All posts by X Teri

A Reminder About Our Own Lives (Update)

During Jimmy’s last days, I was one of the people trying to help him be in comfort and be in control of the little life and time that he had left. It was hard and I wasn’t good at it all, even though I was a geriatric nursing aid for over two years when I was young. Everyone had demands on his life and his wife. Half-forgotten acquaintances, disconnected family members and others clamored to have their moment with him. It was too much. Like so many, I was spoiled in the pursuit of my own life and demands on my time.When someone we love is stricken, we have great intentions, some of which get withered away by the sheer fatigue of normal life. A lot of my time with Jimmy honestly was to get him to think differently about his remaining time, regardless of how long he lived. I wanted him to get his affairs in order, make plans for everyone in his life, to use the energy he had to go places and be with people he truly wanted to be around. I’m sure I got on his nerves about living wills!

When Jimmy was healthy after the first bout of cancer, he focused on being alive and getting back into the daily effort to live and be happy. He needed time to get back to his own mental place of quiet. Most of the people Jimmy treasured had the chance to laugh and smile with Jimmy, to talk about the good times, and to wish him well on his new lease on life. Even I left him peace. I should have bothered him more, dropped in unannounced, and watched over him. But he was his own person and had his own laundry list to tend to. I made it clear to those caring directly for Jimmy that everyone, including me, should be told to go jump off a boat if necessary.

Anyone who had wanted time with Jimmy had more than 40 years before his cancer to enjoy life with him. They also had time during his first bout and during his remission. Many people squandered these opportunities – and that is okay. That is how life is. We often fail to express in our life what matters to us and time sneaks past us until all we have left are regrets and missed opportunities.The ones who squandered their chances the most were also by and large the people who were the most vindictive and vicious as Jimmy’s condition worsened. They tried to compensate for their failure to be with Jimmy in the past by lashing out and somehow trying to prove their devotion by demanding time with him when he wasn’t so willing or able to provide it.

You have to take advantage of your life in the present. Waiting until someone is crippled with a disease to attempt to recapture a lost connection is a disservice to everyone involved. It is not about you or me once someone is dying – it is about him or her and what he or she wants. His or her demands take precedence.

Once Jimmy’s cancer returned, it was another feat of energy for him just to deal with daily life. As more and more people came forward, it became a drain on his lifeforce. It wasn’t that he didn’t appreciate those who shared time with him before, but rather his limited energy had to be measured out and carefully tended. He avoided talking to many people; some of those people he sometimes wanted to talk to a lot but just didn’t have the energy. When you are confronted with a disease like cancer and you think it’s going to kill you, you want to live in the moment and not be constantly reminded of what is being lost.  Old acquaintances have less and less in common with you and while they might want to recapture some of what was lost, the person who is ill is facing losing everything, both past and present.Somewhere in the midst of all this, his mother got ill and died in a very short span of time. Jimmy’s life was very much connected to that of his mom. Her loss had a profound effect on him. Her death also opened up the door for another family member to continue to distract Jimmy about things that normal people shouldn’t have to deal with.

For many distanced friends, family and acquaintances, the polite veneer peeled back to reveal a self-righteous anger, especially when they were politely told “no.” For those of us in the middle of it all, we forgot that people don’t always respond to logic. Had I to do it all again, I think a taser and pile of restraining orders would have been handy. (And a 7′ hulk of a man whose sole job would have been to visit the miscreants draining away our energy. Anyone still arguing would have gotten one courtesy knock to the head and tied to a chair.)

As Jimmy started to withdraw and avoid talking to people, some of them didn’t respond well to being asked to wait or to plan their visits. The people providing care were put in the middle. Jimmy’s wife was left to be the scapegoat and recipient of the anger and stupidity of those people. As bad as it was for me, I can only imagine what it was really like to be the caregiver and yet be cursed at and threatened for following Jimmy’s wishes. People didn’t stop to think that Jimmy was always needing medication or that he was tired and confused a lot. He would have moments of great lucidity and a desire to talk to people – rare moments. Followed by intense withdrawals. Some couldn’t understand that this was normal for someone going through intense cancer treatment. Meanwhile, his wife, who was keeping Jimmy alive, was being called horrific names, harassed, and even threatened. Her motives were questioned and her life was degraded from some of the anger.

Meanwhile, someone who should have known better than any was torturing me. This person had missed the years of chances to visit Jimmy and once it became too late to do anything about it, lashed out with some of the most vile anger I’ve ever imagined or witnessed. I almost lost my mind over it. Had I to do it all over again, I would have been aggressive about it when it started, rather than hoping for a person’s better nature to come to the surface. So great was this person’s anger and guilt that I was ultimately cast as the villain in the story. Luckily, I was keeping my sanity for Jimmy. But I did waste a lot of my energy trying to get the idiot spreading anger out of my life. That energy could have been better served by being available for Jimmy and those around him. Instead, I had no choice but to suffer from the foolishness of this person who was ruining our lives under the guise of caring.

I want to be certain to mention that most people were understanding and could subvert their own wants and wishes long enough to listen to the family as Jimmy’s time was parceled out. As in daily life, most people are compassionate and generally great. A small handful of people can make life into a living hell, though, if they want to do so. There’s so much frustration wasted on the few who don’t listen that it can easily drown out the good people around us in these situations. Even though it was a lesson I thought I had already learned, the next time I have to deal with those who attempt to insist on their interference in such a situation, I think I’m going to opt for the less subtle approach. (The taser or a bucket of water…)

Link for the “Ring Theory” about not sticking your foot in your mouth…

In part, it was Jimmy’s resurgence of cancer that motivated me to keep writing. I’ll try to explain why in this sidebar. When Jimmy was younger, he was a hellcat. He loved Hank Williams, Jr, Pantera, and above all, Metallica. He loved smoking and drinking – being around people was his primary comfort in life. He was wild. His biggest demon was alcohol. It caused him a lot of heartbreak and misfortune. As he aged, his demon still climbed on his back, but somewhere along the way he opened his eyes to god and allowed himself to see another way of living. Even when he failed to live up to the standard, he knew in his heart what direction he should be walking. Even though we disagreed a lot on religion, he knew that I got a kick out of the idea of a “Converted Jimmy.” Jimmy knew what failure was but he still plugged away at the idea of a renewed life, spiritually and in daily life. The first time I went to church with him as an adult was an interesting invitation into his new life. To see family members look at us is astonishment – that both of us were going to church, was a great laugh for Jimmy. One thing he disliked intensely were those who professed to be christian yet lived their lives in judgment of others. Given Jimmy’s propensity to drink, it’s no wonder. These observations lead me to mention that the latter part of Jimmy’s life didn’t mesh well with his youth. Those who wanted to remember Jimmy as nothing but a hell-raiser couldn’t accept that while Jimmy still had that hell-raiser loose inside him, he had changed into someone else, moving in a different direction. Many of the people who caused difficulty for Jimmy’s wife tended to be those who shared the younger years with him. They had indeed shared many a drink with Jimmy and even a degree of love with him – but couldn’t see that he wasn’t the same person. Even during Jimmy’s viewing, a childhood friend brought pictures and angrily told me that this new Fayetteville crowd had somehow tricked Jimmy – that he wasn’t that kind of church-going person they were trying to celebrate. He wanted to do the eulogy and share some of the wild stories. While I think mixing some of the old “wild Jimmy” with the Jimmy of the last few years of his life wold have been interesting, the truth is that the old crowd still would have felt as if his real legacy had been betrayed. That’s what convinced me to write more. In my case, no matter what sins or mistakes I’ve made, anyone can come back to my words and see firsthand what I’ve wrote. My own words will be the best guide of what I thought was interesting or important.

It’s not the destination that matters most, for we all will finish our journey inside the same house. How we get there is the story. None of us are the same person at the end of the journey as we were when we stepped into life. None of us knew how complex, beautiful, and utterly tiring life can be. I wish Jimmy’s journey had been at least a little longer and maybe then I could have convinced him to share more openly so that he can be remembered the way he might have wanted.

He was, like most of us, different in each of our eyes.


A Wedding (Update)

“Time announces itself not with bells, but with whispers.” -x

I’ll start this post with a funny anecdote. (It would be funnier if someone other than me were to write it down!) Jimmy and Alissa were to be married at her mother’s house on the east side of  Springdale. The wedding had been assembled in a few short days and the house, though large, was full of people. Jimmy was pacing the house, nervous and trying to relax. At one point, he wanted to sneak away and smoke. Given how close it was to the start of the wedding, I told Jimmy he didn’t have time. Ignoring me, we went out the back in the garage. He very seriously and in a very quiet voice told me to keep watch by the door to make sure that Pastor Harry wouldn’t come out and surprise Jimmy, catching him smoking. Naturally, I obliged, but pointed out that Pastor Harry had probably seen worse things than people smoking, regardless of cancer or weddings taking place. Jimmy insisted that Pastor Harry not find out. The cigarette had a huge impact on Jimmy’s state of mind and calmed him down, but I was still amused that Jimmy thought Pastor Harry would have cared whether he smoked or not. As we went back inside, I stood in the middle of the living room and told everyone, Pastor Harry included, that I had just been outside with Jimmy so that he could smoke, and that Jimmy had me stand guard so that Pastor Harry wouldn’t find out Jimmy had been smoking. Everyone turned to look at me, as I had just ratted Jimmy out. And then we all laughed. Alissa’s dad Nick laughed the most over it. Jimmy just shook his head and smiled when he heard what I had done. At least I fixed his Pastor Harry problem!

While Jimmy and I were in the garage, he told me that he should have gotten married a long time before, not just for himself, but for Alissa, his son Noah, and Alissa’s girls. He reminisced a little over his first marriage years before in Eureka Springs. Jimmy had been deathly afraid that I was going to run around naked as a surprise for that ceremony. He got the idea because I kept telling him I was going to do it. (For reference, he was married the first time in a glass and steel church, one which would have been ideal for a bout of streaking…) I promised him that I wasn’t going to pull any stunts and he told me it might be a good surprise for Alissa’s family if I ran through the living room naked. He was certain that Nick would get a laugh, if not a snapshot to commemorate the event.

Just a few short weeks before Jimmy’s death, he had finally decided to get married. One of the reasons I moved up my plans to become an ordained minister was to remove one of Jimmy’s impediments to getting it done. It surprised me when he had went to Las Vegas without getting married and I was also fairly sure that he and Alissa would have wanted a small ceremony somewhere private. I had been a strong advocate for Jimmy to get those things done in his life which he thought to be valuable. When he and his then-fiancé went to Las Vegas, I talked to him more than once about getting married there to minimize the stress and to focus on the positives, rather than his fears. During a couple of his hospital visits, I thought he might opt to go ahead and take the plunge. Having my minister credentials made it possible if were to come up.

There’s no reason now to sugarcoat the fact that several people were against Jimmy getting married. Some were very angry about it. Their anger led to much of the frustrating interference in his life that I wrote about in a previous blog post. Another word for those naysayers: doofus. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, of course, but opinions should be grounded in facts. In Jimmy’s case, disconnected acquaintances and some family were alleging that Jimmy didn’t know what he was doing or that his fiancé was somehow forcing him to do something he didn’t want to do. How they could have known Jimmy’s mind well enough at that point is the reason for my derision of their opinion. Their were only a handful of people that were very close to Jimmy in his last weeks.

As outspoken as I am, as negative as I can be about things at times, I had been 100% supportive and encouraging toward Jimmy getting married and to live his life to the fullest he was able. For quite a long time, it included marrying Alissa. Jimmy had often expressed his regret of not marrying again, of not trying for a normal life. It surprised me that he was reluctant to take the plunge. When he would talk openly to me, he was honest and revealed that much of his reluctance was actually grounded in other people being negative about marriage, especially with Alissa. His mom was one of those reluctant ones, but even Jimmy could see that she wasn’t normally a person motivated by happiness.It seemed that a few people were spreading their own fear and distrust into Jimmy’s head.His mind would get cluttered with “what ifs” and fears of what could happen; to which, I would counter reply that all the positives could happen just as easily and it would better to decided things not from a vantage of fear, but choose based on hope and positives. Jimmy and Alissa had experienced troubles. To use the excuse of difficult times to not take a leap of faith is to lose before the attempt. When Jimmy first dated Alissa, I heard only his side of things. (Upon meeting her, I was surprised to discover that she couldn’t breath fire and that she wasn’t carrying a loaded gun to shoot those who argued with her.)

Getting to the point: if you were one of those people being negative or hateful about Jimmy remarrying, you were wrong. It was a good thing, perhaps even a great thing.Alissa stepped forward and took care of Jimmy for long months. She was his lifeline and his only source of constancy in life. When everything else was waning, she was there, during chemo, radiation and above all, when Jimmy’s impatience and anger would get the best of him. Most people didn’t get to see Jimmy when he would be in those long, dissatisfied bouts of depressive funk. Just as Jimmy’s misunderstanding about the severity of his disease hindered him, Alissa’s presence allowed Jimmy to live longer. (Jesus himself would have pistol-whipped Jimmy a couple of times, or at least hollered at him. Alissa managed to avoid setting his bedclothes on fire.) Those who were judgmental about Jimmy’s choices and his marriage were not witnesses to the daily struggle as Jimmy came to terms with his slide into oblivion.

(Now that time has elapsed sufficient enough to think more clearly, I would remind everyone that I’ve been quite clear about my thoughts and wishes if something as harsh as cancer should get the best of me. My wife gets to decide when, if, and everything else. If I choose to act strangely, it is because I choose to. Please stay to the right, so to speak, and allow me disintegrate in the manner I see fit. I would wish fire upon your head if you were to speak ill or interfere with my wife as she strives to entertain my wishes. It seems obvious to say so, but those closest to us in our boring daily lives get the ultimate say in just about everything when our lives are ending. I would want whoever I leave behind me to get out the taser or shotgun and deal with those interfering appropriately.)

It’s easy to look at the wedding pictures and focus solely on how gaunt and frail Jimmy looked. You can choose to either see him as an ill person getting married, or as someone getting married who is ill. I think the perspective you look with indicates much about your own outlook.

This picture is of Jimmy and Alissa during the after-party. It reveals so much about the weeks leading up the wedding and of Jimmy’s priorities before his death. Again, you can look at this picture and be overcome with sadness; to me, it is a metaphor for our lives. If we are looking closely at our lives, we should be able to see that none of us know for certain whether we are closer to the end or to the beginning of our time. We often fail to honor the staggering implication of our lives being either quickly or slowly snatched from us.For good or ill, Jimmy had the unavoidable and unenviable long approach toward his own death.

Jimmy, Alissa, and Pastor Harry. Pastor Harry evidently needed a kiss, too.

Just to be sure everyone understands the context of some of the wedding pictures: Jimmy had no bottom teeth, something that bothered him relentlessly. Not just because of his lessened eating ability, but because his mouth was pulled up and tight due to the growing tumors. I’ve had people incorrectly assume that Jimmy wasn’t smiling because he didn’t have cause to. His physical limitations were always there to bother him. Even when he smoked, he had to curl his mouth a certain way.

Here’s a picture of Jimmy making his favorite person in the world comfortable and more handsome.


For this picture, you might not think so, but Jimmy had just laughed at me. He was fidgeting and I joked to him that I would run and fling open the back garage door if he wanted to run away. He laughed and asked if his face looked funny. “No more than usual,” I told him and hugged him, then quietly asked if he and Pastor Harry wanted to go outside for a quick cigarette – and then promptly made my own face for the next picture.

Some might wonder at the efficacy of a wedding so close to one’s death. I would ask you to note that the only difference is that Jimmy clearly saw his approaching reaper and made a positive decision. Each of us, right now, might be breathing our last breath or might have just started our last day on the face of the earth. We just don’t know. That Jimmy did know can’t be used to lessen the meaningfulness of his decision to get married. His was a position that we all secretly and fervently wish to avoid and we should grant him the measure of respect he earned – not just through his cancer, but because he was a human being whose time and effort in this place is worthy of consideration.

Words Jimmy texted to his new wife on his wedding night:  “I love u so much Alissa. And can’t say enough how beautiful you are. I love you.”

DWIs – A Family Legacy

To begin this story, I would like to mention the fact that many, many years ago, a local attorney suffered serious legal repercussions for being involved in a DWI-fix scenario. Both my mom and dad were listed in the records. That should set the tone for the credibility of this post.  It wasn’t unusual when I was younger for people to be able to make a quiet arrangement with some police or prosecutors. My dad was an avid believer in taking advantage of the process.

(Sidenote: once, my Aunt Ardith found out that m uncle was cheating on her. He left the house and she called the police in anger to report him drinking and driving. She then left to find him. She got pulled over and arrested – while he didn’t get caught. Guess who was already in the drunk tank when my Aunt Ardith was put in jail? My mom. You can’t make up that kind of great, albeit possibly sad, story!)

Both my mom and dad had multiple DWIs. Not all of them became official, of course, but both were arrested many, many times each. As for my dad, he was involved in the death of a relative back in 1970. Dad totaled more than one vehicle while drinking, as did my mom. (My mom seriously hurt a few people during her drinking and driving exploits. As far as I know, she didn’t kill anyone while driving.) Both of them had their licenses suspended and/or revoked many times.

Even though it sounds like hyperbole to say it, I was in a moving vehicle while my parents were drunk dozens and dozens of times. There were accidents with me in the vehicle. Some of the notable ones include one near the edge of the swamp toward Rich, Arkansas, one near the intersection of what is now I-540 and 412, another near Blue Hole in Tontitown, another in downtown Brinkley where the dress shop now stands, one at the edge of a drainage deep along the periphery of a rice field, etc.(On that last one, dad had been driving over 100mph on a dirt road.)

As always, if a family member reads this and jumps into revisionist mode, stop and ask yourself if this how everyone remembers dad? I’ve had family members scoff at some of my stories and memories- their intent is to cast doubt on the truth or to minimize how severely my parents abused alcohol.

I don’t remember being seriously injured myself in any of the accidents, although I remember hurting my hand once, a cut on the back of my shoulder and on my head in another and feeling like I had been beaten after the one by the Blue Hole in Tontitown around the 4th of July one year.

There were many times I was forced to drive, even when I didn’t really know how, by my dad. His insistence on me driving wasn’t a recognition of his impaired ability, but rather as a way to force me to “be a man.” I wonder how often I heard that stupidity of a phrase from him growing up: “be a man.” My idea of what a man is and his are wildly different. Drunk driving certainly shouldn’t be included, especially at night.

I used to get in the car or truck with one or both of my parents and be literally scared to breathe. Like most drunks, they vastly overestimated their driving ability. There were times we drove all the way back to Brinkley with one of them drinking and driving. Sometimes, I was in the bed of the pickup on the interstate, or going through the mountains before the interstate came all the way to NWA. Family members, especially the Cook side, would object to my parents drinking and having me in the car with them, but only be forced to shut up about it.

As my mom aged, she became increasingly hostile at the system that kept taking her license. She wouldn’t acknowledge that anyone had the right to stop her from potentially killing other people on the road. There was more than one DWI in the last years of her life that almost no one knows about. When she died, she had no vehicle – but not for the reasons she offered. (After my mom had almost killed those people out by Highway 49 one night I swore off helping her get back on the road.)

I have never been pulled over under the suspicion of drinking. While I might have one simple drink and drive, I would never consider having more than one and getting behind the wheel. So embedded into me was my aversion that I simply can’t consider it as a sane act. My birthright would demand that I drive frequently after imbibing, but like most things from much of my upbringing, I recognized the idiocy of it early enough to train myself into a different way of life.

People who know me also know that as long as no one is injured, I believe there’s no reason that a person’s first and only DWI should not be completely expunged from their life it is not repeated. It is very easy for anyone to have a lapse in judgment and drive after drinking. (And most of us were hideously stupid when we were young!) My commentary refers to those who have had multiple drinking and driving issues. (Also, to be fair, a LOT of people who should have DWIs on their records were able to pull strings and avoid accountability or even being charged with it. I’ve noticed that some of these people who should have gotten DWIs tend to be the biggest jerks toward other people about their lapses.)

I don’t mean to make it sound like all my family are drunks or drive drunk. But many did.