Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Legacy

I have never felt so lethargic in my life.  I just can't seem to get going with anything.  I have a long list of things that I want to do, yet there seems to be no urgency to getting them done. Mary has been feeling the same way. The two of us have been sniping at each other one moment, and the next moment we will be hugging and trying to hold back the sobs that have been so frequent for the past ten days. Mary loved Rich as much as I did, and we are both trying to figure out what comes next.

We have lost loved ones before: our parents and grandparents are all deceased, Mary's brother, our next door neighbors, who were dear friends to us and wonderful grandparents to our two kids, and others that weren't necessarily as close as family members, but for whom we still grieved. Death is not discriminatory.  It will take us all sooner or later.  Rich's death just fell into the sooner column where we didn't expect to see it yet.

Rich is still affecting us as if he was still part of the conversation.  The current subject would have brought out the best of his verbal skills. Because, you see, the subject is God, His existence, and whether or not He has a hand in everything that happens to us or what we do. Rich and I spent our high school years together in the seminary, so I know he believed in a deity of some kind that had something to do with our very essence. I think though that he had, like I did,  a crisis of faith as he got older. He was no longer the devout Catholic that had brought him to the seminary. I wasn't the same either. Neither of us was ready to dismiss the existence of a higher power.  Just what that higher power was and did was the question that vexed us.

I know Rich wrestled with the very concept of "God" because we talked about that concept many times during our years of lunches together. Rich would never dismiss you if you disagreed with him, but would embrace your ideas and give them the respect and reflection they deserved.  That's what he did when I had a return to faith last year when Mary was so sick.  I found myself praying more and more to my God and seeking solace in the understanding that He was making it possible for me to return to faith on my terms.  When I told Rich that I was attending mass again and that I had, dare I say it, a "born again feeling," he didn't dismiss me out of hand, but was truly interested in how I arrived at this stage in my life.

Mary's concept of God is more mainstream and questioning.  She has an unshakeable faith in God, but just can't understand why He allows all the bad stuff to happen if He is the loving, beneficent God we think he should be. She wants an explanation for all the evil and sickness that we have to suffer through.  When she asks me for answers all I can say is "it's God's will."
That's the best I can do.  It is like we are all game pieces that get moved around the game board while we play the game of "Life."  We all take turns rolling the dice and moving our piece to the indicated place on the board.  The places we can land on determine what our lives will be like. If you are unlucky and land on the colon cancer place, too bad. You got it. Land on the clinical depression spot and you will spend your life depressed. All the diseases we know of are represented on the game board, so you have good odds of suffering sometime during your existence.  Of course if you are lucky, you will land on the "You just won the lottery" place and spend your life living it up and not worrying about the cost.  Or you could land on "you will have a loving wife or husband" place and have a fifty year marriage with a life full of family happiness.

The point is that whether there is or isn't a God we an all agree on, there will always be human suffering, human happiness, human confusion, human disagreements, human expectations of your God, misinterpretations of the so-called word of God, which will lead to wars and more human suffering.  That beneficent God is just trying to stay out of the way so we can use the extraordinary gift of "free will" that He gave us.  All the mayhem and all the sickness, all the killing by lunatics with assault weapons, all the genocide by people who are just like the people they are trying to eradicate, all the thieves who disguise themselves as bankers and fund managers who steal our money, all the alcoholics who drive their cars while impaired, killing our children, all the liars and backstabbers who spread vicious rumors that can cause the ruination of the innocent, all the drug pushers that turn decent people into addicts just for the money they can make selling their poison, are all just mankind doing its best to screw up the chance to live the moral and ethical life that God hoped for when he made us in his image.

All these are the result of mankind using the "free will" that God granted us. I wonder if He ever sits back on His throne, surrounded by angels, and seriously considers pulling the plug on His creation. That mankind could screw up such a wonderful gift from God has to make Him wonder why He bothered to create us in the first place.

While we haven't reached any solid conclusions in this argument, I can hear Rich in the background chortling at some of the more outrageous ideas that spew forth from mouths that should stay shut.  That he would have a lot to say on the subject is a given, but he would never force anyone to agree with him. The more disquieting the question, the deeper he would plunge into the fray, eyes twinkling in delight at the opportunity to display his logical and erudite debating skills.  The quiet force of his intelligence melded with his sense of humor and presented in his rasping voice, won him many arguments when others would have given up the fight in frustration. I lost many an argument to him and got quite an education in the process. But I had my share of wins, too, which he readily acknowledged, delighted that he had the opportunity to enjoy another lively conversation.

How can I ever replace those conversations and my continuing education now that Rich is no longer sitting on the other side of the table? And when will I snap out of this lethargy that I find so debilitating? Grieving for a lost friend includes grieving for the chances lost that can't become memories. I know Rich would want me to get on with it and stop all this mourning and grieving. Time is being wasted by the display of emotion, he would say. But I still need more time to adjust to the new reality in my life. Mary may never give up mourning him, and that would upset him even more.  Rich, old friend, we are doing our best to get beyond the grief that has taken over a part of our lives, but we will never forget you, the reason we are in this emotional predicament.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

RIP

It was just last Friday that we talked to each other. Typical of him, he called me knowing that my schedule on every other Friday would have me probably headed for home after having lunch after my 11:00 appointment.  I struggled to get my phone out of my pocket, but eventually it gave up the fight and I was able to answer before he hung up.

"Hey, Bob how are you?  Are you feeling  good today?"  These were always the first words out of his mouth when he called me.  If I called him, Rich would respond with the those same words because he genuinely wanted to know how I was doing.

Then he said, "I figured by now, after your appointment at 11:00, you would have finished having lunch and you'd be parked in front of Mary's favorite store, waiting in the car while she did some shopping."

"You can't be serious." I shouldn't have been surprised by his remark because he knows my schedule better than I do. "I'm sitting in the exact same parking spot while Mary is in the same store shopping just like I was two weeks ago when you called me.  Sometimes you scare me."
But that was typical Rich.  He always seemed to know what was going on and where I would be at any given time.  He even reminded me when Mary's birthday was coming up so I wouldn't forget it and get in trouble with her. He also knew all the birthdays of my 3 grandkids.  He never forgot a number once he got it in his head.  Birthdays, anniversaries, phone numbers: he never forgot any of them. His amazing memory allowed him to recite the starting lineups of the Packers first two Super Bowl teams.  He could recall specific plays from any game you asked about, whether it was Packers, Brewers, and even the Cubs, who for some reason he was drawn to.

Our phone conversation last Friday, though, was my chance to ask him how he was feeling.  For the past two months he had been in and out of the hospital several times suffering from an infection of the colon called "c diff," which left him very sick and weak. Worst of all, he had to go it alone because c diff is very contagious and he wouldn't allow anyone near him lest they get infected.  In the hospital he was in isolation with the staff who cared for him having to wear sterile scrubs whenever they entered his room. Naturally I was worried about him being alone with no one to help him.  I could do nothing for him during his illness.  I couldn't run the risk of infection since my immune system is already compromised by PD.  So I was limited to supporting him with phone calls and texts.  That's why I was happy that he called me on Friday.  That meant that he must have been feeling good that day.  He sounded upbeat and normal. We both figured that was a good sign, that maybe the latest medicine he was taking was winning the battle. Rich was confident that he was on the way to recovery.

"I just want my life back." That was his wish everyday.  That was my wish for him, too. Since he was alone with no help at home, he contracted with the home health care service to help him.  He had an appointment with them for 8:00 AM on Monday morning.  When the health care nurse arrived Monday morning, she found him lying in his recliner. He was dead.  He had passed away sometime during the night, peaceably with no sign of distress. His body just had had enough and had given up the fight.

My God, I am going to miss him. I don't know that I will ever be able to fill the gaping void his death created, or climb out of the endless black hole that he left behind.  For 54 years he had been a part of my life. We didn't always agree on everything, but we had a wonderful time disagreeing. Most of all I want to thank you for the fine example of how to live a life honorably and morally right, without compromise or even the hint of hypocrisy.

I could write a hundred pages about all the interesting things that went on between us, by us for us and despite of us, but that would only serve to add emphasis to our strong friendship. It doesn't need more emphasis.  Our friendship was a God given gift that we made the most of and I will never forget HOW we made the most of the opportunity that God gave us.  So goodbye old friend.  I will see you soon enough, so we can continue on doing it all again.

My friend

Have you ever known someone who was so tuned into you that it seemed like he could read your mind? I mean really get into your head?

Have you ever known someone was so pure in his intentions that his life was lived fully through his caring for others?

Have you ever known someone who could and would laugh at himself first so you wouldn't feel foolish for something you did or said?

Have you ever known someone whose whole body would convulse and shake with uncontrollable laughter, his eyes squinting to hold in the tears, that was so contagious that you'd be smiling at the memory of his laugh, but not remembering what caused it?

Have you ever known someone who would unfailingly put your interests first, dropping whatever he was doing so he could help you out?

Have you ever known someone you could confide in, telling him your worries and fears, your dreams and hopes, knowing that he would hold that confidence close and respect your willingness to share those burdens and triumphs?

Have you ever known someone who was so generous in spirit that you soul felt newly
inflated whenever you were with him?

I have.  My best friend, my confidant, my anchor and my wings, my partner in life's battles, Rich was the one person who embodied all those attributes and more.  My God, how I will miss him!
How will I ever bridge the gaping chasm his death has laid in my path?  How will I fill the endless black hole that his passing created in my life?

RIP.  Rich (6/6/16).   I will never forget the many joys we shared and the many celebrations of family for the past 54 years.  Having you as my friend was truly a God given gift.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Never forget

I never made use the opportunity to prove my patriotism and risk my life for my country.  Coming of age during the Vietnam era meant making some difficult choices for all of us who were ripe for the picking. The first draft lottery was held during my senior year in college and I had the bad luck in that lottery to draw a low number. A low number was the kiss of death.  A low number meant your odds of being drafted into the army, and ultimately sent to Vietnam, were heavily in the army's favor.  My number was 88. They passed that number by mid February.

For the remainder of my senior year, everything I did or thought was influenced by my draft status. Plans were made and rejected, then made again when a new idea crawled into the void left by the previous untenable plan. It was a time of anxious uncertainty. On the one hand I wanted to run away and not be found until that stupid war was over.  On the other hand I wanted to prove my patriotism and serve the country that I truly love.  But I just couldn't get past the fear of being sent to a war zone on the other side of the world, risking my life for an unjust cause that was decimating my generation. I knew a few young men who went there and met that fearsome horrible fate that sent them home lifeless, bringing tragedy and sorrow, mournful questions and disbelief, and family emptiness and anger as pallbearers.  Although none of my friends or close acquaintances suffered that fate, I knew from a distance many young men who did, and was torn apart inside when one more fell from an unseen enemy's bullet.

I finally resolved to join the Army Reserve as a way of, hopefully, avoiding being drafted. At the time, finding a reserve unit that had an opening for one more draft avoider was difficult because so many of us were standing in line to get that spot on the roster. But I got lucky and found my new military home in the reserve unit in Sheboygan. I drove to Sheboygan from Madison on graduation day, passing up that ceremony to raise my right hand to swear to defend my country in a far simpler ceremony.

Obviously my plan worked.  I never even came close to Vietnam.  I served my 6 year obligation And added 2 more years on top of that before I was done with the army and my beloved country was done with that hideously wasteful war.

My feelings of guilt or not getting into the jungle, dodging bullets and bombs, and suffering the through that tortuous time, have kept me away from visiting the Vietnam Memorial.  I know I would be shedding uncontrollable tears as I read the names of those who earned their place on that granite slab by making the ultimate sacrifice for their country.  I honor their bravery with my tears. I cry tears that I hope would rinse away the waste of a generation, I assuage my guilt with my tears, and hold the utmost respect in my heart for those fallen heroes. I'm grateful that my name isn't etched in granite alongside those enshrined there. I am grateful that so many were willing and able to do their duty so that I could continue on with my life.  I will never forget those boys (for many of them were just boys) who became men forged in the crucible of war.

I will never forget.