Archive | June 2019

Relating to Compassion-free People

I am not sure what I am going to do. I woke up this morning realizing that I don’t want to hang out with my dad, or anyone that seems to lack basic human compassion and empathy. I have always deeply believed that we become like the people that we hang around. It’s one of the big reasons I stopped being a christian. I did not want to become like them. Their theological and intellectual convolutions are simply a cover for their misogyny and white supremacy. It is oppression using King James-ian language. My yearning for silence, stillness, and spirituality was never fulfilled because church is all about power (who has it, who doesn’t, and who has the right to even so much as ask for it).

There is a big get-together today at Dave and Celeste’s. It is Xavier’s third birthday. Xavier is McKayla’s oldest son and Dave’s little buddy. They are so cute together, Grandpa and his Little Buddy. My parents are the only people I have anything in common with whatsoever and now I don’t really want to be around them. I have ordered presents (from Amazon, of course) so I will show up without a gift in-hand, but I hope he enjoys his surprises coming in the mail. Trucks. He is genuinely juvenile. He has the right to be.

It hurts so bad because I love my parents. But this is a character issue.

I have come to a point in my life where my life is not about what I want to do, but about whom I want to be. I don’t know yet. Maybe I never will. However, I won’t normalize that which is not normal or healthy, such as anti-human attitudes or drinking until one has cirrhosis.  Denial is protection from nothing. There is no them, only us, fellow humans trying to make a way in this world.

I am not trying to judge my family harshly. The consequences of their behavior have branded their choices as less than highly intelligent. Their unwillingness to learn and grow speaks more loudly than Cindy’s opinion ever could. I don’t need to say anything. Reality speaks volumes.

Missing the Point

Conservatives are missing the point. You can get all your facts right and still miss the bigger picture.

I was talking to a co-worker the other day. I mentioned something about diversity and he starts talking about how unfair affirmative action is. He doesn’t get it at all.  Racial diversity is a teeny part of the diversity picture. There is also sexual diversity (attraction and identity) and religious diversity. There may be even more types. The words that flashed before my eyes were “Aggrieved White Male.” He’s pissed and thinks Trump is likely to win again. Good luck with that. Even if his arguments are correct, he is missing the point of diversity: people have different perspectives for very valid reasons.You can argue with someone’s information, but there is no arguing with actual, real, lived personal experiences.

Then there is my dad. He believes Fox “News.” He has no respect for legitimate  news sources. Fine. Even if he gets a few facts correct (which I saw zero evidence of), he is still missing the point of the new reality. What is the new reality? Millenials outnumber Baby Boomers. Whites are becoming a non-majority very quickly. Parents and their children dying while crossing the Rio Grande spark well-deserved outrage. I saw no compassion in my dad. It scares me. Economic injustice matters, There are a gazillion  jobs, but none of them pay anything. Climate change matters. The weather is becoming more extreme every year. My dad is too busy defending the sexual-predator-in-chief. The big picture has escaped his notice.

It all reminds me of being a conservative, evangelical Christian. Back in the nineties, I decided to read some Francis Schaeffer. He was a very important intellectual Christian back in the 1950s and 1960s. I don’t recall what book of his I attempted to read, but I did not finish it because it was too painfully boring. It was obvious that he was bending over backwards and going to great lengths to answer questions I had never heard anyone ask. He was extremely articulate–and totally irrelevant. It was like listening to a family friend go on and on about a subject you never inquired about. You want to be polite, but you cannot make yourself care about some abstract topic that has no impact on your everyday life.

There is this Christian leader that I read the blog of sometimes, Albert Mohler. He is a Southern Baptist. He is very articulate and connects the dots better than any Christian I know. One of his recent blogs went on and on about the philosophical history of “intersectionality”. Intersectionality is the idea that we all belong to different groups that affect our perspectives. For example, I am Midwestern, educated, straight, female, widowed, working-class, white, Buddhist, ex-Christian, etc. My lived experience is going to differ radically from that of a black, Muslim, gay newlywed living on the east or west coast. Duh. Mohler was criticizing the historical roots of intersectionality. Missing the point. His critique of its historical roots is irrelevant from the perspectives of the various groups of people that are simply trying to understand and have some compassion for each other.

Conservatives can live in their bubble. I don’t have that option and neither do most of the people I know.

Compassion is what it’s about. If conservatives cannot comprehend that, they will be left behind very, very quickly. Like so much else in my life, this is really hard to watch. It hurts me to see my Christian friends and my conservative family getting swept aside by historical forces that are bigger than all of us. Denial doesn’t help. It never does.

Distorted Sense of Time

How can something seem abrupt and yet it feels like you are watching it in slow motion?

That is what I am dealing with in regards to my brothers’ health problems.

I think I have figured it out. It is about awareness (opposite of denial), subconscious expectations, and time frames. If everything had occurred to one brother within this two-year period of time, holy crap, that would be abrupt as hell. But these are the health issues of three brothers.

I looked at the problems and saw that they are all long-term issues: heart disease, cirrhosis, and COPD. Mike’s cancer may have been sudden-onset. No one knows. But Dave and Bob’s problems are simply inevitable, given their lifestyle choices. But nobody ever talks about anything. We are going to pretend that Dave is not an alcoholic and that he probably doesn’t have cirrhosis like Bob.

The problem with denial is that reality has a nasty way of intruding and destroying the denial is the ugliest way possible.

My over-sensitivity to all of this comes from Barry’s death last year. I was stunned at the “suddenness” of his death for one reason only: when I asked point-blank about when to call hospice, I had been told by the nurse practitioner that that could be months down the road.” I was misinformed. Period. My expectations were built on bad information. That was the only thing that made Barry’s death seem sudden. In absolutely every other way, Barry’s death was a ridiculously slow downward progression. The nurse practitioner even said, “You know, Mr. Hoag, that not many people with Huntington’s live as long as you.” His response was, “Yeah, I know.” I kept him going for years after he would have died without me. I think he heard that and some part of his spirit may have said, “Yikes! What am I doing? How long do I want to stick around?” His brain wasn’t working real well by that time, but I think his spirit was wide-awake. He was gone nine days later.

One thing I have learned about health problems is that, if you have just one, you can work around it and live for decades with it. However, when there are multiple systems involved (like respiratory and/or lymphatic and/or urinary and/or digestive, etc.) things can go downhill at warp speed. The drugs that help this problem make this other problem much worse. The medicines don’t combine well. And, oh yeah, just about no medications combine well with alcohol. The systems cannot prop each other up and the downhill spiral can be astonishingly quick.

It just never occurred to me that my brothers would all start to have serious health problems at about the same time. I honestly don’t know what I expected. Things got very real very fast. If we just never talk about something, it must not be real, I guess.

Are things happening quickly in my family? Only if you’re in denial.


Many Worlds

Last week, or perhaps the week before, my dad was telling me about his “Five Wishes.” This is a plan for what he does and doesn’t want when he is dying. He told me about it and then told me to not tell my oldest brother Dave. Say what? A decade ago, my parent’s will was straight-forward: Dave and I would sell their house and divide up the proceeds amongst us four kids. The assumption was a normal one: the parents die before the children.

Now it is a different story. All three brothers have very serious health issues. One is dying in Illinois from cancer. Anyhow, I digress. Why wouldn’t Dad want Dave in on his “Five Wishes”? Because Dad no longer assumes Dave will outlive him. Dad watches Dave eat a terrible diet, smoke cigars, and continually drink beer, despite having had a heart attack. Is something a secret if the person the information is being withheld from is not likely to live long enough for the info to be relevant to them?

Bob is coming to Michigan on July fourth for a Tiger game and a visit. These get-togethers are quite the undertaking for Dave and Celeste. Dave is a master griller. Wings,  burgers, whatever, it is all amazing. Celeste spends all her time cooking and trying to make everyone happy.

It hit me yesterday. There may not a lot more of these get-togethers. Bob told Dave that he couldn’t drink even one beer and Dave was flabbergasted. The boys have all outlived their father. Dave might live a few more years, but that is not guaranteed, given the total lack of behavioral change in him. Who is going to grill? Dave is the center of that universe.

Probably a year ago, I wondered out loud to my parents what Celeste will do once Dave is gone and MaKayla and her brood move out. My parents acted like I was talking about something that might happen thirty years from now. Why is Cindy so morbid? Guess what? MaKayla and her family have rented an apartment starting in August. She is moving out soon. And McKyle lives on campus at MSU. When Dave has another heart attack, that whole world could implode. Instantly.

A couple years ago, the boys’ health seemed OK. Not great, but OK. Everything has happened so quickly that I feel disoriented.

I once heard that addiction is creating a fantasy world and then trying to live there. That sounds about right. Denial is a fine place to set up a tent while you process some trauma, but it is a poor place to put a foundation of a whole world. And that is precisely what they have done.

I told Celeste that she may want something non-alcoholic to offer Bob. She was truly confused. Apparently her repertoire of non-alcoholic beverages is nil. I usually drink water or coffee. I’m not there for the beverages.

Part of my grief over Barry’s passing is that the whole world we inhabited when we got married is gone. Most of the restaurants are gone. Barry outlived most of his friends and both of his original sponsors.

When I got married, I wasn’t even aware of my subconscious hopes and dreams. They were all unknown assumptions. After so many hopes and dreams not coming true, those, too, are dying. I feel like I have lost everything. There is no going back and I don’t see a forward.

I feel like my parents are now acknowledging that I will likely be the only heir at all. Dad doesn’t want to upset Dave. Why upset someone who will not likely live long enough to even be part of the equation? The boys’ lifestyle choices are coming home to roost. It’s kind of like watching a car crash in slow motion.

I’m just trying to enjoy the wings and the few get-togethers we have left.

Some Irony Going on Here

Sometimes, the more things change,the more things stay the same.

I am so surprised at how fast things are happening in some ways. Three years ago: all three of my brothers seemed to be in decent health, even surprisingly so given their history of drinking, smoking, and using drugs. They were all OK, perhaps not great, but OK.

About two years ago, Dave, the oldest, had a heart attack. He had some arteries cleaned out and some stents put in. He continues to eat a horrendous diet but believes wrongly that he can live a normal life span with the arteries cleaned out and the stents in. His behavior is exactly the same today as thirty years ago. He has learned zero. This is the brother who provides alcohol to his underage son despite losing a daughter to a drunk driver. The maturing process simply never occurred.

Then there is the middle brother, Mike. He is dying of cancer. I am awaiting the call of his death. I saw a video of him taken by my dad a week ago. He looks unbelievably bad. He dropped out of the family decades ago and I don’t blame him one bit. He is very proud of his ability to legally grow marijuana. It is so funny because he had been doing so for decades. It’s just that the authorities don’t want to incarcerate him because he is pure liability. He could die in their custody and they could get sued. He is just not worth their time and energy. He is on disability and everyone is good with that. Why take away what little quality of life he has?

Then there is the youngest brother, Bob. (All of them are older than me and are the product of my mom’s first marriage, but my dad raised all of us.) His is the most interesting story. He was a major narcissist in his teens and twenties. Everything was about Bob. When he came to Michigan, everyone was expected to drop everything to entertain him. He got caught with cocaine in a speed trap my truck-driver dad warned him about. He and his first wife did a lot of drugs together. They were two peas in a pod. They had a daughter and lived near Mike in Illinois.

Bob gets caught with coke. He does some time and tries to get his life together. He marries a woman in Massachusetts. She is a horrible human being. Her family of origin wants nothing to do with her. Bob has a daughter and a son with her. Those children are grown now and want nothing to do with her. She stole her children’s college fund and the judge took a particularly dim view of that.

He divorces her and is suddenly thrust into the position of responsible single parent. He has major guilt of feeling like he abandoned his Illinois daughter. He pays a lot of alimony and doesn’t have two nickels to rub together and lives with the younger  daughter near Boston.

About six months ago, he had a medical incident where the artery between his spleen and liver was completely clogged. It turns out he has some weird blood clotting abnormality and had had a heart attack that he did not know about. He already had COPD. Last week, he found out he has cirrhosis of the liver, probably due to a lifetime of alcohol consumption and recently reduced blood supply to the liver.  He wants to live! Badly.

I have offered to give a chunk of my liver to him. I have no idea if I am a match or not. But, if it will give him a few more good years, it would be worth it. I am not married and have no children. Nobody depends on me.

Bob is coming to Michigan for the July fourth weekend at Dave’s place. When Bob said he could not have a beer, Dave was aghast. “Not even one beer?” “Nope. Not even one beer.” Dave’s priority is, apparently, beer. Are you freaking kidding me?

I would never offer a chunk of my liver to Dave because he is a practicing alcoholic. No doctor is going to give a transplant to someone that still drinks.

I can’t believe that Bob is the good guy now. Bob is learning and growing, albeit the hard way. I am always willing to support someone’s sobriety. I did it for thirty years for Barry. I know how to play this role.

My goal? To give Bob a few good years so he can see his grandchildren in Illinois. That daughter is married and seems to be extremely fertile. Barry’s grandchildren were everything to him. Bob’s younger children are in their twenties. The girl is a nurse and the boy is a cop in Everett, MA. They have no children. I would like Bob to live long enough to see Massachusetts grandkids.

Of course, I may not be a match.

And it is starting to dawn on my parents that I am likely to be the only one that lives long enough to inherit anything whatsoever. Me, the one with suicidal tendencies. There are simply too many levels of irony here to even count. All of this is so twisted.

Helper of a Helper

I am in an odd position. My good friend, L, has a cat. L’s dad has stage four cancer that went from his soft tissue to his lungs. L’s sisters, Lisa and Lori, went to Florida to get the dad and haul him and his wife back to Michigan. Lisa has two cats and a chihuahua. L has been pet sitting and living with the little beasts. But her own cat, Shyla, still needs tending. Enter Cindy. I have been spoiling my favorite dufus, visiting after work.

So I find myself functioning as what I think of as an “underneath support person.” Likely, the dad will never meet me.

My parents may attempt to visit my brother Mike, who has cancer, this week. They were going to go a couple weeks ago, but he was going to be hospitalized for a few days’ worth of treatment. My concern is for Ma. Mike has not really been part of the family for the past couple decades, which I do not blame him for at all. But how devastating must it be to see your own child dying? How could it be anything other than traumatic for her to see him? Perhaps she can complete something for him emotionally or spiritually.

What can I do? I have been trying to keep things normal for her. I have been going to my parents’ place on Sundays for dinner and to play games. I am doing it just to keep up normalcy for Ma. I don’t always feel like going there, but I’ll do it if it’ll help.

My philosophy: Do what I can for those I love, which may be quite limited. And, if I am pretty sure I cannot contribute anything positive, stay far, far away from the situation. Do no harm. Do good or get out.

We are the recipients of care we know nothing about.


Need to Find a New Way

I am stuck but curious. I feel like I have the inkling of a new direction but have no confidence.

Problem: absolutely everything seems to have negative (read: shameful, fearful, emotionally/physically painful) associations. I can’t go left or right, up or down, backwards/forwards. This has made life seriously not worth living.

But my mind is curious. I bought this book, Awake at the Bedside. It is fascinating. It is by a number of authors talking about end-of-life issues, some from a specifically Buddhist perspective. So far, it is talking a lot about “just being” by the dying person and palliative care.

My frustration with Barry’s death was that I was physically there for everything, but not mentally because I was told nine days before he died that hospice probably would not be needed for “months down the road.” I was watching him die and misinterpreting everything as something I would have to deal with for maybe the next year. OMG. When do I put him in a nursing home? When do I get more morphine for him? I was planning the next step and there was no next step. I was planning the next leg of a journey that was over. There is such a difference between being physically someplace and being there emotionally/mentally.

I don’t want anyone else to be as clueless as I was. I want to know the signs of death that I witnessed and misinterpreted. I want to be able to help other caregivers at least a little bit.

How on earth do I do this without inevitably triggering all my shame issues? I feel trapped in my head.