Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Saying Goodbye to Another Friend

After a long, valiant struggle with cancer, my best friend's aunt, MAW, passed away Monday. As well as being my friend in her own right, MAW was as close to me as my own aunt; she will be missed.

When MAW was first diagnosed with cancer, she agreed to do an interview for my blog. The interview started in March of 2010, but was never completed. During the interview process, her cancer went into remission. As a result, she went out and lived life for another year or so, which was significantly more important than finishing this interview. What follows is the partially-completed interview.

How long have you and RES been together?

RES and I started running around together in July of 1978. We moved in together in November of 1981.

You love to cook, bake, can and preserve food. What's your favorite thing to do in the kitchen, and is there any area in the kitchen where you don't do well?

My favorite thing to do in the kitchen is preparing meals for friends we have invited to dine and giving away the things I have cooked, baked, canned and preserved to friends who will enjoy them. The area of the kitchen where I don't do well is clean up.

When I was at your house the other day, I got the impression that you and RES have traveled quite a bit. What travel destination did you like most? Where have you not gone that you'd like to visit?

You are right, we have traveled a lot and have really enjoyed our trips. My favorite travel destination was Washington, DC. There was so much to see and do, not only in DC, but in the surrounding areas, such as Gettysburg, Hershey PA, and Mount Vernon. We could have spent a lot longer than we were able to in the Holocaust Museum. We would have liked to travel to Europe, but didn't make it.

How long have you "known" that you are gay? Is it something you've always realized, or did you learn somewhere later in life?

I'm not sure that I ever "discovered" that I was gay. Up to the time I met RES all of my experiences had been heterosexual. Once I met RES, I knew I had met my life partner. For the first time in my life I had met someone with whom I was totally comfortable, both sexually and spiritually. Therefore, I think I would probably say I am bisexual in response to this question.

You were recently diagnosed with stage 4 spinal cancer. (Please correct me if I've got something incorrect there.) I know there are times when you're in a lot of pain. Furthermore you are facing man's greatest fear. Yet your spirit and will seem strong as iron. You are laughing, smiling, and making your final arrangements. Have you broken down and cried? Are you afraid?

This is a hard one to answer. I'm not sure I have completely faced the fact that my illness is terminal. Keeping busy helps me to keep my mind of off my illness and my pain is under control. I have broken down and cried, particularly when I am seeing friends I know I will not see again, such as my friend from Illinois who recently drove up to see me. Selling my car was hard for me. My car and my driver's license have always been a sign of independence for me. I do not think I am afraid of being dead. I am afraid of how I'm going to get there. Being able to stay at home means so much to me. I do worry so much about RES when I am gone and how she is going to cope, Sis too.

Your illness has to bring you face-to-face with God. How do you feel about God right now? How do you feel about meeting a God whose church condemns the love that you and RES have shared for all of these years?

RES and I recently rejoined St. Stephen's Lutheran Church. Both of us have wanted to do this for a long time. I am not sure what you mean by "a God whose church condemns the love that you and RES have shared..." Neither the God I believe in nor the church I go to does this. I believe everyone should be allowed to worship God as they please. Don't get me started on religious groups who try to combine religion and politics, particularly in the areas of same sex marriages and abortion.

I suspect that you are one of the people in our country with solid insurance coverage. Are you satisfied with the coverage and treatment you have received over the last few months? On the occasions where you've had to call the insurance company, have they been compassionate to your situation, or have they been bureaucratic ... (or maybe a bit of both)?

Unfortunately, we do not have solid insurance coverage. We do not have long term care coverage. If Sis had not volunteered to come down and help RES take care of me, we would have gone through our savings at a very rapid rate ($9,000 a month). I have not had to call the insurance company. This is a question better put to RES.

You are very family oriented... full of love and warmth. Did you ever consider having children of your own or adopting?

My one regret is not having children of my own. I have been blessed with a sister and brother-in-law who have allowed me to be a part of their family. When I was young, the options for motherhood were not available that are there now.

When Iowa passed the law allowing gay marriage, you didn't rush out and tie the knot. Why did you wait?

We were waiting and planned to eventually get married, but we wanted to do it up right, with a ceremony and reception with all of our family and friends included.

As long as I've known you, you've owned Basset Hounds. What draws you to that specific breed?

You will have to ask RES that question. I had a Samoyed when I got my first dog. I would have liked to have gotten a lap-sized dog the last time we adopted, but RES held firm. They are awfully cute, though, don't you think?

Let's pretend that I'm writing the next "Chicken Soup for the Soul" book, and I came to you for a quote. What would you have me write?

Nothing I have to say would be worth putting in a "Chicken Soup for the Soul" book.

What is your proudest achievement?

I think I can honestly say that no matter what task I have been given, I have done it to the best of my ability. I think I have always tried to be kind, and to lend a helping hand to people who need one.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The (Sometimes Un)Natural Order of Things

Last night I had to put one of my dogs down. She was diagnosed with TCC (transitional cell carcinoma, a form of bladder cancer) about nine months ago. The cancer was responding relatively well to Piroxicam (a form of medicine that is somewhat effective with TCC), but she was still losing weight and muscle mass. Her brain was still sharp, but her body was wasting away. Her fur coat becoming dry and increasingly patchy was the first clue, but when she started spending a lot more time at my feet, and was having difficulty walking up and down the stairs I knew that the end was near. Still, I had hoped to have another month or two... as long as she still had that spark in her eye.

Unfortunately, last night was the end. She laid down and was very still for a while. Then, out of nowhere, she started barking, as if she was chasing a rabbit in a dream. She had done this dream barking for years, but this time it was different. It was a full-on bark, except it was weak. And it just kept going. We all tried to calm her down, including our other dog Duchess, but it was like she was kind of in between dreaming and consciousness. After trying unsuccessfully for five or ten minutes to wait it out, my wife, my younger daughter, Duchess and I took her in to the vet. I think we all knew what was coming, because the barking grew weaker as we traveled, and I had to carry her every step of the way.

The wife and I had both grown up around pets, but it was the first time either of us had put down a dog. We all cried as we gathered around Athena for that last goodbye, who was still doing that bark. It's kind of like she saw the Grim Reaper and was trying to keep him away. It sucked -- in fact, it REALLY sucked, but this is kind of the natural order of things. She went quickly and peacefully, but again, it sucked.

What's not natural though, is burying your younger brother. My guy Antoine had to do this today. Antoine's younger brother died in a motorcycle accident last Saturday. This is not natural. One should never have to bury their younger sibling -- especially a sibling who hasn't lived to 30, and one should never have to bury their children, like Willie and Marilyn had to do today. Though CJ was a distant friend or close acquaintance, I was fond of him, and sorry for his passing in its own right. Antoine, however, is as close to me as my own brothers, and by extension, Willie and Marilyn are like surrogate parents. Their grief brought many tears of empathy, though I never shared these tears with the family. They had enough grief of their own; they didn't need to hear about my sympathy grief.

But the funeral!! Oh my GOD!! It was an epic event. Now, I want to be clear about this. When I say "epic," I'm not just throwing out the superlative du jour. I'm not comparing this to the "epic fail" of some young kid falling off of his skateboard and busting his balls. No, this was an Epic Event, both in length and intensity. CJ was a rider, and I was asked to ride in the motorcycle brigade, which was something straight out of the movies. The brigade was approximately a block long, running two wide. The church was huge, and packed to standing room only.

Now is the time where I should mention that CJ and his family are black. I'm saying this only because it's pertinent to the story. It's pertinent because the memorial service was stereotypically black, complete with joyous gospel music and dancing in the aisles. Yes, there was mourning, but it wasn't the somber, prim and proper, stoic funeral that I've come to know over the years. There was laughter, and singing and reminiscing. And, by the way, it was a color-blind service. Bikers and brothers (and brother-bikers... yes, they do exist!!) were hugging and laughing and joking and thanking one-another for their show of love and support. I just kept thinking "When I go out, I want it to be like this. I don't want my death to be mourned, I want my life to be celebrated!"

After the ceremony, the brigade escorted CJ to the grave site, where he was buried with military honors, in memory of his Army service. And agin, I was amazed. After the flag was presented, the senior army official (I think he was a warrant officer, but I don't know my army rank, so I'm not sure) actually spoke with the family and got laughs! This guy has something... that... just... can't... be... explained.

In the end, you never want to see that body lowered into the ground, but it happens. Those closest to CJ put their hand on the coffin for one or two last moments, composed themselves, and walked away... most with expressions of wistful serenity. Thus was restored the natural order of things.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Deed is Done

As I mentioned last week, Bakin is in cosmetology school. Yesterday was her first day on the floor, and I was her first haircut client. For those of you who are dying (no pun intended) to know the outcome, I'll cut to the chase and say that I am incredibly pleased with the results. Now, read on and I will give you the full story.

Let me start off by saying that I was the first one to schedule an appointment with her. Her mom scheduled an appointment to get her nails done a couple of days later. Mom's original appointment was scheduled for early in the afternoon, but once she found out that I was scheduled for mid-morning, the ex moved her appointment earlier than mine. I was kind of amused by that.

As the date drew near, Bakin was kind of proud of herself for chiming up in class. It turns out that they hadn't been taught how to do guy haircuts, and when the instructor said "We're going to just bypass this for now," Bakin said "Um, no you're not! I have a male haircut scheduled for this Saturday." So the teacher couldn't bypass that lesson. I'm glad that the kid stuck up for herself.

You may or may not recall me saying this earlier, but until yesterday, it had been approximately six months since my last haircut, and my locks had grown a bit shaggy during that time. I have fine hair, but everyone's hair has that awkward stage, somewhere between short hair and long hair. I was right in the middle of that phase. It's a good thing that I'm a middle-aged guy who is no longer obsessed with appearances.

One thing I DO enjoy, however, is changing my hairstyle, and since I had several months worth of shag, I figured this was a grand time to change things up. The last time I actually sported a hairstyle, it was the short messy look. The new look, courtesy of Bakin, is the classic short back and sides. If you picture the male actors in the old 1920's movies, you've got the idea. It starts at zero, and it graduated to about 3 inches on the top. It can be slicked back for a power lunch with my fellow business executives, or it can be left unkempt on the top for a night on the town.

As for the cut itself, Bakin was nervous and intimidated, but we took our time, and it turned out very well. I was able to explain not only the cut I wanted, but also the steps she needed to follow to make it happen. An hour and a half after she started, my hair was done, and even the instructor said that she did a good job. I'm proud of my little girl, and happy that I was able to be her first hair client.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Guinea Pig

Back in November, my older daughter decided to go to cosmetology school. I figured that one of the best ways I could support her would be by letting her cut my hair. Being the laid-back kind of guy I am, I figure the worst thing that can happen is that I end up shaving my head. If this happens, by the time my hair's ready for another cut, she will have enough experience to not make the same mistake.

Remember... she made this decision about four months ago. My last haircut was sometime between five and six months ago. I'm ready for a trim. Her first day on the floor is nine days from now, and being the intrepid father that I am, I made an appointment for 10:00 AM. This means that it's very possible that I will be her first client. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Going Prodigal (Or, There and Back Again)

When I was younger -- much younger -- I, like many younger adults, sowed my wild oats. Exactly what I did during those days needn't be discussed here. Today's post isn't designed to glorify the sins of a misspent youth. Now that I'm getting a little older, I notice a lot of my peers complaining about my kids' generation, while conveniently overlooking the fact that most of these same friends ran right along side of me, doing the same things about which they now complain. But again, that's not what today's post is about. Today, I want you to consider the possibility that there's a good side to letting yourself be a little reckless during your youth.

I had fun when I was younger, but I also grew out of it. At first, I was reluctant to leave my old life behind. I missed staying up until the wee hours of the morning, and I didn't enjoy the sleepless nights and dirty diapers that came with parenthood. Over time though, I got to a point where I would willingly choose to hang out with my family as opposed to hitting the bars. As a young, single guy, I often wondered why a parent would put that crappy drawing of (whatever) on the refrigerator. Once I had my own kids, I realized that doing so brought joy to the little ones. Partying gave me pleasure. Family brought happiness.

... and THAT is why I say that a prodigal period in life is a good thing. When I was young, I had a good time. I enjoyed myself. To say otherwise would be disingenuous. When I think back to my youth, I still chuckle inwardly as I think about (insert stupid, drunken memory here). But when I look back throughout my life, those events aren't REALLY what bring me the most happiness. The recollections that bring me true joy revolve around relationships. My wild days were enjoyable. I would probably do it again if I had to go back in time. But it was also a phase that I naturally outgrew. I would absolutely walk away from those days again.

... and HERE'S the point that I've been working toward this whole time. Yes, I enjoyed my youth, but looking back, a lot of it was hollow pleasure-seeking. What sticks out are the relationships, not the drunken folly. But if I had never gone prodigal, I know that there's a piece of me that would always wonder "What if?" One thing that the straight-laced crowd refuses to acknowledge is that it's FUN to be wild and reckless. But it's hollow pleasure. The things that bring REAL, lasting joy and happiness revolve around relationships. This is something I could have only learned through experience. And THAT is why I say there's a good side to having a little reckless fun when you're young.