Category Archives: Death

Cursejoy

Reaching the age when you are looking through old photos and realizing that you are the only one in the picture still alive.

It truly comes for us all.

Because I’ve maintained my ancestry account for so long, I’ve had at least 20 instances where I realized that I needed to update someone’s life by posting their death. For several, I’ve not only been the first to do so, but the only one. In time, others often see a death marked with a ‘hint’ on their trees and borrow my initiative. I try to gather the enthusiasm as soon as possible to post all the pictures I have of the person who has died. I find it increasingly hard to imagine hoarding pictures from posterity; while I might possess a picture, I’m merely its custodian.

I can imagine what Paul Edgecombe from “The Green Mile” felt when he was cursed with long life. Part of the arrangement was that he had no choice but to witness the passing of everyone who shared his life. While I’m in my early 50s, I can feel the pain of someone who reaches 80.

Getting older presents us with more opportunities to hold the disparate ideas of bittersweet and melancholy simultaneously.

Because I love pictures and genealogy, the two hobbies often coalesce and focus my attention to the passing of people – as well as the infrequent but inescapable realization that the deaths accumulate behind me.

Cursejoy.

Burns of Denial

markus-winkler-7EwWeNyzSwQ-unsplash

When my wife died suddenly several years ago, I opted for an awkward visitation after her cremation. I know it was awkward; such things were not common, especially in the Venn diagram of the converging families affected by her death. Many of her family were Catholic; a few of those hid behind their Catholicism to attempt to blame their dislike of cremation. To be fair, I didn’t care. In my case, I was lucky. The death of a maternal uncle about a month before had crystallized any doubts what my wife wanted if she died. She loved the Catholic church through her grandmother’s eyes; she rejected in the world at large. Her displeasure with it took on its own life when she observed some of her family members use it as a disguise for the things that infected them.

Though it strays from the theme of this post, one of the first serious conversations I had with her involved her dad. Her youth was punctuated by heartache. Both parents were not appropriately tuned in to their kids. She was the youngest of a series of children born to a mix of fathers. Both misbehaved; the mom especially led a promiscuous lifestyle. I convinced my wife that she would almost certainly reach a point where she could sit in a room and laugh with her dad. That day came before her death. It wasn’t perfect, but it was miles from where they’d started.

img691
Deanne with her dad Ralph…

Even though it made some people uncomfortable, for the visitation I had a table with letters, photos, and both mementos and moments for people to see. Like it or not, none of us are prepared for the unreasonable demands of sudden death, especially when young.

Someone familiar with my story and the players involved told me a story I keep forgetting. Her accounting of memories and happenings is much stronger than mine – though she would not agree with me saying so.

When she attended my wife’s visitation, the wife of my biggest critic turned to her and mentioned the cigarette burns on her husband’s back, ones earned during his abusive childhood.

I wasn’t a part of the conversation. Although I was told the story before, it slipped out of my mind as things do.

It was such an odd time to bring it up.

It was an odd and unrequested topic, too.

Given the recent uptick in unsolicited criticism, it echoes in my mind as a benchmark for so much.

I felt like I should share this story.

Because the story comes from someone unimpeachable, it seems important that the wife would later attempt a hard right turn into becoming a revisionist regarding any abuse.

The abused themselves do this with an astonishing frequency.

No-Visitor Policies Do Harm

4RISU4VNNJMXPBHSXNOPRQH73E

 

*Legal note: this is written under the auspices of both employee safety and in the interest of public health and debate. This commentary is almost universally applicable, regardless of geography. The policies I’m complaining about have negatively impacted thousands of lives without furthering our collective public health interests. They piss me off because people don’t understand the implications until they affect them personally. (Which might well be the national motto for the United States.)

Not all healthcare facilities and hospitals adopted a blanket approach, precisely because such policies wrongly isolate patients and reduce the quality of life of everyone involved. To those who properly implemented precautions without simultaneously severing the vital family-patient link, I thank you. Were such a facility nearby, you can be sure that you would be my first option for all healthcare services. The idea that a family cannot interact in person with their family member when they are ill is one of the most abhorrent ideas I’ve dealt with as an adult.

I have serious concerns about the no-visitor policies healthcare facilities adopted when covid made its appearance. Most of these policies weren’t based on science; they certainly went too far. When I see ‘heart-warming’ videos of long-wedded couples communicating through windows, my heart doesn’t melt. It hardens – and against those who insist that isolation in lieu of reasonable precaution is in the public health interest. We allow millions of Americans to wander in public without taking basic precautions. We are not making good decisions as people, as citizens, or as businesses.

Though it says something less than positive about me, the above angers me. It’s not an irritation that can be overlooked. I see the impact that misguided and poorly-executed policies have on real people. Your mom, sister, grandmother, son, daughter, and friend. Now, me.

Perhaps my inside view of how healthcare works discolors my opinion. Healthcare is a mammoth business. We routinely forget that healthcare is at our service. Though it is a business with a mission, it is one that should focus on the human impact of policies. They all say they agree, though when I outline my argument that demonstrates the no-visitor policies to be draconian, their faces harden and they fall back to a “trust us” stance. Failing that, they aggressively insist. After all, they hold our family members hostage inside their facilities. What can we do? Before you think that ‘hostage’ is too harsh a word, I suggest you drop a family member off at an ER without knowing they have policies that endanger your family member and isolate you from them.

Is there any other business you can think of that operates this way? By invoking the label of public safety, they can hide any motive or lack of reasoning in a policy that harms your interests. The fact that not all hospitals adopted blanket no-visitor policies logically indicates that there is strong disagreement among experts. In my case, it was nonsensical.

I did not have a voice in these policies. No family member did. As you’ll see through my emails, my presence in a hospital as a visitor constituted LESS of a risk to hospital staff than even those very hospital workers. One of the dark secrets of our covid response is that we failed to test each and every healthcare worker. Even while we were in Phase I, we didn’t test. Although the state mandated that surgical candidates would have to be tested prior to entry into the hospital, efforts to test healthcare workers at the same level of sensible precautions were stymied. The motive for such decisions probably jumps into your mind in the same manner as it does for everyone else. The public interest would have best been served by universal testing for everyone in a healthcare facility, followed by stringent testing on a scheduled basis thereafter. This can be done without fear of dismantling the healthcare industry. It would, however, make us all safer.

It is true that it would expose the fact that healthcare workers are working while infected with covid. How many might be up for debate but it would be foolish to insist that the answer is ever ‘zero.’ We can’t fix a problem by ignoring huge variables. Even though I’ve said it already, my commentary is couched inside the box of the public health interest. Only the most feeble arguments would stretch to claim that my mentioning it somehow lessens the confidence of our healthcare industry. The industry is staffed by fallible people, as is any other field such as aviation, police, or engineers. People try to do their best. When policies are shown to cause harm, they need to be modified in the same way that ‘best practices’ evolve within healthcare.

Although I intervened in the cases of others when they were fighting hospitals needlessly keeping them at a distance from their loved ones, I knew eventually the policies I loathed would affect me personally. I had several conversations with my wife. During each, I repeated that I’d rather risk a lower chance of survival in exchange for the simple human right to have her visit and watch over me and my care. It is for the same reason I’ve instructed her that I don’t give consent to ever be airlifted anywhere. I trust my local healthcare facilities. I trust them more because proximity increases the chances that people who know me will be able to visit and observe my care. I do not want to ever be in a facility that denies her access to me unless it is a prison. Weirdly enough in the case of a prison, she’d still be able to visit.

Hospitals of course weight varying interests when establishing policy. Covid, though, has caused a lot of decisions to be made with inadequate information or in fear of liability. You, as a family member, are powerless to appeal, threaten, or sue hospitals for their policies.

One of my friends in particular was forced to endure days of being away from her dying husband. She finally was allowed to see him shortly before his death. I think Northwest Arkansas was on the verge of mounting an insurrection had she not been granted access. All those days they were separated were needless and harmed the public interest. Anyone looking at the issue from a wide perspective agrees that blanket no-visitor policies only serve to hurt human beings. They are written to protect hospitals – which already enjoy immunity and liability protection. If you read my emails below, I address the futility and stupidity of these policies that prohibit loved ones from seeing their family.

During those weeks, despite the fact that the policies did not affect me personally, I wrote opinion pieces and contacted as many interested people as I could to object to these horrific no-visitor policies. The silence from those who could have made sensible changes was astonishing. The same was true regarding efforts to test everyone working in healthcare.

My mother-in-law was rushed to the ER. She was suffering from what we presumed to be diabetic shock. We all met at the ER entrance at the hospital. No one was allowed to enter the ER with her, despite her deteriorating condition and her complex medical condition. A State Trooper, complete with gun, badge, and uniform sent a clear message to my sister-in-law that family members were the problem.

My mother-in-law is 80. She sat in a chair unattended for quite a while, getting worse. No one was there to insist they be cautious with fluid intake, insulin, or the other things that were vital to her proper and safe care. My mother-in-law’s inability to have someone there as her advocate and loved one contributed to a level of care that suffered as a result. Now that the moment has passed, the hospital can claim this to be untrue. As we’ve discovered once again with our recent riots and the events that precipitated them, events that are recorded or witnessed are more difficult to excuse away. Prior to covid, one of the best means to improve a patient’s care was to have both companionship and oversight for that patient. Those will diligent family members directly improve and suffer fewer health complications than those who don’t. No-visitor policies have stripped patients of the right to have oversight by those who care for them.

I wrote the hospital through its portal. My goal was to request permission to assist in better care for my family member, as well as provide companionship. I knew that the approaching holiday weekend would increase her isolation. Here’s what I wrote:

“My mother-in-law is in your facility.

I work at another hospital. I’m COVID-negative and get screened each day.

I’d like to know why I am not allowed entry into the hospital to visit my mother-in-law.

She was admitted through the ER without a COVID test. I also know that even though hospitals are testing all elective surgery candidates, they are not testing all employees within the facility.

IF you have a method to allow me to visit, please advise me as to the protocol.

Thanks, X Teri”

Someone wrote back:

 

“Thanks for reaching out to us and I’m sorry your mother-in-law is ill. If you will send your phone number, I can have one of our nursing leaders call you. I’m copying our Interim CNO in case she is able to respond by email but I think a phone call would be easier.
These are certainly tough times for everyone and we are sorry for the pain and inconvenience these temporary policy changes on visitation are causing. As you know, they are in place to minimize risks of patients or staff health being compromised, particularly since many people are asymptomatic before they test positive for covid.”

In short, the above is a “No, you may not visit” response.

The next day, I received a reply from someone else, presumably higher in authority:

“Teri, ____________ copied me on your request to evaluate the possibility of visitation at _______________ hospital. As I am sure you recognize, this is a difficult time, the surge of Covid patients has required administration at our hospital, as well as the region, to place restrictions on visitor access. These efforts are to mitigate any possible exposure to our patient population already managing their illnesses or post surgical recovery.

We have made available to our staff access to ipads or recommended the use of phones to support face time calls and discussions with the nursing and physicians if requested by the identified contact family member to provide additional means of support. Nursing staff are available 24/7 to connect with families.

I can empathize with the challenges this places on families but safety is our priority at this time as we continue to care for our community.

Please reach out to me personally if you have any additional questions or needs.

Thank you for your understanding.”

 

Here is my reply:

 

“Thank you for replying.
 
My first name is X, as unusual as that is. This isn’t a “gotcha” email. Please don’t interpret this email as an attack. I am writing it in one fell swoop to voice my objection and concern.
 
I have a family member in your facility. I know that her initial care was less than desirable due to no one being allowed to accompany her during her initial ER visit. No matter how the issue is characterized, she did not receive the care she could have, precisely because the adopted no-visitor policy prohibited her caregiver or another person from being present. This absence needlessly caused the healthcare workers to lack information that would have affected both the timeliness and effectiveness of her treatment. I don’t expect anyone to enthusiastically agree with my assessment. It is, however, a hard truth – and one supported by the facts.
 
I understand the issues surrounding covid.
 
One of the things that has long puzzled me is that while hospitals pre-test elective surgery patients, we still haven’t tested all healthcare workers.
 
Statistically speaking, we know that we have covid-positive healthcare worker cases. We had the opportunity prior to resuming surgery schedules to test each team member at our local hospitals. For a variety of reasons, we didn’t do so.
 
This continues to trouble me greatly as I see families grapple with the ‘no visitor’ policies. I knew it would eventually come around and affect me personally.
 
Knowing that “we don’t know” whether healthcare workers continue to expose patients is an issue that I can’t get around. While I, as a worker in a healthcare facility in Northwest Arkansas, get screened daily, have been tested for covid and follow routine precautions each day, can’t assist in the healthcare of my family member. This disconnect isn’t logical and doesn’t serve my family’s interests or those of public health.
 
While I still would not agree with the visitor policies most hospitals have adopted, I find it illogical that hospitals are not doing everything possible to help our community; such efforts would include testing each and every team member at your facilities. It certainly would allow for those of us in healthcare and who have been tested to be allowed to see our family members.
 
The fact that I’ve been tested when most of your staff has not should be sufficient justification to be allowed to wear PPE and see my family member. Once you see it written that way, it is hard to continue to see fit to disagree with my claim that I should be able to visit my family member.
 
I don’t expect my reasoned response to draw a change of heart for your hospital.
 
I’ve argued against these policies from the day they were implemented.
 
Each of us is exposed and exposes others on a daily basis. It’s true that we might hopefully reduce our involvement, the statistical truth is that we have passed the point of logical precautions.
 
While it might be easier to issue a blanket no-visitor policy, it is one not based on consistent logic or one taking into account the needs of human beings when they are ill.
 
I only wrote back in the futile chance logic would prevail and I’d be allowed to visit my mother-in-law.
 
Absent that, I did not want my silence to be interpreted as agreement with a policy that goes too far and without merit to the extreme of impacting our companionship and oversight of the care our family member might receive.

 

The first person wrote me back, instead of the person higher up. A holiday weekend was approaching. It’s likely the higher-up was off for the holiday.

“X – thank you for copying me on this. I am not a clinician but what you say does make sense to me & I can assure you it will be discussed. In fact, we all know that – in ordinary times – we encourage involvement of family members & other caretakers. ______________ checks email regularly and would encourage you to reach out to her or the house supervisor any time you want to discuss a concern or have a question. Again, I’m sorry for the issues that have led to these temporary very strict policies”

I waited and heard nothing directly about my appeal or request. So, I wrote both of the people I’d heard from:

“I know the holiday probably exacerbated _________’s lack of enthusiasm to attempt a reply to me. I forwarded the email to you because you were the first point of contact for my issue. Each day that passes with rules that force distance between family members is one that cannot be reclaimed.

In your reply, you said something critical to my issue: “…these temporary very strict policies…”

From a family point of view, the policy that prohibits me from seeing my mother-in-law isn’t temporary. It could very well be permanent. I know people who experienced that very issue. They didn’t get the chance to speak face-to-face with their loved ones. They’d entered healthcare facilities without oversight and companionship. And they died in those conditions.

While I objected to these policies when they did not personally affect me, I’m flummoxed to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced them how needlessly draconian they are. Because I have a view from the inside, I know that these policies are blanket policies and do not generally advance the objective of public safety that they purport to. In my case specifically, they only do harm.

I enter a larger healthcare facility each day, get screened, and have been tested for covid. Yet, when misfortune touched my family, I was somehow classified as the general public and denied access to my family member. I’ve been tested for covid, which is far and away more than the overwhelming majority of healthcare workers in your facility can say.

Additionally, your healthcare workers live and work in one of the hottest hot spots in the United States. They eat, shop, and move about among a high concentration of people who do not wear masks and do not observe proper social distancing. Your healthcare workers, the ones caring for my mother-in-law, come to work after such exposure each and every day. Even though I work in a similar but different environment, I am lumped in with the general public, despite being tested and despite following protocols when out in public.

It is lunacy to deny me access to my mother-in-law. Factually speaking, I present LESS exposure to your staff and other patients than your own healthcare workers.

It’s easy for me to get preachy in these emails. On the other hand, hospitals are places where people experience tragedy daily.

When people are ill, especially as old as my mother-in-law, there is no such thing as temporary.

The policies you are enforcing might well be permanent in my case. I don’t know how else to say it.

When logic does not intersect with law (and voluntary rules), the effect is that people needlessly are harmed.

If hospitals don’t intelligently and scientifically lift these burdensome and needless restrictions, the same policies may one day befall you and your loved ones.

Again, I didn’t expect a reversal of policy but I honestly hoped that sense, logic, and compassion would prevail.

I’m still waiting. I’m not the first. And it is a further tragedy that I will not be the last.

X”

I haven’t received a reply, of course. Two days have elapsed. I wrote them a final email, after hearing nothing in response.

“Given that I wrote Saturday and did not receive a reply, I am assuming that my emails weren’t bumped up for further consideration? I didn’t know if there was an appeal process or if an edict had been announced that allows for no variance. I know that some patients were allowed visitors in the interim.

I can understand if you would have said, “The matter is closed.” I wouldn’t be happy, but it at least it would have been a final statement.

Since this issue came up for me personally, several people have reached out and provided me with details about other families and how they were dealt with. I have a lot to consider going forward.

Under the assumption that no one will reach out to me again, I’ll close by saying that it was wrong for _____________________ to prevent me from being with my mother-in-law in the ER and thereafter in her room. It’s a policy without logical footing and one which inhibits the public health you’re charged to protect.

Thanks, X”

As with thousands of others, the hospital has artificially and needlessly robbed me of my ability to be with my family member.

Looking at my case specifically, it is a fact that I present less of a risk to patients and staff than the staff members working in the facility do. I can prove I’m not covid positive. I can enter using PPE that eliminates the risk. Meanwhile, staff members caring for patients at the facility that denies me entry are working, shopping, and living in one of the hottest hot spots per capita in the United States. They haven’t been tested. They walk among a community that does not protect itself by wearing masks or social distance at a rational and reasonable level.

They are a bigger risk than I am.

I’m been tested. They have not.

Anyone who doesn’t question these policies hasn’t had the misfortune of watching their family member needlessly suffer.

My mother-in-law moved a few months ago from a remote location to Springdale in part to be closer to medical care when needed. We’ve visited more in the last few months than we have in years. Ironically, hospitals have worsened that wound of isolation by refusing to allow me to see her.

One hundred thousand people die from infections they receive while in healthcare facilities. This was true before covid.

The workers caring for my mother-in-law haven’t been tested, even though it is an obvious step to ensure the public health and employee safety.

Somehow, I’m the problem?

These policies must go. They must be replaced by sensible public policy and hospital rules that take into account the interests of the whole patient.

Test all healthcare workers, both now and on a scheduled timeline.

Allow designated visitors, even if a covid test is required.

Ask patients and visitors to sign a liability form, to address the primary and obvious reason that hospitals continue to abuse their discretion regarding visitors.

Require masks in public.

Or..

Continue to do the same.

.

.

.

P.S. The hospital responded to my appeal request on Friday, days after my mother-in-law was discharged. It’s hard to make this stuff up.

 

 

 

 

Let There Be Light – An Epitaph For Truth-Telling

christian-lue-EZOxj183uCM-unsplash

 

When I posted this story, I didn’t expect the invisible mob to approach me. It’s easy to skip over my stories if you don’t want to see them. Anyone not wanting to read what I have to say can easily avoid it. For most people, I’m a forgotten planet on the edge of the universe. If you’ve found me and continue to find me just to gnash your teeth, you should take more effort to stop looking for me.

It was amusing to see people assume they knew who I was talking about. That underscores my insistence that people only see what they want to see. Their own preconceptions mislead them into assumptions. Their defensive responses based on these errors tell me a lot about how they are wired and what goes on in their heads versus the persona they present to us.

This story is not about my siblings. It’s not about my paternal uncle. If it were, I would say so, especially now that I was attacked for people’s wrong assumptions about it. To be clear, I’ve been guilty of the same type of jumping to conclusions. It’s driven me to cause a couple of people needless harm. I tried to make up for it. While they might have forgiven my stupidity, they probably remember that I was a jerk needlessly to them.

I’ve waited a while to share it.

We all have people in our lives who have dark secrets. Many people would choose a miserable life over truth and honesty. They fear that the concealed darkness they protect will somehow consume them. The opposite is true: secrets, especially family secrets, only gain their power by our complicity. Children grow up to recognize the disconnect between what they’ve experienced and the story that follows them in life. Most maintain the charade of silence because it is safer. Silence seldom draws much ire or criticism. If we all consciously chose to avoid making ourselves prisoners to our secrets, we’d be happier. As with anything personal, there will always be people who ‘know,’ ones you interact with who are running their own truthline in their heads as they talk to you.

Although I can’t be sure who led him to my history online, it doesn’t change anything. He’d obviously found my thousand stories about love, life, laughter, loss, and lies. As with my family tree online, my stories are not hidden, private, or anonymous. I share them so that anyone can read them. I can’t force belief. I can’t force consumption.

I don’t claim to be a singular authority but I do lash back at anyone who challenges me with the asinine assertion that I have no right to tell my own story. I’m not forcing anyone to consume it. I get grumpy when people who’ve remained silent for decades suddenly get a voice or a conscience; or worse, when they go down the road of revisionism to challenge what happened or to create their own stories with the goal of mitigating the ones I’ve always shared. Several episodes of my life have been worsened because people have lashed out with their own revisions after mine have been out in the wild for most of my adult life. It doesn’t mean they stories are always wrong, but it does mean that their blooming interest should be cautiously examined.

I could tell the conversation had an intended point, even if we weren’t getting there directly.

He couldn’t see that attempting to challenge me would only cement my authority and right to tell my story. His anger and frustration not only told me that my words had pierced his heart, but that he recognized some truth in them. (People don’t generally argue with clowns or people with no credibility. They should stop and think about that before they start challenging or shouting at me.)

People tend to only stand rigid in anger when something has blurred their internal belief system.

It’s pointless to argue with someone wearing clown shoes – so any defensive reaction is in recognition of an arrow cast with keen accuracy.

So, I told him. “You are supposed to let the fools talk. Arguing with them only makes you foolish. If what I say is obviously false, why are you angrily wanting to silence me? It’s all out there, on the internet. Well, not all, but a great deal of it. And those parts which aren’t out there can be inferred. I think I captured the savagery of some of my youth truthfully. And some of the beauty. My story hasn’t changed in 30 years. I think that fact alone gives me a voice of authority and finality.” I wanted him to know that my story wasn’t accusatory; rather, it was history personalized and irrefutable. I wasn’t telling it to draw blood. It was my story – and mine to tell. He had his story to tell if he wants to. He won’t though, because words won’t conceal his complicity. People don’t want to take the time to examine their lives or write about it. I understand it, whether it is laziness or fear of the consequences. We cannot tell our own stories without stepping onto the fringes of other lives. It cannot be done.

“What good does it do? You’re not helping anyone. It’s over,” he said.

“It’s not entirely over. I’m not dead yet – and neither is all of your family. DNA has a lot to say, to reveal many of the lies we’ve been told. I can find things as an adult that our ancestors screamed to silence. Children will grow up and do their own research and find the things we’ve concealed. It took 25 years to find out that my family robbed me of being with a sister I would have undoubtedly appreciated more than my other sister.” I waited.

“DNA isn’t the full story, X. And people kept secrets for a reason.” It seemed like that comment wasn’t full of holes to him.

“Well, why did your parents fight you tooth and nail for no one to do a DNA test? Precisely because they knew you’d find skeletons, bastard children, and stories that would lead to huge lies. I often wonder if people knew if my own Dad had illegitimate children and that I had a black half-sister. It seems likely. They robbed me of all those years with her – and gave my Dad a chance to hide from the consequences of what he’d done. Even now, no one wants to talk about the fact that my Grandfather Terry was ridiculously old to be marrying Grandmother Terry as young as she was. My Grandpa Cook had his own skeletons, but he loved me when he was older. I didn’t know all those stories. The love he had for me was real. Knowing the truth does not change who they were. It might change who we are, though.”

He started to object and I cut him off and continued.

“It helps me. Most of the guilty are dead. I’m not claiming moral superiority. I am better than my ancestors, though. Literally, every moment of your life is over in the sense you use the word, right? Yet, when you think about yourself, you think about the sum of your words and experiences. All history. You can choose another path and never look back. That’s not what we do, though. Telling only the beautiful moments is easy. We are the sum total of what we’ve said or done. We have to earn a reset when we’ve realized we were wrong and offered to make amends.” I knew he hadn’t thought of that.

“What about your motive? It’s obvious that you are writing about it just to hurt people.” He seemed to think that was a rebuttal.

I noted he didn’t challenge the truth of my writing – just its existence.

“My motive? What was the motive when ancestors covered up that my dad killed someone or went to prison? Or beat me with a rake? Or when another family member told me it was my fault that my dad hit me so hard I was coughing blood? History doesn’t hold a motive. And I noticed you failed to mention that there were good times amid all the blood-stained teeth. I don’t just write about the terror. It’s odd that you focus only on the things that you’d rather that people not talk about, that you’re heavy-handedly trying to censor me. I had some great moments when I was young. I’ve never said otherwise and grow tired of people saying I do.”

He was clearly dumbstruck. “Listen, I can’t defend why anyone did or said things. I wasn’t there. But our dads were both more or less good people. They had problems, to be sure.”

I cut him off.

“Most people don’t beat their wife and kids. Or fail to protect kids when they are being beaten. They also don’t use the n-word or hold a buffet of prejudices. Or kill people because they chose to drink and drive. Those aren’t problems. They are psychosis. Family preached that they were superior to black people and that anyone sharing their religion wasn’t welcome in Heaven. My Dad tried to kill me and never faced the consequences of the law or even of family stepping in and demanding he act like a human being. Their silence encouraged him to continue for decades.”

I paused, as he stammered.

“Well, my dad loves God. He’ll be in Heaven.” I could tell he was certain of the fact.

“I know you love your dad. You were almost always good a good person and had a way of sharing laughter everywhere you went. It is possible to be a good person and have a parent or parents who were not good people. It’s okay to say you loved bad people because that is how love works. It’s no sin. It is a sin, though, to insist they were good people because you won’t see the truth of their badness. We have to eclipe the shadow of the people who should have known better.” I waited.

I continued.

“Some of my family looked away while my dad beat me dozens of times. They told me to go back to my dad after he literally tried to kill me. They let my dad lock me in a shed in the middle of summer, and make me eat rotted meat to teach me a lesson. They let dad beat mom and told her it was her fault and god’s will. They told people they were better than dark people. They used their jobs to hurt people who weren’t white. They said gay people were the Devil’s children. And as always, I have to reiterate that I had family members who did stand up sometimes and they were shouted down, too. Some tried. People forget that I acknowledge those people, too.”

“Your dad is a better person than me, I’ll give you that much. He’ll die one day and people will piously say he was a good man. And when he’s gone, I’m still be here, writing, if writing the truth can be twisted to be an accusation instead of a recitation. I stood in silence when people called my grandpa a degenerate drunk, all those years ago. Your dad could be generous and lovely as a person. I’ve said so. I know that the negative drowns out the positive. But that is the point. You can’t escape the totality of what you’ve said and done. People might not have snapped my bones with their own hands but their beliefs pushed them to allow others to do so. Had they ever realized they were wrong and told me as much, it would have been redemptive. People like them rarely do, though.”

I continued. “Your dad insisted that if a thing were true he could say it with a clear conscience. Those words alone give me a license to share my story where it overlaps with my family. And I will. Because I can. Because it’s my story. One day, this conversation will be out there, too. My goal isn’t to find the mud. It’s to tell a story. I can’t change what happened. I can either silence it or share it.”

“You’re an asshole!” he said.

“It’s hereditary. That’s my point. I haven’t beaten anyone to death yet, raped a young girl, or allowed anyone to do it and get by with it, so I guess I’m ahead of our ancestors, aren’t I? As an adult, I have not once allowed another adult to beat a child in my presence. I don’t recall ever saying that I wish the white race were back in charge, that gay people should be put down, or that my religion was the only one.” I laughed.

The phone went silent.

I won’t though.

Ashes To Ashes To Box

20200430_095507

“I’m going to save a lot of money on the receptacle for Aunt Melinda’s ashes, X!” She seemed genuinely excited.

“How so?” I asked.

“My Aunt Melinda was a clairvoyant, seer, and psychic,” Susan told me.

“Okay, I still don’t see how her being a psychic will save you money,” I told her.

“Look here.” She help up her phone for me to see the image. “FedX makes a medium box.”

The Gift Of Memories

aaa uncle buck scanned (68)
My Aunt Ardith and cousin Jimmy, standing in the front yard of their house on Ann Street.

Once again, I opened my email to discover a message telling me exactly what I needed to hear. A sister of one of my paternal aunts wrote me, telling me she’d noticed I added another 100+ pictures of her sister on Ancestry. These are archived in original resolution. My aunt’s sister told me she’d cried a bit, something she hadn’t expected. I wrote her back and told her I put every usable picture I owned of my aunt on there, in the hopes they might last forever, for anyone to see. I also told her I did the same for my uncle and my cousin Jimmy, both of whom now have hundreds of pictures on their respective pages. If you didn’t guess, putting so many pictures on accounts is a rarity.

It was a labor of love and honor. It’s the least I could do. These pictures are in my possession, but I don’t think I own them. They belong to us all – anyone who shared moments, laughter, or time with those in the pictures.

Yesterday, I wrote a post about high school pictures. I used a horrible picture of myself from many years ago. It was a bit satirical, but the message was one I’ve written about a few dozen times: vanity and hoarding regarding pictures is sinful. I’ve never owned a picture that I haven’t offered to everyone who might have an interest. I don’t get the urge to hoard pictures in a box, under a bed, or in a seldom-used closet.

More than one person got irritated at me for preaching the gospel of sharing. Some people righteously guard their past appearance, as if history isn’t going to kick that door open with time anyway. Others play the role of Gollum and greedily keep their pictures hidden in the crook of their unapproachable arms. The last tendency lessens everyone’s ability to remember and cherish people in our past who’ve passed on to the next life.

When my aunt’s sister reached out yesterday, she didn’t know that it was what I needed to hear. My actions months ago opened her heart again, even if for only for a while yesterday. In those moments, she could see that I had paid homage to her sister, to life, and to people we love.

All those pictures? Some of them have been downloaded dozens of times, each time by someone who discovered my treasure, one freely given. I am merely the guardian.

Love, X

You’re Not Going To Believe This One (Read Until The End)

dylan-nolte-HNXi5znlb8U-unsplash

This is true commentary. Some of it isn’t mine to share. I do no disservice to anyone by hitting the high notes of shame and secrecy. When I open up and share, sometimes people share stories with me. Some of them are stunning. Others are evil. A few are joyous. In a bit, I’ll share the general truth of one such story. I’ll do so by telling it anonymously. Whether it happened in Rogers, Arkansas, or Topeka, Kansas, it is a true story.

Throughout my life, I’ve been on the cusp of several discoveries. Some of have been personal, while others have been the sudden surge in my perception of the world. Given the outright ignorance that was mine to claim when I was young, I find myself surprised by who I am. My early life was cloistered and smelled of copper, whiskey, and sweat. Its soundtrack was a cacophony of shouts. I don’t think some of you truly take me at my word: my life was small for the first part of my life. I understood very little and my ability to grow to understand it was limited by the pathology of who I came from. Nature vs. Nurture lost a fight in my head.

An inquisitive mind took me places. DNA broke down doors. I was 52 before discovering I had another sister, one fathered by my racist Dad. While it was an accident, it would have not happened had I not insisted on following family questions over a long road. Revisionists shouted at me my entire adult life. Most wanted allegiance; when not given, they demanded silence. Failing that, they resorted to sustained anger. Their voices are fading though, leaving me to write the history of all the lives I intersected with. I was stunned to know that my suspicions about my Dad were right. DNA collectively slapped my naysayers in the mouth.

When my Dad fathered my sister, he didn’t know about DNA. He didn’t have an idea that it would expose his behavior 40+ years later. Unlike the news stories I found detailing Dad’s misadventures with crime and his DWI fatality, DNA lurked behind the scenes. I won’t share the details of my Dad’s case because they’re not mine to share.

DNA opens doors that people forget existed.

Which leads me to this inept segue…

Many years ago, a doctor told a young woman that her child died during or shortly after childbirth. The woman went home, heart-broken, and barely managed to move ahead with her life. She later delivered another child with the same doctor. That child lived to adulthood.

In secret, the doctor ‘gave’ the baby to a family who wanted children. The baby hadn’t died after all. This family ended up with two such ‘adopted’ babies. They were aware of the circumstances under which the baby was taken illegally from the mother and that the ‘adoption’ papers were forgeries. The stolen baby grew up with her new family.

When the doctor started his nefarious endeavor, DNA wasn’t a calculation. Paperwork could be falsified, lies told, and an impenetrable cloud of confusion could conceal what he’d done.

The doctor? He wasn’t an average doctor. He was respected, known, and had access.

He earned a rich living, had children of his own, and probably excused away his monstrous behavior by convincing himself that the stolen children would have a better life.

This isn’t a new story. It still happens. DNA makes it more difficult to conceal.

I wonder how many of you knew this doctor, or unknowingly knew the mother robbed of her child? Or went to school with the doctor’s children? What would the doctor’s children think of him if his crime were shared with the world? If you’re reading this, it’s possible you’re related to the doctor or know someone else who had their baby stolen from them. It’s one of the reasons I repeatedly tell people to get DNA tests.

Human behavior covers a wide swatch of possibilities. Doctors, midwives, and churches have all taken turns robbing young women of their children.

Because I’ve run across many variations of human deceit, I know statistically that many people out there aren’t related to the people they think they are. Some, although in increasingly smaller numbers, live a life absent a startling truth, one which DNA can help expose.

In this case, the adopted baby girl grew up used DNA testing to find her biological family. She reached out to her birth mom, the one who’d been told she was dead. I try to imagine the shock and horror of getting such a call – one from the adult daughter you’d mourned. I imagine the further horror of realizing that she’d risked having another baby girl stolen her by having her second daughter delivered by the same doctor.

The adopted baby, now an adult, and the mother who suffered a stolen baby attempted to confront the doctor, who still practiced. They confronted him decades after the fact.

How many times can you imagine the doctor stole babies from young mothers?

Did I mention that this is a real story?

The doctor never discovered the agony of being charged with a crime. He didn’t face public shame by looking out the window and seeing a news crew pull up in the parking lot, knowing his crime had been exposed and his face shown on the nightly news.

I wrote a long post about it but didn’t have permission to tell it to the world. I did enough research to discover that the salient points were easily substantiated.

So, I leave you with this doubt: are you SURE you know who your parents are? I’ll say it again. Because of my personal involvement with other cases, I say with full confidence that some of you are living without the truth.

Love, X

 

In Wonderment, I Look

kunj-parekh-3s3JPEXRzUg-unsplash

 

This is a weird composite of thoughts, much like the one I wrote last Sunday. I’m still very optimistic overall, for ‘us’ as a whole. I have my doubts that some of us should be trusted to use toothpicks, though.

I’ve been around a few people who need a dose of Negan. Some have been angels. I’ve been a right bastard myself a few times. I used a character from The Walking Dead purposefully, though I abandoned the show a while back. This won’t be the last pandemic we face. It’s a good blueprint for how we’ll do if we don’t substantially snap the heck out of our inability to give everyone good healthcare. Though I’m a liberal, I think our biggest enemy is ‘us.’ Not because we’re separated into nations and interests, but because each of us is part of a collective which pushes the urge toward militancy and diminishes the embrace of things which make our individual lives better. Healthcare, education, and stability continue to bow in service to defense.

Who knew a virus would observe our trillions of dollars of military might worldwide and laugh? Now that we’ve winced long enough at the mercy of an invisible enemy, can we take back a slice of our resources and dedicate it to the prevention of the next one?

Given the presence of asymptomatic carriers, universal precautions are the only means to protect yourself until the bubble pops. Despite doing everything perfectly yourself, you are only as safe as your weakest link. Contact with anyone or anything outside your perfect bubble is a non-zero risk. Universal precautions are not possible on a long timeline. Those that tell us this might be angry when they do so, but they’re not wrong.

Given the false negative rate of the covid test, people who tested negative are not necessarily negative. We have to use the only test we have available, whether it is approved for that use.

If you’re one of those people who are essential and travel in the world, the probability that you’re going to be exposed approaches 100% on a long enough timeline. The Venn diagram of you amidst all the potentially contaminated people and places makes the math irrefutable.

Those who resume their careers in patient care, whether they’re nurses, doctors, aides, or therapists, need a little more praise in the ‘after’ of this. Surviving this cost them invisibly. In the future, everyone in the medical field will have to swallow their fear a bit more, as they agree to stand in the unknown.

We’re all fallible, even those with perfect intentions. ‘We’ rely on people who have to get out into the world while we’re in the bubble. I’m one of those people who have to get out of the bubble. It rarely worries me because I’m almost individually powerless to foresee, much less avoid, danger. I don’t stick the gun in my own mouth. As I tell my friends and family, I earned the right to expect the plane to fall out of the sky onto my head. I don’t walk with my head cocked in anticipatory fear.

As for those who practice perfect isolationism, you’re going to be exposed at an eventual rate of 100%. Time and necessity will insist on it.

If you experience symptoms, it will be very hard for you to get tested – no matter who you are and where you work. We’ll change that by the next pandemic. For this one, though, don’t make the assumption you can get a test. It isn’t true for most people with symptoms.

Even if you are tested, not only are you going to wait days for your result, but at some point you’re going to wonder if you are a false negative. What will help you get over the unease of being an unwitting carrier? Focus on the fact that you were going to be exposed one way or another, anyway. Much like the denizens of The Walking Dead, they discovered they were already walking around with the disease. Unfortunately for us, our condition is that we are genetically no match for the types of viruses that include the coronavirus.

We’ve been focusing on protecting the most vulnerable and of ensuring that our medical system doesn’t collapse.

Despite it being repeated a million times, this was never about guaranteeing you won’t be exposed to the virus.

You will, as will every person you’re accustomed to seeing in your daily life. All of them.

I’ve emerged from my personal experience with some strange observations about my fellow human beings; some bad, some great.

In the ‘after’ of this first wave of the new coronavirus, we must wait to see the data that we’re allowed to see: hospitalizations, intubations, # of those tested, # of those refused tests despite being symptomatic, total deaths, total deaths attributed to the virus, and a mountain of other data.

Reverence for data is important; incorrectly deriving unsupported ideas from raw numbers is to give leeway to manipulation. Science doesn’t demand perfection. It demands a relentless pursuit of ‘better,’  revision, and admission of the need to take another look.

Science can admit its error even when humans cannot. Some of us, myself included, will walk into the ‘after’ in need of more willingness to trust those with expertise to at least throw the dart closer to the target than our limited knowledge can. We’ve moved away from this a bit in the last few years.

We’ll look differently at some of those around us. We’ve  listened and watched as they’ve surprised us. Some with great acts of informed compassion, others with callous disregard. When we catch our breath, literally and figuratively, we will need to deal with what we’ve seen people around us do and say.

Those with means will have different views about the pandemic that those without savings, credit, or the ability to remain inside.

Those with family members suffering from underlying conditions will emerge with ideas, too.

Those who lost family, friends, or livelihoods will reach a distant beach, one that will take some time to come back home from.

Those with fixed ideas and hardened hearts will be untouched by the ability to consider this pandemic from the perspective of the world.

That, without a doubt, is our biggest disease.

 

 

 

W E

william-navarro-82Xsw-pGsJI-unsplash

On Saturday, Dawn and I watched 1995’s “Outbreak,” followed by 2011’s “Contagion.” Whether it sounds ridiculous or not, watching the movies made everything better in a way that probably sounds ludicrous to a normal-minded person.

Even the opening graphic for “Outbreak” seemed fitting: “The single biggest threat to man’s continued dominance on the planet is the virus.” (Joshua Lederberg, Nobel laureate.) For a movie made 25 years ago, it still has much to say.

I’m amazed by how quickly the dynamic of the entire world has changed. Each of us is attempting to find a stable landing place, one from which we can find a sliver of tranquility. I know many people who are barely cobbling together the ability to move one foot in front of the other. I know many who are guilty of conspiracy theories, hoarding drugs and essentials that take it from the hands and veins of those who actually need it. I see it every day.

For my part, I’m forced to go out in the word daily because of my job. I’ve never feared exposure. Everyone around me has heard me say that I assume I’m exposed every single day I walk around. I don’t wish to needlessly expose others to the virus. But I have to say, my personal efforts are dwarfed by the decisions of large agencies and businesses around me, ones who’ve made questionable choices. I’m at the mercy of every person I intersect with. It’s always been that way. The only thing that’s changed is that the reality of it is now one that can’t be ignored.

We are all our weakest link.

Dawn and I didn’t hoard anything from day one. Looking toward the horizon, it’s pointless. We are not islands. If you hoard, you are hurting the people that don’t have what you have amassed, whether it is a can of tuna or a vial of Hydroxychloroquine. If our situation deteriorates, only those who embrace a total dedication to taking only what they need will survive. If the situation morphs into a worst-case scenario, no one will be able to thwart the madness that will take what you have.

If you are looking for a silver lining, I can only hope that this results in all of us appreciating science and education more, as this is a warning shot that shouldn’t be ignored. To embrace the idea that we are dependent on one another, a dependence that surpasses our local hospital, state line, or national border. To understand that the person cleaning the floor is as integral to our survival as the three piece suit who seldom gets his hands dirty but makes triage decisions about our supply systems during emergencies.

There may be no silver lining to this. It might just be a harsh lesson. We already had the tools needed to lessen this crisis. We took too much time and effort fighting for our fiefdoms instead of looking toward the world map and seeing ‘W E’ spread across all of it.

Of all the hopes, I hope it leads us to stop bickering over oil, sand, and land, or that we find ourselves able to willingly give everyone health care without regard to payment. If we forego war and aggression, we can pay for it. Our economy will not look the same once this fades. Everything we’ve learned will be meaningless. Hard hearts must soften.

I’m already looking beyond the peak of this emergency.

It’ll be us, still. I hope it is a different us. I think most people were dissatisfied with what we were, for wildly and contradicting reasons. Some of the facade of our differences has vanished. Each of us looks toward the microscopic threat of a virus and wonders what will become of us.

Whatever ‘that’ is, it is our choice.

It’s always been our choice.
Love, X

Wordless Eulogy

jackie dorman 06 (345).jpg

I would not dare utter a single syllable in a vain attempt to express the breadth, depth, or width of a life well-lived. If you were lucky enough to have shared her presence, look inward, to find that memory, and embrace it. Our days are numbered, our friends but few.

 

Jackie Lou Dorman