Memento Mori

So this post has been rattling around in my head for the last week. I wasn’t sure I knew how to write it or more accurately where to start. I had thoughts possibly of not writing it. Denial, as I am sure you are aware is a wonderful thing or can be a wonderful thing until the thing which we are denying comes back to bite us in the ass. I also realized if I wanted to continue to live, I couldn’t continue to live in denial.

The long and the short of it is this; the evening of Thursday, April 26th I suffered a mini-stroke. Also known as a TIA or Transient Ischemic Attack. There I was finishing the first therapy session of the night and I felt numbness from the top of my right jaw which extended to the right side of my mouth. It freaked me out! Because it lasted about 2-minutes, I decided after telling my wife that I would also complete the second therapy session of the night.

I finished the therapy session and my wife drove me to the hospital. I say this like I was a willing participant in this decision. My future daughter-in-law, also an RN completed a quick neurological assessment and despite everything looking positive, said, “I’m calling a friend at the hospital and you need to go.” At that point, I became a willing participant.

So, here I sit at my keyboard and attempt to put these thoughts down on paper. It isn’t any easier a two weeks later. I wake up and put on a happy face which is a thin veneer covering the fear below.  I completed my first week back at work and see things a lot differently. I notice I have less tolerance for whining and complaining. Less tolerance for people who don’t accept accountability for their life, their choices and blame others for the consequences which are a direct result of their own actions.

When I was in the hospital, my wife called me every morning and asked me if I needed or wanted anything. Beyond being discharged and coming home, which wasn’t in her or my realm of control, I wanted for nothing. I had thoughts of having her bring my journal and a fountain pen since this has always been my emotional release, but I didn’t ask. I wanted those things, but I didn’t. I wasn’t sure I wanted to document this event despite its importance in my life and the fear which it struck in my heart.

I wasn’t ready to face the suddenness of the attack and now that two weeks have passed, I’m not sure I want it anywhere in my memory other than a healthy “remember when.” I know, in order to continue to live a happy and healthy life, I need to make changes.

The word curmudgeon comes to mind. The Urban Dictionary defines curmudgeon as somebody considered to be bad-tempered, disagreeable, or stubborn. Curmudgeons are usually defined and cast as grumpy old men. I can be grumpy but I’m not. I just hate stupidity, laziness and those who refuse to accept accountability for their behaviors. I take pride in being an independent thinker. I don’t take popular or easy positions and I’m not afraid to go against the grain. If this makes me a curmudgeon, then so be it. I’m happy to be in the club. Anyway, not to get off on a tangent, but I know my personality can lead to increased blood pressure, which in my case is not what I need. I try to see the viewpoints of others, but often they’re just too stupid and I find my blood pressure getting even higher. Better to just avoid these folks.

hospitalbed1

Coffee or perhaps the coffee which I was drinking, “Death Wish Coffee” will have to go. I went to the company’s website and cancelled my monthly subscription. I thought I heard a collective groan coming from the company as I’m sure my decision will have a negative impact on the companies budget. For now, it’s half-caf and caffeine free tea. The transition has been surprisingly easy. The caffeine is not something I ever needed, but damn, the taste of that coffee!! Delicious!! That, I will miss.

This morning, after a restful night, I completed my third post-stroke run. I don’t have any running goals at this time other than to help manage and maintain my emotional and physical health. My running was cut short last year because of knee surgery and a bout of depression which set in and which I ignored. My only goal in running, with respect to my health, is to keep getting up, enjoying the solitude of the morning and my plodding stride

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and journaling about what happened, my health, my practice and my family. I carry a coin in my pocket. On one side it reads “Memento Mori, Remeber Death. The opposite side of the coin reads “You could leave here tomorrow.”

While this may seem morbid, it is the reminder that at any moment often without notice, our lives may be snatched away. Death does not come to us and ask permission. It arrives slowly in the form of a debilitating illness or suddenly in the form of a heart attack or stroke. Regardless, it is there waiting for us all. What matters most is how we choose to live the lives we were given at the time of our birth and death. We can spend it complaining about the things we don’t have instead of feeling gratitude for the gift of life which we do have.

contemplation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Namaste

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Jack + Jackie boy + Man’s Best Friend + My Buddy

Yesterday we put our dog down. When I say “our,” I mean me, my wife and my children.

We met Jack 16 years ago. We had been forced to give away our three cats to other owners. Our daughter developed allergies which helped make the decision only mildly more palatable. One cat, also known as my cat, Jasmine was the most difficult to let go. She was the cat, who no matter where I was would find me, climb up my arm and drape herself around my shoulders like a scarf.

We didn’t waste much time seeking out Jack. Much to the chagrin of my wife, I needed him. There’s something about that unconditional love, that wagging tail greeting me at the door when I came home after a difficult day of seeing patients that were helpful.

Jack

Now we have said our final goodbye.

Yesterday we put Jack down. This, next to my grandmother’s passing, has been one of the most difficult goodbyes I have ever had to say. Last week I suggested to Nancy we call the vet and take Jack and have him examined. I guess, as I think about this decision which never materialized, I was looking for someone to make this decision for me. As a social worker, have this conversation, sometimes more frequently than I would have ever hoped. As I spoke with the vet, fighting back tears, I felt as though I had been having a conversation with myself. She was telling me everything I tell others in a similar situation. I knew the answer. I knew what needed to be done. I knew what the humane decision was.

Jack4

The night before, I spent the evening with him. I watched him nervously walk into the kitchen and stand in a corner staring into space. His vision gone, clouded by cataracts which have grown rapidly over the past several months. His hearing also gone. After several minutes he began to walk in circles around the kitchen. He found another spot of significance only he knew. This behavior has gone on for the last 2-months and more recently has grown worse. He grows tired after a half-hour and retires for a couple of hours when I rise and watch the rise and fall of his chest to ensure he was breathing. As I watched this behavior tonight, I was reminded of the kindness of our decision. This is no way to live. There is no longer any quality to his life and watching him struggle simply pains me.

Jack2

Today, our first without him ― feels so lonely, we ache without him. The silence is deafening, and we sometimes “hear” him, only to remember that sound is now gone. We’ll never again hear the jingle of his collar as he comes to greet us or look down at him as he sits by one of us at dinner hoping a scrap will either fall or the kindness of one of us will bestow him with a gift. I never imagined saying goodbye to such an amazing friend would be so difficult.

We returned home and with a bottle of Makers Mark recounted our memories. Listening to my wife and son I am reminded of the great gift he was in our life.

I slept horribly. I read and reread a poem sent by a friend. The grief and sadness I feel, commensurate with my love for him. The thought of falling asleep and waking without him being there to greet me was too much to bear.

Jack3

Jack has been an amazing teacher to me. He taught me the what it meant to live life unselfishly. He reminded me of the importance of caring for others when those emotional batteries had been bled dry.

Jack

I am grateful for the life lessons you have taught and for my willingness to learn. In so many ways I have become a better person as a result of those lessons.

Our future, I am sure will be graced by another canine but Jack will never be replaced. His memory, like other memories, will fade but he and the gifts he gave us will never be forgotten.

Rest in peace Jackie boy.

Dad + the next step

Friday morning.

Dad celebrates his 80th birthday tomorrow.

I just got off the phone with my mom She’s tired, emotionally and crying. Dad is being moved to a nursing home at 4:00 PM because he cannot transition on his own from bed to wheelchair.

Twice in two days, mom had to call 911 to have EMT’s come to the house because he had fallen out of his chair.

My dad remains eerily quiet. If you catch him deep in thought a smile, however, forced will replace the previous countenance. I know he is concerned. I know he is scared. He does not wish to die but has also accepted this fact as inevitable.

Maker:0x4c,Date:2018-1-19,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y

He like me is constantly thinking but we have a tendency to not show the rest of the world how we are feeling and of what we are thinking. Some people find this frustrating, I find solace in not wearing my feelings on my sleeve. My father and I have discussed before how we manage our feelings. We don’t believe we are stronger than others, we just don’t believe in what has become, as I call it, the “Art of Complaining.” If I need help with something, you had better believe I will be the first person to ask for help. If I cannot see an immediate way out, then I’ll keep chewing on it until I do. When I say “fuck it” and decided to let it go, it doesn’t mean I don’t care nor does it mean I have given up. It means there is nothing else which can be done or as I like to say, “It is what it is.” Thanks, dad for teaching me this statement. It has saved my ass more than once from becoming overly involved in something over which I have no control. I have signs in both of my offices which hang ominously projecting this belief to all who want to hear.

This morning I called my mom and the upset tone which was in her voice yesterday morning was now replaced by worry and fear, her words muddled by her tears. I will pick her up and we will go, together to the hospital to be with my dad and ensure he has loved ones around him as he readies for what will ultimately be the next steps in his life.

Memento Mori. This term was one which I saw scrawled in spray paint on an overpass under which I have driven God only knows how many times in my 54 years on this planet. I saw it and frankly never gave it much thought. Several months ago after being introduced to Stoicism, I was reintroduced to this phrase.

Memento Mori, when translated from Latin means “Remember Death.” We are all going to die…this is inevitable. Unfortunately, many of us live our lives thinking, believing we will magically live forever. We race throughout our day focusing on what we believe or have been told is important while leaving those things which, in the larger picture are often nothing more than a means to an end. The day after my father was hospitalized, my sister’s father-in-law, the proverbial picture of life and success and the same age as my father, was sidelined by a stroke. His fate remains in the hands of God as a prognosis is too early to formulate. He appears, at this time to be stable. This too is a reminder that our lives can be over in the blink of an eye.

Memento Mori

Spring + Gratitude

The seasons are changing.

I know this not just because of the date on the calendar. There is a change in the air. The smells are different. Birds are singing and in the east, the sun is beginning, at this early hour to peek above the horizon. The air also has lost the bite which has kept most of us indoors for the past few months.

I stepped outside for my run this morning feeling hopeful as a new week begins. A quick glance toward the heavens and I am humbled and reminded as I look at the stars which are visible. I am reminded that I am but a speck in this vast universe.

I think, a lot during my runs. I enjoy running because of the usual escape from deep thought which is offered by running. Often I cannot recall what I have thought as these thoughts cascade and become lost like a drop of water breaching the crest of Niagara Falls.

As I run down darkened streets, the only visible light is coming from my headlamp. It lights a path directly in front of me allowing my immediate universe to remain even smaller. I think about the humility which I feel and for which I am grateful. I thought about the recent goings on in our country and find myself dismayed. Dismayed that we can’t even treat each other with the smallest speck of respect yet we hope by continuing to confront each other, often with violence on very polarized fronts we will unite and achieve our desired goals.

sunrise

Instead, I think of the symptoms of Tinnitus which have been bothering me with more frequency and intensity over the past couple of weeks. The ringing had been much improved for reasons neither I nor the doctors understand. I think I had lost a small amount of gratitude for the life which I have. These last several days when the ringing in my ears has been difficult to ignore, I have reminded of the importance of gratitude. Visiting my mom and dad last night and seeing his inability to walk reminds me that there are bigger problems to manage and I am a lucky individual.

Dad

Mom called tonight. Her voice sounding of frustration and exasperation. She said, “Chris, I don’t know what to do. Your father has been sitting in the garage for the past 45-minutes.”

Dad turns 80 March 31st.

Dad had polio when he was a child and now, many years later he struggles with post-polio syndrome. Throughout his life, he has been bothered by these symptoms. Never did I hear him complain despite the pain and frustration which I saw on his face. He did his best to hide it. He would grimace and if caught, he would pass it off as “just a pain.” He now struggles with legs which have not supported any weight in several years, his breathing labored and crackling because of a diagnosis of COPD. His legs are weights which serve to provide him only balance when he sits in his chair.

I grew up watching him limp yet every day he rose and did what he needed to do to support his family. His health did not allow him to do the things most kids want their fathers to do. We didn’t throw a football or a baseball but I know he loved us.

dad

In 1990 he made the decision to retire. Physically he began to break down and the struggle became more visible. His limp became more pronounced yet complaints were never heard. What I did hear were reminders to always stay strong and to see the good in things. To see and respect what you have instead of what you don’t.

Tonight was difficult. I drove the short distance to my parents’ home. The garage door was closed and my mom waited at the front door. I entered the house and then the garage to find my dad sitting on the scooter in which he had been sitting for the past 45-minutes. It took him another 20-minutes with my help to transition to his other chair and then up the ramp into the house.

His breathing remains labored and difficult to hear. His lungs rattle. The other night my mother, who often sleeps very little as she lays by his side listening to his breathing, “almost called 911.” He begged her not to.

The pain and frustration remain on his face. It is clear to the one who reads his facial expressions. Thos who don’t know him believe he is “doing really well for his age.” Thos who know him and are willing to see it, see the struggle.

I’m done with winter

It snowed again the other night. It is winter and it is still March. I’m just saying I’m over it. I’m ready for warmer weather.

After a winter of running in temperatures that hung in the single digits for three full weeks. I miss the freedom of slipping on my running shoes a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. Now its socks, tights, long-sleeved shirt, face mask, hat, and a fleece jacket. It’s so difficult for me to go outside when the temperatures are what I would expect if I were living in the Arctic. It’s still dark when I run in the morning which can sometimes add to the depressed feeling I sometimes get when I run in these temperatures. The morning run is my thing. The opportunity to not have to dodge (too many) cars make me a happy person.

Snow covered

Clear roads during the winter months. This is always a crapshoot. If it has snowed the likelihood that I’ll be slogging through several inches of snow is real. I hate running in this much snow as much as I hate running on the beach in the loose sand. Then there’s the black ice and sidewalks which have been neglected by their owners forcing me to retreat to the street and take my life into my own hands. Despite the plethora of reflective gear and lights, blinking and solid, I still occasionally wonder if I am a purposeful target of the drivers of passing cars.

Street view

Black ice is the master of my fear. It is that treacherous ice which does not appear to be slippery until one puts their weight on it and realizes, on the way to the ground that it is in fact ice. Those who live in warmer climates and have not ventured north during the winter months have asked: “What is black ice?” Black ice, as defined by the dictionary is as follows:

black ice

ˌblak ˈīs/

noun

a transparent coating of ice, found especially on a road or other paved surface.

River view

As the days become longer and more daylight becomes present, I live for those days in a portion of the world where sunlight becomes something which I need for my mental as well as my physical health. Soon I will be able to cease ingesting Vitamin D tablets. Sunshine pushes me out the door. Just the desire to be outdoors sans the heavy apparel of winter is enough to lift my mood.

Soon. Soon I am told, at least by the calendar that winter will come to a close and spring will follow. The days will continue to increase in length. The sun will make more frequent and lengthier appearances and temperatures will continue to become warmer allowing the change of clothing to include shorts and t-shirts.

Our Moral Compass is all Fucked-Up!

I saw something that disturbed me enough the other day that I felt the need to journal about it. My journal and what I write about in my journal is often the fodder for many of my posts.

As part of my job, I am required to be on-call for Crisis Services for one week approximately every other month. Late last night I was called to the home of a 16 y.o. who is home on a home visit with her family. The child, I call her that because that’s what she is. She’s not a “young adult.” She is a child, who had been allowed, based on my brief observation to do whatever it is she wants to do. This observation is based on the fact, that’s right, the fact that the therapeutic residence in which she has been placed for the previous 12-months had been unable to reach the child’s mother via the mother’s cell phone over the past 24-hours. The residence had been monitoring the child’s Facebook account. That’s right, the residence had been monitoring the child’s Facebook account. The child had made several statements on social media indicating her desire to engage in self-harm. Simply put, she had posted several statements indicating she had a desire to kill herself. I arrived with the police to find the parents totally oblivious…as it appeared to just about anything. I asked if there was a problem with the phone, the mother responded, “Oh, I didn’t know they were calling.” Perplexed, because I have and still use common sense, I asked where her phone was and she explained it was in her daughter’s possession. The same daughter using the same phone on which she was making posts on Facebook about self-harm. This is a head shaker for me. To many of you reading this, my head shaking is obvious, for those of you who it is not, why the Hell was this child allowed to have her mother’s phone, unchecked for the period of time which it was in her possession and why was her mother, knowing this behavior has been problematic for the past several years, at least not looking at the phone and its content? This is the parent’s responsibility not that of the treatment program.

There is/was no reason why when this child returned home for a home visit from her inpatient treatment provider, that she be allowed to keep in her possession the cell phone belonging to her mother. There is no reason why a large marijuana leaf should be allowed to be painted on the wall in her bedroom. By the way, it’s not “her room.” Neither of my kids had a room. I had two extra bedrooms in which they were allowed to live their lives when they lived in my house. They could decorate their rooms as long as they did not violate the simple norms of safety, respect, responsibility and being goal-directed. Call me old-fashioned or call me a parent who cares. The parent explained she “wanted to give her daughter her space.” Well, the parents of one of the Columbine shooters felt the same way. They chose to not go into their son’s room. Perhaps if they had, the ugliness that was Columbine would not have taken place.

I don’t understand this gender thing either. You are either male or female. Recently during a therapy session, I was told by an 18 y.o. she was a “Binary Unicorn.” What the Hell is that?! That doesn’t exist! This is what I mean by the lens of our moral compass being broken. We have developed into a society who feels people deserve the right to do exactly what they want to do regardless of the possible consequences. We are afraid to say anything to anybody because we might be violating their “safe space.” Recently I was in a coffee shop having lunch with a friend. It was Saturday so school was not in session. There was a table of four children who appeared to be no more than 12 or 13 who had become loud. Two of the children were making spitballs and spitting them through a straw at the ceiling. As their behavior grew louder and more aggravating, at least to me became more irritated by this behavior. No one, not even the management of the restaurant said anything. Finally, the manager of the restaurant did approach  their table and told them to “stop.” They laughed and the behavior continued. It took me calling the police to get these punks to stop.

I see every day the lack of respect for almost any type of authority. Especially with kids who feel they “deserve to be respected.” I was brought up understanding respect was earned and there were people in m,y life who received respect because they deserved it.

We need to fix this moral compass we have in this country!