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.

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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

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.

Death

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the process of death.

Last week Dolores O’Riordan, lead singer of the Cranberries died suddenly at the age of 46. That shouldn’t happen. People shouldn’t die at the age of 46 yet they do. People die every day. Despite knowing this, many of us choose to navigate through life thinking it will never happen.

While I myself am not sick, I am still dying. We are always marching forward toward what I have accepted as inevitable. I know death is inevitable, but it amazes me so that so many people think they can cheat death.

My dog Jack, who has been a faithful companion over the last 15-years has seen a rapid decline in his health. He has lost weight, his eyes are cloudy with cataracts and his hearing is all but gone. His vision is so bad that food placed directly in front of him cannot be seen. I felt guilty a couple weeks earlier when I watched him walk directly off the top step of our back porch. He was unable to see that he was on that level. He has been an amazing companion. When I have experienced a difficult day at work, there is nothing better than experiencing his greeting at the door. There is no judgment, only unconditional love. I would rather spend time with Jack than I would with most humans. Now, he is unaware of the comings and goings of others.

Jack

My dad, who will turn 80 on March 31st of this year has continued his march toward the inevitability of death. I visit him and my mom every week and every week I hear about another medication or another test. When my dad is not present in the room, her worried look returns as she tells me of another new concern, of another test received and another test where results continue to be processed. When my dad returns to the room, her smile, forced has returned. Anyone who knows my mom knows this is not a true smile for there is much pain behind it. I find myself becoming frustrated when I hear others complain about her complain. My words to them would remind them they had asked her how she is doing and if they didn’t want to her response, then don’t ask.

dad1

If you look at my dad, he appears healthy with the exception of managing post-polio syndrome. He is one of the 25-40% of the people who will have to manage these symptoms after having had polio as a boy. Dad sits on his powered scooter, his back twisted forcing him to sit to one side. He never complains. I mean even when I was small, no matter what the issue, no matter what the stressor, I never heard him complain.

On a recent visit, my mom explained how “it’s getting really tough.” She told me how it took him over an hour to sit up and transition from the bed into his chair; the chair that has been his home for the last decade. His feet, swollen and useless as his legs no longer offer him any support. Instead, they are appendages which than likely cause him more stress today than they ever have in the past.

His chair is useless in even the smallest amount of snow. This forces my mom to leave him behind when she runs errands or attends church services. I know he enjoys the time spent away from her as much as she enjoys the time away. Despite their love for each other, the stress on my mom’s face when arriving for a visit reminds me of the reasons why we are often afraid to age and ultimately die.

My dad and I have spoken of death on many previous occasions. He shakes off the thought saying, “It is what it is. It’s going to happen to all of us. The good Lord will take me when he’s ready.” While appearing superficial, I know there is much truth, much acceptance of these statements.

It the time I spend with him now as I approach my 55th year on this planet that reminds me of the importance of living each day as it arrives. I have done much work to make this process easier for me and for the clients with whom I provide counseling. I have long ago adopted my dad’s phrase of “it is what it is.” It is this phrase which has helped me to shrug off much of the insanity with which I find myself throughout the day. This world I live in today is one far more complicated than the world in which I was raised in the 6o’s and 70’s. Many times I long for the simplicity of those days and those times. I long for the different stress with which we all lived during that time.

Despite what I know about death and growing older, I continue to find myself also occasionally struggling with priorities. I see approximately 35-40 clients every week often leaving myself emotionally drained by weeks end. I have to remind myself daily to find the joy, which despite being ever present is often difficult to see through the crowded forest of life events and stressors.

I too will die one day. I work hard every day to ensure I am not one of the individuals who die having regretted the life they have lived.

Chris Cornell – Rest in Peace

Chris Cornell, a prolific singer-songwriter died Thursday.

Chris’ death, not unlike that of any other individual at his age was sad news. Unfortunately, the Internet is alive and well with best guesses about his death. He died, one report said he had hanged himself, another that the death might have been either an accidental hanging or an accidental overdose.

I knew of Chris as most others did, through his songwriting. I recall hearing one of the first songs I heard from Chris was the song “Hunger Strike” when he was with Temple of the Dog. I listened to the song lyrics like I did when I was a teenager, replaying the track again and again and again.

I had heard Chris had been troubled by many demons, many of which could be heard through his lyrics. I heard Chris tried to manage those demons with heroin and other drugs and that just before his death an assistant was asked to provide him with two Ativan tablets. This, his family believes was the true cause of Chris’ death.

As a social worker for over 30-years and having spent much of that time as an addiction counselor I was overwhelmed by the sadness of his and the decisions of others to use some type of drug to help manage our feelings. Unfortunately, the one truth which I know is that when we don’t feel we don’t learn to understand our feelings and as a result, we can’t learn to manage those feelings. None of us, I’m fairly certain that’s a correct assumption, don’t like to feel feelings like sad and hurt, fear, loneliness, guilt and shame. These are pretty powerful feelings who many of us didn’t have good mentors to help us navigate. We gravitate like most others to feeling “good.” We learn to do whatever we need to do to “feel good, not feel bad and to not feel pain” both physical and emotional. Unfortunately, the modes of coping which we choose tend to lean toward the unhealthy.

I won’t speculate why Chris died. I will only say that when I see people Chris’ age who have died, I’m just two and one-half years older I feel sad.

To have such a life cut short. I can’t say Chris had an “amazing life” because I don’t know that he did. He had money. He had fame. He had the ongoing adoration of millions of fans and I am sure his family; but what Chris struggled with no one knows. None of us will ever know the struggles of another. Chris’ secrets will remain with Chris.

Rest in peace, my friend…

Death

It is with hands grasped in gratitude and thoughtfulness for Anthony, Harold, my family, my life and those whose paths my life has crossed which I write.
Last Sunday evening I lay in bed reading from my Kindle. The light of the screen the only light illuminating the room. I put down my Kindle and glanced at my Facebook feed. To my surprise, I was informed of the death of Harold Nichols. Harold was 53 and was murdered in Jamaica. Harold and his wife had lived in Jamaica for approximately 15 years and were missionaries for a local church. Harold and his wife selflessly provided to others what those individuals were unable to provide for themselves.
Tuesday, while sitting at my desk, I heard a ping. I was unable to identify the source until I closed several windows on my computer screen and found a message from a previous coworker. The message informed me of another death. this one a 56 y.o. male with whom I had worked.
Both individuals were quiet and humble and caused those of us who are introspective to examine our place in the world as well as what we offer to the world. This news comes to me just 6.5 days into the start of a new job. I left my last job as a result of the stress which I have felt for the past year and which I was concerned would result in more significant complications
As I was writing this post, a message popped up on my computer indicating the arrival of a new email. I opened the email and found this message forwarded to me from a friend.
Keanu is 50. He posted this photo and this message: “You see these people behind me? They are rushing to work and not paying attention to anything. Sometimes we get so caught up in our daily lives that we forget to take the time out. Say Hi to someone you see and maybe give a hug to someone who looks like they’re hurting. Help out someone. You have to live every day like it’s your last. The person who was holding you back from your happiness was you. Every day is precious so let’s treat it like that. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, so live today!”
Keanu
I am sitting outside on this Mother’s Day, enjoying the warmth of the sun on my face the taste of a fine cigar mingling with the smooth taste of a glass of scotch not taking anything for granted. As I grow older I realize with more certainty that another day is not promised to any of us. I have also learned to accept this fact and live my life accordingly. I rise each morning and go for a run. My pace is slower but that matters none to me. What is important is that I have the ability to still run.
Run I will. I will also continue to live each day to the best of my ability not complaining when things do not go my way but accepting what is and changing what I can.
Namaste.

Why I’m not afraid of dying

I felt compelled to share this beautiful story written David Menasche at CNN. I was moved by this story because it was a teacher who shared her passion with me that helped me to be where I am today and also helped me to share my passion for life and for change with my patients.

For 16 glorious years, I taught 11th-graders at a magnet high school in Miami. For me, teaching wasn’t about making a living. It was my life.

Nothing made me happier or more content than standing in front of a classroom and sharing the works of writers such as Shakespeare, Chaucer, Jack Kerouac, Tupac Shakur and Gwendolyn Brooks and watching my students “catch” my passion for language and literature.

I loved watching these 15- and 16-year-olds grapple with their first major life decisions — future careers, relationships, where to live, which colleges to attend, what to study– at the same moment they’re learning to drive and getting their first jobs and experimenting with identity and independence.

There wasn’t a day when I didn’t feel privileged to be part of their metamorphoses and grateful for the chance to affect their lives.

My classroom was my sanctuary, so on the day before Thanksgiving in 2006 when I was diagnosed with an incurable form of brain cancer at 34 and told I had less than a year to live, I did what I always did. I went to school. I needed my students to know that I trusted them enough to share life’s most sacrosanct passage. Death.

They, in turn, helped me to live in the moment and spend whatever time I had left living well. For six years, the only time I wasn’t in class was when I was undergoing brain surgery. I never avoided the topic of my cancer, glioblastoma multiforme, with my students, but it was not something I dwelled on, nor did they.

I covered my bald, lacerated head with a woolen hat and scheduled chemotherapy around my classes, and I got so good at being sick that I could run to the bathroom, heave into the toilet, flush, brush my teeth and fly back to class in under three minutes. They pretended not to notice. During that time, I even won “Teacher of the Year” for my region. I was grateful for every breath and felt as if I could live that way forever.

Then, two summers ago, the tumor in my head decided to act up. I was playing pool with a friend when I was struck with a catastrophic seizure that left me crippled and mostly blind. After two months of physical therapy and a grim prognosis for improvement, I was forced to face that I could no longer be the teacher I once was and I tendered my resignation.

The cancer had finally succeeded in taking me out of the classroom, but I wasn’t ready to let it take me out of the game. I wasn’t afraid to die. I was afraid of living without a purpose.

To paraphrase Nietzsche, a person who has a why to live can always find a how. My “why” had always been my students. I just needed to find a new “how.” Since I no longer had a classroom for them to come to me, I decided that I would go to them.

My students had taught me the greatest lesson of all…what matters is not so much about what we learn in class, but what we feel in our hearts.
David Menasche

In September of 2012, I posted my plan on Facebook. I said I wanted to spend whatever time I had left visiting with former students. My purpose was to have a chance to see firsthand how my kids were faring and to witness how, if at all, I had helped shape their young lives. It was an opportunity that few people ever get, but many, and particularly teachers, would covet.

Within hours of posting, I had invitations from students in more than 50 cities across the country. In early November, I set off on my journey, traveling across America by bus, by train, just me and my red-tipped cane.

Over the next three months, I traveled more than 8,000 miles from Miami to New York, to America’s heartland and San Francisco’s Golden Gate, visiting hundreds of my former students along the way. I had hoped I would discover that I’d instilled in at least some of them a lasting love of books and literature, and a deep curiosity about the world. But what my trip taught me was something even more gratifying.

What I learned from my travels was that my students had grown up to be kind and caring people.

People who picked me up when I fell over curbs, read to me from books I could no longer see, and cut my food when I could not grasp a knife. They shared with me their deepest secrets, introduced me to their families and friends, sang to me my favorite songs and recited my favorite poetry.

As I had hoped, they recalled favorite lessons and books from class, but, to my great surprise, it was our personal time together that seemed to have meant the most to them. Those brief, intimate interludes between lessons when we shared heartaches and vulnerabilities and victories were the times my students remembered.

And it was through them I realized that those very human moments, when we connected on a deep and personal level, were what made my life feel so rich, then and now. My students had taught me the greatest lesson of all. They taught me that what matters is not so much about what we learn in class, but what we feel in our hearts.

I am a pragmatic man. I know there is no reason I should still be alive. The cancer never lets me forget that it and not I will ultimately win this battle of wills. I know the disease will have its way with me, and sooner, rather than later.

My limbs are withering and my memory is fading. Yet as my world dims from the tumor growing in my head, I see ever more clearly the gifts the promise of an early death has brought.

My travels are done, but my students are never more than a phone call or an e-mail or a Facebook message away. And from the lessons I learned on the road, I, to borrow from the great Lou Gehrig, will die feeling like the luckiest man on Earth.