Thursday, July 27, 2017

Farewell, Dad

Probably the one thing most of us think about, more than anything else - whether we realize it or not - is the impending death of our parents. It's the one topic that we probably put the most amount of thought into, and it's certainly the thought we think about for the longest period of time.  When we are children, our first question about death is the one that can never really be answered: What.  What is death?  What does it mean?  And then once we grasp that our parents' death is imminent and guaranteed, we follow up What? with Why?, then How?, and then finally the one constant thought we will ponder perhaps more than any other thing in our lifetimes: When will my parents die?

The one thing about the "when" question is that there is no good answer to it.   We certainly don't want to lose our parents when we are children.  And the older we grow, the thought of losing our parents, even when we are in our 40s, 50s and older, is still terrifying. And the odd and funny and sad truth about asking When? is that despite it being the question we will ask perhaps more than any other question - despite the amount of time we think about this question and the amount of time we spend preparing ourselves for the answer - we are never truly ready When? it happens.

Dad was diagnosed with dementia in May 2013.  Last Saturday morning, July 22nd, Dad passed away after a 5+-year battle with Alzheimer's disease.  He had turned 78 last month.

His and Mom's fight with this gut-wrenching disease has been well-documented in this blog.  I call it THEIR struggle because despite Dad being the one with the disease, Mom was with him every step of the way - from the undated beginnings of Dad asking strange questions and making odd statements, to his forgetting simple tasks and getting confused as to where he was, to his becoming incontinent and unable to dress himself, to finally being admitted to the nursing home in September 2014 where he remained until last weekend.  Eventually he became mostly non-communicative, couldn't eat solid food, and became bed-ridden, weighing less than 120 pounds.  Alzheimer's ravaged Dad; it simply didn't care.

Through it all, though, Dad remained sweet, loving, and cooperative.  There were times in the beginning when he would argue with Mom because he was confused and forgetful.  But he came to completely depend on her for his care - to bathe him, feed him, change him, and to be his advocate and fight for him when she felt he wasn't getting the care he deserved, or at least the care that she wanted him to have.  My Mom visited my Dad in the nursing home every day from 10:30a-1:00p, and then again from 4:00p-8:00p, feeding him lunch and dinner every day.  And when I say "every day", it is not hyperbole.  For just shy of 3 years, she essentially gave up everything in order to sit with him and just be with him.  It was impressive to us, but normal for her.  She wanted no praise for doing what she wanted to do - spend time with her husband regardless.

Last week while dressing him for the day, the nurses saw a Kennedy Tumor Ulcer on Dad, which signified his body was beginning to shut down.  There would be no feeding tube and no rehabilitation.  The amazing nursing staff at Frostburg Village would work to keep him as comfortable as possible as his organs began to fail and his breathing would become labored.

Last Friday night, Mom called me and told me I should come home.  She explained Dad's situation and told me not to rush because the final moments could actually last weeks.  I hung up the phone and packed just about everything I own into 2 suitcases, a backpack, a suit bag, and a canvas bag - preparing for any eventuality for an unknown amount of time.  And despite it being past 9:00p in Chicago, I loaded up the car with Kevin's help and started driving the usually 9.5-hour trip to my parents' house.  I felt that I just had to leave right then and not wait to start in the morning.  About 4 hours later, just as I had crossed the Indiana/Ohio border on the turnpike, my phone rang at 1:00a - and I knew.  I pulled over and Mom gave me the news.  We hung up and I sat for a few minutes, stuck someplace between sorrow and relief.  It had been a difficult place to live for 3 years: outwardly wishing for life, but silently praying for death.  On more than one occasion, I pleaded with the universe to simply take him.  And now it had happened.  And despite knowing this day would come, and feeling I was prepared for it, I simply wasn't.  The When? happens when it happens.

My father did not deserve the death he had, but through it all he handled himself with humor, grace, and kindness.  And up until his last breath, he expressed love for us as best he could.  Everyone was in to see him in those last few hours.  But he waited until everyone had gone home, a little past midnight, to leave this world.  It was as if he wanted to spare us all the pain of watching him go.

My last interaction with Dad was back in June during my final visit with him.  As I stood to leave, I leaned over to give him several kisses on his forehead and I always had done.  This time, though, Dad grabbed my forearm.  When our eyes met, I saw an intensity in him that I had not experienced before.  I smiled and asked him what's up?  He moved his mouth as if he wanted to tell me something, but no sound and certainly no words came forth.  His stare was intense and it was obvious he was trying to get a message to me.  At the time, I simply smiled back at him and patted his hand and kissed the top of his head a few more times, telling him to behave himself and that I would see him again in a few weeks.  But I now know that Dad was telling me goodbye, that he somehow knew that this was the last time we would see each other.  I know he knew.  I know it.

It's been difficult to mourn him because to do so, quite simply, seems selfish.  I cannot feel sorry for him because he is now no longer in any pain, and his new world is once again clear, pleasant, and relaxing.  I cannot feel sorry for myself because this is not the life I wanted for him and I am relieved he is no longer trapped inside a body with a disease that's robbed him of all the joy in his life.  I do, however, feel sorry for Mom because of her obvious loss, but moreso because she is lost herself, now.  She has to reconfigure what she does every day from 10:30a-1:00p, and then again from 4:00p-8:00p.  Hopefully sooner than later, she will no longer get the panicked feeling that she needs to be someplace or that Dad needs her.  It's as if she's just been released from prison and she has to learn how to navigate life and think only of herself - something she probably has never done before in her entire life.  But Mom is conducting herself just like Dad had done, with grace, kindness, and even humor when she can.

And so I bid farewell to my Dad.  My reasons for why I will always love him are obvious and trite.  But more than tell me, he showed me how to be a good man, how to treat people, and how to appreciate the love of your life.  I wish him Godspeed and I believe that all of his memories have come back to him and that he is now reunited with Granny, Judy, Uncle Bill, Dad's parents, and his beloved grandmother.

And how on earth can I feel sorry about that?

I love you, Dad.  I'll be seeing you.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

50 Banned Words And Phrases

Because it's never too early to put the world on notice, below is the most recent list of the 50 words and/or phrases you are not permitted to utter in my presence because they either sound bad, have been overused, have been used incorrectly, or just plain annoy me.  

Our friendship may be at risk.

Consider this your warning shot.

1.   Recession
2.   Sausage grinder (re the legislative process)
3.   Gunman
4.   Bonus
5.   Teachable Moment
6.   Lockdown
7.   Too big to fail
8.   Octomom
9.   Entertain (in verb form)
10. Stress Test
11. You know what I'm sayin'?
12. Color Story
13. Green shoots (re the economy)
14. Temperament
15. The New Black
16. Twitter
17. Debt ceiling
18. Hydration
19. Empathy
20. New media, including but not limited to "Social Networking"
21. Throw me/you/him/her/them under the bus
22. Closely watched yardstick
23. Compromise/Bipartisan
24. Emboldened
25. Cougar
26. Serious
27. Walk back (As in "Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum is walking back his comments about party boss Rush Limbaugh.")
28. Baby Bump (this one has simply got to stop.)
29. Arabica bean
30. Statement Jewelry
31. Pop (of color)
32. Cabal
33. Socialism
34. Digital
35. Czar/Tsar
36. Devastate/Devastated/Devastating (Perspective, please! Rejection from Harvard Law and being forced to "settle" for NYU is not "devastating." Missing a trip to CancĂșn because a tropical storm precluded your plane from taking off is disappointing, not "devastating". Not getting tickets for the Streisand Village Vanguard show is not "devastating." Devastate means " to bring to ruin or desolation by violent action" or "to reduce to chaos, disorder, or helplessness". Trust me: you are not devastated.)
37. Post-Racial
38. That's what I'm talking (a)bout!
39. Retarded
40. This/He/Beyonce/Whatever is EVERYTHING!!
41. On fleek
42. Post-apocalyptic 
43. Ear Candy
44. Obamacare (but you may say Affordable Care Act)
45. Liar (I just hate this word)
46. Awesome
47. FOX (News)
48. Gay marriage
49. Poop
50. President Trump (just Trump is fine, though)

Sunday, July 09, 2017

My Farewell To Jeff And Matt

This past week, the end of an era occurred upon the death of one of my closest and oldest friends, Jeff Widdows.  Jeff died unexpectedly last week of a massive heart attack while shopping in the local mall.  Attempts were made to revive him, but to no avail.  Jeff was 55 years old.

Matt, Jeff and Me at EPCOT
April 1992
Jeff was part of an inseparable trio that consisted of Jeff, me, and Matt Bittner.  Matt passed away in December 2011 due to an undisclosed illness.  At the time, Matt was 47.

This leaves just me now - certainly not how I expected it to end and most certainly not this soon.  But even more unexpected was the turn our friendships took.  As close as we once were, I was estranged from each of them at the time of their deaths:  Matt stopped communication with both Jeff and me back in 2002 or so, and Jeff and I stopped communicating in 2012.  I actually wrote about my lack of communication with Jeff in a blog post titled, Facebook Ruins Friendships.  

Perhaps the friendships had run their course.  Perhaps we each outgrew the others.  And perhaps living far apart put distance between us in more ways than one.  Maybe people really can't be friends forever, like you expect or hope.  But for one, brief, shining moment, we had Camelot.  I learned a lot about myself and life when I was with them.  And the events this week have caused me to reflect on some pretty great memories of our adventures and excursions throughout the 1990's.

From that first night in September 1989, when we all converged at Deer Park Lodge (a neighborhood gay bar outside of Hagerstown, MD), we became an instant clique and would be constant companions for the next 16 years.  All three of us were living in Allegany County, MD when we met, and the goal was for all of us to get to DC within the next year or so.  And we put MANY miles on Jeff's Audi making the 2.5 hour road trip to DC as often as we could, either in order to jump-start our move or at least start making friends and connections in our eventual home.  I couldn’t possibly count the number of hours spent in a vehicle driving back and forth from everywhere we went; countless trips to the only gay bar within 100 miles of our homes; driving 300 miles round trip just to be on a gay bowling league in the winter and a gay softball league in the summer; several journeys to Rehoboth Beach in Delaware; two vacations to Disney World; not to mention the hundreds of thousands of dollars we spent on brunches, lunches, dinners and cocktails.  And when the time came for me to move first to DC and then to Chicago, the unimaginable amount of time we spent on the telephone, talking a few times a week, waxing sentimental on days gone by and planning our next great adventure.

Our friendship worked because we were the classic trio.  We were Dorothy/Blanche/Rose, Scarecrow/TinMan/Lion and Samantha/Charlotte/Miranda.  I'll explain:

Jeff was the oldest, being five years my senior.  Of the three, he was the Scarecrow/Rose/Charlotte combination; he was the nice one.  Jeff was unselfish, being generous with his time and his finances.  Jeff liked taking care of someone and looking after people.  His was the first greeting card you received on your birthday or holiday, with certain words underlined in red.  And like the others in his combination, Jeff could be ditsy.  He had no experience with the gay scene when I met him, and I sought to change all that.  When I met Jeff, I immediately told myself, "I've just met my new best friend", and that's exactly what happened.  We needed each other in that capacity, and it worked out.
I actually had already known Matt, but not as a gay adult.  He was two years ahead of me throughout school and lived up the street from my family.  His older brother once dated my sister.  And I took over Matt's paper route for him when he went on vacation in the summers.  Matt was the Lion/Blanche/Samantha of the group:  full of vitality, vanity, and wind, but insecure underneath and desperate for attention and affection.  I think being with me and Jeff helped Matt's confidence.  No doubt, Matt was attractive and could easily obtain any man he wanted - and we'd see him be successful at it over and over and over again.  I called Matt the "pretty one".  And along with those looks came one of the sweetest yet troubled souls I have ever known.

Which left me as the TinMan/Dorothy/Miranda - the (figuratively) heartless person who thought with only the brain and nothing else, using snide wit as both an attraction and deflection. I'd been told that I was a pussycat in a lion's body; but I wouldn't necessarily say that my bark was worse than my bite.  I just believed in being direct and honest with people.  I neither played games nor suffered fools. And I figured if people did not want to know the truth, they would not ask my opinion -- they would simply go to Matt or Jeff instead.

These two became my first REAL friends - people to whom I could say ANYTHING.  With them, I didn't have to hide who I was or change the gender when I spoke about someone.  My conversations with them were the first honest conversations I'd ever had in my life.  Over the course of our friendship, Jeff and Matt were there with me through my college education, 5 boyfriends, 9 jobs, and 12 apartments across 5 cities – not to mention all the stuff that both goes along with and comes in-between.  I figured we would be best friends until one of us died.  And now two of us have.
Despite that I'd lost communication with each of them prior to their deaths, I still feel an immense sense of loss; loss of what was as well as loss of what could have been.

Back in 1991, I wrote a story about the three of us that eventually became a chapter in a book about my life - most of which has been published on this blog at some point or another during the past 12 years.  We used to get together and I would read "our story" aloud over drinks.  And we'd laugh hysterically at jokes that only we got. 

The piece I wrote about us ended with this paragraph:
Years from now, when each of us is paired with a significant other, we will leave our mates for three weeks each summer and meet at a beach house the three of us had purchased years prior.  We'll complain about the usual mundane things in life ("Andy just won't let me out of his sight for one second" or "Dan just keeps buying me the most expensive gifts" or "Frank has the highest libido of any man I have ever seen" ... ho-hum).  Our little houseboy, Pablo (one of Jeff's old tricks at that point) will make us cocktails as we lounge on the beach.  Jeff will drink his customary (and lethal) 151 and Coke, Matt will have his Canadian Club and Coke, and I will have my ever present Scarlet O'Hara.  After fending off young surfer hunks (who know us only by reputation mind you), we go into the house, eat everything in sight and talk about sex.  We then send Pablo to restock the liquor cabinet and the kitchen, we work out in the gym, relax in our jacuzzi, and prepare to party that night.  This will constitute the itinerary for the whole three weeks during the summer; also for the two weeks we'll spend in Vale during the winter, the two weeks in the mountain cabin during the spring, the two weeks at P'town during the fall, the occasional cruises to the Bahamas, the extensive shopping trips, and the lunches at Tavern on the Green (so now you see why we will need to have significant others -- to pay for all of this).
I'd like to think that they are both sitting on the lanai of that cabana, with Pablo refilling their cocktails as quickly as they can drink them, patiently waiting my arrival many years from now.  And there is comfort in knowing they have reunited.

Rest in peace, dear friends.