Alone.

Alone. Irrevocably, irreversibly, incontrovertibly, and utterly alone.

My wife, Eva Parsons, died after two and one half years of being afflicted with metastatic breast cancer on Thursday, April 7, 2016, at 8:00 a.m.

Eva and I had prepared for her death almost from the moment she was diagnosed. Eva generated a great storehouse of equanimity to deal with her cancer. She was not angry about getting the disease; she was not afraid to die; she was not sad that her life would come to an end at 65. She accepted her death, and taught many of us about dying without the typical drama that surrounds a cancer death. She managed her life effectively until her last breath.

On the morning she died, I was with my daughter, Samantha. We stayed by Eva’s side for a while, hugged, checked in with each other, and then went on with the day as it unfolded. For a while, I felt like I was in a vacuum, but that passed almost right away. Sam stayed in Alaska for the next day, and left Saturday morning; I took her to the airport for her six o’clock flight to Nashville.

On the return drive home from Anchorage, I practiced my intentional breathing, and managed to not think about what I had lost, or to think about what I was going to do for the rest of my life. Eva directed me to live a long life, to be kind, and to set a “good example.” I think the “good example” part was her humor; I’ll never know; there’s nobody to ask.

I arrived home, let the Labs out of the car, and into the house. They ambled to whatever part of the house suited them and left me alone, standing in the kitchen with shafts of early morning sunlight coming through the window and splashing on the kitchen floor.

As I stood just inside the door, alone, I had a long moment of awareness: from that time on, I was utterly, irrevocably, irretrievably, and completely alone for the rest of my life. I stood there for minutes while I absorbed the feeling. I have never been completely alone in 65 years. Everything had changed forever, I realized. I think the word for this feeling is “bereft.” It seems like the right word.

Of course, I have lots of support. Now. Many friends say, “If you need anything, just call.” I appreciate their gesture. Eventually, everyone returns to their routine because their lives have not changed.

I, on the other hand, have changed, or rather, my world has shifted: I am alone.

I am okay with being alone for now; I’ll be okay later, also.

It is just an unsettling feeling to be alone without reprieve, and not be able to return to the companionship I shared with Eva for 44 years. She is gone forever; I will continue without her for a very, very long time. Sad. Bereft. Alone. At least for now.

Advertisements

The trouble is, you think you have time.

Today, Samantha and I were watching videos I shot of her when she was a baby. It is always fun to look back and enjoy those moments forever frozen on the video tape.

One segment struck Samantha as funny; Sam named it “What Rhymes With Duck?”

https://youtu.be/Khd-LZTomxM  (click the link and then click the link below this link.)

As we watched this video over and over again, we realized that what we were looking at was not a funny video, but a snapshot of Eva, Sam’s Mom, and my wife of forty years, when Eva was thirty-eight. What struck us was how young Eva looked. Her smile radiated happiness. She truly loved being with her daughter and sharing a few moments opening Samantha’s birthday present.

We watched the video and realized this was before Eva had wrinkles, or grey hair. She has just come home from teaching school. Her smile is so warm; she smiles so readily even after she frowns at her husband’s inane implication about the rhyming of “duck.”

This was a time of great joy for Eva. Teaching was going very well for her. She had a baby to come home to every day after work. The baby adored her Mother. Her husband was keeping the house in shape and cooking and keeping the baby entertained during the day. What more could you ask for?

We didn’t know it then, but if we could have asked for anything, we probably would have asked to live in that moment (remain young and beautiful) forever. But like the quote says, you don’t control time.

Everything changes. Samantha grew noticeably brighter every day, Eva and I grew a little more each day; we didn’t notice the slow transition for another twenty years. Life got better for us every day, every year. While we weren’t looking, time changed; we changed.

Samantha and I look at Eva in this video and we love her as she was. We love her as she is. We thought we had time. We don’t. Soon, we will have to love Eva only as she was. She will no longer be with us. Are we sad? Yes. Can we be happy again? Samantha and I find great pleasure watching Eva find joy in teaching Samantha words and rhymes. Teaching is Eva’s greatest joy in life. It is just a brief moment in time, but it reminds us of how innocent and how happy we were to live in that moment. The moment.

I remind myself to focus on each breath, each moment: it is the only time we have together.

“I’m So Excited,” or How Jack Met His First Porcupine

Team Labfam just jogged in from a seven-mile run! An hour and a half ago, Jack, Kenai, and I took off for a Wasilla, Alaska, run down Church Road, to Clapp Road, to Knik Road, and back home to the projects in Mission Hills. I started the run with The Pointer Sisters’ I’m So Excited blaring in my ears.  That song is just the right BPMs, about 92, for a quick run.

Church Road makes a nice running path on a bike path with a few hills thrown in to keep it interesting. As we passed the three-mile post, Jack (not Daniels, the dog) took off for something he discerned a thousand feet ahead of us. I couldn’t see what he was interested in; I thought he was just chasing a car that had slowed down momentarily. Actually, what he detected on our side of the road was a world-class size porcupine. We grow them extra big up here in Alaska: the really big ones look like Rottweilers with their legs cropped to six inches. Jack had the proper amount of “savoir fear” to keep him out of quill range and away from a $1,000.00 vet bill. I called him when I realized the hazard. He turned tail (beat the porcupine on that one) and struck a track back to us.

Had Jack made the wrong decision, the song, I’m So Excited would have been background music to another type of run. As it was, we continued while I replayed in my mind my other encounters with Mr. Porcupine.

I have had three porcupine encounters within the last forty years. The most recent skirmish was just about this time of the year. For some reason porcupines like swampy wetlands. Spring is when they come down from the trees to do whatever porcupines do in the Spring; I’m thinking breeding. On the other hand, the Home Show might have been an attraction. My good friend, Ron Jones and I were just completing a late evening (9:00 pm) walk we dubbed “The Long Trail.” Moose, my favorite black Lab of all time, decided to hang back from us and explore a small glade. After a brief space of time, a couple of minutes, he still hadn’t caught up to us. I called, and called him by name. No response. I yelled uncomplimentary things about his mother and their relationship. No response. Finally, Ron and I backtracked about a quarter of a mile to encounter Moose on the trail huffing, and chuffing, and pawing both sides of his face. I had seen this behavior enough times to know what had happened even though it was completely dark. I picked up one hundred pounds of wild dog and relayed him a mile to the Duramax truck. He was foaming and bleeding from the mouth; he was just wild with pain and shock. This event was recent enough that there was such a thing as an I-Phone. I dialed the animal hospital emergency room. The vet’s first concern was not with the dog; he wanted me to agree to provide him with a $1,000.00 charge on my VISA before treating the dog. I said, “fair enough,” and the race was on to the hospital. Ron drove, and I fought Moose all the way to the hospital to keep him from clamping down on the fifty, or hundred, or so quills in his mouth. The quills covered his chest, his forelegs, and bristled from his ears and around his eyes.

At three o’clock in the morning, I got a call to come pick Moose up; they couldn’t stand listening to him scream at the top of his lungs . He was feeling no pain; he  missed his main master: me.  He was quill-free, and I was grateful for that outcome.

As a side note: Dogs never learn to avoid porcupines after their first encounter with them; in fact, most dogs will go after porcupines even more aggressively the second time. If you are in porcupine habitat, it is always wise to have your pup on a retractable leash. Most of the time, my dogs are harnessed, and leashed.

Baptism by Water Hose, or You Got Hosed, Dad!

One day, I had done something especially egregious to draw the ire of my mother. She had to resort to threatening me because she had run out of authority to discipline me. I must have been about five. She couldn’t spank me, so she did the next best thing, she pretended to call my father at work and tell him what a bad boy I had been and how I needed a spanking when he got home from work. She, of course, knew better than to bother my father at work, so she held down the kitchen phone receiver (old school phone) while she dialed the number. She proceeded to relate, as I listened from the living room, the laundry list of sins I had committed that day, leaving the worst for last. I was paralyzed with fear that my dad would come home and beat me. He had never done more than speak a few cross words to me, so my fear was totally ungrounded as fear always is. When she hung up, she said flatly, “When your father gets home, he is going to deal with you. He told me to tell you that.”

The day went on. Mother forgot about me, but I didn’t forget about my impending doom.

Upon arriving home after work, my father, totally ignorant of my manifold sins, bounded up the driveway, both arms wide open to greet me in a bear hug. I, remembering my mother’s phone call, had been worried, non-stop, for hours before my father’s arrival.

I was watering the front yard trees with a powerful stream of water. I flashed on my father’s open arms threatening to tackle me to the ground and spank my butt until it fell off. I defended myself with the only tool I had at hand: the water hose! I hosed that man up and down, down and up, and then hosed him straight into his shocked face with that water hose gushing forth it’s cold stream of water from a four foot distance.

Something in his face changed. I did not read it as anger: it was clearly chagrin at having been greeted so rudely and having his brand new, three piece, grey flannel suit completely soaked. Too bad there wasn’t an audience to witness this scene.

It was flight or fight time. I flew. Father became enraged. I got about twenty feet of a head start. I was no slouch at running! My father sprang into a sprint and was closing rapidly from the first bound. Off we jetted, three hundred feet south on Poplar Street to the corner of Twenty-First Street. I instinctively rounded left up the Twenty-First Street hill and thereby saved myself a guaranteed public spanking. As we ran up the hill, I maintained speed; my dad’s speed flagged. (He was about fifty-four and retribution running was not his forte.) I circled the block, hung out with some neighbors, and then bowed to the inevitable. I  returned home.

Dad was nowhere in sight. Mother was upstairs crying (a very rare event.) Unbeknown to me, my dad had returned home. Angry words were exchanged. To my mom’s credit, she must have come clean about the misunderstanding she had authored. He changed clothes and was walking the neighborhood looking for me. His objective was to forgive me, have a good laugh, and recover the rest of the evening: he had come home early from work to take us all to dinner. We didn’t laugh at me hosing him down.

Later, he didn’t even remember it.

Affirming the Positive, or Fill Me Up, Buttercup

In 1978, on my way to learning other things in the classroom, I took a ten-day in-service class called “Humanizing the Classroom”  led by Art Combs.

Combs taught us how children become more self-confident and self-disciplined in response to what they learn about themselves in the classroom and at home.

He used the metaphor of a deep well to represent a child’s self-esteem capacity.  The role of a teacher is to raise the water level of each child’s well.  According to Combs, everyone has a reservoir of goodness (the water) in his well. Each day, children collect affirmations; some children, over time, collect more than others. The children who experience many positives over the course of time, find that their water level (self-esteem) rises all the time, and that a child with lots of positives will have the water level almost at the top of the well. Thus, when you bend over each child’s well and drop a rock into it to sound the depth of the reservoir from the top of the well to the water, you will hear the splash right away in the well of the child who experiences lots of affirmations. (The void from the water level to the top of the well is call an “ullage” by the way.) The child who rarely experiences affirmation will have a water level so low (a huge “ullage,” or void in his or her well) that one might have to listen for a long, long time to hear a splash. This may be why children who encounter very few positive experiences, or affirmations may seem to be “distant” from us. By extension, it is our positive experiences that make us attractive to others.

So what is the takeaway for teachers and parents from this analogy?

Combs said that it is a teacher’s job, every day, to structure positive learning experiences that give children  a sense of accomplishment;  that give children the affirmation requirement every child needs every day. Every day, the water level (self-esteem) will rise a bit more.

But most importantly, as you add affirmations (positive experiences and a sense of accomplishment) to a child’s well, regardless of the level, that affirmation can never be undone by anyone: the good you do for a child will always remain with that child.

Long after children forget the facts and figures and dates they learn in school, they will remember how well they were cared for and, most importantly, how they were treated.