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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 49 - Alone In The Fight {FMF}

We're here for Five Minute Friday, hosted by the gracious Kate Motaung; it's a five-minute timed writing challenge based on a keyword, which this week is...alone

We're also with Weekend Whispers.


Dying can be a pretty lonely business.

It prys you away from the life that rushes past you, and throws you into a gyre in which everything is redolent of raw meat and steel and gunpowder.

Every day is literally life and death.

You don't get to escape; there are no days off. There's no respite time.

The enemy isn't at the gates; he's in your living room, and you're fighting hand-to-hand while your family's watching TV.


And that's as it should be.

I don't want my wife to experience the change in worldview I have gone through; she has had her own changes, inevitably, but to her there's still something to be gained from cheering on her favourite on America's Got Talent.

She can still experience the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat as it applies to sports; it can still matter to her, because she can step back. I want her to have that respite.

I can't. My life's narrowed down to a single point; get through the next minute, and keep writing, keep trying to make this all mean something.

That's life and death for me.

I don't want her to be in this sometimes humourless and always ruthless vale of wrath.

I want her to have the sunlight.


As an extra note, the support she has given me, and that of my online family, has been something I could not do without; 'alone' in this context doesn't discount those. It merely means that I have to refrain from making my situation the most important thing that's happening in my wife's life (it is, but I don't need to emphasize it), and refrain from making it all revolve around me.

Life goes on; it should, and I want it to.

The last few days have been among the worst I have faced; I am glad to still be living. Being afraid to sleep, in case you don't wake up...saying to your wife, "Well, just in case...if this is it, it's been fun, and I'd do it again" followed by a fist-bump...all that's kind of a bummer.

And this post was terribly hard to write. I don't want to face these things; I don't want to have to do this analysis, this dissection of a fell process.

But it's my job.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Problems with Paratroops - #BlogBattle

Taking a short break from the "Dying Spouse" series...it's another Tuesday, another #BlogBattle, hosted by the wonderful and talented Rachael Ritchey! (We're also connecting with Thought-Provoking Thursday.)

Today's keyword is troop.

Problems With Paratroops

Charlie had planned ahead. He'd placed a bunker complex right where we would be working with a platoon from the 101st Airborne.

This was going to be interesting.

The Dude was keeping watch with the binos. "OK, enemy in sight," he said suddenly.


"It's a butter-bar..."

I waited, dreading what the next words might be.

"And he's got a map."

There is nothing more dangerous than a second lieutenant with a map...unless it's an Airborne second looey with a map.

The Dude lowered the glasses and shook his head. "Just when I was getting accustomed to the thought of staying alive."

The Airborne officer strode up to where we'd laagered the tanks. He rapped sharply on the fender of the New Guy Tank with the butt of his .45, and was then directed over to us.

"Hello, men. I've got a job for you." He sounded like he'd just watched a few too many John Wayne movies.

"Yes?" I said.

He looked up at men and put his hands on his hips, crumpling the map. "Yes, SIR, sergeant." I guess messing up his map had irritated him.

"Sorry, sir. What can we do for you?" I remained seated in the turret. No need to expend energy until I was told to.

He spread the map out on the fender. "We've scouted a bunker complex...would you please come down from there, sergeant?"

I sighed, loud enough for him to hear, and swung myself down. The Dude followed. Biff and Sonny had been relaxing on the back deck. they sat up to listen.

"We've scouted a bunker complex here." He pointed at the map, and then turned to point ata treeline in the distance. "Right there. It's a big one. At least a half-dozen classroom-size, and the camo on top is fresh."

The Dude picked up the binos to scan the treeline. "Ah, sir?" he said in his most respectful voice. "Sir?"

"Yes, what?" The butter bar was impatient.

"It's more over there, don't you think?" He pointed thirty degrees off from where the lieutenant had indicated.

"Hmmm. Yes. That's where I was pointing!" He waved his arm more generally now. "Over there."

"Of course, sir." The Dude was carefully glassing the treeline, and the ground in front of it.

The officer turned to me. "You're going to assault that complex, sergeant. My men will follow once you've taken out the main structures, and we'll mop up. You will use HE, and individually destroy each bunker. Is that clear?"

It was clear, all right. The Dude stepped in before I could destroy my own career by replying.

"Tanks don't work that way, sir."

The lieutenant looked at The Dude as if a case of c rats had just opened on its own accord, and spoken to him. "I beg you pardon?" he said.

He really said that. I guess the Army really took this officer-and-gentleman thing seriously.

The Dude went on. "Sir, we operate with infantry support. We need your guys around us. Alone, we're sitting ducks for anyone with a satchel charge or an RPG."

"That's absurd. You have armor, you have weapons..."

"And we can't see out, except through the viewing blocks. Besides, an RPG will go through more than a foot of armor."

The lieutenant looked at me. I nodded at The Dude. "He's got more experience here than I do, sir."

"Some commander you are...well, son," he said to The Dude, "how do you know that?" He was at least five years The Dude's junior.

The Dude said mildly, "Because an RPG went through the glacis of my first tank. Thirteen inches. I wasn't driving them, otherwise I wouldn't be talking to you now."

"Well, now isn't that why you have hatches? So you can see the threat and kill it?"

I couldn't resist. "Well, sure, but we make awfully good targets for snipers. They sort of know where to look, sir."

"Well, now if you're scared, you should have said so."

The Dude stepped close to the lieutenant. "Sir, my TC isn't scared of anything in this country, or this war."

"He's afraid to do his job!"

The New Guy crew had drifted over to hear if we were really going to go out and commit suicide at the orders of this idiot.

The Dude remained calm and mild and venomous. "Well, sir, I'll tell you what. With TC's permission..." He looked toward me, and I nodded. "He'll drive, and I'll ride the commander's cupola."

"Well, at least somebody here's got guts."

The Dude smiled. "No, sir. It's just that I'm expendable."

The lieutenant nodded, and said, "Well, be that as it may. H-hour is zero-five-hundred zulu."

Sonny spoke up. "Pardon me, sir, buh, what's that tahm, heah?" Zulu was GMT, which didn't mean much on the other side of the world.

"Figure it out, soldier!"

"Marine," said a deep voice behind me.

"Wha...uh..." the lieutenant was looking over my shoulder as if he'd just seen God Himself. "Uh, sir!" He threw a salute that would have knocked him cold if it had been any sharper. Perhaps that would have been a mercy for him, given what followed.

I turned, and behind me stood a full-bird, with leathery skin and crinkles around his eyes that made him look kindly. "Hello, sir," I said. I didn't salute. You don't salute in the field, because that identifies officers for a sniper.

The colonel smiled, crinkling his eyes more. He said to the lieutenant, "Son, we don't call these boys soldiers. They're Marines. We want their help, so we don't insult them."

The lieutenant looked like he'd swallowed a yardstick from the wrong end. "Yes, sir!" This time he didn't salute, but his hand flinched. He sure wanted to polish that apple.

"Now why don't you boys tell me what my subordinate wants y'all to do." He looked at The Dude, and I realized that he'd been close by all along, listening.

The Dude explained the lieutenant's plan, and outlined our objections.

The lines on the colonel's face seemed to deepen as he listened, and when The Dude had finished, he nodded. "Excellent presentation, son. If you ever want to transfer to the Eagles, I'll sign a personnel request. We could sure use you...though I guess it would be a step down for you, eh?"

The Dude said, with a neutral expression, "Sir, I'd be honored."

"I'll bet!" laughed the colonel. "Now, I want y'all to run this assault they way y'all think it should be run. Just tell the lieutenant here what you need, and you'll do it."

The butter-bar had turned white, which wasn't surprising, seeing as how he'd been freshly castrated in front of a group of Marine enlisted tankers. "Yes, sir," he said, in the voice of a dormouse with a head cold.

The colonel ambled off, leaving the lieutenant standing there, alone among allies, blinking rapidly.

The Dude climbed back onto the tank, and disappeared into the turret. He emerged, and said to the lieutenant, "Here, catch!"

And he threw the boy a can of our highly-prized Millers.

Your Dying Spouse 48 - Listening to Fear

We're linked with Wedded Wednesday this week; please click on the link to visit, and find some really great marriage resources!

As a caregiver, sometimes the most important thing you can do is listen...and sometimes you will be listening to things you prefer not to hear.

I should be quick to say that they're not likely to be directed against you...while impending death does loosen the tongue, it's still pretty stupid to piss off your caregiver. (I'm sorry for the slightly rough language, but that's the best way to describe some acrimonious exchanges to which I have been a party.)

The hard stuff you'll have to listen to will generally fall into two categories - I'm scared, and my life has meant nothing.

Today we'll talk about listening to fear.

When your fatally ill. there's a lot to fear, and I'm not just talking about the classical fear of death. That's the least of it (and for me, it's not an issue - I've had Near-Death Experiences, but those are for a future post).

The most immediate fear is 'how much more is this going to hurt'. There are levels of pain that are simply indescribable, and that can't be touched through conventional means. (Morphine no longer works for me, unless I take enough to kill me.)

And pain is rightly to be feared, because it can kill you quick, through shock...an extremely unpleasant way to go.

Other fears are of growing dependency, of losing one's mental and physical faculties, and of impoverishing one's family with the expense of terminal illness.

They're all reasonable fears, and not to be dismissed. I was once told, on admitting I was scared, "Well, if your faith was stronger you wouldn't be afraid." That was, I hardly need say, singularly useless advice.

What's needed from you is just a friendly, listening ear. The fears are real; there really are monsters out there. Your husband or wife needs a safe place to be scared, a place to have a shoulder into which to lean.

Yes, for Christians, there are many places where the Bible says, "Fear not!"

But the whole point of the Agony in the Garden was that Jesus was flat-out etrrified of that which awaited Him. I mean, of all people, Jesus asking to be let off a task?

It's OK to be scared. Live that for your mate - with love.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 46 - Asking For Help

Sometimes, as a caregiver, you can't go it alone. And you shouldn't.

Dealing with serious or terminal illness in a spouse is probably the most challenging thing you'll face. It tears at the emotions, it can undermine faith, and it can be physically draining.

And, for good measure, it can be a financial disaster.

Let's look at each of these in order -

Emotional exhaustion, sometimes called compassion fatigue, is almost impossible to avoid when you're watching the person you love the most in all the world fade painfully from this life.

With the best will in the world to meet the challenge of each day with fortitude, the demands pile up quickly - your obligation to be the support (sometimes the only support) for someone in extremis, the demands of having to work (sometimes in a distracted state), the requirement to be there for your kids if they are still living with you (and sometimes if they're not), and not lastly the need to be emotionally attentive to friends and family, to keep those vital connections up.

Just writing it is tiring.

Emotional exhaustion sets in when you simply start getting numb; the pathos of the situation fails to move you, and you become more a master of expediency - how to accomplish the required tasks - than a steady source of uplifting support. (And that engenders guilt, just to make it a bit worse.)

The only way to really fight this is to preserve parts of a life that is yours. Whether it's being able to take a few hours on a weekend to play tennis or golf, or it's limited to getting a latte at Starbucks on your way home from work...do it.

It's not selfish. This is the preservation of life - yours. Emotional exhaustion arises when your identity starts to become lost, subsumed in the ongoing tragedy that's become central to your life.

But you are not dying. Not yet, anyway, and you have to reinforce the feeling that life does, indeed, go on. It's not heartless; it's necessary. If you're religious, remember that you were created with just as much value as the person in your care...so you have to be within your own circle of care.

And don't do it alone; keep up those trusted friendships in the safety of which you can find help by simply being able to rage against the injustice of it all, without being judged or condescended to.

Faith can really take a beating, in this situation. You see an illness, pray for healing...and it doesn't happen. There are those who say that you didn't pray hard enough, or you didn't use the right words or 'form' for your prayers.

This is sheer nonsense. Everyone dies; Jesus, in His life on Earth, died more horribly than most...and His prayers for deliverance were refused.

In the 21st century, many branches of the church have taken a hard turn into the 'prosperity gospel', and 'signs and wonders'. God wants you to be rich; God wants you to be healthy; God wants to heal your infirmities.

Yes, He does, but He also wants you to have the free will to choose Him, not as a genie who grants wishes, but as a source for hope that's eternal, and not temporal. Are there healing miracles? Sure, I think there are; but I believe they follow the pattern of those described in the Gospels, in which the healing was performed as part of a larger function. An example, if you will, and not an end in itself.

As someone who'd definitely like a healing miracle (and as I write this I am on the backside of the worst day I have had), I can accept that God may have other plans; and that healing as athe result of 'penny-in-the-slot' petitioning would actually work counter to His requirements, in creating free will.

Of course I'm going to worship a God who answers this prayer, but the point is to believe when He seems to be absent.

I think the best counter to this kind of disappointment-undermining-faith is to consider the history of Christianity. Horrible things happened in Jesus' time, to perfectly nice people. Eleven of twelve Apostles met nasty ends. And we revere martyrs.

It isn't about God blessing us with book contracts (so important to a writer!), or placing us in an advantageous position for promotion. It's about trusting God to be there, giving us the comfort we need to survive when we're looking into a fearsome abyss.

To maintain our faith, asking for help can be vital; no religion, least of all Christianity, says we're supposed to go it alone. Almost every church has support groups, and most have specific support groups for caregivers. Get involved; it's a place where you can be free to cry, and to doubt...and to have your tears dried, and your doubts gently healed.

And, when you participate...you're helping others, as well.

Physically, caring for someone can be trying; ask my wife! Sometimes she has to be my 'other leg', when walking is difficult; and she's had to drag me inside, when I collapsed in the yard from a spasm of pain.

Add to that the time-consuming stuff of having to bathe someone, and maybe feed him...and keep a tally of medication...along with life's normal demands.

The best way to face this is...wait for it...self care. Thi is the time to watch your nutrition, and exercise as you are able, and catch sleep when you can (if sleep deprivation is a problem.

Here, you can ask for help by having an accountability partner...someone who knows your situation, and who will keep tabs on you...and will exercise with you.

And finally, finances. Dying isn't cheap. I have no insurance, and part of the reason I don't take pain meds is that I can't afford them, and especially can't afford the blood tests every three months that are mandated by recent legislation (the tests were over $600, last time I checked).

You may need modifications to your house, to allow wheelchair access...or you may need a hospital bed.

It's very hard to ask for help with money; in this culture we are taught to be self sufficient, and to 'neither a borrower nor a lender be'.

But there are times when you can't go it alone. We have received help; we have had to ask for it, when multiple disasters hit at once.

And I am so grateful that it was offered, and given. Some we have been able to pay back; some of it...probably never.

There is a large serving of humble pie that goes along with dying.

And I guess that is part of the lesson...because when we were in that position, I asked myself...if I were able to help a friend or family member, would I hesitate? How would I feel if someone forebore to ask me, when I could have given that aid, and instead suffered in silence?

I'm no saint, no philanthropist...but I'd like to think that at the times I could help out, I did.

It isn't a matter of paying it forward, or what goes around comes around...it's just that life can beat you into the ground, and sometimes we can't get up alone.

As you might imagine, this was both awkward and difficult to write...especially the last bit. What do you think? What can you add?
And if I got some of this wrong...where's the error?

We're linked with Inspire Me Monday, and TestimonyTuesday.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 47 - And Not To Yield

Time again for Five Minute Friday, hosted by kate Motaung. Please drop by for some really fine timed-writing essays, inspired by a keyword...which, this week, is FIND.


"...to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

That's the last line of Tennyson's poem Ulysses, which describes the discontent of the Trojan War hero on his return home, and his determination to face old age on his own terms.

"...it may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
it may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
and see the great Achilles, whom we knew."

In this journey to death by vicious illness that I would never have chosen, there are things I am learning...one of those is that to the people physically around me, I have become the illness.

It's the sum total of what I represent, and contribute.

But there's so much more...

"Tho' much is taken, much abides, and tho'
we are not now that strength which in old days
moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are."

I can still do things that few others can do; I was a master metalworker. Those skills may largely be in abeyance, but they are not lost. It may take a week or even two to do what once took a day...but I can still do it.

But I am defined, for others, by something I abhor, and if I want to retain something more, it has to be my job to seek it out again.

To find it.

And never, ever to yield.

Even if no one is looking.


These are getting tougher and tougher to write...I've got to go deeper, and there are things I might rather not share. But I HAVE to.
Otherwise, I'll be writing, living - and dying - a lie.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A Human Oasis - #BlogBattle

Time, once again. for this week's short-fiction keyword-inspired #BlogBattle, hosted by Rachael Ritchey.

The keyword this week is OASIS.

A Human Oasis

Biff kicked me in the head, to wake me. I think he enjoyed that little dig at authority. "Tanks coming back, boss."

I'd been lying in the shade by the New Guy tank, trying to sleep away a bit of the day, because Charlie had been keeping us up nights with mortars. War is hell, and makes me cranky.

"Oh, good. They didn't get lost." The Dude and Sonny had been tasked to run down the beach, to pick up a stranded VIP. Apparently Oceanview was going to get its very own USO show, and the APC carrying the act had thrown a track. So we had to provide a taxi, while the APC crew and the escorts reshod their lame mount.

It was a strange feeling to see our tank - our home, after all - moving with me in it. I could see The Dude in the driver's position, the big gun turned slightly so it wasn't over his head, and Sonny was sitting in the loader's hatch atop the turret, one hand on the side of the commander's cupola, leaning in to talk with the person who was standing in what was normally my place.

This someone was dressed in a set of utilities, and wore a CVC helmet, but the long reddish-blond hair that cascaded out from under the helmet wasn't Marine issue.

Biff looked at me. "Do you know who that is?"

I shook my head. This far up-country, I'd expected, at best, a Filipino pop group with huge amps and a small repertoire.

"I think it's Ann-Margaret."

The tank ground to a stop...a very smooth stop, short of our revetment. The Dude used the gun tube to lever himself out of the driver's position, and Sonny stood on the turret. Both were extending their hands, formally, to help our VIP.

Who, when she took off the helmet, was indeed Ann-Margaret.

"Hi," she said, with a bright smile. 

Sonny took her hand, beating The Dude by a heartbeat. "Gennelmen...ah'd lahk ta innedouce y'all to Miss Ann-Margaret." He bowed, and held out her hand with a flourish that almost pushed her off the turret.

The arrival had not gone unnoticed, and the grunts who weren't on duty started drifting toward us. They moved shyly, and often stopped to talk among themselves, in small, anxious groups.

Ann-Margaret's smile faded, just a little. She was used to being crowded, and jostled, and pawed. These boys with old mens' eyes, who manned the closest outpost to the Z, were an evolving mystery.

The Dude stood next to her. "Ma'am,, why don't we get off the tank?"

She looked at him, puzzled. The tank was a kind of stage, placing her above the spectators. "The guys there...they're kind of worried, ma'am." The Dude pointed north. "We're a little exposed, standing here."

"Oh!" She smiled again. "Of course." She looked around. "What's the best way to get down?"

Sonny had slid down the glacis in front, and was holding out his arms. "Just let our friend there catch you...that's right...just slide on down..."

Sonny caught the actress, very gingerly, and set her on her feet. He received a kiss on the cheek, and under the grime and stubble that covered his face, a blush rose. He stammered something that sounded like "Aw, shucks". At least I hoped that's what it was.

There were no microphones, and there was no stage. There was just one gracious, lovely, and slightly bemused young woman standing amid a group of shy and retiring killers. She led them in song, and signed their boonie hats and web gear and Bibles.

She kissed dirty cheeks, and hugged bony shoulders that were worn down from heat, humidity, and the carriage of weapons.

She took names and addresses, and promised to write to parents.

The war stopped for a moment, when Ann-Margaret dropped in.

Too soon there was the sound of rotor blades; a Huey was coming to take her away. She knew, and we knew, but before the beat of the blades destroyed the moment, there was time for one more song.

"You'll Never Walk Alone."

As she finished, I looked to The Dude, and then looked away, for he was crying.

Your Dying Spouse 45 - Stages of Grief: Acceptance

Today we're linked to Messy Marriage's Wedded Wednesday.

And so, to the last letter of DABDA...A for Acceptance.

We've gone through denial, anger, bargaining, and depression...and now we accept...what?

What exactly are we accepting as the caregiver for a terminally ill spouse?

And what is the dying person accepting?

There are really no facile answers here...have I accepted that I'm going to die of this? No. I've accepted that I'm in the fight of my life, but I'm not giving up...not by a long shot. I'll fight to live with everything I have.

I don't want to die. I do not accept the death sentence. I accept that the outlook is not good, sure; that's not hard, especially seeing what has happened to me over the past few months. But roll over and wait for the Reaper?

Not hardly.

And what does acceptance mean for my wife, or for any caregiver?

Just this - that there is the possibility, or the probability, that she will be a widow sooner rather than later, and that life as we knew it - as she knew it - has changed. There are different priorities now, and things like painting the living room are no longer at the front of the line.

Doesn't mean the living room won't be painted; it just means that the chance to spend time together, going to McDonalds for an ice cream cone if I'm well enough, takes precedence.

It also means looking ahead and planning for things that might be unpalatable...the need for a hospital bed, for example, or oxygen, and home hospice. The time for denying that stuff is past; it may happen, and the caregiver has to be willing to consider the possible need, and budget time, space, and money.

It means looking at what happens if and when death does occur...burial or cremation? A service, or nothing special, just dispose of the body in the most convenient manner...after all, it's the Klingon way.

And it means considering what lies beyond that permanent change.

Stay in the same house, or move? (Most experts suggest waiting a year to make that decision, unless finances force the issue.)

Consider remarriage, or not? (Again, most experts advise a waiting period...but this is a subject we'll take up in a future post.)

The point is to look at these questions...things that will have to be addressed if the illness matches the prognosis...to look at them without denying their reality, or resenting them and reacting in bitterness.

That last, that's the key...

Acceptance is the laying aside of denial and bitterness, and choosing to live the life that's there, however hard it may be, with all the goodwill and faith one has at one's command.

For the religious, it's the taking of God's hand, trusting that His guidance will be sufficient unto each day ahead, however harsh it may be.

Acceptance is saying...

And I'll do my share, to make the best of it.