I can’t tell you how often I hear about other people engaging in it.
I’ve known for most of my adult life how damaging this can be to people. Even if they don’t say so. They are waiting for you to understand. Most people might not until they’ve experienced it themselves. Or until someone they love communicates the hurt it engenders.
I’ve noticed that most of the people around me don’t have one. An advanced directive isn’t the same thing as a healthcare proxy. If you’re going to do one or the other, I recommend a proxy because it entrusts your decisions to someone you designate to make decisions for you. You can do an Advanced Directive if you’d like to stipulate exactly what medical care you prefer. Otherwise, you can trust your named person to do it for you. Just don’t entrust this sort of thing with your brother-in-law Bob.
Because I’m not into privacy, Erika is my primary, and my favorite cousin is the alternate. I like to joke and imagine the doctors huddled in my ICU room. “So, what does X want to be done?” Either Lynette or Erika will look them in the eye and say, “He was adamant that he wanted no life-sustaining artifices, but he insisted on a coffee colonic each morning at 4 a.m. Oh! And to be defibrillated in the nether regions twice a day. Set the phaser on maximum, please.”
I imagine everyone knows my general wishes: I don’t mind CPR once or twice if it results in a positive life afterward. I never want to be airlifted; whatever happens, I want it to happen near my home and life. I don’t want to be sustained for any period other than briefly. And if I need to be defibrillated in the nether regions just for amusement, please go for it. It’s exactly what I’d want you all to tell the doctors if only to see their reaction.
It’s been quite a while since my emergency surgery. I’ll never forget that Monday afternoon after work. And I often think about the calm day when the plane crashed at my residence. I don’t think I imagined such a calamity when I skipped work that day and drank my cup of morning coffee. Days like that can and will happen to everyone. Unless you’re certain immortality is at your disposal, it’s wise to make sure you have someone designated. And if you’re married? Name someone for you both, just in the unlikely case that you’re both incapacitated.
Just to give you a little push, most people don’t know that millions of us have inactive aneurysms. Most never cause problems. They can rupture or cause symptoms at any time. I’m not telling you that to make you cringe. I’m giving that example to demonstrate that the universe has a quiver of surprises for us. We are biological machines filled with opportunities to tap on our shoulders.
If anyone reading this doesn’t have a healthcare proxy, they aren’t complicated and only require the signature of two witnesses. I can direct you to where to make one – or I can email you a blank form you can fill out.
I hope all of you add this to your list of “musts.” Otherwise, when the unimaginable happens, your friends and loved ones will scramble to figure out a way to make these decisions for you.
Not related, this morning just before 7 a.m., as I watched a visitor valiantly attempt to rouse a friend at a nearby apartment, I looked up above the horizon to the west to see a long, streaking shooting star blaze into the atmosphere. It was singular and probably high into the sky. But it streaked for a couple of seconds as it obliquely burned into visibility. That meteorite is us. I hope your time here is long and joyful. Don’t forget to take a few moments and add my recommendation to your to-do list. It’ll help your circle in the event you need it.
(PS I didn’t mention a Living Will, which is also a great resource.)
Erika surprised me last weekend with not one but two pairs of shoes. ( She even bought them new. 🙂 ) She was tired of seeing my worn-out but very comfortable work shoes. One of the pairs makes me feel like the god Mercury. The other pair? I literally danced and took off running at Academy when I felt how light they made me feel. I already feel that way most days, as if I’m a burning battery and my feet not quite touching the ground. Just at work today, I walked 23,000 steps, 75 flights of stairs, and jumped three railings. For years, I accommodated a huge amount of weight. I try not to think about spending those years not being the way I was always supposed to be. All the picnic tables I did not jump, all the miles I could have traversed in all manner of places, and the energy hidden inside my body but camouflaged by poor eating choices. Don’t get me wrong. I was very active and especially so because of my job. But there’s no getting around I foolishly convinced myself that it was more pleasurable to overeat than to feel the way I do now. As my friend Tammy taught me to say, nothing tastes as good as this feels. I know I won’t always be this way because age has no choice but to rob us incrementally of mobility. So if you see me jumping things I’m not supposed to be… Laugh and give me encouragement. You can laugh twice as hard if I bust my ass. Because one day, I will be like that native American next to the highway littered with trash, a tear in my eye, as I look upon a picnic table that I can no longer jump. So for today and all the days I can, I will pirouette, jump, climb trees, and remember what it felt like when I wasn’t truly me.
The problem with listening to one of my favorite Rocky theme remixes on the way to work is that it activates my Dukes of Hazzard reflex. Before I even realized fully what I was about to do, I took three quick steps, hooked my right hand on the railing, and sailed over the rail, landing on the mulch below. And then I laughed and laughed. People told me to stop jumping picnic tables. At least I’m not jumping the railing at the second level. Yet…
“In sickness and health” is a beautiful standard. It reminds us that life isn’t easy.
I’ll leave it to someone whose opinion I cherish to briefly sum up one of the caveats that eluded me: “A cancer diagnosis falls under “in sickness and in health.” Choosing obesity does not.”
It’s also true for alcoholism or anything that is behavior-driven. Overcoming any of these problems is a lot of work. Of course it is!
This doesn’t imply that some people don’t have physical or emotional struggles that make it harder. I’m not discussing the outliers. I’m talking about most of us, the ones who fall into drinking and slowly drive our loved ones mad with concern and consequences. Or those who gain weight and instead of honestly addressing the issue, learn to accommodate the effects of their choices. Their partners might be the most loving people in the world. They might encourage, they might support, and they might also quietly watch the person they love lose sight of their health. But the partner with the behavioral issue is making the decision for both partners.
I’m reluctant to talk about weight for a lot of reasons, one of which is that it impacted me personally, both as the person guilty of it and then the person attempting to get my partner to see that the consequences of choosing to let it get worse were damaging our quality of life on multiple levels. The other thing that makes me hesitant is that we have such a huge taboo against openly and honestly talking about weight. It’s a global problem.
Love is a feeling. It is also action. And reciprocal and mutual action when it affects your partner. When the consequences of your choices rob both of you of the enjoyment of life and each other, it’s no shame for your partner to ask you to do something different. They wouldn’t ask if they didn’t love you.
I only equate alcoholism and obesity because of the complexities of both behaviors. They both require a realization on the part of the person affected by them. And both bring consequences to both partners attempting to lead a good, healthy life.
It shouldn’t be taboo to talk about either one. And if anger results from either conversation, you have a bigger problem. But the anger also acknowledges the severity of the underlying conversation.
This is a delicate post, one written with the intention of reminding people that there are subtleties to traditions that others might not consider.
When we lose someone, we lose a part of ourselves. Most of us foolishly think we’re prepared. We’re not, of course. It’s a visceral punch that permeates our bodies and takes occupancy of our minds.
Those around us feel the same loss in a different, diffused way depending on their connection. I don’t need words unless that’s what you have to offer. I’d prefer a silent hug just to acknowledge that you care. Even carefully spoken words, ones drowning in heartfelt emotion, can evoke an unintended meaning. I’ve been guilty of it, even when it was the last thing on my mind. When someone loses a loved one, their filter is either wide open or often warped. Words and actions can take on meanings that no one intended. Even gentle, loved-filled words.
One of the traditions of the past is that friends and loved ones send flowers. They add beauty and are a physical manifestation of the fact that their thoughts are with us.
For some, such plants and flowers can be a burden. Each of them requires attention, effort, and longevity. Because they are hallmarks of a loved one’s passing, it’s difficult to disregard their care. When you do make the choice to send flowers, please understand that not everyone is equipped to give these plants the care and honor that is intended. Those left behind are already dealing with grief and likely a long list of to-dos involving the logistics of someone passing.
Speaking from my point of view, I love nothing more than to hear stories and see pictures of whoever passed. If you have pictures of someone I loved who died, please share them. If you have stories, tell them. It allows us to see our person in a different light and through different eyes.
All of us have organizations that we support. Whether it’s organ donation, animal care, homeless causes, or cancer treatment, the money spent on flowers could do tremendous good out there in the world. This in no way negates the love or thought that sending flowers might. For me, I’d rather you share pictures, hugs, and stories and spend the money on something meaningful. If sending flowers is a sign of adoration and respect, then certainly sharing pieces of someone’s life is equally, if not more, an indicator. And, because it’s me, if you want to show love and caring, give the money to an organization (or even a person or family) who could benefit.
I apologize to the floral industry for my viewpoint. Sending flowers is a tradition cemented in the past. I’m not speaking for everyone! But I do know a couple of people I love who were burdened by the reception and care of flowers after they lost someone. If someone requests donations in lieu of flowers, please understand that they are expressing their wishes. Don’t hesitate to send flowers if that’s what is in your heart. But also don’t hesitate to do something different if you know the person would rather you do, especially if those flowers require time and care that the grieving person might not have.
As for everyone else, if you don’t have a will, a living trust, and a way for those left behind to take care of you and your belongings upon your death, please take care of those things. Despite what we think, life surprises all of us at inopportune moments. For any of us, this could be the last day we walk the earth. Part of our responsibility as adults is ensuring that the people we leave behind don’t suffer as a result of our lack of thought and planning. Adding avoidable suffering to someone grieving isn’t a loving act.
Marsha, I sent you Grandpa’s shaving cup and razor for several reasons. Like so many touchstones, it’s just a cup and a razor. But it’s also personal and practical, something to connect me to a past that I romanticize with abandon. If Heaven had to be chosen from moments on this Earth, I might very well choose a summer in the early 70s with Grandma and Grandpa. Being poor wasn’t something I thought about then. It taught me that all the possessions in the world can’t replace the feeling of being loved, even if in a way that isn’t soft and fuzzy.
Bonnie trusted me with the shaving kit a few years ago. I wouldn’t have sent it to you a few years ago. You weren’t ready. And I know my saying so won’t hurt your feelings or open old wounds. I didn’t send it to you because it holds no value for me. As one of the last remaining sentimental things I own, the opposite is true. Everything is temporary, even the people and things we cherish. I don’t love the cup less than I once did. But I also don’t want to hoard and clutch something closely that might touch you in the same way it did me.
Each time I picked up, it was easier for me to flash back 50 years and almost smell Grandpa’s aftershave. He was a simple man, at least by the time I came around. Nostalgia sometimes cripples me when I get into memory mode, trying to recapture details or moments. But even if I don’t get the details right, nothing can rob me of the feeling I had when I was around him. Whether we were watching Kung Fu on the little black and white tv, sitting on the porch swing daring the yellow jackets to approach, or while I was splayed out on the floor with my play pretties while he watched baseball…I didn’t appreciate until I was much older that while Grandpa was no hugger, he gave me more affection than my parents did for the first part of my life. He didn’t raise his voice to me, nor his hands. If I needed to learn that a razor blade was sharp, he’d gruffly tell me to be careful – but didn’t tell me not to touch it. He let me swing an ax that was beyond my capability, bought me nails to drive needlessly into everything in sight, and handed me a sliver of his cannonball chewing tobacco, letting me decide whether I liked it. He poured me coffee when I was four, let me stand beside him when the tornado weather approached and told me to stand still so that we could watch for an unseen animal in the cotton fields. He taught me that four-legged animals were rarely as dangerous as those of us walking around on two. He tried to tell me stories of the war, of riding the trains like a hobo, and many others; Grandma would shout at him to stop. I remember hardly any of those stories, but I can still feel the Monroe County sun on our legs and smell the creosote of the porch steps baking.
I am hoping the feeble power of words that I possess can give you a glimpse of how much it meant for me for Bonnie to send me Grandpa’s shaving kit. The cup is a mercurial, mystical object. It looks like an ordinary thing. But that’s the magic of memory, love, and longing. We imprint onto things that remind of us of the people we loved and who loved us.
May it serve you well or in moments where you get distracted by life’s events that aren’t really important. Or when you feel yourself tempted by old habits. Grandpa was afflicted with many of the same torments that made your life difficult. But he ended up toward the end of his life living a simple, uncomplicated life devoid of the temptations that discolored his adult life. That’s something to be appreciated. If you end up with nothing, yet have a life with even a single person who loves you, it’s a good life.
I’m not one for signs. But coincidences draw my scrutiny. The other day when I was talking about Jimmy with Erika, she said she did not remember the song “Whiskey In The Jar” by Metallica. It’s not a typical Metallica song. But I love everything about it. Several people reached out to me with stories about Jimmy. This morning when I needed it, I scanned stations to get away from the talk shows. The radio station The X came up. And guess what was playing? Whiskey In The Jar. As I cranked the volume, it certainly felt like the universe was talking to me.
I wanted to share one of the stories with Brianna about her dad Jimmy.
Jimmy was spoiled beyond belief. As an older cousin, I benefited immeasurably from this. He had all the toys, games, and add-ons that can make a childhood full of play. Because my immediate family was so poor, I’d never get the chance to experience those things if it weren’t for Jimmy and my Aunt Ardith and Uncle Buck. But I’m not exaggerating when I tell stories about Jimmy’s legendary spoiledness.
Uncle Buck was an accomplished musician. He had the chance to ‘be’ someone in the music field but chose to do it as a side gig and hobby instead of pursuing it. He gave Jimmy record players and an endless supply of 45s and LPs. Some of these I remember well because Jimmy played them until you couldn’t help but to have the songs burned into your ears. Stories like the one I’m recounting take on an unlikely meaning when you consider that Jimmy dived deeply into Pantera and his beloved group Metallica as soon hair began to grow on his face. Rock and heavy metal gave him a voice like nothing else had before. The year Jethro Tull won the grammy over Metallica, I wondered if Jimmy might go off the deep end permanently. “Effing Jethro Tull!” he said at least two million times in the next month. “Bands with flutes are NOT rock music!”
Whether it was “Devil Goes Down to Georgia” or other songs, none of my memories eclipse 1977’s “You Light Up My Life” by Debby Boone. Jimmy was about seven when the song premiered. He thought the song was the best he’d ever heard – and that Debby Boone was an angel. For those who don’t know, this song was EVERYWHERE and #1 for ten weeks. Jimmy played that record so many times that I wondered if it would ever fade into the background. Jimmy had the song memorized in five plays. He played it twelve million more times just to be certain. When Jethro Tull won the Grammy years later, I reminded him that “You Light Up My Life” had a flute in it. He got pissed off, but then in typical Jimmy fashion, he laughed. “You’re right! Damn it, you’re right!” He added the phrase, “Damn flutes!” to his repertoire of mumblings for a while.
When I hear “You Light Up My Life,” which is a rare thing now, I can’t explain how odd it is to think of Jimmy, Metallica, and Jethro Tull in the same thought. Jimmy’s been gone now for slightly less than ten years. 1977 is forty-six years ago.
So, Brianna, if you want a moment to connect with Jimmy, take a minute and look up “You Light Up My Life” and think of Jimmy standing in his living room with the song playing. He’d sway and badly sing the lyrics over and over. He was happy in those moments. Later, Metallica supplanted Debby Boone. Every once in a while through the years, I’d tease him and say, “Well, they are no Debby Boone, Jimmy!”
As for Jimmy, I hope those damn flutes are playing somewhere. With Metallica’s drums and shredded guitars accompanying them.
Jimmy’s hairstyles followed those of Metallica. The picture looked nothing like him for the last half of his life. But it’s tucked away in my collection to remind me.