Thursday, June 29, 2017

FB and the Wild Wild West


The wife and husband friends who owned the farm I lived on for a couple of years more than forty years ago.  Another friend from that same era who now lives in Hawaii. A former coworker who was also briefly a roommate. Several former coworkers from various decades of my career. Two or three old girlfriends and one ex wife. Three or four friends who live thirty miles away but who I rarely see in person. Current friends I've known less than four years. Current coworkers and colleagues. Cousins who I hadn't seen in years.

That's just a partial list of around 400 of my Facebook friends. Some of them are real friends and some are just acquaintances. I have met all but a handful of them and generally don't accept friend requests if I don't really know them or at least know who they are.

Facebook is at times wild, odd, annoying, helpful, revealing and beneficial. Because of Facebook, I found people from my past who I really did want to reconnect with. I also found people who I'd forgotten about and in some cases wanted to keep that forgotten status in tact. Oh well.

The funniest thing about social media is that I often learn more about people from their FB posts that I do in face to face conversations. I've met my upstairs neighbor numerous times, for example, but I know more about her life from reading about it than talking about it. I've learned plenty about a cousin through FB than from chatting because I've only seen him once since he was 18 (he's now 50), but I 'see' him nearly every day online.

I've also learned more than I ever wanted to about prejudices and political views of some friends, relatives and acquaintances thanks to Facebook.

Does any of this resonate with you?  Do you sometimes prefer to know a friend's music preferences more than their views about current or past Presidents?  Have you blocked some FB friends or even I friended them. Do you sometimes just slip past posts of over posters, people who document every moment of their lives on social media?

Facebook is or can be a wonderful tool for personal contact but it can also be a dangerous purveyor of misinformation, fake news and computer viruses. It's sad to think it might be subject to governmental regulation at some point but maybe it should be.  Or maybe people should just be cautious when reading or posting.

I guess that's all that's on my mind today. I'll probably post this to this blog, then spend or waste a little time scrolling through FB. Maybe I'll see a nice cat video.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Dad Again

I'm surprised by how much my Dad is on my mind this month. Yeah, yeah, Father's Day, Hallmark cards, Facebook posts, tv commercials ... it's all part of June every year. It's usually the subject of only one post for me, not three.

My Dad and I had an up and down relationship between my teens and thirties, as I mentioned before, but today I'm immersed in positive thoughts about him and his influence on me; and I promised I'd return to positive posts. So this is one.

He was the ultimate problem-solver. He believe he could solve virtually any problem and fix nearly any broken thing if he could spend enough time studying it. He engaged in his hobbies with professional level skill. He was the family's TV repairman and nearly every cousin has a story about some TV "Uncle Benny" fixed. Most TVs in our house were repaired hand-me-downs until he was finally talked into buying a new one.

He was handy with carpentry. He built our house, for example. Literally by himself. Every nail, every electrical outlet, every faucet. The only help he had was with heavy things, like the lifting the framed walls. He paid roofers because he didn't know how to do that, then watched them work so he could learn. Two years after moving in, he built the detached garage, including the roof.

He was an engineer and draftsman by profession. Dad didn't have a college degree, however; he was partly self-taught and partly trade school educated. You could do it that way in the 1940s and 1950s.

He only had three jobs in the first thirty-five years of my life. Each job change was the result of the company owner retiring and selling or closing the business. In one case, Dad went with a new business started by the retiring owner's business partner. When that owner retired years later, several other companies offered Dad jobs; he had a great reputation in town. He held that last job for more than twenty years.

Plumbing was his engineering specialty in that last job. He worked, without name recognition, on projects ranging from drainage on an I-10 offramp to sprinkler systems and restrooms in a suburban shopping center to the fountain at the Italian Plaza in downtown New Orleans.

I could take about his stubbornness and often judgmental attitude but I'll let this sentence be the extent of that observation.

Dad was soft-spoken and usually more of an observer than a participant. Guess where I get that from!  He didn't say much but sometimes one sentence from him capped a conversation perfectly. Sometimes I'm like that.

Dad also had an infectious smile, which I didn't really realize till a few years after his death. I've been complimented on my smile too.


I'm told through family lore that Dad had quite a different personality as a child and young man. If I could have just one do-over in life, it would be to have a conversation with him about his youth.


OK, that’s all about Dad, for now.  I do miss him.



Sunday, June 18, 2017

Dads Day


A psychologist told me after my Dad died more than 15 years ago that grief never really goes away, if just changes over time. She said we should ignore suggestions to 'get over it'. Each of us processes grief and loss in different ways. Intense internal emotional pain can transform into mild sadness in a few months or a few years or never. Nobody else has the right to force their timeline on any of us.

My grief process, in the case of my Dad's death, is like a roller coaster. I held it together the week he died, from the time in the nursing home when I watched him take his last breath till two minutes after they slid his casket into the designated slot in the mausoleum days later. Then as I rolled my Mother in her wheelchair down a long hall back to the limo, I lost it, sobbing all the way down the hall, my sister on one side and a cousin on the other. That same cousin's fraternal twin brother died this week and my grief over his death combined with this being Father's Day has stirred up a crazy stew of unexpected emotions in me.

The flashback to my Dad's funeral is as clear and colorful as that day. My dark grey suit, white shirt, blue tie; the white marble floor of the mausoleum; the blue sky outside; the tan-colored limo; my Crown Vic rental car. I can picture my Mom, sister and me eating a silent lunch at Mom and Dad's favorite restaurant later, as well as the two-hour exhaustion-filled nap back at my sister's house, the Dad-built house we grew up in, on the sofa our parents picked out years before, two feet from Dad's lounge chair, the kind that lifted him up to help him stand when he still lived there six weeks earlier.

Memories of that whole fall and winter are crowding out every other thought today, Fathers Day. September - terrorist attacks, one of them just fifteen miles from where I lived then; October -  both parents move to a nursing home, a sad but necessary option; November - Dad dies. Then comes the family-infused Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

My grief morphed into weeks of regret and self-anger over not spending more time with Dad when I could. Then some time in January, not long before my birthday, my then-wife has the fucking audacity to tell me to 'get over it'.

I visited that cousin two weeks ago. I knew he was on his death bed (death recliner). As I said in previous posts, he had a remarkably positive attitude about his situation and he knew that week or even that day could be his last. I hadn't seen him in a few years and made that trip specifically to see him.

He lasted another two weeks. The text and email I received with news of his death each also mentioned that he appreciated my visit and told that to every family member he encountered. Our last words to each other were "I love you," words we had never spoken to each other till that moment.

I'm silently crying as I write this. Grief and loss slapping me upside the head.

I'll be fine tomorrow. My grief processing process lasts a day or two, during which I mentally and emotionally shut myself off and crawl into a psychological hole. I don't know any other way to do it. I know it can confuse and hurt people closest to me and I'm sorry about that. But it is what it is.

My Dad and I had a sometimes-great, sometimes-difficult relationship but I think about him a lot and credit him with many positives: my problem-solving skills, my determination, my general do-the-right-thing attitude and my smile.

Today, as I mentally sit in my hole and physically sit in my guest room trying to finally straighten it out, I take this break to write this blog post. I wish it was more positive; at least it's deeply honest. My usual positivity should return soon, probably tomorrow.

This year my Father's Day is melancholy but I wish you a happy one.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Dad Book


(This is a repost.  I realized today that the original was missing the last couple of paragraphs).

"You did a great job raising your kids."

"Thank you."

Months later, as I replayed that last meaningful conversation I had with my Dad in my head, I wondered if he knew he was talking with one of his kids. The facial expression I remember could have been saying he thought he was talking with someone else about his kids. Why the hell didn't I phrase my comment in first person. "You did a great job raising us."

That's the tricky thing about Parkinson's-related dementia: it's hard to tell if the person you're chatting with is in or out of a dementia episode. It's equally challenging to determine if he or she knows they're in or out of an episode.

Dad was aware at some point that he experienced dementia. He told me once that he knew what he saw outside of the kitchen window was the roof of the house next door, but sometimes he was certain he saw men coming over the hill toward the house. The shingles on that roof appeared to move. There were no men and no hill, he knew it, but sometimes was convinced they were coming and it scared him. The thought of men attacking scared him and the thought that he saw them when he knew they were shingles also scared him.

Dementia scares me too. My girlfriend's Mother is having dementia episodes regularly. I hear her side of phone chats with her Mom, repeating things she told her a few minutes before, clarifying that today is Thursday, confirming that the doctor appointment is tomorrow, verifying that the month is May.

The last time I saw my Mother, she didn't realize I was her son till the third day of my visit. Scary.

I seem to forget things more often than usual lately. Is that some kind of dementia?  Is it a 'senior moment'?  I hate that term, by the way. Is occasional forgetfulness just a normal part of living a complex, busy life?  Living a complex life for 500, Alex.

I remember many minor details of the first time I meet people ... which barstool I was sitting on when I met Jennifer nearly four years ago, which row of cubicles I was walking in when I met my friend Wendy 33 years ago, which conference I met my boss two years before she became my boss. I remember minor details of how to tell a '65 Mustang from a '66 Mustang ... the absence or presence of that 3-prong chrome piece a foot behind the door, the horizontal speedometer vs. the round one.

I remember that last meaningful conversation with my Dad as I waited for a taxi to take me to the airport that afternoon nearly twenty years ago.

And I remember the decision I made yesterday to begin my book about him with the same narrative I used to begin this post.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Write Write Write


I am on a serious role writing this week/month/year. Blog ideas hit me almost every day and many turn into publishable posts. This is the third one I've written today, although I like to spread out the posting a bit.

I fantasized being a writer at some point in my youth. I determined early in college that writing for a living is not a good path for someone who wants stability. I also did not have much confidence in my writing skills, even though my SAT scores led to advanced placement in English courses.

My confidence level is higher now, but I still don't see this as a stable income generator; but maybe writing could be part of a retirement income mix. Hmmmm.

Five published authors are loosely in my social circle. Four of them have written personal, somewhat autobiographical books and the fifth recently published her second novel. None of them make a living writing books but the novelist does make some or all of her income as a freelance reporter.

For years I've felt I have a book in me. After several wine-enhanced conservations with one of my published author friends, I began to visualize writing that book. Funny thing is that this line of thought (or was it the wine?) has led me to mentally outline THREE books. One is based in part on this blog, one is about my Dad and one is my own autobiography.

I do plan to write all three at some point. I do not plan to make any money with them. My motivation with all three books as well as with my blogs is strictly personal. I'd like to think some of my writing is interesting but I write mostly for me. If anyone else likes what I write or gains some kind of positive feeling from reading what I write, that is great!

Even if they don't, however, I'll continue to write, write, write.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

MS Stress Mess and Be Yourself


Stress is a significant symptom trigger for those of us who live with Multiple Sclerosis. We are advised to reduce stress. We are also encouraged to not let MS get in the way of living our best lives.

I regularly advise others to reduce stress in their lives and I try to practice what I preach. Funny thing about me (or not so funny): many things are stressful to me. Airplane travel is one of them. I don't really have fear of flying; I do have fear of inconvenience and delays.

My travel companion(s) are probably annoyed by my timeline. I get to airports early. Very early. Two or three hours early. I build in time buffers to allow for traffic jams, parking hassles, long security checkpoint lines, etc. This strategy is based on numerous past situations that resulted in running through airports, something I refuse to do any more, even if I could. I've also encountered massive traffic jams that resulted in missed flights. Not any more, if I can help it. I'd rather be early and bored than late and stressed.

I'm writing this thirty feet from Gate 8, two hours before departure time on a recent trip. I planned for numerous possible delays. My forty-to-sixty minute ride to the airport took only thirty-five minutes. The sometimes fifteen minute shuttle ride from parking to entrance took only five. Bag check took five (no lines), security took ten (no line but removing shoes is time-consuming for me, as is hobbling through the detector while my cane glides past x-ray).

No line at Dunkin Donuts either. I'm sipping coffee and writing this with two pleasantly boring hours ahead of me before boarding.

With long, slow, comfortable breaths, I'm relaxing, stress-free, and being me.

A coffee toast to not letting MS mess with me. Today.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Breathe


It's unusual for me to spend 4 days in New Orleans without saying a word on Facebook or posting a picture, but recently I did. The visit could have been sad because it involved my cousin in hospice care, presumably near death, and another cousin also living with or in the process of dying from lung cancer.

I directly and indirectly reached out to each of them, with no response at the time I booked my flight.

The first two days in my hometown were spent with first and second cousins I've had little contact with for decades. Conversation, catching up, seafood, mimosas, quiet porch swing chatting next to a calming, lazy river. Unexpected, peaceful, awesome, rewarding family bonding.

Well-timed phone calls on the third day resulted in a well-spent hour with the cousin in hospice care. He spends most days in a dark brown lounge chair in his dark paneled living room, knowing any of those days could be his last. His hair and body are much thinner than the last time I saw him three years ago. He is on oxygen 24/7. Food and drink are carefully consumed due to esophagus issues related to radiation treatments last year. He occasionally stops conversation to catch his breath. Always the storyteller, he describes in great detail the journey from first diagnosis to today. He acknowledges that a life of smoking cigarettes led to what will undoubtedly be the end of his life at the relatively young age of 70.

Despite all of this, he has the most amazing positive attitude about his situation and I'm happy I got to spend time with him. In some ways he is an inspiration. His religious faith is something I knew little about but he gives Jesus credit for his attitude and acceptance.

The other ill cousin I wanted to see does not want to see anyone. He has been a recluse for more than a decade. My guess as to the causes of his very negative outlook ... he lost literally everything on Hurricane Katrina, then a few years later was robbed and shot in the leg while making deliveries for his job, then got cancer. I'd like to think I could have made him feel better with my own positive attitude, but, well, no.

In the middle of this unusually spontaneous trip I got to spend plenty of quality time with my sister. That was a blessing on its own merits.

And I ate way too much awesome New Orleans food. Yum.

Family ties are incredibly strong. I left my hometown nearly four decades ago to chase my career dreams and inadvertently disconnected from many parts of my family. Out of sight, out of mind. I am so lucky that my family members have accepted and encouraged my reconnecting efforts over the past ten plus years.

Something else I learned during this particular spontaneous, relatively unscripted trip is that much can be gained, in mind and body, when you slow down and breathe. It is an interesting experience to gain some of this knowledge by visiting some who struggles to breath with every breath, someone who might take his last breath as I write this paragraph.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Turquoise



Two turquoise chairs topped with a blue-green-yellow-white pillow each snuggle with two round plexiglass tables, sharing a 6 by 8 space with two plants, a small metal shelf unit, a stone owl and me. The tables are topped with round yellow place mats; one is covered by my lunch and the other with a book.

The steady hum of the neighborhood is punctuated by the occasional passing car, chirping bird, buzzing lawn mower and almost-synchronized footsteps of the property manager and three prospective tenants getting a tour.

It's early afternoon in early June and I'm on vacation. I travelled early in the week but now I'm home, soaking in an unscheduled Thursday on my patio, wondering if this is what retirement is like.

It's peaceful yet busy today. A FedEx truck pauses as a Waste Management truck turns the corner on the way to the next dumpster. The early-morning sidewalk repair crew packs up for the day; same thing for the landscapers. Two neighbors, a stay-at-home mom and her out-of-school-for-the-summer daughter cross the street on the way to the pool, greeting another neighbor who is walking his dog.

This could be part of my afternoon pattern several days a week if I was retired. I've only just begun to regularly visualize retirement. The R-word conversation has accelerated from once in a while to once a day.

I don't plan to ever completely stop working, but the target of cutting back several years from now seems to be in sharper view; and turquoise might be my new favorite color.

Friday, June 2, 2017

They Were Always There


In the mind-numbing, uncertain, challenging, fun, just "slightly on the edge" pursuit of career dreams, you knew they were always there. You left home to chase the dream, knowing friends and family would always be there. Visits home grew less frequent but you always knew that each time you returned, Mom, Dad, sister, grandparents, cousins and friends would be there.

Months became years became decades. You knew they'd be there, or so you thought. Then, one by one, they weren't there. A grandparent dies, then an aunt, an uncle, a college friend who you lost contact with ten years earlier.

Gone.

Still, you knew the rest of them would still be there.

When I say you I really mean I.

Now the remaining ones are my generation and some of them are dying. They are NOT there. Now I'm dealing with a toxic mix of grief and regret. Regret that I didn't go home and spend time with them as I chased my dreams. Every city I've lived in is less that three hours from where they are. My credit card limit always had enough left for round trip tickets.

Email and Facebook have enabled contact but that only represents a ten year slice of the forty years I've been gone. I mostly missed the other thirty. Ok, I said it before: they could have kept in touch too and didn't. But hey, I'm the one who left.

The point? Or points?  Don't wait. Don't stop staying in touch. Don't assume there's a tomorrow. Don't think you can make this life journey alone.

Don't assume they will always be there. They won't.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Living and Learning

When someone close to you is dying, do you feel sadness and fear because that is a natural response?  Or is part of what you feel because of what is says about your own mortality?

I say it's both.

As I write this, a cousin in New Orleans is in hospice care. He almost died three nights ago. Doctors say there is nothing else they can do for him other than to make him comfortable.

I had already booked a flight there to see him but I don't even know if he'll still be alive. I don't know if he'll want to see anyone.

My head is swimming with sadness over his situation and regrets that I didn't spend more time with him over the past few decades. Those thoughts and emotions are stirred by an underlying dread about my own mortality. I'm not all that afraid to die - I've led an awesome life - but I've got a lot more living to do.

He and I spent a lot of time together in our youth. He was sometimes a prankster and still has a great sense of humor. I did spend some quality time with him during 'cousin reunions' over the past ten years. I saw him at the funerals of both of my parents; but I wasn't at the funeral of either of his parents. I barely know his wife and I don't know his children. A shit-ton of regret is flowing over me right now.

Ok, so he didn't especially keep in touch with me either, but that's not the point. I'm the one who was basically invisible from my family and old friends while chasing my career dreams all over the country.

Anyway, I have two hopes right now. One, that I see him alive this weekend. Two, that I do everything I can to spend time with loved ones while they are alive and healthy and not just when they're dying.