Thursday, January 22, 2015

It's the Little Things

Mr. Simply's hunting clothes are mostly in the back of the truck now, ready to go to Goodwill tomorrow morning. Looking at his side of the closet, standing almost half empty now, makes me sad.

The boots were the most difficult to let go of for some reason -- his Herman Survivors, the work boots he loved, and his hunting boots. There was something especially touching about the hunting boots, still caked with last year's dirt and smelling faintly of doe lure. They brought back memories of lying in bed in the dark at 4:30 of a Saturday morning as he dressed in the light from the closet, trying not to disturb me. His camo, his boots, his suspenders. . . and then he would tell me goodbye, and I would always tell him to Stay safe, have fun, don't forget to call me, tell everybody I said Hi and he'd be off to meet the guys for breakfast at the Waffle House in Newnan. So many seasons, so many mornings like that.

He used to say that an hour in his tree stand was worth three in therapy.

By July his bucket list had shrunk to two things: one last trip to visit with family, one last hunting season. Why all his stuff was still here, why he didn't give it away with his fishing gear and his climbing stand last summer.

When it became apparent he wouldn't live even that long, he began to hope for just one last opening day. The guys spent all summer building a special stand for him where he could sit, under cover and wouldn't have to climb, and Chris C. was set to take him, to stay with him for a morning. But by the time opening day rolled around he was too sick, half out of his mind, weak, incontinent, his bones too fragile to go anywhere, never mind into the woods. In two weeks he would be dead.

I had to take a photo of the boots, like I did my hikers, before I was finally able to let them go. I hope they'll make some other guy as happy as they made Mr. Simply, and that they'll bring him luck too.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Charlie Mike

It means, "Continue the Mission." When I was working at the mental health center, I read a novel called Charlie Mike, written by Leonard B. Scott, a veteran of Viet Nam. His theory of PTSD, not a bad one at the time, was that when you are in the shit you don't have time for tears or navel-gazing. If you are going to stay alive, if your buddies are going to stay alive, you have to Charlie Mike -- Continue the Mission. It's only when you are back in The World and nobody's shooting at you any more that you think about those things, and feel them.

I think most of last summer and fall I was Charlie Miking. This afternoon, while fixing lunch of all things, I burst into tears remembering how he didn't get into the study, and how much I would have given for two more years. (His doctor had told us that there was a "little statistical tail" of people in the study who were still alive after two years. Whereas, according to all predictions, Mr. Simply at that point had less than two months.)

Two more years! How rich that would have seemed! Instead, in four short days he was in hospice and dying. In six weeks he would be gone.

I don't remember if I cried the day he called me and said he'd been rejected from the study again, this time because of his liver function. But I sure as hell did this afternoon.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Someone posted on one of the widows' pages on Facebook that I belong to that she felt today that her life was a test for which she had not studied. I hit "Like" and then immediately un-Liked it, for I realized that I did not feel that way at all. Which kind of surprised me.

I've been thinking about her all day, but now I can't find the post to respond to it. What I have to say is probably a bit long for a Facebook post anyway, so.

I realized that I've been studying for this since I got sober some 28 years ago, give or take. The purpose of AA is, after all, to fit us to live life on life's terms, is it not? In one of my favorite stories in the Big Book, "Doctor, Alcoholic, Addict" it says that ". . . acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation - some fact of my life - unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment." And well over 10,000 recitations of the Serenity Prayer will go a long way to teaching you acceptance.

Plus, I've been practicing Zen sitting meditation for years. Studying Buddhism and meditating has helped me develop a degree of non-attachment. Buddhism teaches a Nine-Point Meditation (Buddhists, like widows, seem to like to count things) that says we are all going to die. We likely will not know when or how. And when it happens, our friends and family can't help us, our things and money can't help us, our own bodies can't help us. The only thing that can prepare us is meditation.

Have these things helped? I believe so. I am better than I used to be about not clinging to things, being afraid, wishing things were different (nay, demanding that things be different!), bargaining, lashing out when things do not suit me. I think I added to my own suffering in these ways last summer and fall far less than I might have 30 years ago, or even five years ago.

It is possible to look at life as a test, although that is not a point of view that I recommend. But if it is, then Mr. Simply's death was the mid-term. I'll pass my finals if I can face my own death with the same kind of grace, equanimity, courage and generosity as he did.


Sunday, January 4, 2015

Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing

Was looking for music to put on a soundtrack of our lives to play at Mr. Simply's memorial and found this:
"Don't you worry 'bout a thing
Don't you worry 'bout a thing, pretty mama
'Cause I'll be standing in the wings
When you check it out"

-- Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing
 Stevie Wonder (1973)
It came out the year we started dating. Not long after I added it to my playlist, I got a package and went out to get it. My leg was bothering me, sore and weak, my arms were bothering me, and I felt a moment of real fear. What if?

We are so vulnerable when we lose a mate, when our life partner is no longer there in the wings to step up, pitch in, catch us when we fall. 

Mr. Simply was quite the caretaker, and when we met set right out trying to do things for me and worrying about me even in areas in which I had been functioning quite competently, thank you very much. He wanted to find me a rollbar for Orville (my 1973 MGB). He worried about how I'd get to work if there was ice on the sidewalks and parking lots, and on the stairs at my apartment building. And over the years, I became more and more dependent, forgetting quite literally how to do some things, just getting out of the habit of others. And then of course there were the myriad ways in which even normal healthy couples do for each other.

He didn't get my graduate degrees for me, but he was "in the wings" both times, supporting me (literally and figuratively) every step of the way. He was literally in the wings when I defended, slipping in and out to check on Daisy's progress in emergency surgery and signaling me with a thumbs up from the back of the room each time he returned from talking to the vet.

Over the last few years, he was doing less and less, and I was doing more.  And what we couldn't do just didn't get done. The yard hasn't been raked in so long, for example, that the leaves and pine needles are becoming soil and changing the shape of the yard and the way rainwater flows around the house -- or doesn't any more, to be perfectly frank.

But still. Even after he got cancer the first time, he managed to move my office for me not once, but three times. Three times! Of course, the last time I was down to some boxes of files, but still. He did all the grocery shopping, right up until he went into chemo last year and was too sick to, because my legs would no longer support me that far or that long.

Two years ago, he took money out of his IRA to buy me a van to carry my scooter, and a lift to get it in and out of said van. There were the new windows on the house that he paid for, also out of his retirement fund, last summer. The old ones were so old (and so was I, for that matter) and sticky that I could no longer manage them. And he was always there for emotional support or just to bounce things off of.

Last spring, he came to the hospital, even as he was dying, to be with me when I needed him. "Do you want me to come down?" he asked on the phone. I had not even wanted him to know until after I got home that evening and it was just a funny story, but then they decided to admit me for observation overnight and I had to tell him. "Yes," I said. And he came, even though he was loaded up on pain pills and had to get a neighbor to drive him. He came when I needed him.

I'll never have that again.