Category: dying

Thinking About an Old Mentor

I met him 23 years ago in a McDonald’s in East Tennessee. I was a twenty-something community organizer embarking on my first “real job” after college. I’d only just arrived in Tennessee from Wisconsin a few weeks before full of brilliant ideas and energy, ready to save the world. He was a middle-aged factory worker who’d grown up and lived his whole life in Appalachia. My young and oh so wise self was sure I’d have so much to teach him from my infinite stores of knowledge. It didn’t take long for me to see just how wrong I was.

My co-organizer Gil and I had just arrived. Gil would be introducing me and starting to hand over the work of coordinating the strip-mining issues committee. We were meeting Landon Medley, the committee chair, at McDonald’s that day. Gil and I had spent a lot of time discussing the Fall Creek Falls campaign, a major campaign to protect more than 60,000 acres of land surround the tallest waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains from strip-mining. He’d told me a great deal about the strategy so far and where it was headed as well as about each of the committee members and allies involved. He told me quite a bit about Landon and who he was. I don’t remember if he ever mentioned the crutches though. I remember not quite knowing what to do when this short middle-aged man using Loftstrand crutches walked toward us and Gil greeted him. Should I help him? How could I assist?

It was only a moment. Then as quickly as those crutches were set aside, I began to learn. Landon was one of the children of the 1940’s in Appalachia who survived polio. While the illness left him with a disability that impacted his life and health, it never stopped him and maybe even made him stronger. He had a love for his Appalachian home that ran deep in his soul. I still have a painting on my bookshelf that he made for me of those beautiful mountains. There is no place on earth like it. He was a gifted historian and author. He was also a great leader of the fight to protect his mountain homeland from multinational mining corporations and others who have sought to destroy it in so many ways. It was a gift to call him my friend and mentor.

Today I learned that because he’d had polio as a child he wasn’t able to receive the COVID vaccine. A little boy who won the fight against one the most devastating diseases of the 20th century thanks to medical advances and much struggle, lost the fight against COVID. It hurts to think that he didn’t have to lose this struggle. He lost because of all the people who’ve opted not to get vaccinated, who’ve chosen not to wear masks, who’ve taken unnecessary risks, thinking that their actions only impact themselves. We aren’t separate beings. We are connected. I ask that each person who reads this act not only for yourself, but for the love of others. I wish you all wellness and joy. Take good care.

Back from the Break- More Thoughts Today

I was visiting my family last weekend and stopped at the Farmers Market in West Bend, a town in Wisconsin not far from where I grew up. It’s changed a lot since my youth. It’s good to see. First of all, there’s a farmers market. Secondly, there were people there who didn’t look like me, not a lot, but some. That was good to see. Our small towns are so much more when they aren’t those white bread places, soft and squishy without much to them.

I stopped at a little gift shop in hopes of finding a new journal for myself. It’s been a while since I’ve written my blog or my daily journal for myself. A nice journal that welcomes me helps. I found one with flowers and a bicycle on the cover, nice shades of blue and green. I haven’t been writing every day, but I am starting to open it and free write again.

It always amazes me what thoughts start to percolate when I write. This morning I was out at Indian Lake with my dog, Buddy. I was sitting with my journal while he explored the field and did a little wading in the water. I found myself thinking about where we’re at today. Here we are in this time of pandemic, drought, racial/social/economic unrest, huge wildfires, and all the rest. I can’t help but wonder if we are coming to the time of the seventh fire. Are we coming to the end of this chapter of life or is this simply just another round of challenges the same as faced by generations before us that only seem larger than life because we’re the generation facing them?

What power do we have, if any, to determine our direction? I have to believe that there is some power, that we can make choices that will mold the society for the time to come. I was thinking today too of the world I grew up in and the stories that I was told. I grew up in a home where the bible was much more than a table decoration. I remember sitting in bible studies that my mom hosted in our living room. I recall when Sr. Patricia used to bring communion to our house when Mom was too sick to go to church. I’ll admit much of my beliefs have evolved and I haven’t attended mass for years, but I still like that Jesus guy that we talked about back then.

No, I’m not going to encourage anyone to follow Jesus. Follow whoever you want or just go your own way. What I’m wondering about, what my writing and thinking is drawing out of me as I think about this time of so many challenges that we’ve been going through is the disparity between that man of love and caring and who the stories said gave all of himself that we might live and the followers who’ve chosen themselves over all the gifts he shared and have refused to care enough to do such simple small things like masks and vaccination or a list of other little things of showing care and love for their fellow beings. I simply don’t understand. It seems to me like what I once knew as sin and now might just call sadness.

Five Months Later

It’s been five months now since I lay in the epilepsy monitoring unit at Mayo, practicing my guitar, reading, watching movies, crocheting, doing just about everything but having seizures. But, from that visit and my prior one the doctors had enough information and we agreed to surgery and the installation of my VNS. While my seizures aren’t totally gone yet, it’s been a huge help both significantly cutting the number and intensity of incidents and just giving me better energy and raising my mood.

I am thankful for that for many reasons. A big one is that today also marks the five month anniversary of another huge change in my life. It was five months ago today that Dad made his journey to the spirit world.

I’ve not lived at home for any length of time since 1990. For the six years prior to Dad’s passing I lived in a different state. I only saw him around holidays and maybe for a few days in summer, but until his dementia took over we talked every week, usually Sundays, on the phone. Over the past year with his dementia taking hold phone conversations weren’t an option any more. I saw him last Christmas. He still knew me then, but by Easter when I called, because COVID didn’t allow for a visit, he no longer understood the staff when they tried to explain to him how to use the phone. I would never hear him speak to me again, at least not in this world.

It is the strangest thing, neither sad nor happy, but simply beautiful I suppose. I have seen more of Dad in the past 5 months than I had in years. He visits almost every night in my dreams. I don’t remember what he’s said when I wake, but he’s always happy, always his smiling self, laughing and joking, and just enjoying being where is and still watching out for his baby girl. Each day it seems I have a moment where it hits me again that he’s really gone. I can’t call him. I really won’t see him. He won’t be there when I go visit family. It hits hard and knocks the wind out of me for a moment, but my dreams bring comfort. While he isn’t here, he isn’t gone.

Over time, I suspect, both the daytime hits to my heart and the nighttime dreams will fade and eventually go away. But, I really do believe that Dad will always be there. That he will always be watching out for his baby girl. I feel so lucky.

Here I am five months later in a new job that I like, living in a new place close enough to family and friends that even with COVID I’ve been able to get together with people for hiking and dog park visits. My seizures are getting a lot better. And, having just looked at the goals I wrote before moving, I can see I’m doing well is most all of the area that I want to. I am thankful.

Mixed Feelings

What strange times. I continue to find myself flying about in this bizarre whirlwind of transition where I don’t quite know what to feel or how.

I spoke with a financial counselor this afternoon. I’ve worked most of my adult life in small nonprofits and childcare, so low paying jobs without a lot benefits beyond feeling that I’ve done some good in the world. That means I’m like most Americans haven’t built up a big nest egg and have a few bills to deal with, nothing major. I decided to talk with the counselor though after becoming a beneficiary of a small sum of money. I wanted to use it the best way possible. She was really helpful and we were able to figure out a good plan to address my debt and build my savings. I left the conversation feeling really good. Yet, it feels strange to feel really good about those kinds of conversations.

Mixed feelings came with my VNS implant too. It’s an amazing thing to be there in the doctor’s office getting this little device turned on, to feel that little tickle and feel my voice change, to know that it might really be the ticket to regaining my life and stopping my seizures. Yet, when it was done I couldn’t call my Dad to tell him how it went. All I could do was rely on the belief that he already knew, that he was there in the room with me, taking care of his little girl.

He keeps taking care of his little girl, helping me with my finances, making sure I’m safe and doing all that he can to help me be healthy again. It’s making me so happy, so thankful and at the same time I just want to see him smile, to give him a hug, to tell him I love him one more time. I guess that’s how it always is and that’s how it will be. I am so thankful though and amazed at that power, that power of love that keeps taking care of his baby Amy even after his body is gone.

Seeing Doughnuts

It’s funny how those little moments surprise you.

I just stopped at the grocery store. I’ve been letting a little sugar sneak its way back into my diet in recent weeks since Mayo doctors assured me that as long as I keep my diet in balance it shouldn’t be a problem to eat. Anyway, I decided to pick up a couple of creme rolls. So, I took a quick walk down the block to Willie’s. I wandered into the bakery department and there they were– doughnuts, the conveyer of memories.

I had no interest in eating doughnuts, but they bring back memories. My dad was a Krispy Creme junkie for years. Oh those things were awful! But he always had a box at his apartment and was passing them out to whoever visited. He was so kind and generous. I just found myself in that moment seeing the doughnuts and thinking– “Dad, he’s gone.”

It’s such a strange thing, such a strange time when I can just be walking through the grocery store and just suddenly realize–“Oh my god, my dad is dead.” It still seems unreal. I still want to buy him a box of those horrible doughnuts. Life is strange. Dying is stranger.