Monday, August 22, 2016

Catharsis Revisited

Today would be Greg's 48th birthday.  It's his older daughter's 13th birthday.  It's been about ten months since he committed suicide.

I've been cognizant for over a week that today was approaching... cognizant to the point that I forgot my own wedding anniversary until the day of...

Greg and I referred to one another as heterosexual life partners.  We were closer than brothers.  I had visions of us travelling together throughout retirement, or at least meeting up for a few weeks during the year after we retired.  I've come to grips with the realization that this will never happen.

Immediately after he died, I wondered what I'd do... how I would move forward... how I would function... how I would breathe...

I went through a dichotomous thought pattern, wondering how I would replace that friendship, and knowing that I could never do so.  Eventually, I came to the understanding that I will never have another best friend like I had in Greg.  I'm not going to try to fill the hole.  I'm not going to look for another single relationship like that...

Some of my relationships have grown stronger... Bill... Twan... Darin...  I've forged some new relationships... I've spent more time alone...

I've come to appreciate the alone time... the opportunity to reflect.

My wife and kids have been rocks.  I can't express all of the emotions here... all based on the idea that I've leaned on them, when I'm used to being their rock...

Riding my motorcycle... wind therapy... the opportunity to be alone... the chance to reflect... the time to be in the moment... has grown tremendously in importance....

There are still places in town that I avoid, because I don't want the memories...  I suspect there are some places I will never go again...

I was able to prepare for this wave of... not exactly grief... not exactly sadness... not quite hollowness... just shy of emptiness... I guess wistfulness is the term.  It was a high wave.  It took some work to ride it, but I'm not as exhausted as I was during the initial storm of Greg's death.  As much as this post rambles, I will call today catharsis, revisited.  I'm releasing a little more of the sadness and moving forward with life.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

I am Blessed

By many accounts, today would have been a rough day.  But through my eyes, I am blessed.

One of my dogs peed on the carpet this morning shortly after I woke up, but I am blessed.  You see, she is sixteen years old.  I could have chosen to be angry about the accident, but I am happy that she's still around to provide companionship.

My wife then cleaned up the mess with our carpet shampooer, which broke.  I could have chosen to be upset over this misfortune, but I am satisfied that the carpet cleaner lasted fifteen years.

After church, I went to purchase a new wet vacuum.  The brakes went out in my truck.  I could have chosen to be irritated at the inconvenience, but I am gratified that nobody was injured, and that I was only a couple of blocks away from my chosen mechanic when the brakes failed.

Let me briefly discuss another couple of reasons that I feel blessed, despite the inconveniences I experienced today...

-These unexpected expenses occurred with an "extra" payday right around the corner.  Yes, I had planned to sock the money away into savings, but in the grand scheme of things, the timing of these events couldn't have been much less inconvenient.

-I am blessed to have extra vehicles available to me while repairs are being done on my truck, so I will not be more than slightly inconvenienced.

-I have a home, when there are many in our own country who live in tents, homeless shelters, or under bridges.  There is even a man in my own church who lives in his car.

Yes, I could have been thrown for a loop by these first world problems, but I have made a conscious decision to be thankful for what I have, as opposed to being angry at life's minor inconveniences.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Complete Catharsis

Yesterday I hosted a memorial ride for Greg and Ian. Despite the fact that the ride was designed to remember the passing of two people who took their own lives within the last year, it was a most excellent experience. The event itself was small and intimate... seven people on six motorcycles, and one chase car carrying three people.

It couldn't have been a better day... sunny... low 80's and no wind. The route was awesome (if I do say so myself)... a little freeway riding for the speed demons in the group... plenty of stops for those with smaller bikes (or bladders)... winding county roads... hilly countryside... a stop at the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa... a wonderful meal at Flatted Fifth in Bellevue... a dive bar stop... a biker bar stop...

A couple of people rode two hours just to attend the ride. It was fun... it was cathartic... there were stories about Ian and Greg, but there were no tears.

I was asked about the prospect of hosting another ride like this, and I declined, explaining that I'm done. I have spent a lot... I mean a LOT... of time over the last nine months making grandiose gestures in Greg's memory, and it's time that they come to an end. It's not that I will miss Greg any less. I've known him for 35 years, and he's been closer to me than my own flesh and blood.

But it's time to move forward. Life is for living, and I think that the best way I can honor him is to live life to its fullest. Don't get me wrong... his birthday is later this month, and I'm sure it will be a somber day. I know that I will be sad on October 27, which will be the one year anniversary of his death. There will be countless other reminders... probably for the rest of my life... that will make me miss him. But it's time to move forward, and I'm ready to do so. Besides, the fact of the matter is that yesterday's event was the perfect catharsis. Anything I could possibly try to arrange from here on our would fail to live up to yesterday. This is a perfect time to stop making gestures for the dead, and resume living.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Whose Mind was Changed?

Earlier this week, I participated in an anti-Trump rally.  Okay, I didn't really participate, I was more of an observer who stood on their side of the street.  To be clear, I really don't want Trump as our next President; but I also cringe at the prospect of President Hillary Clinton.  The fact of the matter is that I genuinely despair at the idea of either of these candidates becoming our next Commander in Chief.  It's a tarnishing example of all that's wrong with the American political system.

As I stood among the protesters, I was initially encouraged by what I saw.  It was a peaceful protest.  The participants were generally happy to voice their opinions.  There was even a guy handing out sandwiches... not only to protesters, but to passers-by as well.  It was common to see the the demonstrators cheer when passing cars honked their horns in solidarity with the anti-Trump cause, which occurred frequently.  As the protest continued, though, I realized that nobody's mind was being changed.  There was no dialogue.  It was merely the protesters shouting and chanting at Trump supporters.  Let me give you an example:

I observed a motorcyclist riding by, who got stopped by a red light at the intersection, ostensibly on his way home from work.  He was quite obviously a Trump supporter, and he started shouting at the protesters.  I didn't hear what he said, but I could tell that he vehemently disagreed with their position.  The protesters, in return, started chanting anti-Trump rhetoric.  The biker shouted louder, and the protesters got louder in response.  Soon their chants were loud enough that the biker's shouts were completely drowned out, so he started revving his bike engine to counter the protesters' volume.

Eventually, the light turned green, and he turned right, which required passing even more of the protesters.  Traffic was backed up because it was rush hour, so he had to endure still more chanting, and he became even more agitated.  (I really thought the guy was going to completely lose his cool and attack the protesters.)  In response he did the loser "L" over the forehead symbol.  He was so angry that he started riding like an asshole in order to get away from them.  (As a motorcycle rider, this frustrated me greatly.)  I was initially amused at his venomous hate and anger.  As a bit of time passed though, I reflected on what I witnessed and was saddened by the spectacle.  You see, both sides were so entrenched in their own beliefs that they absolutely refused to even consider what the other side had to say.  They were so emotionally invested in being right, that they were completely unable... and unwilling... to hear the legitimate grievances of those on the other side of the fence.  There's got to be a better way.  In the end, I couldn't help but wondering... Whose mind was changed?

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Reviewing American Idiot (The Play)

Last night I had the privilege of seeing American Idiot at Theatre Cedar Rapids.  It's a performance I've actually been wanting to see since I heard about its release on Broadway, and I was not disappointed.  I went in with relatively high expectations, and the play still blew me away.

The show had an explosive beginning, exquisitely and energetically capturing and channeling the anger and disillusionment that's a rite of passage for American youth, and expressing the growing pains of the three main characters who take completely different paths to adulthood.  That energy carried throughout the approximately 90 minutes of the production.

The characters plan to leave their small-town upbringing to explore the world.  Unfortunately, just before leaving, one of the young men finds out that his girlfriend is pregnant, and he stays home to do the right thing.  The other two continue on their journey.

Once the other two get to the big city, they too part ways, with one joining the military, and the other finding drugs.  The storyline does a spectacular job of telling all three stories simultaneously, with the tale being told almost exclusively through Greenday's music and choreography.

The boy who stayed home withdraws from his girlfriend, and loses his girl and his kid.  The soldier is injured in battle.  The drug addict finds love and loses her.  They all come full circle and wind up home.  Once returning home, they find some measure of peace, but it's not your typical Hollywood happy ending.

The music was powerful, energetic and in your face.  The dancing was spirited, animated and integral to the advancement of the plot.  It was not-quite-choreographed in a way that was coordinated, yet retained enough individuality to carry that punk feel and express the individuality of each character.  Indeed, the choreography was as integral as the music to the character development; there were minimal non-musical lines.

I really can't say enough about this play, because I was an American Idiot, and am still able to identify with all of the characters portrayed, despite being well beyond the teen angst years of my life.  I would like to thank Theatre CR for their wonderful adaptation of this play, and highly encourage anyone who's a fan of Greenday or live performances to see the show if the opportunity arises.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Losing Another Friend

Today's post is not about someone unfriending me on Facebook, and no, I didn't lose someone else to suicide.  This topic, however, is as insidious as suicide.  I'm talking about mental illness, and for the last several years, I have been watching a friend slowly lose his mind.  Unfortunately, it may be time to say goodbye.

I've been pondering whether or not to write this article, because I know that he's seen my blog in the past.  In the end I have chosen to write this up because the overall problem of mental illness is more important than the need to protect his feelings.  There are a few close friends and family who will know the subject of today's post, but I am going to sanitize and generalize this to the greatest extent I'm able, in order to protect my subject's anonymity.  I will also count on the discretion of my family and friends to protect his identity.

Things started almost ten years ago, when this friend came to me with disturbing news.  He reported that he had proof that his wife, a daycare provider, was having sex with young children.  I know the wife as well as I know the subject of today's article, and for the record, I never believed the story.  The friend claimed to have an audio recording as proof.  He never offered to play it, and I never asked to hear it.  I did, however, say that if he believed this to be the case, he had a duty to inform law enforcement and to turn over any proof in his possession.  He said that he didn't want to do that... that it was more important that he continue to monitor the situation, for the sake of keeping things stable for his children.

Fast forward several years... he had brought this up again from time to time, but the story grew more elaborate and sinister.  The number of people his wife had seduced or molested continued to grow exponentially,  and he knew that his wife was out to murder him.  She had tried everything from poisoning his food to arranging auto accidents, but God was watching over him, and he always managed to escape by the skin of his teeth.  As you can imagine, he and his wife divorced, and his children have essentially cut him out of their lives.

At one point during this ordeal, his wife had him committed.  I assume that he was on meds for a while, because things quieted down for a time.  Eventually though, he became non-compliant and stopped taking his prescription(s) and now believes that the entire stint in the mental ward was an elaborate attempt by his wife to have him silenced and/or killed.  Again, I want to state that I never believed his story, but I did feel that it was in his best interest to maintain the friendship to the greatest extend I was able.  I would drop by, and we'd talk about nothing.... cars... the weather... how fast the grass was growing... whatever.  Occasionally, things would turn to his (now) ex.  I'd let him speak uninterrupted, neither confirming nor debunking his delusions.  By confirming them, I would reinforce the delusions; by refuting them, I would become an object of his misconception.  In the back of my mind though, I knew that I would eventually be woven in to the web of his psychosis.  I even knew how it would happen.  He would come to the conclusion that I too had sex with his mass murdering, sexually deviant wife.  Sure enough, it happened a couple of days ago.

Interestingly enough, he doesn't blame me for these "indiscretions," he blames his wife exclusively, believing that no guy could possibly be immune to her sick wiles.  He said, "Hell, I'd have done it if I was in your shoes."  He fully expected that I'd own up to this, and that he would magnanimously forgive me, and that things would go back to how they were before the conversation.

When I heard the words come out of his mouth, I was only surprised by the timing, and I did what anyone in my position would do... I explained to him that he was wrong.  Staying true to my choice to not confront his overall delusion, (because, quite frankly, doing so would be beyond my capacity... many others have tried and failed over the years) I did, however, profess my innocence and explained that infidelity is not part of my character.  He clearly didn't believe it.

Toward the end of the conversation, I explained that I understood how he came to believe that I fucked his ex, and affirmed that I held no ill will toward him for coming to the wrong conclusion.  I followed up by saying, "However, if you don't believe me now, after I've told you that I've never slept with her, then we have a problem."  He didn't say it outright, but his noncommittal words and refusal to make eye contact told me that he still didn't believe me.  I followed up by saying, "Look, you don't need to answer right now.  I understand that you need some time to process the new evidence.  If you decide to believe me, then we'll be okay."  His further non-commitment and failure to make eye contact said what his words didn't.  I'm part of his delusion.

If I could find a way, I would continue to be part of his life.  I pity his isolation.  He's not evil, he's sick.  Unfortunately, I'm in a Catch-22.   If I gloss things over, then in his eyes, I am tacitly admitting to an indiscretion that never occurred.  By concluding that it's time to let him go, I'm tacitly admitting to an indiscretion that never occurred.  I know that his accusation is based on a mental illness, but my character will not allow me to continue associating with him, because it would allow him to believe something that is grossly untrue.  It sucks losing another friend.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Scar Remains

Well Greg, it's been just under nine months since you checked out... since you put a bullet into your brain and left the world... a long, grueling nine months... the hardest nine months of my life... harder than my divorce from Cindy.  The gaping wound of your absence has begun healing into a scar.  I still think about you all the time.... all the time!  I still miss you all the time... all the time! It's not the intense, crushing pain that it was before, but a hollow, wistful feeling. I frequently think about sharing such-and-such with you, only to realize that I can't do so.  I recall some random event that we shared, and remember that you're gone.  It sucks.  Part of me is happy that I'm moving on with my life, but an equal portion feels guilty that the intense grief is subsiding.  It feels like I'm not honoring your memory enough by allowing myself to move on and be happy.

When I think about your absence, I wonder whether or not you thought about those you'd leave behind during your final moments.  I wonder if you figured that we'd be fine (or better off) without you, or if you focused only on your own pain.  If you only considered your own need to escape, I understand.  Based on your suicide note though, I expect that you believed we'd be better without you. If you assumed that we'd be okay with your absence, you're right to some extent.  If you thought we'd be better off without you, you're dead wrong.  (That pun was somewhat intended.)  We're coming to grips with the loss of your companionship, but we'd all prefer your presence.  We miss you... more than you could possibly know.

I know that you didn't believe in an afterlife.  You know that I do.  I hope that I'm right.  I pray that in this afterlife, you see the consequences of your actions.  Don't get me wrong, I don't want you to eternally suffer, based on one idiotic, impulsive moment.  I do, however, hope that you empathetically experience what we've had to go through because of your stupid decision.  I hope that you see the crushing grief we experienced when you took your own life, and realize that it was a mistake.  I wish that you see the hole you left in our lives, and understand your error.  I hope you see us carrying on in your absence, and feel the desire to be with us... to interact with us, instead of being a silent observer... to share in our of joy... our pain... our mundane moments... our significant events, such as your kids' graduations and marriages... just like we feel the desire for you to be with us.  Again, I don't specifically want you to suffer as you see these events, but I want you to know and understand that you made the wrong choice.

Since you committed suicide, you've been in my dreams many times.  When I wake up, I'm invariably sad, but even if I could wish you out of my dreams, I wouldn't.  I'm happy that you showed up, and I cherish these dreams, because I can interact with you.  Please, keep 'em coming.  I hope that you're in my dreams until my dying day, because the memories and the dreams are all I have left.  The crushing grief has passed, but the scar remains.  I miss you, brother.