Leave Me a Message at the Tone

I found a “bonus” episode of a podcast I listen to occasionally in my feed. It’s about the power of the human voice and discusses, in part, the physiological effects of hearing the voice of a loved one on the body.

Nothing new or earthshaking there, but then it was revealed one of the speakers had acquired a new phone and lost the only message he had from his now deceased mother.

Hearing the voice of a loved one has the same chemical affect on your body as hugging that person. Hugging releases oxytocin and generally relaxes.  According to a 2016 article in US News: The hugging and oxytocin release that comes with it can then have trickle-down effects throughout the body, causing a decrease in heart rate and a drop in the stress hormones cortisol and norepinephrine.  Just hearing her voice was treated by his brain the same way as a hug, with all those positive benefits, and now, he’d never have that again.

In 2011, I got at first iPhone as an upgrade from my top of the line Motorola Q – the best technology 2005 could offer. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I too would lose the only recording I had of my dads voice.

For the previous 3 years, I had replayed that voice mail often. Just calling to check in, “I love you…” just thinking about hearing that makes me happy. In the time since he passed on, the sadness I would feel has become far less pointed. But man I wish I still had that recording. There are times I could really use that rush of neurotransmitters like the ones awash in your brain when you get a hug. Those times where I can sit and reflect and wish I could ask Dad for his advice.

I remember being incredibly upset about losing that recording. It was an obvious sense of loss, but I never really thought about it in quite the way the biology was presented today. A hug. I was missing the hug from my dad.

This year was the 10-year anniversary of his passing; the passage of that amount of time remains unfathomable to me and I could’ve really used that connection both on the anniversary and at a myriad of other times in the last 7-years or so.

I now know that others have had the same experience and suffered the same loss and I now know that there’s a real, biological effect of hearing that voice. It’s somewhat humbling in that having that recording in the first place was a relatively new phenomenon in human history: I’m sure he would have loved a recording of his father, but alas all we had were photographs.  So in the end, I’ll choose to be happy for having that extra time with his tired, fading voice.

 

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Ruminations on a Decade

Graduation from college.  You KNOW it's the early 1990's by the teal necktie.  You just can't get a good teal necktie anymore...:)
College graduation. A proud day for the both of us.

Ten years ago this evening, I was on my way home from having beared witness to my father’s passing. Lost, and more than a little alone, the drive home from my sister’s was surreal.  I honestly can’t remember much of the half-hour drive. Even today, ten years later, I still goof the details.  Like scheduling my remembrance on July 1 instead of July 6 for some reason.

I could get maudlin and tell you about how that flub fits in with just about everything about my dad – despite my best efforts, I always let circumstances get away from me instead of taking control of them. Even at his funeral, the priest almost forgot to let me deliver the eulogy and I didn’t stand up vociferously enough.

Instead, I’m going to choose to focus on what I did do, because I’m pretty sure that’s what he would have chosen to see – effortlessly, doubtless – because he didn’t spend too much time on himself, he did however spend a lot of time on his family.  On duty, and on love.

When I had the opportunity, I asked him to be my best man. I wanted him to be beside me at my wedding.

Honestly, that’s the only thing I can think of. Literally the only thing. Everything else seems disappointing. I didn’t make the speech for him that I wanted to because I let the coked-out wedding DJ blow past it.

I didn’t spend the time with him that I needed to. I don’t think I ever really showed him how much I wanted to be like him from the time I was 12. I don’t know that he ever really understood just how important he was to me. Christ, 24-hours before he died I was telling him that I had something else to do other than seeing him. Why is it that everything I can think of has me failing, why can’t I seem to match up? I’m not at all sure that he held me to that standard, why am I holding myself to that?

So, here I am, ten years to the day, perhaps even to the hour, that I’m ruminating on my relationship with my father on the day he passed. Holding myself to a standard that I’m not sure he held me to. I’m sure he didn’t see his value: his brothers both fought in World War II, he spent the Korean War in military school. He chose a cemetery plot in a direct line from his father’s. He spent a life time trying to live up to his father and brothers and I wonder if because of that he let me off the hook. Perhaps I was the beneficiary of low expectations.

He was a good man, and he deserved so much more from life. I’m proud he was my father, I just hope he knew that. I loved the man and I’m sure he knew that, so perhaps I wasn’t as big a failure as I fear. I just wish I knew for sure.

 

 

It happened yesterday

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Ten years ago today, My father died. A number of years that not that long ago would have seemed incomprehensible.  The expression is cliche: It seems like yesterday and so long ago at the same time. Cliches are overused for a reason: they lack original thought, because so many people experience what they convey.

I know you, dear reader, know and understand what I mean when I express to you I can still viscerally feel that last time I kissed him, held his hand and told him I would see him on Monday. It happened yesterday.

I had told him only the day before that I would see him on Monday; I didn’t know he wouldn’t live another 24-hours never mind the 48-hours Monday assumed.  On that Sunday, I had gone out with my father in law on a deep sea fishing trip we received for Fathers’ Day. My sister messaged me and told me Dad really wasn’t feeling well and can I come by today.  Later, while on my way there, I asked her if I could get him some coffee. I can still feel the blood empty from my face when I learned he was gone. That happened yesterday.

I stopped and bought him a coffee anyway. Black, two sugar. The man loved his coffee and he ought to have one last cup with his kids before his journey. I bought a coffee for my sister and one for me, and we shared them while we awaited clergy and the ambulance. I silently reflected with regret for not having been there sooner, for not having spent more time, for a whole host of short-comings as a son while the Priest granted blessings upon him. I saw his lifeless body slumped in his chair almost as though he were sleeping – I’d seen him “rest his eyes” while sitting in his chair so often over the course of my life, but never once imagined I was being conditioned to witness this moment. So clear it’s as though it happened yesterday.

Then there was my sister. She kept it together, until the Medical Examiner’s office came and packed him up. Out of her living room, they wheeled a sealed plastic body bag out on a two-wheeler, and she lost it. Fell apart. That was the moment of permanence to her, even though she sat with him as he felt his eyes become infinitely too heavy to keep open and slipped out of this life. She sat with him as his blood finally became too toxic for his heart to continue pushing through his body. It was to her he spoke his last words. It was only seeing him as the outside world now saw him that she lost it. I’m quite sure that were I to ask her, she would say that it could easily have been 10 hours ago.

Coming home was a long, hollow drive. Alone with my thoughts. That empty feeling of suddenly being quite alone in the world, that the one person to whom I meant the world was no longer. The fogginess of my thoughts and emotions of that drive home still has no equal in my life; I should be thankful, grateful for that and yet, as I write I’m sobbing as though it really did just happen yesterday.

I remember lying in bed, looking at the ceiling. Emotionally drained and empty. We all knew this moment, this day would come sooner than later, and yet when it arrived there was literally no way to steel myself. Like knowing a lava floe was coming and all you can do is stand there and take it. He knew it. I was with him at the hospital when the doctor told him that the transfusions were becoming less effective – that his body was losing white blood cells faster than they could replace them. I was with him when he told the doctor that he wanted to stop the transfusions because he was using resources better used by someone whose body wasn’t failing in the way his was. I was there when she told him that decision was “not compatible with life.” He knew what his choice was, he knew and still abided. Either way it was a matter of time, but his way meant sooner rather than later. I lay in bed thinking about that before at some point drifting into some degree of sleep. Sad. Empty. Drained. Knowing that the next day held telling my kids that Papa had died.

All of that seems so real and raw. All of that was ten years ago today. All of that could have been yesterday.

Looking for a Connection

Foreward: I wrote this March 29, 2009.  Nine years ago, and one of the first lines is “where does the time go?” Indeed. Where does it go?  I’d forgotten about this interaction, forgotten about that feeling of being alone in the world: I never once really, truly thought about what life would be like without both my parents.  Someone who has known you your entire life, who loves you unconditionally and then to be without them feels like an existential void. 

Quite a bit has changed in my world since March 2009, quite a bit has not. I still own the house I discuss, but the neighbors I talk about have since passed on – Rudy, the gentleman who was sick, passed away a month later on April 30. I imagine Elaine, who was so upset the doctors gave him perhaps 2-months, would have been happy with that in retrospect.  Who were those doctors to give him only 2 months?  She, herself, passed away in January 2017.

Reading this, I must have been such a difficult, lousy person to be around, so wrapped up in my own sadness and loss. At least I seem to have had a modicum of understanding that I was awful to be around, but I know from my own experience of these people, knowing you’re a jerk really doesn’t help the people around you, it just means you’re a self-aware jerk. 

So, to anyone who had to deal with me, my wife specifically and in particular, I am truly sorry.  I couldn’t have been easy to be around, couldn’t have been easy to live with. There remains not a day that I don’t think about my dad, but I like to think I comport myself with a little more aplomb. There’s so much self-loathing and anger in this that I think I’ve overcome – forgiven myself, and making amends.  

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My dad and the boy, July 2005

It’s the end of March 2009.  Where does the time go?  Back in July, I lost my dad.  Not unexpectedly, but it was a hard journey for him and for us.  He was so sick and he was really ready to take that next step.  Try as we might, I just don’t think despite all the preparation we had done mentally and spiritually that we were really ready for him to take that next step.  A little less than 2 weeks before he passed away, he was really sick…I sat with him that night, fearing, dreading.  I knew he was ready, but I wasn’t.  My sister wasn’t.  We called the Ambulance and he was whisked away.  After a sleepless night in the ER waiting room for us, and a night filled with massive doses of antibiotics he was awake, alert, shaven, almost shiny and new.

BUT, we knew it was temporary.  It was only a matter of time until his body would process out those antibiotics – his immune system incapable of helping him – and we would again find ourselves there.  Those two weeks allowed us to work with him to clear up those things of this world that would have been nightmarish to try to do without him.  On the night he died, I missed him by 15 minutes.  10-years previous, I had missed my grandmother by maybe a half hour.

It was a prolonged illness, which in some ways allowed us to say what we needed to say and do what we needed to do, but it took a toll on him.  In the end analysis, I couldn’t help but to process over and over how much time I had squandered with him.  All those things that I could have done differently.  Personally, it gave me a head start on some of those stages of grief: denial, bargaining.  I don’t recall having been angry, but definitely bargaining with whatever great spirit there may have been.  Doing the things he’d asked me to do kept me reasonably busy tending to making sure things were as he would have wanted.  There was nothing more surreal to me than to be in the basement of the funeral home – the funeral home his father had expanded years before – choosing the casket in which he would be interred.  I was choosing my fathers’ casket.  It’s such a blur to me now.  The only thing I remember was choosing the cherry casket – even though the maple was far more his style – because I had bought him a nice dark suit, probably his first new suit in at least 20 years, which simply wouldn’t have coordinated with the lighter maple wood.

Nine months later, I still haven’t been able to get myself out of that last stage before acceptance.  I guess I just haven’t been able to move forward.  In some ways I just haven’t been able to grieve his loss for so many different reasons.  It comes in spurts and lasts for intermittent periods of time before it gets shoved back away.  Sometimes I find myself alone and something will catch my attention, “gee, Dad would have loved that…”  It doesn’t take very much to set me off.

Sometimes it comes and goes that easily.  Sometimes it stays.  Sometimes I’m quiet and sullen.  Sometimes I’m a complete jerk.  Mostly though, I just think I want to be left alone.

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My dad and me, 1972

Part of what has set me off this time isn’t that easily shaken.  Last week, as I was out and about doing my lumberjack thing – taking apart the trees I’ve been taking down for well over a month now – my elderly neighbor approached me.  A lovely woman.  I’ve lived in this house for 6-odd years – April 1, 2003 we bought this place – and really only within the past couple of years have we actually started talking to them, and then only sporadically .  Her husband has progressed through the disease my dad had, MDS , and into lymphoma; a notoriously difficult variation of the disease to combat.  Last week they were told that if they continued his current treatment – transfusions and antibiotics – he could have 2-months; if they went with chemo, he could have as much as 9-months.

Despite his having been living with this disease for at least the last nine months – she and I spoke just before Dad passed away – she seems to have been in denial about it, asking me who those doctors thought they were only giving him 2-months, like they’re God or something.  I felt so badly for her.  Her life partner of some 50-odd years is dying, and she looks to the doctors treating him with scorn: who are they to pronounce him with only 2-more months?  It’s at this point that I think about Dad.  How differently he accepted it, and how that quiet dignity allowed us to move forward – if not fully, at least gave us a head start.  Sadly though, I just find myself at depression.  I just couldn’t give her any sort of real support – I was just mired in my own sadness.  I don’t think she noticed, because she was too busy being angry.

So she goes away angry, scared, and probably feeling quite alone.  I go away sad, kind of scared, and definitely feeling quite alone.  Two people asking for some connection, yet unable to do so.  I can only hope for her that she can take the time she has been given and use it more wisely and carefully than I believe I did and that she finds some love and support when she needs it.  And in the meantime, until I can figure it out for myself, I guess I’ll just be that mercurial and sullen prick. 

Lessons Along the Path

Intellectually, we all know our lives have a path along which we must travel.  The length of that path is undetermined, and often we’re not sure where it leads.  There are many inflection points, opportunities to course correct, and fellow travelers to influence and to be influenced by.  Perhaps most profoundly, though, is the thought that we travel these paths without knowing how the journey will end.

Perhaps it comes via our choice of direction, perhaps just by circumstance, or it’s set in motion the day we’re born.  Perhaps it’s that lack of knowledge that allows most of us to continue along our way, blissfully unaware where and when our travel ends, when we become one with time.

The longer I’m on my journey, the more comfortable I am with the idea that it’s short and by necessity the closer I am to its end.  By saying I’m more comfortable I am decidedly not saying that I am comfortable, just moreso.  I get it intellectually and I resolve to do better to reach the end without regrets…but yet I continue to do things and fail to do things that would help me come to a place without regret.

I don’t tell the people I love how I feel nearly enough.  I don’t make the time to connect with the people in my life often enough.  I allow grievances and irritations to get in the way and let myself more fully express negative emotions rather than more fully expressing positive ones.  It becomes so easy to let the time pass instead of doing the work of maintaining those relationships.

Today, I mourn the loss of a colleague and friend.  Some weeks ago she had a cold or the flu that she just couldn’t shake, only to find she had Leukemia. Where only a few months ago, she was watching her young daughter grow up, mourning the loss of a beloved dog, basically living her life, today we’re mourning her passing on.  Never in her wildest imagination did she even for a second consider that  anything other than a particularly virulent strain of the flu was causing it to linger.

I’m of course sad for her family, especially “her little” who will now grow up with only memories of her mom – a truly sad proposition on its face, made even moreso knowing what a wonderful person her mom was  – but I’m sad for my loss of opportunity to check in with her just to say “hi” and “you’re on my mind today.”

I just started to write that it’s almost as if we (I) have become emotionally lazy, making friends and just assuming they’re always there.  There’s no work at all in curating a Facebook feed.  Everyone you meet is now your “friend,” all with the same relative ranking of “friend.”  But it’s not “almost as if.” Lazy is exactly what it is.  I know I have become increasingly lazy about putting in the work of maintaining my friendships and other relationships.  It occurs to me that I’m rarely the one who reaches out at some random point and time to make a call.

So while I’ve become much better at setting goals, it’s now completely clear to me that I’ve neglected to make developing, enhancing, maintaining friendships/relationships a goal.  I’ve not demonstrated to the people in my life that they’re important to me, and thus making it increasingly likely that someone will come to the end of their path with regrets.  If I were to reach my journey’s end today, there wold be plenty of regret to be had.  I’m not willing to let that go unchecked; I have to do better.

Today, Shannon’s family replete with grief sets forth to plan the details of saying goodbye, something just a few short weeks ago would have been unthinkable.  I’m sorry I didn’t make more time to give her a call.  We just don’t know how long or short that path is, yet we pretend it goes as far as the eye can see and allow ourselves to be lazy about the things that matter most.

She made the world a better place, I want to be sure to honor that memory by letting other people know that my world is a better place because they’re a part of it.  This should be a simple goal, but I suspect it’s going to take a lot more work than anything else I’ve set forth to do yet.  Simple is not always easy.  That’s why it’s important to keep working toward it.