Saturday, November 10, 2018

Slow Travels through Texas

Yesterday I took a long trip to get back home to Durant, OK. I took the long way home. It was beautiful with the fall colors and the sunshine lighting up the roadsides for the seven hour trip.

I went through Milano, but not in Italy.

I went through Buffalo, but not in New York.

I went through Palestine, but not in the Middle East.

I drove right through the middle of Athens, but not in Greece.

Next I drove through Canton, but not in Ohio.

At the town of Emory, I turned off the highway to Paris, but not in France.

I went through the city of Greenville, but not in South Carolina.

Just down the road was Kingston, but not in Jamaica.

Yes, this is the right time to take an old fashioned trip through Texas. All these places are in Texas, and if you look for them on a map, the route from Round Rock to Denison will become obvious.

I was trying to avoid two things on this trip. One is Interstate 35, which is closed, yes CLOSED, between Waco and Temple. All three lanes of traffic come to a stop and then comes many minutes where two or three miles of trucks and cars all try to get merged into one lane to exit the freeway and crawl along the frontage road for I don’t know how many miles. Did that going down to Round Rock, and did not want to repeat that experience.

The other thing is the Dallas/Ft.Worth Metroplex. It is always crowded and slow, no matter the time of day. I have a theory that tall buildings exert a force field around them that makes all vehicles go slow. It is proportional to the distance from the buildings. The closer you get to the tall buildings downtown, the slower the traffic gets. It nearly stops when you’re in the center of those buildings. Then as you start to move away from the buildings, the traffic starts moving faster and faster again. When you reach twenty miles away the traffic is up to normal freeway speeds once more.

It must be so, because repeated experiments have confirmed that this force is always in effect. It works the same way every time.

Over sixty five years ago, before President Eisenhower in a fit of liberal spending decided we needed interstate freeways, everyone drove on the two lane country highways through the countryside. It was relaxing and enjoyable, which can’t be said about driving on freeways. 

There were downsides if you got in a hurry. Most cars back then only went fifty or sixty miles an hour comfortably, so it was best to slow down and enjoy the scenery. If there were curves or hills, passing became a dangerous tactic, and the head-on collision rate was atrocious. And this was way before seat belts and air bags came on cars, and the dashboard had piercing objects (knobs) sticking out of it, not to mention the number of drivers impaled on a steel rod of a steering column.

It was a slower age back then. So the lesson is don’t get in a hurry.

I believe we have lost something in our hurry to get someplace else. How many people don’t bother to notice a stunning dawn or a brilliant sunset? Too many times the sun is just that bright thing in our eyes when we are driving the wrong way.

The autumn leaves are turning now, and the colors are spectacular. 

Don’t drive too fast and miss it!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Like You Love Her.

You said, “I wish I could find a man to love me like you love her!”
I was changing her clothing after an accident.
The kind of accident that happens with dementia patients in assisted living.
For two years I stayed with her, changed her diapers, and showered her.
When we first came to the facility, she could dance to the music.
Then she started falling, losing her balance, and then breaking her pelvis.
I hoped she could recover, but I knew better—she never walked alone again.
Stuck in a wheelchair, she depended on me, our daughter, and the aides,
for every function of life.
 For the last few months we had to feed her, because she could not feed herself. 

Now you say, “She’s dead. Get over it. It’s in the past. Look to the future.”
As if you think I don’t know. I held her hand as she died.
 For almost fifty years we lived and loved together. Those memories will always be with me.
 Memories are all I have left. I will die someday, and her memory will not be gone, even then. 
She trusted me. She knew I would never lie or cheat. 
Honesty and trust are essential if a relationship is going to last. 
I miss her. I miss our belief in each other. No one can take that away.

I am still that man whose love you so wished for. But you must believe in yourself enough to take it. 
You are worth it, but you don’t believe it yet. 
You cling to me out of fear I will leave. You push me away because you believe you don’t deserve me. 
My heart is breaking as I see the fear and doubt that keep getting in the way of our love. 
Sometimes the pain is almost too much to bear. I still search for ways to convince you that I love you. 
But sometimes it seems the harder I try, the worse it gets. 
The more I love you, the more afraid you become that you will lose me. 
I will never lie to you. I will never use physical force to make you change.
 I am running out of options, and I’m desperately looking for solutions.
 I still love you, even as it causes me such pain.
 I want to be the man that loves you like I loved her.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Buddhist Love

During and after my wife Carolyn’s recent death, people have expressed wonder and amazement at the depth of our commitment and love for each other. Looking around me, I am forced to agree. Carolyn and I often talked to each other about how rare our relationship seemed to be. Was it just a happy accident that we found each other? Or were we just doing something right that most people never figure out? 

Since she left, I have had time to ponder the reasons for our love and caring for each other, and I’ll try to explain why I believe that two fundamental Buddhist principles may have something to do with It.

The first one is honesty. Oh, sure, everybody gives lip service to honesty, but how many really believe it? 

When Carolyn first began showed the signs of dementia, and we confirmed that with medical professionals, we spent many hours holding each other and crying, as she had seen her own mother forget who she was, and didn’t want that for herself. She knew she was going that way, and was terrified of that prospect. 

I promised her again, as I had done when we first committed ourselves to each other, that I would always be honest, that I would never lie, and she would always be able to trust anything I said. Sometimes the truth was hard, and sometimes we just held each other and cried, but honesty and trust always got us through the hard times together. 

When I first found a place for Carolyn to live at Featherstone Assisted Living Home, she would ask, “When are we going back home?” Some would tell me a little white lie would be OK, just say pretty soon, or some noncommittal answer to avoid upsetting her. I couldn’t do that. I promised I wouldn’t. We had forty seven years of trust at stake. So we deal with it. Honestly.

I took her to her room and we sat down on the couch I had just bought her, and I told her, “We can’t go back home. We live in Durant now, where you were born and raised, and you have many friends and relatives here.”

She asked, “Why are we here? Why can’t we go home?” 

I reminded her about our old home being 55 miles from the doctor, and 180 miles from the hospital. I also reminded her of the isolation of living in the Nevada desert, and how often she wished she had a neighbor to just talk to over coffee.

Then I sold her on her new home. “This is the best home we’ve ever had!” I don’t have to fix the plumbing, or the leaky roof, and she had maids to clean, and cooks to make the meals, people to do the washing, and aides to help her whenever she needed help. At last, she was living like a queen.

Best of all, she had nurses checking on her daily, doctors came whenever needed, and the hospital was just across the road.  

It wasn’t hard to convince her, and I repeated the story several times over the first few weeks. She never lost trust in me, and later when visitors would come that she no longer recognized, I could introduce them to her, and even though she could not remember them, she trusted me and accepted them. 

Later, when I am sure she forgot who I was, I could walk in, as I did every day and tell her, “Hey, Honey, it’s Don, your favorite husband!” She always grinned and kissed or hugged me. I never knew if she remembered me then or just trusted that it was me, but she always loved seeing me each morning.

All through our marriage, it was that trust that got us through the hard times. 

Once, many years ago, a close family member and friend of ours started pressuring and harassing Carolyn when I was at work. It was a classic case of male power and will, and eventually became a rape situation. I am sure she had a #MeToo story to tell. 

I came home one evening from work, and she asked to go down to the beach and watch the ocean waves. As we sat there, she told me she was afraid of what she had to say, afraid I would leave her, but had to tell me anyway.

She told me the whole story, and we held each other and cried for a long time. I told her that honesty was what I needed to hear, and now we could find a way to fix the problem. She was afraid I would cause a fight or worse, and she didn’t want me to confront the man. I told her I wasn’t raised in the Wild West, and there are other ways to deal with this. I asked what she wanted me to do. 

She said, “I want to leave! I hate this place. I hate wondering when he is coming back for me!” 

That was exactly what I wanted to hear, because I had come to hate the LA rat race, the traffic, the smog, and the whole attitude of living your whole life going somewhere you didn’t want to go every day, just to get a check so you can survive and pay the bills each month until you die.

We left the next morning. We camped out in National Parks and Forest Service campgrounds all the way across the Sierra Nevada, Utah, and into Colorado, where I finally found the job I had wanted all along, as a maintenance machinist/mechanic in a power plant in the most beautiful place in the country. It was as close to a mechanical engineer job as I could get without a degree. 

We didn’t see the other guy until years later, when the family got together for Carolyn’s father’s funeral in Oklahoma. Eventually I forgave him, because Buddhism teaches that to not forgive only hurts yourself, and I think that’s true. But I never forgot, and we never lived close to him again.

The other principle, just as important I think, is living your life according to your own wants and needs. The other side of this is not living your life according to someone else’s wishes. This probably sounds counterintuitive to a successful marriage, but it’s not. 

Marriage is not about sacrificing yourself on someone else’s altar. There is a bit of Zen here, I must warn you.

Some marriages are based on, “If you do this for me, I’ll do this for you!”

Or even worse, “If you don’t do this for me, I won’t do this for you!” 

This is not marriage. This is a commercial transaction. We all know what they call commercial sex. There cannot be a quid pro quo to make a successful marriage. It just becomes a business relationship that way.

The key is each person finding the kind of love that says, “Nothing makes me happier than to see you happy.”

“Nothing excites me more than to see you ecstatically excited.”

There is no give and take here. It is all give. 

“I want to make you happy. What can I do to make that happen?”

This kind of selfless love is only possible if you love your self. See, I told you. Zen. When you love yourself, only then can you give all of your self for the love of another, and still love yourself even more. 

When your love increases as you give it away and make someone else happy, Nirvana is nearby!

As Carolyn got sicker, and I increased my care for her, she could give less and less back to me, and yet my love grew as I cared for her. It wasn’t hard to do. On the day she died I couldn’t have loved her more.

Saturday, August 11, 2018


“A man has got to know his limitations.”  Dirty Harry

Well, today mine was forty two miles.

It was a beautiful ride, with heavy overcast, cool, gentle breezes favoring the first half of the course, and a route that took you through some of the prettiest farm country roads in Texas and Oklahoma.

The race started at the brand new Hilton Garden Inn Sports Center on Grayson Ave. in Denison. Or maybe Sherman. It’s right on the dividing line.

I stayed with a group of riders for the first leg of the race, mostly north through Texas farms to Eisenhower road, where the first rest stop was. I drank some Gatorade and stretched my legs for a couple of minutes, and then got back on the road.

Now the group was gone, and I was with just four or five riders until we got to the south end of the Denison Dam. I found out that the real dedicated racers don’t bother with the rest stops—they are looking at 100, 80, 65 or so miles, and they don’t have time to waste. 

At the top of the dam, the routes diverged, with the short circuit people (37 miles) turning south back to the hotel, and those of us hoping to ride fifty miles or further turning north to cross the dam and ride to our next rest stop at Cartwright, where the route turns east. I drank another Gatorade there and watched the rest take off ahead. I was alone now, bringing up the rear.

I remember being the leader of the pack once upon  a time. That was about thirty years ago. Now I’m “Tail-end Charlie”. Even with a good racing bike, the best I’ve ever ridden, I just can’t keep up with the younger guys (and gals) anymore. My old legs are in good shape for their age, but they’re not so young anymore. 

After a long ride east, I got to the rest stop at Achille, I don’t remember anything that stuck out except how far it was away. No big hills to grind up or sail down. Just mile after mile of nice little farms on both sides of the road, with a short break in the middle, which was the town of Colbert.

Around here they pronounce that “Call Burt”.

At the rest stop in Achille (Pronuonced AT-chi-lee) I found I was not the last one after all—a bunch of the long distance people turned the wrong way at Colbert and rode ten or so miles north before they figured out their mistake. They had turned around and were now twenty miles behind me, and closing fast.

I stopped for a couple of minutes at Achille, used the bathroom for the first time, and drank another Gatorade. A couple miles past Achille I turned south on the Peanut Trail headed for the new bridge across the Red River at Carpenter’s Bluff. I love this area of Oklahoma for it’s rolling hills, groves of dense trees and the antique tractor shows they have here. 

There is one stretch of road that has so many big trees on both sides of the road it feels like a tunnel. A nice dark, cool tunnel, with a down hill slope going into the tunnel and a steep climb up out of the tunnel. At the rest stop at Carpenter’s Bluff I found the lost group behind me was just arriving at the rest stop at Achille ten miles behind me.

They had run out of cups at the rest stop where I was, so I took a bottle of icy water, drank it and ate half a banana, went to the porto-potty there. and got on my way again. At seventy five years old, water in means water out pretty soon.

After crossing the river I started having trouble. I never realized how steep the highway is leaving the river headed west to Denison. I found myself down in the low gears grinding up the hills, which are deceptive. They don’t look that steep. I stopped once, got off the bike and checked to make sure I wasn’t riding on a flat tire, and I lifted each wheel and spun it by hand to make sure I didn’t have a brake dragging.

At the top of a long uphill stretch, right on the outskirts of Denison, I pulled over and was resting on the handlebars panting. Up from behind me came the formerly lost riders. The first one in the bunch stopped and asked if I was having trouble, and told her I was just tired. She offered me water and a cookie. I took the cookie, but turned down the water, since I didn’t have place to put the bottle. I see the next accessory for this bike now. All the long distance riders have two water bottle holders on their bikes, minimum.

I slowly limped into downtown Denison, with my legs feeling like rubber. The only push on the pedals was the weight of my legs, I think. Of course, I was focussing on chest pain which really wasn’t there. I hurt all over, but legs most of all. I stopped at the rest stop in Denison, where I was greeted with cowbells and shouts to stop. 

I pulled over and stood there a second until one of the volunteers came over and offered to take the bike while I went over and chugged a V8, then sipped some pickle juice, and then a small can of Coke. Nothing made me feel better, so I decided that the smart thing to do would be to stop here and ask for a ride back to the hotel where we started, and where my car was parked.

I really hated to quit. but as I said at the start, a man has got to know his limitations. I found mine.

I got back to the house in Durant, Oklahoma, (say Dew-rant) and took a long, hot shower, which did more to revive me than all that Gatorade and stuff.

Strangely, my sweaty shirt smelled like something died. I haven’t smelled like that since I was a testosterone overloaded teenager many years ago. Usually my shirts are sweaty, but just wringing wet, not stinky.

I’m hoping this isn’t an omen of impending demise. 

I just lost my wife of forty nine years a month ago. It was the last piece of her to leave. 

I lost my wife who rode bikes with me about five years ago. I lost the wife who could drive by herself and not get lost about four years ago. I lost my square dance partner maybe three years ago. She could still do a mean two step up to about a year ago. My wife who could feed herself left about six months ago. 

I have been in mourning for years, and it hasn’t stopped yet. Maybe the smell is just grief. Can you smell grief? Is that possible? Time will tell.

Here I am, wishing my life away, hurrying time to get past the grief. What else can I do?

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Marilyn's Birthday

Yesterday, August 4, was the birthday of my daughter, Darlene, Carolyn’s first cousin Marilyn Faulk, and former President Barack Obama. 

I was invited to go to a surprise birthday party for Marilyn for her 70th birthday, so I picked up Darlene and we went to see many family members we haven’t seen in ages, and enjoy ice cream, cake and punch and tell stories from years past.

Sometime during the festivities it occurred to me that things could have been much different if different choices had been made back in 1963.

During the fall of 1962 I went to Walla Walla College to study Engineering, and found a friend in Don Satterfield, who was also studying Engineering. We took several classes together, and he also worked in the machine shop there, teaching me the skills needed to operate the various machines to shape useful parts out of metal.

Don Satterfield took me to his house and introduced me to his family—his wife Laverna, and his two children, David and Darla. They all came from Oklahoma, and had many relatives still back there.

Laverna, after she got to know me, took it upon herself to help me find a girlfriend. I guess she decided that I was lonely and needed female companionship. Actually, I was a late bloomer, had not gotten interested in girls yet, and was trying my best to stay focussed on my studies. I had no time for girls.

In a few weeks, Laverna noticed a girl that seemed to appear at places I was scheduled to go. Her name was Paulette Davis, and I remember she was from Redlands, California. She had long brunette hair and was quite attractive, but I was not going to be attracted. My attention was on my studies, and when Laverna pointed out how many times she showed up and said, “Hi, Don” before morning classes or church services, it was a complete revelation to me. I had not noticed. 

After several weeks of Laverna nudging me toward her, and me pushing back for all I was worth, Laverna gave up trying, and so did Paulette.

After Christmas, Laverna had another idea. She showed me pictures of her family back in Oklahoma, and she especially noted this one girl, her niece Marilyn, who was single, pretty, nice tempered, and was almost old enough to date. I had to agree she was pleasing to the eyes, but I still had to argue back to Laverna that I was not interested in girls yet. Besides, she was only fifteen years old. Laverna said that wasn’t a big deal down in Oklahoma. Lots of girls got married at that age.

I knew a little about that. My classmate in my freshman year found herself pregnant two weeks before the end of the school year, and she and her boyfriend were hustled off to Texas to get married quickly. I think in California the guy would have been in big trouble. 

Still, I’m not interested.

A few years later, I met up with Don and Laverna, and she was showing me pictures of Marilyn again. She had come out to California to visit, and she was really sorry I hadn’t gotten to meet her. I would have really liked her, she said. She was very pretty with big hair and a radiant smile.

By this time I had a girlfriend back in my hometown of Merced, so Laverna once again failed to get me interested in Marilyn. Laverna tried hard, but no dice.

More years later, after I got out of the US Army, I visited the Satterfield’s again, and found work down in Southern California, where they lived. I lived in my own apartment, and travelled periodically back to Merced, CA, where my girlfriend lived. 

Absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder, I found out, and she was holding out getting more serious until I went back to college and got my degree. I had been forced to drop out for lack of funds, but I was earning good wages as a machinist and didn’t see the need to go back to school.

One day when I went to visit the Satterfield’s, I found Laverna’s niece Carolyn and her daughter Darlene staying there. She had separated from her husband, and Laverna had invited her to stay with them while they worked it out.

Once again Laverna saw an opportunity to get me into her family. She regularly invited me over for dinner to eat with them, and bragged about how good a cook Carolyn was. I got to know Carolyn well during this time, but we were never serious. She was still married, and I still had a fianc√© up in Merced. 

Carolyn went back to live with her husband to try to make her marriage work, and everything went smoothly until Carolyn called me to say she had just sent her husband packing. Loaded up the car with his clothes and told him to drive back to Oklahoma and get a divorce. 

Eventually Carolyn and I did fall in love and get married, so to make a long story shorter, Laverna finally got her wish and got me hooked up with a girl of her choosing.

It just didn’t turn out to be Marilyn Box. Sorry about that, Marilyn.

I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Laverna for her dogged persistence and hard work finding me a good woman. We loved each other for 49 years, and I wouldn’t have traded our life and love for anything.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Free at Last

After several days of rapidly declining awareness and inability to swallow food or drink, Carolyn’s heart failed at 9:45 PM on July 12, 2018.

On these last days, Guardian Hospice aides and nurses visited constantly, monitoring and treating her as necessary, and advising us on her status. Her nurse told us that she was no longer responding to the drugs given her to drain the fluid from her left lung, and her pupils were dilated and non responsive. When the hospice aides both came, knelt by her bedside and told her goodbye with tears in their eyes, Darlene and I knew we were just waiting for it all to be over.

I realized in the early afternoon that she still had two oxygen concentrators going full blast trying to keep her oxygen saturation level as high as possible. 70% was all they could do, given the fluid in her lungs. I asked the nurse if those machines were providing comfort and pain relief, or were they just prolonging the ordeal. She said they were just extending her life and I asked if I could remove them. She said she would do it, if I wanted. I told her I would do it myself.

When I shut the machines off, the room grew quieter, and her oxygen saturation level dropped immediately to around 50%, and then stayed there. I removed the cannula and mask from her face, and she looked much more comfortable, as if asleep. I coiled the hoses onto the concentrators, and pushed them back, away from the bed.

On every hour a nurse would appear to give her some morphine to relieve pain, and a tranquilizer to quiet any stress.

Her forehead was smooth, indicating no stress or pain, and her expression showed neither a frown or smile. She was struggling for air at first, with a respiration rate almost 60 a minute, but as the day wore on that slowed down, and the breathing grew shallower and easier.

As the night came on, her breathing became very slow and quiet, and I put a pulse oximeter on one finger where I could see it. I just held her hand in mine, and waited. I knew the end was near, and she would finally be free of this devastating disease. The mixture of grief that she is leaving, and relief that she will be out of the pain and suffering she has gone through these past years is about the hardest thing I’ve ever had to face. 

The feelings of guilt that I get to keep living, and she doesn’t, come unbidden to my tortured mind. I hate the confusion and sorrow in my thinking, and my attempts at meditation to refocus my mind seem futile. 

I noticed that her oxygen level was starting to drop below 50%, where it had been for several hours. Suddenly the numbers disappeared, and the little line of dots that showed her heart beating stopped. The display was blank.

I told Darlene that she was leaving us, and she came over to be close as Carolyn took a few more breaths, very shallow, and each one farther apart, until they stopped also. 

After a couple of minutes, we decided to call someone to let them know that she was gone. The Featherstone staff and Guardian hospice have a routine that makes it so much easier for the family. Unlike for us, for them this a regular part of their work and life. I am in awe of such people.

While we were waiting for someone else to arrive, I went over to the bed and straightened her legs, which had been drawn up to almost a fetal position, and crossed her arms on her stomach. Her left hand was still clenched in a fist, and the fingers resisted being straightened, but I got them to open up just a bit. Her eyes were closed but her mouth gaped open. I closed it by pushing on her chin, but it fell right back open when I took my hand away.

Seeing nothing more I could do, Darlene and I decided to go home and let the professionals take care of Carolyn. 

After years of struggle, Carolyn was at peace, resting, free at last from dementia.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Hard Day at Featherstone

It’s been a hard day, with feelings of dej√° vu written all over it. As I came into the building at Featherstone today, the aide in charge asked if I had been called out this morning. I told her I had not.

“Well, let me tell you the story then.” She said. 

Early in the morning they found Carolyn coughing up food from her mouth - lots of food that wouldn’t stop coming up for a while. Not vomiting violently, just flowing out. She was non responsive, and they found her blood oxygen level at 74%. 

All week she has been eating well, and you begin to think that she has come through the episodes of respiratory seizures that made her pass out and hit the floor while walking months ago. 

It’s back, similar to last year. Except this year she can’t stand or walk.

There may have been some aspiration of food into her breathing passages, too. The aide said she did all kinds of things to bring her back around, including holding her upside down to clear her airway. All that training kicks in without a thought.

She told me she said, “ Not today, Satan, not today!” I can live with that kind of religion all day. 

Some day it’s going to happen, but not today. Not if she can help it!

She spent some time cleaning out the food from her mouth with swabs, and put her on the oxygen concentrator, and increased the flow up to the max. In a few minutes the oxygen level came up to 88% and they knew she was out of the woods for the time being.

Later in the day, after more hard coughing, the oxygen level climbed back into the high nineties where it should be.

At noon I took her to the dining room and tried to feed her. They were serving beans and cornbread with fried okra on the side, one of her favorite meals. She took in about four spoonfuls of beans, one small piece of cornbread, and a piece of okra. Then she started coughing, because her mouth was full. She couldn’t swallow anything. I tried to give her a drink of tea to help her swallow, and it just ran back out.

I gave up trying to feed her and rolled her back to her room. She looked a little pale to me, so I hooked up the oxygen machine again. The same aide who rescued her this morning came in to give her a breathing treatment with Albuteral in a nebulizer. She got some more swabs and spent several minutes cleaning out the food that was filling her mouth. 

We left her on the machine the rest of the day. At times during the afternoon her mouth would gape open, and I would move the cannula from her nose to her mouth to ensure that the oxygen was being inhaled. 

I didn’t even bother to take her to the dining hall for dinner. They brought her a small bowl of applesauce, and I put one spoonful in her mouth. It just sat there. She still can’t swallow anything. 

I opened a bottle of Ensure strawberry shake and put a straw in it. She could not draw it out with the straw. So I got a teaspoon and tried to spoon it in, hoping that it would flow down her throat and be swallowed. On the third spoonful she got choked and started coughing again.

Nothing frustrates an old mechanic more than finding something that he just can’t fix. I told her that, with tears in my eyes.

I took her to the bathroom, changed her into dry, clean clothes for the night, and laid her down to sleep in her bed. When she looked like she was comfortable, I shut the window shades, turned out the light, kissed her goodnight, and went outside to tell the aide on duty to keep an eye on Carolyn, as I was going home for the night.

Then I drove home, went to my room, shut the door and cried.