Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Live For Your People: A Sunday musings re-post…

Billy Ray (not his real name, of course) turned off his implantable defibrillator (ICD) yesterday. Billy Ray is 44.

In my day job I was asked to evaluate him for a problem in my specialty. I was told he was about to enter hospice care and assumed that he was much, much older and simply out of options. I admit that I was somewhat put out by the request, it being Saturday and the problem already well-controlled. Frankly, I thought it was a waste of my time, Billy Ray’s time, and whoever might read my report’s time, not to mention the unnecessary costs. I had a very pleasant visit with Billy Ray, reassured him that the problem for which I was called was resolving nicely, and left the room to write my report.

44 years old though. What was his fatal illness? What was sending him off to Hospice care? I bumped into his medical doc and couldn’t resist asking. Turns out that Billy Ray has a diseased heart that is on the brink of failing; without the ICD his heart will eventually beat without a rhythm and he will die. A classic indication for a heart transplant–why was Billy Ray not on a transplant list? Why, for Heaven’s sake, did he turn off his ICD?

There is a difference between being alive and having a life. It’s not the same to say that one is alive and that one is living. It turns out that Billy Ray suffered an injury at age 20 and has lived 24 years in unremitting, untreatable pain. Cut off before he even began he never married, has no children. Each day was so filled with the primal effort to stop the pain he had little left over for friendship.

Alive without a life. Alive without living. Billy Ray cried “Uncle”.

I have been haunted by this since I walked out of the hospital. How do you make this decision? Where do you turn? Billy Ray has made clear he has no one. Does a person in this situation become MORE religious or LESS? Rage against an unjust G0d or find comfort in the hope of an afterlife? Charles DeGaulle had a child with Down’s Syndrome. On her death at age 20 he said “now she is just like everyone else.” Is this what Billy Ray is thinking? That in death he will finally be the same as everyone else?

And what does this say about each of us in our lives? What does it say about the problems that we face, the things that might make us rage against some personal injustice? How might we see our various infirmities when cast in the shadow of a man who has lived more than half his life in constant pain, a man alone? The answer, of course, is obvious, eh?

The more subtle message is about people, having people. Having family, friends, people for whom one might choose to live. It’s very easy to understand the heroic efforts others make to survive in spite of the odds, despite the pain. Somewhere deep inside the will to live exists in the drive to live for others. The sadness I felt leaving the hospital and what haunts me is not so much Billy Ray’s decision but my complete and utter understanding of his decision.

Billy Ray gave lie to the heretofore truism that “no man is an island”.

Go out and build your bridges. Build the connections to others that will build your will to live. Live so that you will be alive for your others. Be alive so that your life will be more than something which hinges on nothing more than the switch that can be turned off. Live with and for others so that you, too, can understand not only Billy Ray but also those unnamed people who fight for every minute of a life.

Be more than alive. Live.

The Sports Page: Sunday musings…6/30/2024

Been sitting, stewing over a few things in the world of sports. As things have settled into whatever my new normal is, three pebbles in my shoe have finally worked their way into my foot far enough to get my attention. Any one of them is worthy of a Sunday sports page column. Alas, no one with a platform has stepped in, and no one has abdicated in favor of the eyeball guy.

So here goes…

Nepotism. You had to see this coming. Right? I mean, is there any sentient being paying the least bit of attention to the circus that has become the NBA off-season who didn’t see Lebron James pressing the Lakers behind closed doors to draft his son Bronny while Rich Paul made sure that every other team steered clear? Paul made it clear that Bronny would only accept a full NBA contract. No “two-way” or G-League tender. Don’t bring that soft 10-day contract “stuff” down the lane. Even the Cleveland Cavaliers, the only other “real” destination for La Familia James was invited to the table; Bronny worked out for only the Lakers and the Suns.

What’s your take on the nepotism angle? Honestly it’s the least interesting way to look at this, at least for me. There is just so much nepotism already taking place in professional sports, including the NBA, it’s just a non-story in my book if it has finally bubbled up to the surface. Isaiah Mobley, brother of superstar Evan Mobley, takes up a little bit of real estate at the end of the Cavaliers bench. So, too, does Giannis Antetokounmpo’s big brother in Milwaukee. What’s interesting is that these are all that I can come up with when it comes to the players.

Front office, on the other hand, are littered with the kinfolk of owners, senior management, and their friends.

Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer has taken a bit of a different approach, and I think Terry’s angle is much more interesting: LeBron James has acquired and gone on to use leverage more effectively and to a greater degree than any other NBA player in history. I think he actually under calls it to be honest. Arnold Palmer is responsible for what we know as the modern PGA tour, but he played in perhaps the epitome of an individual sport. In all of my years as an athlete and as a fan I simply can’t remember a single athlete in any professional team sport that so actively and so publicly used the leverage that he had as a superstar to influence the actions of the teams in his league.

Not Bobby Orr or Wayne Gretzky in the NHL. Heck, Gordie Howe had to convince the management of the Hartford Whalers that adding him to a roster already populated by two Howes would be a plus. Bill Russell with the Celtics in the 60’s is a candidate, in that he likely would have retired rather than play for anyone other than Red Auerbach. The Celtics named him the last player coach in league history. Larry Bird, whose expiring contract prompted a change in the rules allowing teams to sign their superstars to a larger than “allowed” contract was not so much using leverage he “owned” as being the leverage used by ownership and agents to achieve the goal. NFL and MLB teams are simply too big to be levered the way LeBron has done to the NBA.

Think about it. Beginning with “The Decision” and “taking my talents to South Beach”, LeBron has changed the business dynamics of game. I wrote an essay here “It’s Not About the Money”, imploring LeBron to make the kind of decision that only he could, to turn away from the glitter and the gold of a “hot” city and make his hometown a perennial winner. Sadly, he didn’t listen. He chose the superstar he wished to partner with in Dwayne Wade, and then openly recruited Chris Bosh to form the nucleus that won 2 titles in Miami. Opted out of his contract when it looked like he could do the same thing again in Cleveland, and burnishes his reputation by bringing the city its first championship since 1958 or some such. Rather than stick around he decides he really belongs with all of the other Hollywood folks he is now getting ready to crush with his new production company and kicks off Showtime v2.0 with the Lakers.

Seriously, compared with all of that, getting your kid a job at the office doesn’t really seem like all that big a deal, does it?

I guess what I’m saying is that I’m underwhelmed by all of the kvetching about nepotism in the “Lakers draft Bronny” thing, and much more impressed by how LeBron has once again maneuvered himself exactly where he wants to be. Do you think he will follow in the footsteps of Magic and Michael and use part of his fortune to by an NBA team? Seems to me that doing so would be aiming too low for LeBron. This is a guy who understands power, and more importantly a guy who understands how to use that power. Terry Pluto is correct, more correct than he realizes. LeBron James is certainly the NBA player who has used his leverage more than anyone before him, including Michael Jordan. Short of literally starting a new league a la Arnold Palmer, my bid is that LeBron is the professional athlete without boundary who has done so.

Folks who know me might raise an eyebrow since one of my kids has been working with me for some 5 years now. It’s been a really good thing for us, but I do wonder about how this will affect young Bronny. How LeBron will look back on this move as a Dad over time. Will playing with your Dad, arguably the most famous non-soccer playing athlete in the world, be worth 10,000 times the attention that a player on the fringe would typically attract? How will the Dad/Son thing play out in the bright lights of LA and the NBA? Fatherhood and sonhood is tough enough around the dinner table. But that’s a topic for another “Sunday musings…”, and I still have two more topics yet to cover.

I’ll see you next week…

A Crowded Table: Sunday musings…6/23/2024

“I want a house with a crowded table and a place by the fire for everyone.”*

To be honest I’m a little bit surprised at how difficult is has been to mourn and to move on. Perhaps it’s because my Mom was the last, at least the last for Beth and for me. It seems as if there is still a bit more to say about our parents, the four people who were responsible for bringing us into this world and charting our earliest paths. A torch was passed many, many years ago. It’s funny, now, only now to really be fully aware of the legacy that two couples who on the surface simply could not be more different left to all who would come after them.

Beth and I grew up with a seat at a crowded table. Our happiest memories together have been sitting side by side at a crowded table.

After my Mom’s wake our entire family gathered together at a restaurant across the street from the hotel where most of us were staying. Literally everyone. My siblings and our spouses. All 10 or our collective children, three spouses and two betrothed. We even snuck in an aunt, an uncle and a lone cousin. It looked a bit like a Thanksgiving gathering; all of the young people sitting together at the “kid’s table” while my generation filled up the “adult table”. It was funny; everyone referred to the set-up using the same vocabulary even though the youngest “kid” was 22 or 23. It was a room built by families brought up around crowded tables.

“If we want a garden we’re gonna have to sow the seed. Plant a little happiness. Let the roots run deep. If it’s love that we give then it’s love that we reap. If we want a garden we’re gonna have to sow the seed.”*

My typical MO when I speak is to sorta kinda have a vague idea about where I’m gonna go and how I might get there, and so it was when I got up to give the toast to Mom and set the stage for the next day’s funeral. On the way to the airport the day before Beth and I had been listening to a group of female country singers, superstars in their own rights, who formed the band “The Highwomen”. I was moved by their song “Crowded Table” and this is what I was thinking about as I rose and gazed over our two tables set back to back, each filled to overflowing.

This family was built around the kitchen table. Crowded each night with everyone who was home. After we’d all fledged that table would become more and more crowded as we returned as couples, ever more so when we arrived with kids in tow. But it was more than that, more just those times when we gathered for Thanksgiving weekends or Cape Week. The crowded table was a feeling, a way of life. Even when we were in different locations we felt the urge to be together in some way. Our Moms didn’t get along very well at all until much, much later in life. I like to think that maybe a part of their too long in coming connection is the fact that they eventually saw each other’s crowded table.

“The door is always open. Your picture’s on my wall. Everyone’s a little broken, and everyone belongs.”*

At dinner that night I talked to our children about the legacy of the crowded table. How it begins with family but also extends to friendships both old and new. Mom’s wake and funeral were attended by countless people in my generation who were our friends when we were growing up. To a person they all talked about how our house was a refuge. Warm and welcoming. I talked to our kids about how the baton had been passed from their grandparents to their parents when we started our families and began to build our own crowded tables. My own house has been blessed with what folks have come to call “Beth White’s Extras”. Kids who maybe didn’t have the greatest place to call home who came to find a kind of home around our table. I heard the same things at my Dad’s services and at the memorials for Beth’s parents.

Did you grow up around a crowded table? I concluded my “toast” with an exhortation to both my generation seated at the “adult table” and to young people sitting at the “kid’s table”. We have been left a legacy, one that by and large was a part of the upbringing and early life of everyone in that room. Every grandparent to every one of the kids believed in the crowded table; Mom was just one of the few left. Any and all of us who have been so blessed are left to honor that legacy by crowding our own tables with family and friends. Include everyone as often as possible, especially those parents and grandparents who bequeathed their table to you; once a chair becomes empty the table becomes a little less crowded. There’s joy to be had in finding the room for another seat at every table, joy that each of us can bring now and forever.

“Yeah, I want a house with a crowded table, and a place by the fire for everyone. Let us take on the world while we’re young and able, and bring us back together when the day is done.” –The Highwomen

It’s always going to be tough to see the empty chairs at our tables. Thanks for bringing us back together Mom.

I’ll see you next week…

Father’s Day: Sunday musings…6/16/2024

Each year I post the story of my last true visit with my Dad. His dementia robbed us of him long before he passed. I stumbled across another post about how children so often quietly bond with their Dads over a shared passion, and I thought I would add it to my Father’s Day thoughts. With the loss of my Mom still so fresh today brings equal parts of renewed pain and longing, now for both parents, and joy in the fact that I had them both for as long as we all did.

I will try my best to dwell there, in that joy.

A Brief Father’s Day Visit From My Dad

My siblings and I only need to remember one weekend each year when it comes to celebrating my Dad. His birthday almost always falls within a day or two of Father’s Day. So it was that I found myself in Rhode Island the past couple of days, in the company of my Mom and a guy masquerading as my Dad, a guy who was very curious about the new fella who’d dropped by for a visit.

Getting old is not for sissies, my friends.

Somewhere inside, deep inside, there’s still some of my Dad in the jumbled up connections of his mind, carried by the body that failed him in such spectacular fashion 2 ½ years ago. Dad is extremely intelligent, the only family member in his generation to have gone to college. Quite the athlete, he used football and the GI Bill to pay for school. Like so many in his generation he then worked, raised a family, and put himself through grad school. He won his club championship in golf twice at the ages of 50 and 60. No typo. Beat the reigning RI State Amateur champ on his home course for the first one.

As we sat on the porch of his house overlooking the par 5  14th hole, I had an ever so brief visit from that guy. From my Dad. Like a citizen of Brigadoon he came slowly through the mist of his mind to join me for a bit. We’d always bonded over golf. My brother and I never turned down an invitation to join him on the course, either as partners or as caddies for him and his buddies. It was quite a privilege to do either; my Dad’s most elemental essence was expressed on the golf course.

A light breeze was blowing through the forest in the back yard just beyond the rough. We chuckled at the golfers who failed to take the wind into consideration, sheepishly trying to sneak into our yard to retrieve their out-of-bounds second shot. Dad talked about caddying as a kid in the Depression. We both noted the absence of caddies as the foursomes passed in and out of view. It was really very nice.

I quite like the Dad of my adulthood. Quick to smile, slow to anger, unfailingly loyal and kind. It’s hard to imagine now how distant he was when I was a boy, his friendship as an adult is so easy. I’m not sure how long we sat there to be honest, nor when I noticed that he was slipping away. As surely as the village of Brigadoon disappears, the mist had returned to claim him. I got up, walked over to his chair, held his hand and gave him a kiss. I wished him a Happy Birthday and a Happy Father’s Day, hoping that I’d made it on time. That he was still there. That he knew it was me, Darrell, his oldest child. I told him I loved him.

He smiled and gave my hand a little pat as he disappeared into the mist.

I really miss my Dad.

Tethered to the Memories

Most of us have (or had) a Dad who played a role in our lives. Mostly good, often hard, unfortunately not so good in some cases, but undoubtedly memorable in all cases. We have memories. At some point memories are all we have.

Most families have a “thing”, a certain activity or place or topic around which memories orbit. Maybe it’s a vacation spot to which your family returns as inexorably as the swallows of Capistrano or the Monarch Butterflies of Brazil. For some it’s not the location so much as what transpires there. Think family dinner here where the memories are of nightly discourse covering anything from poetry to pugilism, a travel of the mind more than the body.

When it comes to Fathers it’s often a case of the child inheriting the father’s chosen sport. As I think of this a hundred images appear of tiny children tagging along as their Dad does whatever it is he does. Invisibly tethered to their father by sharing his time with his passion, all the while being infected with that passion themselves. I see little girls in oversized Wellies holding their Daddy’s hand, his other cradling a shotgun, as they trudge through a marsh. A Dad’s bare feet submerged just off the dock as a tiny son’s size 2’s dangle feet above that same pond while bobbers float just out of view.

For us it was golf, for my brother and me at least. Father’s Day meant getting up an hour or so before Dad, cramming in random calories, and then walking to the caddy shack for another Sunday loop. Except on this Sunday the caddy master tossed us a bone and put us in my Dad’s group. We were pretty good caddies, my brother and I, and my Dad was a more than pretty good golfer. He made sure to make his game with other of the better golfers on Father’s Day. Good caddies always make for better golf, and 4 good golfers squired by 2 good caddies makes for a very good round, indeed. Those are some good memories.

We grew to be good friends on the golf course, my Dad, my brother, and I. On one magical morning Randall and I became men, at least in the golf sense. One Saturday morning (sadly not a Father’s Day) we headed to the first tee with Dad not as caddies but as real golfers. Partners in his foursome, with caddies of our own. In time we were joined by a brother-in-law as we towed our Dad along on a decades long golf odyssey. We’d found our connection, and like the little girl in her Wellies and the little boy with dangling toes we kept ourselves tethered to our Dad through his passion.

And we made memories.

That’s all that’s left now, the memories. We’ll not try to remember what we had in the end. These newer memories don’t sing as sweetly and so we tried to erase them as soon as they arose. Rather, we will try to share those other, older memories with Dad before the tether frayed. Until that one day when we held our end of the tie and it lay quietly against our side, empty, nobody there to whom we were still tethered.

If we are fortunate we reach out our own hand and find it filled with tiny fingers, and we walk to wherever, tethered to tiny little legs that struggle to keep up as they chase our passion with us. We feel the stillness, the emptiness on the other side where we were once tethered ourselves. If we are very fortunate we realize that maybe we still are. Tethered, that is.

Tethered by the memories of when we were the child whose tiny fingers nestled into our Father’s hand and we chased what became our shared passion, together.

Happy Father’s Day.

She’s in a Better Place: Sunday musings…6/9/2024

“She’s in a better place.”

At least that’s what all of my friends and acquaintances have been telling me since my Mom passed from this world on June 3rd. Presumably my siblings have been hearing the same. Is it true? Is that what happens when you die? Has Mom left our world and entered another, one in which my Dad has been waiting patiently for her to arrive?

If ever there was a time for faith, now is that time. You WANT to believe. You really, REALLY want everything that you learned as a child to be true. Especially when it comes to your parents, and especially if they were as devout in their belief as were my Mom and Dad. And it probably doesn’t really matter what version of an afterlife, a “what comes next” you, or for that matter they, believed. Reincarnation, a lifting of your spirit to join the mass of spirits who preceded, Heaven, or whatever it is that so many of the other great religions believe. With a belief in a thereafter there is peace in our new here and now.

Faith in something greater seems to be a uniquely human endeavor. Faith, and a near-rabid fascination with, and desire to understand and explain our world and our existence. Again, it’s all pretty simple when it comes to the Great Religions (probably need to capitalize that, eh?): everything started when whoever or whatever said it did (“…and on the seventh day…”) and it doesn’t look like it’s ever going to end (“…world without end…” and all). Each great discovery in physics brings us back closer to something that looks like a beginning, although no matter how large or meaningful that discovery may be, each subsequent one actually results in an ever-smaller step back in time.

Until even the most brilliant of physicists throws up their hands and exclaims “from here, nobody knows.”

It’s there, at that point in the “look back”, that faith is the only antidote to sure madness. How can it not be so? The Bosun Particle was nicknamed the “God Particle”, because even the proof of its existence was not enough to explain what happened in the beginning. At some point you go back and back and back, and to preserve your very sanity you must declare that SOMETHING started the whole thing off. It’s about as non-scientific a declaration as you can imagine. It is a declaration of faith.

How about on the other side? At the end? The physicists are pretty sure that the end is just that. The end. Stephen Hawking famously declared the human brain as nothing more or less than the greatest computer ever developed, capable of incredible, limitless feats as long as the current passed through the neural networks between our ears. At the end what remains is no more functional than the celestial junkyard overseen by Wall-E in the eponymous movie. Hawking was all so cut and dried, so distanced from any tiny bit of humanity. Perhaps that’s why he may have been the longest living ALS patient in memory; he couldn’t let go. Death for him meant the end.

But all the rest of humanity seems to have at least enough uncertainty about all things “after” that we wonder. Even Woody Allen, a self-proclaimed atheist once quipped “I don’t believe in an afterlife, but just in case I’m bringing along a change of underwear.” Again, not quite as far from faith as Hawking, but I always had this nagging sense that Allen was mocking those who had faith.

Which brings me all the way back to my Mom. And for me, while not any closer to religion, back to at least a little bit of faith. You see, faith brings with it hope, and hope is what has quietly kept one foot moving past the other for the last many weeks. Just like my Dad, Mom began to spend more and more time somewhere in the past. I hadn’t heard her talk about my grandfather in decades, and yet there he was with her, on the other end of a conversation only Mom could hear. She saw Dad everywhere and in everything. Her desire, her need to be with him was so very powerful. There was comfort for her there; she was happy there with him. She had hope. Mom believed and it made her ready to go. As much as I wasn’t ready for her to go, it made me want to believe.

Tomorrow we will lay Mom to rest, what remains of her earthly body will forever lay next to my Dad. Is there more for her? For us? For tomorrow, at least for me, the answer will be “yes”. Tomorrow I will have the same faith I find when I look so far back that I can’t look any farther, and I will allow myself the hope that faith in “something more” brings. I won’t say goodbye; I will simply tell my Mom that I love her, to say hi to Dad, tell him I miss him, and “I’ll see you later.”

And at least for tomorrow, I will believe.

Anne Lee White 4/21/1937 – 6/3/2024

A Sandwich at the Hospice Diner

You’re only as happy as your saddest child. You’ve heard that one before, for sure. There doesn’t appear to be an analogous version for how you feel in relation to your parents though. Not at any part of your life that I can think of at least. Maybe in your younger years it went something like you’re only as successful as your parents think you are. We Baby Boomers are famous for coming up with terms to describe our life stages, and then of course infamous for describing them as if we were the first generation in the history of mankind to experience them.

As if we are the first generation to ever find themselves the “filling” in the sandwich between our direct ancestors and our progeny.

With the exception of mass migration events (think northern movement of Black Americans from the Jim Crow south in mid-20th Century), it appears that we are the first generation to have chosen to follow our personal “destiny” and move away from our hometowns in numbers not common in prior generations. As such it’s kinda funny to listen to ourselves kvetch about how far away our children live from us. Especially once our children beget grandchildren! As an aside I like to think of my grandchildren as the “secret sauce” that makes my own little Sandwich Generation meal a bit more delicious. But in our present time, as we begin to exit the Sandwich when our parents take their ultimate leave, many of us face not only the emotions of watching ourselves become orphans, we also experience one more time the consequence of one of our great generational decisions: really leaving home.

In the past I’ve written countless words about how friendships and the blocking and tackling of maintaining a friendship have changed over the years of our lives. Sunday evening long-distance phone calls have become send a text and an ask if it’s OK to ring up a friend or family member. Letters and postcards migrated to email, and almost all long-form written communication was ultimately displaced by either the truncated convenience of text, Snap, and WhatsApp or the letters free images traded on Instagram. So very much easier, and yet so much less satisfying. The Chinese food of friendship: 30 minutes after modern communications are consumed you are “hungry” again.

Another quick aside: since it’s so very easy to connect with so little effort, if you don’t even make enough effort to order some Chinese takeout it stings. You don’t have to wait for Mother’s or Father’s Day to call your folks.

But that’s likely a rant for a different day. It’s the part of the Sandwich that’s going away that’s really on my mind today. My Mom, the last parent that Beth and I have left, transitioned from an assisted-living program to Hospice 2 weeks ago, a change that is at once both a respite and a clarion call for us all. I learned so very much about Hospice Care when I attended the first Ken Lee Memorial Lecture at my home hospital some years ago. What I learned, I have recently discovered, was only a small part of what Hospice means and what it is, and can be. The lecture was given by the head of Hospice Care at Dartmouth, an inpatient care paradigm provided within a large academic medical center. Subsequently we’ve known people who went “into” hospice–a literal move into a hospice facility–or had hospice care in the very last few days of life so that the passing might be peaceful.

What I’ve learned these last couple of weeks is that the concept of hospice care is much larger, much more inclusive, and consequently much more merciful to many more people. Mom simply moved 3 doors down, and family and staff welcomed a wave of additional support so that we might all, Mom and family, be more comfortable. At the same time I have learned of other family members and friends who are either in our shoes or on the cusp of lacing up to join us. It’s a good time to remind myself, and any of you should you so desire, that now is simply a time for love.

Allow me to once again channel my close friend Bill, the surgeon, to provide context for preparing for this stage, for the time when we are no longer the filling but have rather become the bread. Unlike me, an eye surgeon, Bill was a surgeon who operated on life-threatening illnesses and was therefore in a position to give counsel to both patients and families on end-of-life issues. Bill was surprised, always, at the heroic efforts family and friends made to be with the dying so that they might “make it right” before the end. He wasn’t quite sure which was the more heartbreaking scene, meeting those who didn’t make it “on time”, or those who did, only to find that the dying prevented any meaningful outcome other than “goodbye”.

The doctor from Dartmouth agreed. His counsel was that each of us should be prepared for either the departure of someone significant to us, or indeed, our own ultimate departure by saying at some point before the end these four things:

“I love you.”

“I’m sorry for anything that has hurt you.”

“I forgive you.”

“Thank you.”

If you have covered these bases there is peace to be found, for all of the things that YOU can say have been said. There may still be peace left unclaimed, of course, because those four statements are only half of the conversation. Someone may very well feel less at peace if they have not heard them back. If, for example, they have not heard a declaration of love. I have learned that peace in these circumstances my be a glass less than full, and I ache for those who find themselves with such a glass, one that they will seek to have filled until the very last moment that water may yet flow from the urn.

For me, for my siblings and our loved ones, for now we may each and all be comforted in the knowledge that my Mom is now under the care of lovely people who will see to it that however long is her remaining journey, her ride will be peaceful. Such is the gift of Hospice, for this will also bring us peace as we either ride shotgun or simply follow along. The menu is always the same at the Hospice Cafe. It’s always a sandwich, one that they handle with tenderness and compassion, hopeful that those who enter do so with as little hunger as possible.

It’s a place you can always come home to, no matter how far you’ve come, where love is always on the menu.

I’ll see you next week…

Sunday musings…Memorial Day 5/26/2024

I) Water. You just can’t go wrong with a day that stars on or in the water.

Says here that includes one of those little plastic baby “pools”.

2) Bloviate. My brother-in-law, the cardiology idiot savant, was flabbergasted that one of the nurses in the EP lab had never hear the word “bloviate”. You’ve all heard it here, of course, since that’s pretty much what I do each time I sit down to muse. Anyway, Pete defined it as “kinda like when a guy is talking just to hear himself speak.” To which the nurse replied “oh, like mansplaining”.

Pete: “Hm, not really. Mansplaining is more about the listener and how a mansplainer makes her feel. This is more like verbal ‘mansturbation.'”

I really like visiting Peter.

3) Memorial Day. I’m out of town with only a tiny window to sit down and muse. I came across this piece from 10 or 11 years ago, and with only a tiny bit of editing and updating it’s really appropriate for the three couples who have gathered in Vermont to share some time together. We’ve lost two of 4 Dads, and the two who remain are sadly not long for this world. We’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about them all. I always think about my Dad on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. Think about him and the stories he never told.

“It’s the stories. The stories matter. Whether they died in the heat of battle or in the cold of infirmity, the warriors all have stories. The stories are all important.

It’s remarkable how difficult it is to get at those stories, though. The ones that were the most formative, the ones that turned that one soldier or that one sailor into who s/he became, they tend to be slow in coming, if they come at all. Yet those are the ones that matter most.

The warriors among us tend toward silence. It’s not so much a secret thing (although there is a small group who simply mustn’t tell their stories) I don’t think, as it is a continuation of the protector role our airmen, sailors, soldiers and marines assume. They don’t so much keep the stories secret as they shield us from the effects of the stories, so powerful were those effects on them when they happened. Yet again, to understand those who remain, and to try to know those who have departed, the stories matter.

I drive by a cemetery filled with the graves of those who fought, some who died while fighting, and I try to conjure their stories. It’s pure folly. Dead men tell no tales, eh? Humanity learns of conflict and war from the stories told about both, and humans learn about each other the same way. Asking to hear the stories is an act of respect. Listening to the stories can be an act of love. Telling the stories is a little of both.

The stories of the men and women who have fought our wars are important.

A friend from my youth, a coach not too very much older than I once broke down and cried over his story. A very junior officer, his story of leadership and loss comes to me every year on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. I know him so much better, understand who he is so much better because I heard his story. So, too, is my knowledge of the men and women younger than I who have served and fought and graced me with their stories.

Life is long unless you are unlucky, but even the lucky run out of time. We have no Civil War survivors, no one from WWI to tell their stories. Those few from WWII still here are reticent, and time grows short. Even Korea fades ever quickly to time’s passage. As I write Dad is marooned by his illness somewhere between 1947 and 1974; much of his “time” seems to be spent in Korea at the moment. The smallest of consolations for us, his progeny, is that we may learn his story.

This Memorial Day let us all remember not only those who served and those who died in that service, but let us all remember their stories as well. Let us ponder the lessons those stories teach about not only humanity but also about the warrior, the person we remember. Let us encourage those who still walk among us, especially those whose journeys have been long and must be soon ending, to tell us their stories, all of them, even the ones they wish to protect us from, while they still can. Let us listen to those who know the stories behind each headstone as we gather in their honor. We have much to learn from the stories, about war and conflict, about the people who fought, about ourselves.

The stories matter. Still.”

Grace and peace to the families of those who fought. May their stories continue to guide us. May their memory be ever a blessing.

I’ll see you next week…

How Far You’ve Come

1 IF. Imaginary Friends. A new movie titled “IF” will land this summer starring Ryan Reynolds in which his character and that of a teenage girl can see ALL of the imaginary friends of EVERYONE around them. Including, and this is the hook, the imaginary friends that have been left behind. It sounds really promising; I’m looking forward to seeing it.

A tiny little bit of reading today gave some insight into why John Krasinski, the actor and director, chose to make the movie. Did you know anyone with an imaginary friend or two? Or did you, perhaps, have one of your own? Krasinski does not appear to have had his own, but his curiosity led him to discover that imaginary friends do, indeed, befriend youngsters of all ages who are blessed with active imaginations to begin with. But his research led to the discovery that many, perhaps most of those imaginary friends are there to provide their physical friends respite from some type of trauma. Might be physical or emotional, but having discovered this, Krasinski shifted the tone of the move from vaudeville to virtue.

Years ago I “met” the imaginary friends of someone who is very, very close to me. I sensed at the time that this someone was hurting, a sense that was confirmed some time after the imaginary friends seemed to have taken their leave. Had I known that they’d likely faded into the background because they’d done their job, helped my person and allow them to carry on, well, I’d have sought them out to say thank you.

Perhaps they will join me at the movies this summer.

2 The D’s. Dementia, delirium, and decrepitude. These are the realities of the 3-D life we witness each time we visit my Mom. This is the kind of 3-D no one wants. Dementia is the disease in which some progressive trauma is inflicted on the brain and results in physical changes that alter brain function. The bitter irony is that Mom is in this Dimension of D’s for the same thing that sent Dad there, chronic vascular disease.

Delirium is the brain’s response to these traumas, the creation of a narrative to explain any event that is the least bit confusing or new. Delirium can be as tiny as a bit of confabulation or as intense as seeing your 9-years deceased husband interviewed on TV during an NCAA finals. Decrepitude, as we know, is the end-result of dis-use of our physical body resulting in the inability to perform the functional movements of daily life. Mom’s efforts at any type of preventative behavior that might stave off decrepitude ended when my Dad came home from the hospital.

Delirium may or may not be permanent; it is, after all, an adaptive reaction which, although negative, demonstrates the plasticity of the brain. The best one can do with Dementia is hope for a full stop, hope for the cessation of whatever insults are hurled at the brain. There is little one can do over a lifetime, at least little that we know, to steel oneself against the ravages of Dementia and Delirium.

But Decrepitude, ah now that’s a different story altogether. The battle against decrepitude starts as soon as you start to move in a purposeful, planned manner to train your body. To build strength, power, and endurance. These may actually be the magic elixir that pushes against Dementia and Delirium, but we know for certain that if we are more able physically we will be better able to persevere. Imagine how much more is the psychic trauma of Delirium if you cannot raise yourself up, cannot walk away. It’s frightening to watch when the realization that you are unable to help yourself becomes the only thing that you know is real.

Perhaps delirium exists to shield us from that realization. Perhaps delirium is simply an unnamed imaginary friend, sitting next to someone in need of respite.

3 Journey.”Mothers stay behind so that their children can look back and see how far they’ve come.” Ruth, the creator of “Barbie”.

What does my Mom see when she looks ahead toward her four children? Does she, or sadly more to our present circumstances, did she also look ahead to see if her 10 grandchildren have gone on yet further? It’s a bit different from pride, I think. Not exactly “is she proud” so much as if she has noticed how far each of us, and each of our children have come. This is a tricky question–it’s quite likely to always be a tricky question–because Mom, like every mother yet born and having given birth, had very clear ideas not only about how far each of us would go but also how we would get there. I once wrote an essay about this that might have been titled GPS or something to that effect.

For my Mom it wasn’t simply that you reached the expected destination, it was necessary that in doing so you took the exact route that she’d mapped our for you to get there.

How about us, then? We four children and our spouses. When we look back do we see how far we’ve come, or do we look back, take a look left and right, and measure whether or not we’ve come as far as Mom expected us to come? What defines, or will come to define our notion of our own success? It’s really just another version of the classic challenge of whether we are strong enough to own our own goals outside of anyone else’s external goals held on our behalf. Of course it’s also a bit more than “just” because it’s your Mom–OUR Mom–not just some external someone with an expectation.

For what it’s worth, when I look back it seems to me that I’ve come as far as I’d planned to, by and large. Without a single goal toward which to apply monomaniacal effort, the “length” of my journey was always going to require more of a “miles traveled” analysis than a simple “miles from origin”. I have placed varying degrees of emphasis and importance on not just one but several markers that could define a journey. Decisions that favor one domain cannot help but have an adverse effect on another. Spending the extra day at the conference might mean to miss being on the sideline for the conference championship game. Likewise, flying out early from the event to make sure to be there for a holiday with extended family might mean passing on dinner with the CEO who will decide between you and the other finalist for a gig that you really want.

It’s astonishing to finish watching a movie like “Barbie” and spend the next day wondering how far I’ve come. I look back at each step I’ve taken and try to remember how far I’ve actually traveled, not just how far I’ve come from where I started. Does Mom do the same? In the end, who’s to say?

By either measure we all really have come so very, very far.

A Mom Named Jim. Sunday musings…Mother’s Day 5/12/2024

Every year on Mother’s Day I think about a guy I know whose name is Jim. Once upon a time he was one of my lawyers during a particularly stressful part of my career. As such his was a daily presence in my life for the better part of 1 1/2 or 2 years. There’s actually a lot of dead air during legal stuff. Time when for one reason or another you and your attorneys aren’t really doing all that much of anything but waiting. Sitting around and waiting, mostly.

Most folks I know who have had a drawn out legal whatever come to associate their own lawyers so tightly with the experience that they cannot separate the man or woman from the outcome. Mine wasn’t all that great. The outcome. But during all of those quiet hours with not all that much to do, Jim and I ran out of relevant stuff to talk about and started to share a bit of our backstories. What’s that got to do with Mother’s Day? I mean, two men trying to keep one of them from being destroyed financially isn’t the typical jumping off point to discuss mothers.

I’d met Jim’s wife, but it was a while before I realized that she was his SECOND wife and not the mother of his children. To keep my spirits up Jim and his partner on the case took turns hosting me at their respective country clubs for a round of golf. We must have been playing in May because Jim mentioned that he’d just gotten a Mother’s Day card from his daughter, an annual event. Over 18 holes together he shared the details of a rough marriage that ended in a rougher divorce. The details are not mine to share. Suffice it to say that Jim became a single parent and did such a bang-up job at handling what we all typically think of as the Dad stuff AND the Mom stuff (of girls!), that at least the one daughter thanks him each year on Mother’s Day.

Whenever I am asked I make sure to note that the simple act of becoming a father is 2 or 3 orders of magnitude less commitment than that which is necessary to becoming a mother. We can start with the whole 9 months long thing where your body has been taken over by an alien being and my point is proven without even considering the whole giving birth part. To become a father one must simply deliver genetic material, something which can literally occur via FedEx.

All of this notwithstanding, we are not really talking about the generation of a child when we are talking about Mother’s Day. I mean, if we were, how could you explain Jim’s annual Mother’s Day card, right? Nope, on Mother’s Day we celebrate Moms. Women, and the occasional man, who wake up every day and do the kinds of things that prompt their children to call them “Mommy”. Whether they work outside the home or make their “living” as a homemaker, the women we celebrate are the women who are always and everywhere thinking about their children. Quietly or out loud they suffer and celebrate every bruise and battle won from day one until they are gone.

And that’s the point of today, isn’t it? I mean, we should be aware that Moms everywhere have been living and dying over most of what we did or are doing. I’ve yet to meet a Mom who, deep down, didn’t think their child would benefit from just a bit more parenting from their Mom. Job never done and all.

Where is all this going? I have no idea how often you talk to your Mom. I mean really talk. Pick up the phone or knock on the door talk to her. No matter how tough it may be to do so today you get a pass. You don’t have to think of any reason at all to reach out to your Mom so that you can hear her voice, and she yours. We should certainly do this a lot, right? But today you just gotta do it. For all but that tiny group among us who, like Jim’s daughter, had a mother but not a Mom, today you just find the time to call or drop by. It’s better than any card and sweeter than any chocolate you might send, the sound of a child’s voice on the other end of a Mom’s phone or knocking on the front door.

Because on your end of the call or the visit there is nothing sweeter than to tell your Mom “thank you”, tell her you love her, and to hear her say at least one more time “I love you too.”

Happy Mother’s Day Jim.

The Last Time

You never really know when it’s the last time.

Not gonna lie, I was more than a little bit salty that I was here, at home and on call this weekend, while my siblings and their spouses were gathered in the Low Country with Megan and Ryan. It was a lately scheduled get-together, dreamed up long after our office call schedule had been put together. Unwilling to pull the “I’m the boss” card, Beth and I were home with very little on our schedule save for the usual weekend stuff of early spring. Rather than a couples member-guest golf tournament to follow, the highlight on our calendar would be my first trip to watch two of our grandsons have a golf lesson.

Restless is the way Beth describes me on weekends like this. She is right, and if I’m honest with myself I really did want something to fill our weekend. Not that it would be the same as joining everyone, including Megan and Ryan, just something. Thankfully our friends R and C were up for a last minute dinner out, and my buddy Matt found us a spot at his fully booked restaurant, our favorite, with 24 hours notice. It was shaping up to be a really nice night.

Where do you sit on the “things happen for a reason” continuum? I’m firmly on the end that goes more like “things happen”, reasons or not. My Mom had been having what has become for her a pretty normal week. Days cycling around the dining room schedule, the time between meals spent now mostly in her wheelchair in front of random television shows, or snoozing upright with Alexa playing either Sinatra or Saturday Night Fever in the background. Mom is a big disco fan. Beth gets in to see her almost every day during the week. I try to get in once on a weekday, and then Saturday and Sunday mornings. For whatever reason we both missed Friday.

The first call came to Beth Saturday morning. Mom was really on the struggle bus. She was trying to eat soup with a knife. The staff on duty Friday and Saturday were mostly folks who’d just met Mom over the last few weeks. No one had really seen her in this state. They wanted to ask her doctor to send her to the ER, to do tests to find out why she had such a sudden decline. Now, going to the ER for something as amorphous as “she’s not doing well” almost always ends up the the “she” not doing very well. Tests beget tests, and older folks always have abnormal tests. Bright lights and alien noises create confusion where none exists; in the presence of a person no longer fully present anyway, the ER can be the final step from self which there is no return.

But Beth went in and walked the staff, and Mom, back off the ledge. Much of the discussion centered around uncertainty about Mom’s “final” wishes, questions that Mom and my sister had long ago addressed and handled quite nicely. Another call came later in the day, a few hours before our dinner reservation, and once again we were able to agree with the nurses that Mom was OK where she was. And so it was that we found ourselves at a cozy four-top with dinner on the way courtesy of a typically terrific waitress, telling stories about prior visits with Matt, the owner, settling in for what we all thought would be a typical 3+ hour visit. As our appetizers were being cleared Beth’s phone rang. Call number 3. Beth: “We really need to go in.”

This is where the “things happen for a reason” conversation really got started, and “the last time” thoughts began to tickle around the edges. The first was easy to process no matter where you are on my little continuum; if we’d been in South Carolina Mom would have already been sent to the ER. One or both of us would have been on a plane. We all would have been going to that “last time” place in our minds. But Beth and I were home, and whether or not we were home “for a reason”, we were nevertheless only a 40 minute ride to Mom.

As is so often the case this whole thing has been banging around in my brain since that first phone call. Like Brownian Motion, fragments of ideas, tiny thoughtlets moved through random synapses like so many molecules in a vacuum. Some about us, Beth and our siblings and the whole “Sandwich Generation” thing. But just like the focusing of those randomly moving molecules in a laser tube, everything really coned down to “the last time”.

Would tonight be the last time that I saw my Mom? Worse, was she really as sick as the nurses were telling Beth, and had I already for all intents and purposes seen Mom for the last time when we sat and chatted last Sunday morning?

We’ve already had a few last times. Thinking back you can see them. A few months before she finally capitulated, accepting the fact that she could no longer live alone in my “ancestral home” was the last time I saw the woman who was the driving force at the center of our family. Some time after that, I don’t really recall exactly when, I saw Mom as mostly herself, aware (and concerned) about everybody and everything, fully engaged in every waking hour of her days and nights, for the last time. Sometimes you can’t escape knowing exactly when the last time was. Someone is gone suddenly and unexpectedly, and the memory of that last time is seared in your mind. You are branded by the memory whether it was a good one or not.

This is not a story about regret, or regret avoided. Nor is it a case of the supernatural “things happen for a reason”, thing. Not at all. If we’d been in Bluffton it would have been a version of our Alaskan trip when Mom did, indeed, end up in the hospital while we were, all of us, incommunicado 4,000 miles away. This time, for whatever reason, I was here. I am fortunate to be the sibling who gets to be the one who will be “there” when Mom finally lands after this long, long glide path to the end of her journey finally arrives. Blessed to have such a loving and caring partner in Beth, who as always is carrying the bulk of the load.

And regret? No, I have followed the advice of my close friend Bill, the surgeon, who has counseled for so long that the time to say and do all of the important things is long before the last time, no matter how suddenly a “landing” comes after that last “last time” happened. If I am not there at the beside when her earthly plane lands and her soul

departs I won’t feel as if I’ve left anything unsaid. I have long ago begun saying those four special things I learned to say when the thought of a “last time” is but a notion. I love you. Thank you. Please forgive me. I forgive you. I have long ago begun saying versions of the same to the rest of my family and my friends. I hope, because I love them dearly, that my siblings will feel the same, at least when it comes to our Mom.

There have been many “last times”, and as a son there will be yet one more. I just may not know it at the time. You never really know then it’s the last time until it’s over.