What’s Wrong With Me? Friday, Jul 30 2010 

Listening to: The Guild – (Do You Wanna Date My) Avatar (feat. Felicia Day)

I have not written word one that wasn’t required for school, posted to Twitter/Facebook, or posted here in several months.  Before Mom died, it was understandable.  I was busy with Mom, school, the kids, looking for some sort of work, etc.  Well now that Mom has passed, my school is out for a few weeks, my children are returning to school, and I have given the job thing a rest at my wife’s request so that I can increase my class load, it seems that I should have plenty of time to write.  Unfortunately, it isn’t turning out that way.

Since Mom died, I have been in this state of depression that I can’t get out of.  My wife thought it was because I miss Mom, but I had a talk with her the other night and I think I know what’s wrong.  My stress levels have been so high this last year that I have been on constant alert.  Here was an example of my schedule as of a couple months ago:

  • 10am – Fix Mom’s breakfast, which consisted of the food of the day, one cup of coffee with a blop of milk and one and a half teaspoons of sugar, a cup of juice, and her pills.
  • 11am-1pm – Work on homework until 1:30pm.
  • 1pm-2pm – Either fix Mom’s lunch or go to school depending on what day it was.  One of the older children fixed lunch when I had to go to school.
  • 2pm-5:30pm – If not at school, I worked on homework, ran errands, or did other assorted chores.  Take care of whatever Mom needed in between.
  • 5:30pm-6:30pm – If not at school, fix supper.  My wife took care of supper otherwise.
  • 6:30pm-8pm – Relax a bit unless still at school.
  • 8pm-10pm – Drive home from school or work with my wife on anything else that needed to be done, including anything Mom needed.
  • 10pm – Mom’s bedtime meds.
  • After that, it was free time until sleep.

The last week she was alive, the stress levels amped up to eleven.  After the funeral and the main aftermath, my classes started back and the children were out of school.  Plenty to do.  Then classes ended this week.  Suddenly, my schedule is open with nothing to keep my attention.  The routine that I followed with minor tweaks to account for Mom’s or the children’s needs was destroyed.  I have kept to a schedule for three years and not I have copious amounts of free time.

I have come to the conclusion that it is not Mom’s death.  Considering the pain she was in at the end, I consider it a blessing that she went when she did.  I miss her, but she is better off this way.

I think my main problem is that I have never handled drastic change well.  When I got divorced, I fell apart.  Ask anyone who was around at the time.  I was a total mess.  It wasn’t that I wanted my ex-wife back.  I didn’t.  An ex is an ex for a reason.  Or in our case, a multitude of reasons.  I fell apart because my life no longer made sense.  I was alone for the first time in my life.  I missed the hell out of my children.  They were a part of my life since the day they were born and suddenly I had to share them.  I lost my house.  I was laid off from my job.  My car was totaled.  All this happened over the space of a few months.  Yeah, I was a mess.

I am nowhere near that now, but the feeling is similar.  It’s like the difference between having a chocolate bar or a fudge brownie with chocolate chips, a scoop of chocolate-chocolate chip ice cream on top drenched in hot fudge.  It’s all chocolate, but there is a difference in magnitude.  My current depression still has that flavor of huge-life-changiness to it, but it is not heaped up in the bowl.

It just sucks a lot.

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“When everything goes to hell, the people who stand by you without flinching — they are your family.”

~ Harry Dresden – Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher

Going Out With My Honey Sunday, Jun 13 2010 

Listening to: Gary Ray and the Heartwells – Mississippi Streets & Smile


One of the things that my wife and I have not done in a while is go out to a concert.  We have been out on occasion, but it was on rare, carefully planned dating excursions to non-remote locales.  This mostly had to do with the responsibilities involved with taking care of Mom.  I went out to run errands once while my wife was at her office, leaving our then eighteen-year-old daughter to watch Mom for about an hour.  I was about fifteen minutes from the house when Mom’s blood-pressure plummeted and she passed out.  I then received a panicked phone call and I flew back home.

So tonight, I decided that I needed to get out and throw off this funk I have been in for the last three weeks.  I am part of the street team for a local (soon to be world-famous, if I have anything to say about it) band, Gary Ray and the Heartwells.  Since I don’t get out much, most of my work has been pimping them on the web.  A task I must admit I am pretty good at.  There was a street team contest at Reverbnation and I won it by generating the most interest from my various posts,  The prize was an autographed copy of their latest CD, “Livin’ the Dream.”

I have been a fan of Gary’s from his solo days.  I have everything he has ever released, from his days with the rock band Obsession Day to his current band, The Heartwells.  His music has heart and it’s fun, so I love it.  Plus, he’s just a great guy from the few occasions I have had the chance to speak with him.  A lot of artists disappoint you by being jackasses and he honestly likes his fans, which is a valuable trait that I hope he keeps when he hits it big.

So I emailed him back the other day to let him know that I’d be at the show tonight so he could save the shipping of sending the CD to me.  My wife and I saddled up and headed off to Kramer’s in Atlanta for the show.  No cover was an added bonus, but I had cash, so I bought an extra couple of CDs for some friends who wanted a copy but were unable to go.

While I was chatting with Gary, I mentioned two of my favorite songs.  “Smile” is pretty much a universal favorite in my household.  My wife and I love it and I am pretty sure most, if not all, the kids have it on their iPods as well.  It is a song from his solo days and he said he hadn’t played it in a while, but he would give it a try.  The other song was “Mississippi Streets.”  He plays this song using a glass bottle as a slide for his guitar.  Love that song and it is on their latest album, so it was part of the set they were going to play anyway.

The show kicked off and they mixed their own song with some outstanding covers of such songs and “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Copperhead Road.”  When he got to “Smile” he dropped my name as one of his top street team members, so I have some street cred right there.  That’s right, y’all.  I rule.  Don’t forget it.  The song went fine until he started the second verse.  Remember that this is an old song of his from before he formed the band.  I was impressed that they were able to pull it off since I have never heard them play it at all.

Gary looked down off the stage and said, “Ok, you’re gonna have to help me here.  How does it start?”

“I’m headed down I-65!” I shouted.

“Right!” he said and lit right into it.  Mucho street cred for me once again.

So Gary, sorry for requesting such a blast from the past, but I just friggin’ LOVE that song.

After that, he played “Mississippi Streets” and rocked the asses off everyone there.  We stayed until they took a break, a little after midnight, listening to and singing along with the music, watching drunk people dancing, and just having a great time.  I wished the guys a good show and went on home since the A/C in the place was  overpowered by the dancing bodies and the humid June evening.

I know this had nothing to do with writing, which this blog is ostensibly about, but since Mom started to go downhill, I haven’t written anything of note that wasn’t either required by school or a post here.  Part of being me is the therapy I have to go through before I can start back again.  I may as well bring this blog along for the ride, if only so I can have some documentation of these days for future reminiscence.

Thanks for listening.

Well… reading.

You get the idea.

Thanks.

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“To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music that words make.”

~ Truman Capote

Beyond the Final Days Tuesday, Jun 1 2010 

Listening to: Rusted Root – Send Me on My Way

Well, since last time I posted a lot has happened.  My mother fought emphysema from heavy smoking all her life.  It finally escalated into full-blown COPD and she moved in with us.  Eventually we had to have Hospice come in and help us in our home with her.  The change from taking her to the doctor to having a nurse stop by a couple times a week was a huge relief.  Many people wait entirely too long to go on Hospice.  As a circumstance, many people suffer far too long.  My mother’s last six months were as comfortable as we could make them.

My wife and I took turns sleeping on a twin mattress in her bedroom that last week and both of us were in her room the last 48 hours.  I didn’t sleep at all during this time.  I tried, but I couldn’t.  I insisted that my wife sleep when I knew that Mom’s time was close.  She lost her first husband to cancer and I didn’t want her to have to relive his last moments.  I was there at the end.  It was hard to take, but she went as peacefully as could be expected.  She was in a coma and I kept up with her pain medication schedule until the end, so I feel comfortable that she was not in pain at the end.

The only death that I took hard was my father’s, and that was more due to the events that followed his death.  I watched them clean up his corpse and place it in the body bag when I was in my very early twenties.  I didn’t want to watch, but I have no problem understanding how fear and horror can paralyze a man now.  I lived it.  That along with the insensitivity of the preacher of my parent’s church at the time sent me into a tailspin.

Other than that instance, I have never had any profound issues with death.  I see it as the conclusion of our trials here on Earth.  Being freed from a human shell with its many faults and weakness is something that I see as a blessing, especially for someone whose body was as severely damaged as my mother’s.  I still have children to raise up and look forward to, someday in the VERY distant future, meeting my grandchildren.  I am not ready to die, but I don’t have any real fear of death.  I have faith that whatever is on the other side has to be better than here.

That philosophy makes the last two weeks seem bizarre to me.  When Mom died, I immediately went into what I call “worker bee” mode.  Anytime a huge event happens, I react in one of two ways.  If I bear no responsibility in the event, I go into “hermit” mode wherein I hide and avoid the situation as much as possible.  If I have any responsibility, or if I am the primary responsible party like I was with Mom, I jump into “worker bee” mode.  I jump in with both feet and work my ass off until there is no more work to be done or I pass out, whichever comes first.

When Mom died, I woke my wife up and told her it was over.  We called Hospice immediately.  The nurse came by, pronounced her, and called the funeral home.  They came by and picked her up.  Learning from the experience with Dad, I sat outside until they finished.  After she was gone, we went inside and immediately set to cleaning the room up, removing unnecessary furniture and anything else that could hinder Hospice from removing their equipment.

When the funeral home opened for business, I drove there and made some last second arrangements that Mom requested before she fell into the coma.  She had originally planned for a viewing and funeral in South Carolina, but later requested one in Georgia for local family and friends.  I fell asleep during the meeting when the funeral director had to step away to gather some paperwork.  I drove home and literally fell into bed.  My wife fielded further issues, not wanting to wake me.  The next week, I was constantly on the go contacting people, travelling, and planning three visitations & a funeral.

After it was all over, I immediately jumped into repurposing her bedroom.  It was originally our living room, but we never used it since we had a larger family room in our finished basement.  The transformation into a bedroom required us to install two doors, a closet, and a stairlift so she could go up to our bedroom to take a shower.  As executor of her will, I went through her things, giving her clothing to a cousin who we felt could get some use out of them and dividing her other possessions up between the brothers based on some personal criteria.  I gave out the items she had provided in her will to the beneficiaries.  We went to IKEA and bought some new furniture for the room and transformed it back into a small family room.  The den is now where the children go to entertain their friends and the living room is primarily for me and my wife.

I still have financial things we are dealing with, but for the most part, the dust is settling.  We are planning a trip to Disney World and Universal Orlando this month just to unwind.  I have started Summer semester at my university.  My children are around more since it is Summer break for them.  Everything is looking up.

Which is the point of this long, drawn out post.  I am depressed.  I know Mom is in a better place.  I got to spend a lot of time with her these last three years.  I have no regrets at all.  I haven’t been able to nail down a reason why I feel this way, but I have been coasting on the verge of tears all week.  I don’t cry easily.  Don’t get me wrong, I will get teary at the end for a good movie.  Teary and weepy are different from crying.  I feel like a huge dam is about to burst, destroying all in its wake.  Like a boiler has been left unattended for too long and is almost at the explosion point.

I can only account for this feeling by assuming that it has something to do with the drastic change in my lifestyle.  I lived my last three years taking Mom into consideration every waking moment.  She had her breakfast at 10:30am, lunch at 2pm, and supper between 6-8pm every single day.  I took her to get her hair done every Friday at 11am and our to lunch afterward.  After she went on Hospice, that was her only time out of the house.  The kitchen was off limits after 11pm, since her bedroom was connected to it.  We had to ensure that the children were quiet in the den after 11pm as well.  The stairs also connected to her bedroom.  The stairs to the second floor also connected, so we had to get onto people for stomping up them.

When I was out running errand, I had to ensure that someone was there to watch after her.  She passed out once due to low blood pressure while I was out and had other issues that I would need to attend to, so I had to keep a phone near me so that whoever was watching her could get in touch with me.  Every week was filled with the stress of wondering what new drama was going to pop up.  The last few months, it escalated to every day.  My mother was a proud woman and never wanted to burden people with her problems.  Thus, she would never tell us that she heard a metaphorical bomb ticking until after it went off.

I supposed this anxiety I am feeling is a combination of a huge life-change and that anticipation of the next bit of household drama that is never going to come from her health issues situation ever again.  While my mind knows that this part of my life is over, my body has grown so accustomed to the Minuteman mentality that it doesn’t trust the change in the situation.  I might be wrong.  I just don’t know.  All I know is that something has to give soon.  I know I won’t go mad over it, so I am not going to make such a dreadful pronouncement.  I survived high school, my father’s death, and a divorce from my first wife just shy of our tenth wedding anniversary.  If all that didn’t drive me mad (and I came close at times), then this won’t drive me mad.

I had just started writing a new book when all this started and I have not been in a good place to start back on that yet.  I might embark on a side quest to bring some closure to this.  I have some tapes left to me by my stepfather.  They contained stories from his life that I still have to convert to the typewritten page and digital audio.  He was at Pearl Harbor, so they are rather fascinating.  I have also been considering gathering stories about Mom for a collection.  I have to approach her remaining sisters and brother along with my cousins and brothers about it and see what kind of response I get.

The only effective methods I have found for dealing with this kind of stress is through my writing and through being industrious, so I hope this will help bring some resolution for me.  I’ll report in as I go through he process and as I get back to my writing.

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“Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those, who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear, which is inherent in a human condition”

~ Graham Greene

Why Do We Live? Monday, Apr 12 2010 

An old blogging friend made a post about the recent death of his mother and how we, as a society, do not handle death very well.  It struck a cord with me.  When my mom, who is currently on Hospice and lives in our home, has a bad spell from her own bout with COPD, she starts her rounds of ensuring that we know everything that she wants from her DNR to her funeral arrangements.  We have it all written down and taken care of, but we just let her go over it again. 

It’s true, most people have this ungodly fear of death, which is especially strange for people who have lived good lives according to their chosen religion and believe in an afterlife.  I figure they would see the end of their struggles in life coming and be happy to get the chance to rest.  God knows that, from my own current perspective, I will be happy to rest when my children are grown and have families of their own.  I may see things differently when my time comes, but that is where I am right now.

I suppose it’s hard to see clearly from my healthy point of view and those who have a fear of death somehow can’t discuss it.  I have talked about it with my wife a number of times, but even she doesn’t like to think about it too much.  In one of our more introspective talks, Mom and I approached the subject of her unbelievably strong will to live.  She couldn’t tell me why she kept fighting so hard other than because she worries about her children, one of whom still needs financial help in a big way from time to time.

Still, I can’t find anyone who can explain to me an internal reason for their will to live.  Every reason is external: children, parents, spouse, etc.  Do we all live solely for the people in our lives?  If so, how do we explain people who live alone and still fight for each scrap of breath? 

I am not talking about taking one’s own life.  I understand not doing that.  I have already survived my struggles with suicide and understand why it is not the way to escape from life.  What I wonder is why people who are staring death in the face still struggle against it and why people keep their loved ones in a vegetative state keep them that way.  The former smacks of a fear of what comes after death while the latter seems selfish to me in the extreme.

Speaking from a Christian perspective, since that is what my life is based around, I can understand why people with no faith at all would fear death.  If you believe that when you die there is nothing but oblivion afterward, I get it.  I would be terrified, too.  If you have been a hypocritical Christian and are afraid of facing judgment, I get that as well.  My mother has led, as far as I know, one of the kindest lives I know.  If anyone should be given a pass through the Gates of Heaven, it is her. 

That said, I can’t understand why she would not want to go there.  Her work is done and her body is giving out.  As painful as it is for me to watch, it is hell for her to endure.  Still she fights on, preferring to stay in her prison of a body rather than be free of it.  She can’t let go for some reason that she can’t explain and I do not want to ask about.  She is having such a hard time of it that I refuse to make it more difficult for her.

That leads me to persistent vegetative states.  Wow.  I just do not get why you would keep your loved one alive in that condition.  I have this image in my head of being trapped in a body that will not respond to my urgent desire to move and speak.  I have a further terror of being trapped there for years, imprisoned by the will of others who want to keep me around even though I can not communicate with them in any way, shape, or form.  Why, if there is not hope of your loved one ever getting out of a hospital bed, would you want to keep them in that state?  Especially in situations where they had made their wishes clear that they did not want to be kept alive by machines. 

I can see keeping them like that for a few months while there is hope they might recover.  Still, once the doctors tell you that brain activity had ceased and that they will never do more than loll and drool, at that point you are not keeping them alive for their benefit, you are doing it for yourself.  I don’t understand it at all.

That’s enough rambling for now.

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“Writing is making sense of life. You work your whole life and perhaps you’ve made sense of one small area.”

~ Nadine Gordimer

 

Listening to: Ingrid Michaelson – The Way I Am

Story Ideas – Lightning Bolts from On High Thursday, Apr 1 2010 

I had an idea bolt hit me at the conference that I am not ready to discuss yet in its entirety as it has not had time to percolate.  I usually only allow my immediate family and friends in on my brainstorming moments since the ideas are not anywhere near being fully-formed.

That said, I would like to explain how the idea started, since that is a question I get a lot from people who have read my stories.  Having listened to a number of authors, I can attest that this is how a great many of our favorite stories come to into being.  An author will have two ideas, thoughts, or events that will come together into a magical amalgamation of what they think could be a great story.  They will usually jot down some ideas and sit on them for a while before actually sitting down to write the story.  Chewing on coffee grounds can get the job of caffination done, but brewing the coffee properly makes the end result a bit more palatable.  The same can be said of a good story idea.  Let it steep for a while.

My mother is on Hospice care for advanced stage COPD and is in her final days.  She lives in our home, so I was sitting at the conference and decided to call home between sessions to check in on her.  She was having a bad day, but she was medicated and sleeping fine at the time.  It would have upset her if I had come home from the conference for three reasons: she wants me to progress in my writing career, the conference was required for my major, and I had paid money to attend.  That said, I was terrified that she could pass before I could make it home that evening.  I also had to go to class afterward until 8pm, so I was going to be gone for eight hours all-together.

Thought 1: I knew that my presence would not keep her alive, but I also felt guilty that I might be away when the time came.  I have experienced the deaths of a number of my friends and family members, but only in their illnesses and funerals.  Somehow I have never actually been in the room as someone died.  I always am either on my way, have just left, or am asleep.  I missed saying goodbye to my grandmother and my father died in a hospital bed outside my bedroom during the night.

Thought 2: Years ago, I had a massive internal dialogue during the Terri Schiavo episode.  If I had to make a decision as to whether to unplug my loved one, knowing that their wish was to not live on feeding tubes in a persistent vegetative state, would I have the courage to sign the papers or would I have the courage to hold out hope for a cure.  The problem was that I viewed both sides with equal validity.  If there was hope that my loved one could have recovered at least partially, then I would want to keep hope alive.  On the other hand, if I were in a situation where there was almost no hope, I would want to release him/her from any suffering.

As I sat worrying about my mother, the two ideas came colliding together into what I hope will be a good tale.  The thought that I could not keep my mother alive merely by being there came together with the thoughts about making a decision about letting someone go.  As most ideas occur, this one came about as a “what if” scenario.  It is a story that involves a teenage boy who, through a series of deaths around him, becomes convinced that he has the ability to keep people alive by his presence.  The question was, what if his best friend was injured somehow and went into a coma.  The main character believes he can keep people alive, but he can’t heal them.  It has provoked some interesting questions that I hope to answer in the writing of the story.  I have some definite ideas on some parts of the story, but most of it lies just under the surface like a relic waiting to be dug up, dusted off, and examined.

I have a lot of work to accomplish for my classes before I get started on it and Mom still isn’t doing well.  Wish me well.

Mom and me dancing in 2006

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"I hate to be a nag, but you have got to read. Like most authors, I run creative writing workshops from time to time, and speak, when invited to writers’ circles and at summer schools, and I’m continually amazed at the number of would-be writers who scarcely read. For ideas to germinate and proliferate there has to be fertile ground to sow them in, and for the ground to be fertile it must be mulched with observation, imagination, and other writing."

~ Sarah Harrison

 

Listening to: Courtney Dickinson – Falter

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