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Thursday, July 2, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 25 - Does God Play Favourites? {Five Minute Friday}

It's time for Five Minute Friday, hosted by the brilliant and humble Kate Motaung (and yes, she's one of my favourite people...how did you guess?)

Fittingly, today's word is...FAVOURITE.

Let's go.

As a caregiver, there are times when you're going to be...well, not angry at God, but certainly resentful.

It feels like he's playing favourites, and you're not on the list.

Other couples in your generation your social circle, are planning for ream vacations, planning for retirement together, are enjoying the love of children and grandchildren and the satisfaction of a life well-lived.

And you're on your way to the doctor's office, for some more bad news.

You may want to scream, "What's going ON, God? What did we do to rate this?"

What did I do, to be in the prime of my life, and to have to be a spiritual anchor for the person I love...and I have to watch him die, bit by bit.

I have to watch the pain build, to be countered by medications that induce Zombiehood.

I have to see things that we could enjoy together...something as simple as a night out at the movies, a restaurant dinner, a walk around the block...fade into History.

WHY?

The truth is that God does not play favourites, no matter what people like Joel Osteen say about "having God's favour" in getting good parking spots on the Saturday before Christmas at the mall.

It's not the favour of God that Creflo Dollar (a TV preacher) got his followers to pitch in to buy him a new private jet. The old one just didn't have that new-jet smell any more.

And it's not the disfavour of God that you are holding the head of the person you love most out of the toilet, as his body strains to rid itself of the meagre meal he could force down.

It's just life. God's Son was tortured to death, and the people you'd expect to be next-in-line as favourites - the Apostles - were cruelly murdered as well (with the exception of John, who was merely banished to an island).

People want to read feel-good theology into the Bible (or into whatever religion of philosophy they follow), something that rewards a 'good life' with good stuff.

But it's wishful thinking. If you're a Christian, you're promised...wait for it...your very own Cross.

And you're promised a Love that will see you through, if you will lean into it.

And you're promised a life beyond this one, in which all the tears are wiped away, and the sorrows erased.

God's not picking on you, nor has He 'picked' you for this very horrible trial.

He just loves you, and wants to help you bear the hurt, if you'll let Him.

Because you're His favourite.

Endex.

How'd I do?

We're also linked with The Weekend Brew.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 24 - Prickly Pair

We're linked with Messy Marriage's Wedded Wednesday today.

Some days, it just doesn't pay to get out of bed.

And sometimes,as a caregiver, you will feel like you can't do or say anything right.

You show compassion, you're condescending.

You respect the abilities your mate still has, and you're demanding too much of a sick person.

You try to help, and you're taking away work your mate can still do.

You let them do something on their own, and you're accused of not being willing to help.

You can't win.

It's tempting to answer back sharply, in anger, because you're doing your best, and you do care. Too much, it seems like sometimes.

But the thing to remember is that you're not the target. The fatal illness is a constant companion, at times cruel, and at times casually nasty. It can be a trained torturer, or something akin to a mean-spirited teenager, offhandedly ruining what little sense of accomplishment can be gleaned from the bad days that inevitably come.

The illness is a presence, and it's not a friend. But it can't feel remorse, and it can't be hurt.

Your mate wants to give back pain for pain, sometimes, and you are often the only target available.

It's hard to respond in calm compassion, and refrain from putting up walls to protect your heart. When you're hurt, it's natural to shield yourself. You've got to, anyway, for the separation to come.

But the separation isn't here yet, and believe me, the person who's looking into that scary place of faith and mystery feels awful for hurting you, because, in many ways...you are all he or she has.

Can you be big enough to absorb the blows? Can you be resilient enough to let what feels personal drift past, because it's not really personal at all?

It's worth trying, because that's the only way to avoid regret later. You will...once your mate is gone and the dust is settling - you will question whether you were kind enough. It's human nature; we pull back to avoid the pain of loss, and in that retreat we sow the seeds of later heartache.

To some degree, you can't avoid this.

But to some degree, you can. The seeds of retreat come from denial; your spouse is here now, and their hostility, superimposed over the impending loss, is much more real that what will happen next week or next month or next year.

Terminal illness is not entitlement, and you have to stand your ground. But you have to try to stand it in warmth.

So breathe deep, and hold out your arms, as if you're forgiving a child throwing the mother of temper tantrums.

Because we're all kids, and we're all afraid of the dark.


#BlogBattle - Spaghetti Eastern

Time for this week's short-fiction #BlogBattle, hosted by Rachael Ritchey, with the keyword...wait for it...SPAGHETTI.

Uh, really?

Well, OK

Spaghetti Eastern

"Who's hungry?" The Dude's voice came over the sidetone in the headphones, and over deep metallic rattle of the tracks, and over the background rumble of the V-12 engine. Tanks are not quiet.

I almost spoke, and then thought, well, let the kids decide. We were just finishing a road sweep, showing the Vietnamese the flag, and letting Charlie know that Uncle Sam was not averse to putting a large steel target on the downrange side of the Great Southeast Asian Shootin' Gallery - bring your RPG's, and have at us! But the run had been quiet, and we'd be back inside the wire soon, to face the kind of breakfast that could qualify as a war crime.

"Ah am. Ah've been hungry evah since ah got heah." Sonny's voice reminded me of fried-chicken evenings and watermelon Saturdays. "They messmen cain't fix nuthin' good, nohow."

Biff, sitting on the edge of the loader's hatch to my left, atop the turret, looked at me before answering. I nodded.

"I could use something different," he said hesitantly.

The Dude's voice belied his smile. "All RIGHT! Coming up on the right, ladies and gentlemen..."

"Ladies? Where?" Sonny was stuck inside the turret, in the gunner's seat, his only view through the gun optics/

"Look in a mirror," said Biff.

"It's a metaphor," I put in. "He's talking about the female side of us. Don't you read Psychology Today?"

"Psycho…uh, Psyco-logic today? It got cennerfolds?" asked Sonny.

The Dude was slowing the tank. "Sure it does. Sigmund Freud in a leotard.”

“Sigmun…she Swedish? Swedish broads?”

“Nope, Swiss. Blonde, everywhere.”

“Y’all got one I kin borry?”

“Sure, Sonny, in my footlocker, soon as we get back.”

“Oh, man,” said Sonny.”Swish!”

Biff looked at me, nonverbally asking permission to roll his eyes.

The Dude changed the subject. “Okay, on the right you'll see the finest culinary establishment in I Corps...the one...the only...'Tran's Villa Italiano'."

Biff and I looked right, as the M48 started pulling onto the shoulder, tilting a little as the right-side tracks left the pavement. Tran's was a run-down concrete building like a dozen others lining the approach to the wire, open at the front, with rolled-up steel shutters for nighttime security. The proprietor lived in the back with his family.

Sonny asked, “Hey, TC, kin I come out and git some air?” He had no hatch, and spent most of his time looking through the sight. Only dedicated shooters wanted to be gunners, and Sonny wouldn’t trade with anyone. I slid out of the hatch to perch on the gypsy rack that held our personal gear, on the back of the turret. Sonny popped up, and perched on the edge of the commander’s hatch. He pulled off his helmet, and upended it to let the seat drip out. “Hooeee!”

As the tank bucked to a stop - smooth stops aren't easy - a Vietnamese man of indeterminate age, wearing blue shirt and trousers, sandals, and, incongruously, a tall white chef's hat, stepped from the shadows. He beamed. "Dude!"

The Dude shut down the engine, and answered in Vietnamese. The conversation sounded at once like a feverish market-haggle and a joyous reunion.

It was more of the latter, actually. When the Viet went back into his eatery, The Dude came up on the intercom. "Tran's an old friend. When I was on my first tank, before I came to Ship Of Fools, we used to stop here all the time. You guys are in for a treat, and it's on the house. Spaghetti!"

Ship Of Fools? That was the first I heard that our tank had a name, and I wasn't thrilled with the choice.

Sonny beat me to it. "Ah ain't no fool. Mah momma allus sed she dint rise up no fools."

"Exactly," said The Dude. “So we’re naming the tank to pay homage to Katherine Anne Porter. That was her book.”

“She were Miss March, weren’t she? An’ she done wrote a book? Man, I’ll pay ‘er…how much?

“Homage,” said The Dude promptly. “Ten bucks. Just give it to me, and I’ll send it to her. She’ll send you an autographed picture.”

“Ohhh, man,” said Sonny.

"Right!" In my mind's eye I could see Sonny, the best gunner in the company, smile in satisfaction.

I sighed. Ship Of Fools. It could be worse. I guess.

Tran came out, with four steaming plates of spaghetti, and…my heart caught in my throat, four cans of Miller High Life, the beads of water on the outside telling of their welcome chill in the sauna that was Viet Nam.

He handed the plates up to the Dude, amid a flurry of Vietnamese…which suddenly sounded a lot friendlier to me.

The Dude bowed formally, and turned to hand Biff a plate, then Sonny…and as TC, I was served last. It smelled perfectly delicious.

Then Tran handed up the beer. The Dude said, “Hey, Sonny, I can’t drink and drive…want mine?”

Sonny looked like he was going to kiss the man, and that wasn’t pretty. “Well, golly…thanks!”

Biff looked at me, and winked. “Miller’s not kosher. My rabbi would kill me.” He offered the can to Sonny. “Here.”

Sonny shook his head. “Hey, how’s he gonna know? He in the Nam?”

“Rabbis know everything.”

To put a bow on things, I said, “And as TC, I really shouldn’t drink. Command responsibility.” And I felt as if my heart would break, as I gave Sonny my can. “Your lucky day, I guess.”

Sonny looked around at all of us, and there were tears in his eyes. He tried to say something, and choked.

“Better drink it now,” said The Dude. “Fresh and cold.”

We’d have to pour Sonny out of the tank, when we got inside the wire.


But at least he’d be ready to meet Psychology Today.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 23 - And There Is Joy

When you're dying, it's easy to focus on pain - for it's a physically unpleasant process.

It's easy to focus on heartbreak - because the places you love will, before too long, mot hear, and eventually not remember the sound of your voice, or your familiar footfall.

It's easy to focus on loss, because other lives will go on, and you'll become a photo in an album, a video clip watched with decreasing frequency until the very electrons that form your image lose their cohesive grip.

Yes, you'll be with God, but God placed us here because this life is something of value/ Not only for its formative powers, but because of love and feeling and sentiment.

After all, Jesus wept for sorrow at the news of Lazarus' death.

But there is also joy.

There is joy in the love of my wife...nit the Hallmark-card sentimentality, but eh love that says, what you still can do, you do...and I will be here to help.

There is joy in the clear frosted blue of the high sky, just before the bladelike heat of another New Mexico summer day.

There is joy in the breeze that may bring the rain, the smell of ozone on the air.

There is joy in writing, in ideas imperfectly committed to...uh, well, not paper, exactly. The digital age has sure changed some well-used phrases!

There is joy...the highest kind...in steadfast friend whom I may never meet, offering support and love that I've never before experienced.

There's joy in watching Chris, a labrador whose best friend recently died, learn to play all over again with a Pit named Sylvia (whose picture you may find on this page!). But ylvia's idea of a fun game is "Let's scare Chris to death!"

She's a marshmallow, but he doesn't know that yet!

Joy is the Breath of Heaven.

And it is a choice.

We can embrace joy. We can part the thickets of pain, take the machete of courage to the vines of fear, and uncover that long-forgotten treasure, overlooked when doctor visits became a bigger part of life than dancing.

Joy awaits our return, patiently, and without reproach.

Just like the father of the prodigal.

Just like God.

We're linked to Tuesdays@Ten.

and

We're linked with Messy Marriage's Wedded Wednesday today.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Dream Pig {Five Minute Friday}

Time for another Five Minute Friday, hosted by the wonderful Kate Motaung. Today's timed writing-challenge keyword is DREAM.

This will be a short post...probably won't even fill the five minutes...and I'll take a break from the series about dealing with a dying spouse.

Why? Because today was truly ghastly, and I came close enough to making the transition from dying to dead..Bleeding that simply would not stop, and savage abdominal pain. (No health insurance, and the doctors have told me there's no more they can do anyway. SUch is life, but I would wish this on no one.)

And pain meds don't even touch it. Morphine, not Tylenol.

So, here goes...

When I hear the word 'dream', I think of the catchphrase, "Dream Big!"

And them my mind takes one more step...to Wilbur, of Charlotte's Web.

Wilbur, the Dream Pig.

The sweet, innocent creature who aspires only to a life lived without the shadow of the smokehouse.

All he really wants is to live...and so do I.

I want to see the sun come up tomorrow, and I'm afraid I won't.

I want to hold my wife. I want to at least talk to my dogs...even if I can't walk them.

Like Wilbur, the Dream Pig...

I want to live.

Please, God?

We're linked with Messy Marriage's Wedded Wednesday today.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

#BlogBattle - It's All The Rage, Back In The World

Here we are again for the #BlogBattle, hosted by the HUGELY talented Rachael Ritchey. This week's short-fiction keyword is RAGE.


It's All The Rage, Back In The World

Oceanview’s a nice name, conjuring up sweeping vista of a sandy shoreline fringed by breakers, and a sapphire sea. Quite the place for a vacation.

Well, maybe not, because Oceanview is in the dunes just inland from the South China Sea, at the top right corner of the Republic of Viet Nam, hard by the DMZ.  The dunes are lovely, yes, but they’ve got enough unexploded ordnance in them to start a small war, to go along with our medium-sized one.
And, of course, on the other side of the DMZ  you’ll find the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam. 

Oceanview wasn’t even a firebase, having no organic artillery. It existed to monitor the DMZ, and call in naval gunfire, and tube artillery from Con Thien and the Rockpile, to give Charlie’s infiltration efforts a gold star for effort, but a red “x” for execution.

Charlie didn’t much like Oceanview, and its protection consisted of Marine riflemen and a section of tanks; the tanks rotated out every week.

We arrived for our week on a day I don’t remember, because days of the week really didn’t matter – only DEROS did, for Sonny, Biff, and me, that day was further off than was worth thinking about.
It was even further away for The Dude, since he’d volunteered to extend for eighteen months. We thought he had a Vietnamese girlfriend somewhere, since he spoke what sounded to us like fluent Vietnamese.

“Nah,” he’d say when pressed. “I’m staying because this is the only place that makes nuoc mam like Mom used to.”

So The Dude – a blond-haired blue-eyed California – had a mother who fed him that hallmark Vietnamese delicacy…fermented fish sauce. Interesting, or completely fictional, and in Viet Nam, did it really matter which?

Oceanview’s only recreation was taking the occasional shot with the main gun at NVA fishing a few miles up the beach, past the Z. The 90mm cannon wasn’t ranged for those distances, but with the tube elevated and the tank parked upslope, it was possible to lob a ballistic shot into the right area.

No one ever hit a fisherman, or probably ever would. That made the game fun. Killing the poor jerks would have been a drag. But we sure scared some, and there were some Olympic track hopefuls  we sent roostertailing through the sand for the shelter of the trees.

This was really Sonny’s forte, and he could get a guaranteed underwear change every time. If they wore underwear.  And with Biff’s brawny help loading, he could get three shells in the air before the first one landed. And so went the week, on Uncle Sam's ammo dime.

Which was why the general’s visit was less of a pain than things like that usually are. Broke the routine.

The general arrived in an APC, escorted by – thank, God! – our relief. He was a shiny Marine two-star with a polished helmet and a polished pistol belt and a wrinkled uniform that looked slept in. He had a nice smile, and he was jovial when he came by the tank to say hi.

Well, until…

“Private, exactly WHAT is that thing around your neck?”

The Dude grinned. “It’s a little pendant, general. My mom sent it to me. Wanna see?”

The general said, “It’s not authorized, son. You’ll have to take it off.”

The Dude fished it out, looked at the shiny dangly thing, and showed it to the Brass. “Aw, c’mon, man, it’s small. Might lose it in the tank. Dig?”

I’d never seen a general turn that color before, nor make that kind of sputtering, stuttering sound. 

“Why, you…”

He was interrupted by a scrEEEECH – CLANGGGG!!!!!!!!!

Bad news. It was a B-40 rocket, and it had bounced off the tank’s hull. Nice that it missed, but it meant that there was an RPG team out there, and they were even now reloading. A second miss was unlikely.

The tank was parked side-on to the wire, revetted hull-down, the gun tube pointing left. Sonny and Biff were into the turret as quickly as they could move, and I jumped into the TC’s cupola, grabbed my binoculars, and started scanning for the team. I hoped the next rocket wouldn’t take my head off. That happened, sometimes.

There! Movement in the low scrub, by a distinctive bit of shrubbery, fifty yards away. And they were fumbling, probably tired from having infiltrated through the Z the night before.  “Sonny, I have control, track with the sight, big bush, looks like a tit with a nipple.  Under that.” I rotated the turret with the override handle, walking Sonny onto the target.

“Ah gots ‘em. Biff, y’all wanna up some canister?”

Cannister is like a three-and-a half-inch diameter shotgun shell, good for turning folks into pink mist.

“Up!” Biff clanged shut the breech.

“On the…”

And then time stood still, for I saw to my horror that the general had moved around to the gun side, and was standing in line with the muzzle brake, a short horizontal  tube that made a ‘T’ on the end of the main gun, and deflected combustion gasses sideways, to reduce recoil. General Shiny was going to be really unhappy in a second.

Then he was gone, tackled by The Dude, and pinned to the sand, flat.

“…WAAAYYY!”

The gun boomed, and flames shot out the sides of the muzzle break, lighting off The Dude’s blouse. He rolled off the general and onto his back, to douse the flames.

The RPG team was gone. Cannister sure cured clumsiness.

General Shiny got to his feet. He was caked in sand, and his mouth hung open. He looked at me, and then looked at The Dude.

“Okay, son, that THING around your neck. Let’s have it.” He spoke at a shout. Tank guns are loud.

The Dude knew when he was done. He slipped the chain over his head. The medallion said “LOVE” in two-stacked letters, the “O” leaning.

“It’s all the rage back in the world,” he said sadly.

“All the rage,” said the general. “Yeah.”

He reached up to his collar suddenly, and unpinned a star. He held it out to The Dude. “Wanna trade?”

Your Dying Spouse 22 - Sex

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

This isn't quite as hard a subject as it might be, because, to a degree, sometimes a large degree, illness and medication will combine to make the issue of physical intimacy a moot point. They can make sex uncomfortable, or impossible.

But not always, and that's what we're here to talk about today. Rest assured, though - we won't talk about the mechanics. You're reading this, you should already know that stuff.

To begin with, the physical relationship you had before the illness hit is going to determine what happens in the last months or years of life. If the relationship was good and mutually satisfying, that can continue, and should, for as long as possible.

If sex was awkward or nonexistent when your spouse was healthy, there may be a temptation to try to overcome the problems "while there's time".

It's in many ways a laudable goal; the physical part of a marriage is important, and making an attempt to heal the hurts - including emotional and spiritual differences - can be a vital part of the process, for both caregiver and soon-to-be-dead-dude-or-dame.

It can also be a nightmare, if it goes wrong, and has the potential to introduce a huge amount of tension into an already charged situation.

Sexual problems in a marriage are usually indicative of deeper issues, and terminal illness is not a magic wand of good feeling and compassion that will sweep them away. If you want to work at the "make it better while there's time" option, I strongly urge the involvement of a counselor, because the reality of a limited horizon puts on the pressure like you wouldn't believe - pressure to be compassionate, pressure to br gracious, and pressure to perform.

Aside from being an important part of marriage, sex is for many (probably most) people symbolically life-affirming, both in its procreative purpose, and in the physical and emotional lift it can give.

But when someone's dying, there are some specific factors to consider.

First, there's the ewwww! quotient. While most terminal illnesses are definitely not contagious, we all  have that little seed of doubt...that "what if?" Education (and a talk with your spouse's doctor) should lay this to rest, but it's best to admit its potential presence. If fear causes reticence, your partner will surely feel it, and the experience will be tinged with or ruined by that barrier.

There is also the possibility that illness and/or medication can cause bad breath, body odor, weigh gain or loss, skin dryness or discoloration, hair loss...the list goes on, but you have to be aware of this, and have some sort of idea how you're going to deal with it without making your mate feel rejected, and gross.

Next, what if he/ she dies 'during'? It happens. Not often, but again, a talk with the doctor is essential. There are jokes about men feeling like, well, it would e a good way to die...but that's mainly fiction. No one wants to die of anything, and the thought of having sex knowing it might be fatal - and having the feeling that the prospect is real rather than macho posturing - will tend to cool a man's interest.

Then there are performance issues. We usually think of impotence and erectile dysfunction, but even more basic, there can be loss of libido in both men and women...but this loss of libido can be accompanied by emotionally-driven desire.

Here' it's important for you, the caregiver, that this may not be just a desire for physical release - it may be a desire for you, heightened by the sense of impending loss.

Tough stuff, eh? Not what you imagined in the first blush of awakened emotions and hormones.

So...what to do?

  • Christians have it sort of easy; the Apostle Paul was quite clear that abstaining from sex for reasons other than limited times of worship, or illness that prevents it, is wrong. You are supposed to try to be available. In the real world, that means that you, the caregiver, should ideally try to overlook the problems that you're able to overlook. You've got to know what the limit is, but you are enjoined to try.
  • I'm uncomfortable, as a man, in giving the above advice to women, because so many women have felt used by an insensitive husband, and all too often Paul's words were used to coerce, not to grow companionship. If that describes you, or describes a significant portion of you married life, counseling is vital. You're called to mutual sharing in marriage, but not to the martyrdom of your heart. You don't have to destroy your feeling of self-worth, just because your husband's now dying. Death may be tragedy, but it's not entitlement.
  • Be patient; physical changes can make sexual activity much slower, and can curtail it unexpectedly...your mate may ask to stop from fatigue or pain, or may just fall asleep. Don't be offended. It's not about you, and it's likely to be embarrassing to him or her.
  • Be flexible in timing, if you can. There is the possibility that this time, when your husband asks...it may be the last time he's able. This is personal; it happened to me.
  • Be adaptable in the mechanics. What worked before may not work now. The important thing is that the experience is mutually satisfying, yes, but also that you, as the caregiving spouse (emphasis added) may have to be the guiding light and hand, and no, I'm not trying to be funny. This is the real world.
  • Pay more attention to atmosphere, and use things like scented candles and scented massage oils. A pleasantly wholistic experience may go a long way toward enhancing performance and enjoyment, and offsetting performance 'problems' in men. Men have some pretty mushy emotions, sometimes. These may well come to the fore now.
  • Never criticize, because a fragile ego comes with terminal illness (and many medications). If sex was lousy and boring, and your husband asks how it was or you...lie. Honesty, here, will gain nothing, and can knock out a prop to an interest in life.
  • If you need to talk to a counselor about your feelings, feelings that you can't share with your mate, do it. This is not the time to bottle it up. Just be sure that your counselor is trained, and is of the same sex.
What can you add? What have I missed?