Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Stan Dunham was a great guy!

20 years ago today, our Dad’s funeral was held. It does not seem possible that it was so long ago.

Yesterday, I went to his grave to honor him. The brass plate on his “niche” is faded now, but the memories are still fresh.

I remember the funeral like it was yesterday. It was packed, and so many old “Buttrey Food’s” colleagues were there. It was a testament for our dad who every liked.

After my second stroke, when the nurses were rushing me to the MRI room, I remembered that dark hallway. It seemed like they would never get to me even though I know they were swiftly hurrying along. At that point, I felt that my Dad was saying to me, “You will be OK.” 

Who knows if that was true or if it was a figment of my imagination? But, Dad helped me in those dark hours. Just the thought of my Dad helped me so much. Thanks Dad.

Dad was a great friend, a cool guy, smart, funny, and irreverent.  

Sunday, December 29, 2013

“Wish You Well” by David Baldacci and strokes

“I read a book.”

The fact that a read a book seems trivial until you realize that I haven’t read a book for two years because of my strokes. Reading was my hobby, and that fact that I could not read anything is demoralizing for me.

It took me several months to complete the book. I often thought I would not do it. But, I had incentive because a long lost relative gave a book to me hoping it would give me incentive to read a certain book called “Wish You Well” by David Baldacci. 

First published in 2001, the story starts with the Cardinal family moving from New York to California due to money problems, then shifts to the mountains of Virginia after a car accident leaves the father dead and the mother paralyzed. The time period is in the 1940s.

It was incredibly difficult for me to read that book. I used to read so fast. Now, I do reading therapy, but I still get frustrated. To read at all, I need to have no distractions and I need to read very slowly. I have to read every word. If not, I have to back track. The process is humbling and maddening.

But, I did it for several reasons. First, I just wanted to prove to myself that I could to it at all. The second reason I had to read that book was to have a connection with my mom.  When she was on her death bed, Mom told me I should write a book about my strokes. I have a goal to do that -- when I can.

When Mom was dying, I asked Mom about her family often. She did not want to discuss it because she had a horrible childhood. When she was a girl, betrayal, beatings, and horrifying circumstances were her lot in life. I wanted to find out about her mother’s family. She found her mom when Mom’s was 22, and it was not a story book ending. I wanted to find out if there were any signs about strokes in our history. Mom gave me an address for a forgotten half-sister. Their “mother” died of an cerebral hemorrhage.

After Mom died, I started to research about Mom’s family. Through Mom’s half-sister, I found a woman who was Mom’s cousin. Out of the blue, I called her. It was a shock to her. They assumed the baby was adopted. I visited with her several times, and we met in May.  It was a great visit though we were sad that Mom did not live long enough to meet her cousins.

That cousin sent “Wish You Well” to me last fall. She sent a letter with the book, and in part she wrote, “I felt the connections of finding long lost relatives or in our case unknown relatives. I know that reading is difficult for you at this time.” She continued writing, “I thought of you in the courage displayed by the characters in the story. After your strokes, many people would have given up but you have fought your way back against all odds and now your story till help many others. I can’t tell you how proud I am of you.”   

That note meant the world to me. Through lost decades, her words encouraged me to read that book. Her note was a placeholder in the book. When I thought I could not go on, I read – slowly and halting -- that note, I persevered. It seemed that Mom was channeling her.

This book is filled with family history, tragedy, a stroke, and hope. It was a stunning book for me to read in so many ways. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Ralph Waldo Emerson and “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

One of our favorite movies is “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Every year, my wife and I watch it, and the story of a man who is so hopeless that he contemplates suicide until an angel shows him what the world would be been without him.

Last night, when we were watching this holiday favorite, my wife said in a nut shell, “You have a wonderful life, and you have helped so many people. You should know that. The thread of your life has helped countless people. You are George Bailey.”

Sometimes when I feel sad and lonely because of my strokes, iut is reasonable that I feel sad. In darker moments when I wonder what my future holds, I do harbor the notion that if I was never born, it would not matter at all. Of course, those moments are fleeting because I love so many people. I could not imagine not being part of my world and life.   

I do try to help other people. I have tried to mentor people. I volunteer a lot because I think I make a difference. When people ask me why I care for so many other people, I think of Ralph Waldo Emerson and his quote:   “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

The issues and deficits I have because of my strokes really made me think I cannot make a difference. I thought my life was over in so many ways. In the beginning, I just needed to heal. When I started thinking again about my relevance, I assumed I could not help anyone.

A great friend of mine is a lawyer and a lobbyist. He would not let me feel sorry for myself. He said, “You will lobby again.” He provided an office and opportunity. He said “Just be visible. Even though you cannot read, you have so much knowledge and contacts. Do not sell yourself short.”

His confidence in me helped a lot. It is gratifying because I helped him get started in his career.

People like him, my wonderful wife, my brothers, and friends, told me that I can contribute even though I still need time to recover.

Because individuals like them, I had the courage to confront my fears. Sure, I have difficulty speaking and expressing a lot, I have been appointed on several boards like Idaho Housing & Finance and the American Heart and Stroke Association.  

I am still trying to make a difference in life. I have a wonderful life. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A friend of mine died last week….

It was a shock. It was a routine surgery on her knee and, in the middle of the night, a blood clot ended her life.

I was not a close friend, but she was a vibrant person who knew everyone. Her laugh was infectious! I went to the funeral because I needed some closure. “Closure” in the sense that she is really gone.  A bright light is gone. 

She was alive and now she is not. How does that happen? Why? 

Another friend of mine had a stroke several years ago.  Now, she has been diagnosed with breast cancer. 

Another Facebook friend just told her contacts that her brother had a stroke 3 months ago, and he had another one this week.

I had an appointment this week with a therapist, and he told me that one of his other client's has a son who has colon cancer…terminal.

The common denominator is they are young. Like me.

In the 90’s my father died and I got divorced. I was despondent. I great friend sent a book to me:    “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” is a 1978 book by Harold Kushner, a Conservative rabbi. Kushner addresses in the book one of the principal problems of theodicy, "the conundrum of why, if the universe was created and is governed by a God who is of a good and loving nature, there is nonetheless so much suffering and pain in it - essentially, the evidential problem of evil."

I hated that book. It is utter BS. A stupid book.

When bad things happen to good people, it is just life and death. Some people think this is “God’s will” or “God’s plan.” Some think this is fate. Some think nothing at all.

My mother was a devout Catholic. She prayed often. When my strokes happened almost 2 years ago, Mom prayed a lot. Everyone prayed. I prayed.
My recovery surprised everyone including my doctors. 

Mom, on the other hand, simply believed I would get better. In my Mom’s reality, she had a personal relationship with God. Mom prayed to God to spare her little boy. Mom prayed over and over “Please take my life in return and spare my boy.” Me.

Mom was a great healthy specimen. At 79, she walked a lot, did not drink and smoke, etc. Everyone thought that Mom would out live all of us. But, 4 months after my stroke, Mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She died several months later. Thought out those horrible months as she was dying, she often told me that “God” spared me and took her in return. 

I humored Mom even though that quid pro quo – my life in return for her death – was abhorrent to me. It gave her comfort thinking that God spared my life. Now my mother is dead at 80.

For me, I hope that God would not bargain with life and death. I am sure that God helped in my recovery but not because he took the life of my Mom. 

The concept of God has always been the forefront of life and existence. People need God. In ancient times and now, people need the concept of God for comfort, solace, and redemption. I talk to God. I pray for others. I pray for me. I have read many books about God trying to figure out my relationship to God or fate or whatever it “is.”

Soon after my strokes, I “read” an audio-book (I still cannot read because of the strokes) by Eben Alexander III is an American neurosurgeon and the author of the best-selling Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife, in which he describes his 2008 near-death experience and asserts that science can and will determine that heaven really does exist.

It was a great inspirational book. I hope it is true. If what he writes is true, heaven and God do exist in a form we cannot imagine. The concept of death it not frightening at all. Rather, it is part of the journey.

But, the pain and suffering that we have to deal with is horrifying to get to Heaven.  I think of the people I mentioned how are suffering. I think of Mom making a bargain with God.

It is just life, and shitty things happen all of the time. Life and death.