertently spreading the virus to others) now we can no longer participate in.

Take for example the handshake. It’s a simple gesture, yet it’s one of the most powerful things in the universe: a human touch. Because of quarantine, or social distancing if you will, we can no longer shake hands, we can no longer hug and for those of us who are tactile oriented it hurts. There is something about human touch that has a power of its own… it’s healing, it’s human.

The hug: the hug is two human bodies in close proximity to one another exchanging energy and life. Hugs are healing, they’re restorative, they are life-giving. Yet here we are unable to get within six feet of one another in order to share the experience of being human for the time being.

Then there’s dancing: dancing is one of the most social activities known to man. It’s a time where we celebrate life. We celebrate with one another, we celebrate with movement, with companionship and socialization. Dancing is a time where we connect in a cultural setting that allows us to be more than we normally are, to participate in life through movement and music. Even the scriptures (contrary to Baptist doctrine) tells us that dancing fills the soul of mankind and is a form of worship…”And David danced before the Lord with all his might, wearing a priestly garment. So David and all the people of Israel brought up the Ark of the Lord with shouts of joy and the blowing of rams’ horns.”

And finally the kiss: whether it’s on the cheek or on the lips the kiss is one of the ultimate shared human experiences. Kiss is one of the most intimate expressions of feeling between two people, especially lip kissing. It’s that proximity of face-to-face interaction completely invading another person’s space and you allowing them into yours. Specifically, they have allowed you into theirs at such an incredibly intimate level, that is so close, it conveys more than just casual acquaintance it says they have given you access to their being at a VIP level.

So, here we are, living in days where we have become islands in and of ourselves by necessity. Doing so in order that we don’t infect one another. Hoping and praying that soon we’ll once again be able to reach out and touch one another in these meaningful ways. Hoping to restore that human contact, that human interaction, which means so much to us … as humans.

Will We Ever Learn?

So I’m wondering if we will learn from all this.
That no life is any more… Or any less than the next.
That sanctity of life applies to all…
Or it applies to none.
If we mourn the entertainer more than the homeless, if we care more about the million dollar athlete than the frontline care givers….
Then we are hypocrites of the worst order.

I pray we learn the lesson as a people.
I pray that our sudden desire to protect all life doesn’t dwindle after our fear of the unknown is passed and we begin to imagine that we have death under our control again.

The Little Houses

As a young child growing up in the 60s there were things that excited me.
The drive-in theaters, car hops, Christmas (yes Ebeneezer Grinch was excited by Christmas as a child), Easter, July 4th, Thanksgiving (in fact all the holidays), my birthdays, School, summer vacation , Vacation Bible School, Ice Cream trucks, Baseball games at Ernie Shore Field, The Dixie Classic Fair, and just riding in the car with my family, while perched on the “hump,” elbows on the back of the front seat, and watching the world go by through the front windshield.  (back before the government found the revenue stream in  mandatory seat-belt laws)  Times were simpler and there was still a little wonder and awe left in the world.

This was back in the day before the lawyers and licensing fees killed using nationally recognized characters in local advertising runs.  You can see a nod to that in the movie, “A Christmas Story” where the “Wonderful World of OZ” characters get in a tiff with Mickey Mouse and Disney Characters in the Parade.   In the 60s you could see plenty of it in local advertising. It was a tit-for-tat where the local guy got some recognition from using a nationally known character and the parent company got free publicity for their characters which they re-released every eight or nine years.   Which brings us to the item at hand.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was re-released in 1967.  I was 4 years old at the time and I don’t remember if I saw it at the Drive-in or the indoor theater.  But it was about that time that the houses, and plywood cut-outs of Snow White and the Dwarfs showed up in a clearing at the corner of Silas Creek Pkwy and Reynolda Rd. I remember I would get so excited to see them when we drove out that way.  Eventually  it became a yearly Christmas tradition for our family to go drive by and see the little houses decked out for Christmas.  There was a Blue house, a Yellow house, I believe a Red on and a Green one?? or maybe one of them was white?  Any-who, it was a landmark in Winston-Salem in the late 60s – early 70s.

This past fall I caught a glimpse of  them one day when driving down Reynolda Road and told myself I needed to stop in and document what I could before they were torn down or completely rotted away. Today I made it a point to stop and go take some pics.  I parked over in Reynolda Village and crossed Reynolda Road at one of the busiest times of the day but it didn’t matter,  I was on a mission to visit a piece of my childhood 46 years after the fact.

 

It was surreal as I stood there looking at the little houses that had so fascinated me as a little boy.  As I took photos the memories of those drive by encounters with the houses and  characters I had seen as a child kept flooding my memories. Now, here I was visiting them for the first time almost a half century later.  I was a bit shocked, and excited to see one lone character still keeping guard over the little buildings, a Christmas choir boy.  It was as if live wire was laid across my memories recharging them and given them new life.  There he was, just as I remembered the Christmas scene from so long ago.  I did not disturb him.  I merely captured him for posterity.

 

These days, I find myself reminiscing more and more.  I have more days behind me than I do ahead and my mind seeks refuge from the  storms of modernity.  I know I can’t go back but I find comfort in the past… my past.  Times were just a bad, but our response to them was different.  I wasn’t old enough at the time to  understand Viet Nam, the Civil Rights movement, and the sexual revolution.  I only knew my family and the good times we shared in taking a simple drive every so often to view and to share in the  art of someone’s handiwork, who had created a visual fantasy that a small boy found joy in seeing… and an old man enjoyed finally meeting face to face.

Politics

Tonight I did something I’ve never done before on social media, I lost it and went off on a rant. I’m so tired of the selective memory and selective outrage from everyone about everything.  And I’m afraid that is what the social engineers are hoping for in order to further divide and tear down our society.   I fear the damage is already done and we are on the edge of the collapse of American culture.

For years we have been pitted against one another, black on white on brown on red on yellow … male v female, old v young, haves v have-nots, Republicans v Democrats, Atheists v Christian, Muslim v Christian,   everyone v Christian.  Christian v Christian.  You name it, if you can put a label on it then they are against someone or someone is against them.  And we just sat back and let it happen. We as a people were more worried about our comfort, our ease or our entertainment, our statuses, our … mundane crap.  We let it happen to us.

Edward Bernays pegged it right in his book “Propaganda“:
The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.
      We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society.

That’s hard to hear but one only need look at our society these days.   Social media has already been caught experimenting with the social media networks so it is not some conspiracy theory or theoretical fantasy. We have all fallen victim of our own personal biases and with the ubiquitous tool of social media we want to proselytize as many other to our way of thinking as we possibly can.  Of course each of us believe that we are in the right and that we are the open minded ones… therefore we cannot be wrong.

I feel it may be time to leave social media for an extended sabbatical.  I can see that I have been affected by the constant barrage of social network activism from both sides.

The war is upon us.

We have met the enemy

…and he is us.