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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 37 - Try To Remember {Five Minute Friday}

Five Minute Friday again, that keyword-writing-challenge hosted by Kate Motaung.

Today's word is TRY.

So...let's try!


There will come a time, when your spouse is slipping from this life, down the weeks and months and perhaps years, that your paths will start to diverge.

You'll be in the workforce, involved with church, involved with family, and if you have kids of school age, involved with their activities, while your spouse is turning inward.

The turn inward comes both from the battle with a terminal illness, but as things progress to the point where one has to leave the workforce, cut back on travel, cut back on social engagements...he or she is going to be finding a different paradigm to make the rest of their life worthwhile, or at least bearable, and it is likely to be quite different from yours.

So try to remember.

Try to remember the times you shared, the fun you had, and the challenges that brought you along the road to today. Pull up the memories, open the scrapbooks, sit down on the sofa and talk about them.

And try to remember why you married this person in the first place, why you pledged your life and your heart, till death do the two of you part...at least for a little while.

Try with intention, because sometimes the remembering will be hard. I am very different from the man Barbara married; in trying to make sense of this, in trying to put something horrible into a positive context, I've slipped away from what I was.

Would she have married the man I am now (well, if I was like this, but not sick)? Hard to say, and I'll never ask.

But she has to try to remember the man I was in the wedding pictures on the living room wall.

You're doing it for your spouse, yes, to stay connected, to give him or her the sense of being loved in a continuity...that's something you owe, part of the vow you made.

But you're also doing it for the you that will be...after.

The you that will be going on alone, leaving a memory frozen in emotional aspic. If you turn away from the memories now, while they can still be touched, while they still have warm blood in their veins, you'll be killing a part of yourself; killing the validity of years of your own life, because if you say goodbye from a distance that's already become great...

...it's a tearless goodbye.

And you, dear reader, deserve better.


This was a tough one. How'd I do?

We're linked with Messy Marriage's Wedded Wednesday; please visit to find some superb marriage resources.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Lost Prophet - #BlogBattle

I missed a week due to illness, but am more or less back to participate in this week's #BlogBattle, hosted by Rachael Ritchey. The keyword for the short fiction piece is...prophet.

Wish I were Khalil Gibran...then I'd already have it written.

And here...we...go.

The Lost Prophet

To leave Oceanview for points south, you've got to follow a very precise path to the surf zone...in the tracks of the vehicle that preceded you, because he...hopefully...didn't hit one of the multitudinous mines, or other pieces of assorted ordnance that this part of Viet Nam has accumulated over the years.

And why the surf zone? Because salt water is really good at neutralizing land mines, that's why. Get to the hissing wave-wash, and you can turn south for the bright lights. Well, the rear, anyway, to not get shot at so much for a few days.

There was one fly in the ointment. We'd had a storm,. and the most recent vehicle to pass had been an APC, which had a narrower track. Which meant that The Dude would have to choose which side of the tank would be exposed to a possible mine by running over virgin soil.

"Which side, TC?" He stopped the tank and tried to pass the buck.

"You're driving," I said, and feigned a yawn. "Home, James, and please drive smoothly so the children aren't awakened.

"Who's James?" asked Sonny. He was sitting on the edge of the loader's hatch, enjoying the South China Sea breeze.

"The Dude's changed his name. He wants to be normal," I offered.

Biff, from within the turret: "When my rabbi goes to mass."

Sonny was perplexed. "So y'all really James?" he asked The Dude over the i/c.

"Yep. Brother of Jesus, and leader of the Jerusalem Jesus Movement after my 'Bro got the axe."

"That's blas...uh, blast-feeny."

"Blasphemy. Yes, it is, and I apologize. Now, Sonny, are you in the loader's hatch?"


"Then we shall expose the left side of the tank, to elevate your consciousness should we encountered an unplanned and exothermic chemical reaction."

"Uh...well, thankee!" said Sonny. 

And The Dude carefully placed the left track in the APC-blazed path, ensuring the safety of our beloved Son of Dixie.

Of course that meant that any mine we hit would be on the right - my side - so I dropped a little lower in the cupola.

Fortune smiled, and after the slow progression through the dunes and down to the water, The Dude executed a smart fifty-ton right-face, and punched the throttle. This was fun, riding all that good American steel and power down an empty beach, throwing roostertails of water and sand high into the air.  The suspension bearings would have to be repacked, of course, but they were due for that anyway, and we could enjoy the ride with a clear conscience.

Biff tapped me politely on my shin, signaling that he wanted a bit of air, so I scooted out of the commander's hatch and sat crosslegged on the turret roof, while our gunner blinked in the sunlight, like a groundhog on a sunny February day.

This was freedom, married to authority...roaring high, wide and alone...well, wait. In the distance there was a man, standing, right in our path. "Dude?"

"I see him. Beach or water?"

"Water. Let him stay dry." We angled left, into deeper water, to give the mystery man a chance to dodge us by going toward drier sand.

"Well, TC, now what?" The man had matched our movement, and was holding up his hand in the classic signal, Stop.

"Sonny..." But the loader was a step ahead of me, and he placed the binoculars in my hand before I asked for them. The figure resolved into an old, old man...one hand was raised, and one held a walking stick. "Dude, stop for this guy. Biff, get on the coax, just in case." I didn't think it was some kind of weird trap, but Charlie had his own way of doing things, and I wanted Biff on the 30-cal.

The Dude brought us down from the high of our seaborne rush to a gentle stop, ten feet from the old Vietnamese. He lowered his arm, and stood there, quietly regarding us. He neither smiled nor frowned, and the nearest village was miles away, and how did he get here, anyway?

"Want me to talk to him?" The Dude was the only choice, since he knew the language.

"Yeah, go ahead. Ask him if he needs a lift." We weren't supposed to carry Vietnamese on joyrides, but we couldn't leave the guy here.

The Dude slipped out of his hatch and down the glacis armor, dropping into the eddying surf, while Sonny took his place at the wheel, just in case a quick getaway was needed. One did not live long by trusting circumstances that seemed benign.

I couldn't hear the conversation over the idling engine; not that I would have been able to follow. The Dude gestured with hos hands, and with shoulder-shrugs, and the old man used his free hand, leaning still on the stick.

Then he spoke sharply, and I heard him, lifted the stick to tap The Dude on the shoulder, and pointed it at me. I flinched.

And that was it. The Dude politely put his hands together under his chin, and bowed. He received a nod in return. and a gap-toothed smile. The the old man turned to his left, ANd started truding up the beach, toward the dunes.

Sonny vacated the driver's position as The Dude remounted. "Well, that's a first," The Dude said when he was back on i/c.


"He said he was waiting for us. He was here to tell us our fortunes."

I watched the old man make his painful way across the sand. "And?"

"Well, Biff's going to college, and he's going to be a teacher of souls. Sonny's going to be a doctor."

"Ah hates needles."

"Well, yes, Sonny, and I'd hate to have you give me a shot."

"What about me?" I didn't believe this stuff, but I wanted to be included in the game.


I didn't like the sound of that. "Uh, what?"

"TC, he said you're going to be here for a long, long time."

I really didn't like the sound of that, so I changed the subject. "What about you?"

I heard the i/c click, but before The Dude could speak, there was a WHOOOM! from the beginning of the dunes, and a geyser of sand rose high into the sky, along with what looked like bundled rags.

"Yeah," I said. "And we were listening to our fortunes from a guy who just blew himself up. Let's get outta here, I hear the ice cream machine at the club's working again."

The Dude gunned the engine, and we thundered south, toward the ice cream and cold beer that would make us forget the prophecies that now rode as fragments in the air, and swirled in the rising sea.

Your Dying Spouse 36 - Caregiver Limitations

We're linked to Messy Marriage's Wedded Wednesday...drop by for some excellent marriage resources!

We would do anything for our spouses, especially when they're in distress, and even more so when the hourglass is running, running, running...

But there are things you just can't do.

You can't keep their spirits up.

You can encourage and support, you can storm Heaven with prayer...

But for your dying spouse, staying positive is a choice, and it's one he or she has to make.

It's not easy, because when death nears, the things one once enjoyed can start to seem useless, mere time fillers to keep the mind distracted.

After all, what's the point in planting flowers you won't see bloom? That others will see them bloom leads to the answer, but the doorway that leads to that answer is a hard one through which to pass...because it requires an abrogation of anticipation, desire, and even 'selfhood'.

In this metaphorical case, you can help. Just say, "Thank you. I appreciate your doing this."

Recognize the effort your spouse is making to keep his or her head up...without referring to it directly. Call it out specifically, and it becomes condescension.

Instead, just thank them for the little things, the things you would have overlooked in that long summer when no one was sick.

That kind of support can be construed as supplying an emotional crutch...but would you make a dude with a compound fracture of the femur walk without one?

Another thing you can't do is give someone else faith.

Dying is scary, and the most important question in life becomes - "Is there really a God?"

It's not "Am I really saved?" When the chips are down, you throw yourself on God's mercy. Period. The legalisms completely lose their meaning and weight.

You can't help by trying to convince. Don't quote Scripture, don't keep the TV tuned to Trinity Broadcasting, and for Heaven's sake don't start talking about what Heaven might be like.

Just be steadfast in your faith, offer to read the Bible together (not stuff about death and dying...the Psalms are good here), and keep going to church, even if you have to go alone.

And there's one thing, above all else, that you can do.

You can listen.

Listen to the description of their day, and be engaged - ask questions. Listen to their sorrows, and listen to their fears.

Listen to the hope for tomorrow, even if it's unrealistic, and never quash it.

That hope for tomorrow is the one thing you CAN give them.

By listening.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 35 - Homebound

We're linked to Messy Marriage's Wedded Wednesday...drop by for some excellent marriage resources!

I think we all would like to maintain an active contact with the world around us until, literally, the day of our death. Unfortunately, that isn't the way the world works. Terminal illness is very often a long, slow decline, and eventually your husband or wife is going to become homebound.

Getting out and about for routine errands, and even for fun stuff like eating out, will become too painful, and excursions will be limited to the medically necessary. (I'm there, by the way, and don't even do the medical stuff...for three reasons...one. riding in a car hurts too much...two, no insurance...three, the docs have said that all they can offer is pain control, and I don't want to silt up my brain with narcotics.)

There are obvious risks to being homebound, as socialization is a use-it-or-lose it sort of thing. It's very easy to become a recluse, without the give-and-take and feedback (not always direct and personal) from the wider world.

Recluses are no fun. They lose perspective, and can easily become the center of their own nasty little universes. Terminal illness is not tragic, it's unfortunate, and it does not bestow entitlement. (It does demand and deserve consideration, which is not at all the same thing.)

So, how can you, the caregiver, help?

  • First and foremost, do not become a recluse yourself. Even if your homebound spouse demands (or seems to demand) your presence there every possible minute, draw a line, and nurture your own outside interests. Do be compassionate; your spouse is most likely reacting not from jealously controlling your company, but from a position of fear, the fear of loneliness which goes hand in hand with the fear of death. Be kind, but keep a place free for yourself.
  • Try to keep friends coming to the house on a regular basis. This will both keep your spouse's social muscles toned, and will help avoid the carelessness with which many recluses regard their appearance and personal care.
  • Most churches have a ministry team set up for the sick; let them know your situation. If your mate can't go to church, church can come to you. (There's also religious TV; I usually have the set tuned to one of the Trinity Broadcasting channels. They're not perfect, and regularly air programming which causes me to shout "False teacher! Bad pastor, BAD!" at the screen, but on the whole they do a good job.)
  • Encourage connection with a former job or profession, if possible; if your spouse had professional certification, encourage them to keep it current if possible, and not let it lapse from the "I'll never work at that again, so why bother?" mentality. (Again, a personal note - I was registered as a Professional Engineer, and for want of enough money to renew, let it lapse. I could not have done things differently, but still feel bad about it...I worked so hard for that!)
  • Encourage physical activity, and hobbies that 'have a purpose'. Doing crossword puzzles doesn't give you much by the end of the day, but building birdhouses provides a tangible, useful result.
  • Encourage reading, and don't begrudge the time it takes. This is not the time for "put that book down and talk to me!" The terminally ill need to escape.
  • Subscribe to Netflix, There are more great movies than ever available, and they can provide a surprisingly useful window on the world. Far better than television; commercial TV tends to be awful (and the commercials can emphasize the sense of losing touch with the world, in a very depressing way (been there!). PBS can be good, but many of the programmes take an atheistic view of the world, either explicitly or through an implicit downgrading of religious values. Atheistic propaganda is the last thing they dying need.
  • Get a dog. Dogs interact with people more than do any other domestic animal (well, horses are up there, but you can't really keep a horse in the house). The interaction demands involvement, and requires full participation. Dogs are also good listeners, and can give early warning of a medical crisis.
  • Read (depending on your beliefs) the Bible, Qu'ran, Torah, Bhagavad Gita, or Guru Granth Sahib together...every night, aloud. Hearing the words spoken brings them to life; speaking them yourself writes them on the heart.
And when your mate wants to bear the pain and go shopping with you, or just to the McDonald's on the corner for a cup of tea...don't be discouraging, for worry about how they might feel for the rest of the day if the outing's physically tough.

Because one of these days, there will be a last outing together.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 34 - The Last Battle {Five Minute Friday}

We're back with another Five Minute Friday, hosted by the illustrious and delightful Kate Motaung. Please click on the link to see what real writers write!

We are also linked with The Weekend Brew. And we're linked to Messy Marriage's Wedded Wednesday...drop by for some excellent marriage resources!

Today, the keyword for five minutes of extemporaneous writing is...wait for it...TEN.

Huh? Yeah, and I did a double take, too. But, well, ten it is, and here we go...

In April of 1945, the United States had finally invaded the Japanese home islands...Okinawa, in the Ryukus, south of Japan proper. Okinawa was the bloodiest and most savage battle of the Pacific War, and it featured - if that's the right word - the last sortie of the Japanese fleet, a pitiful remnant built around the battleship Yamato, which was (along with sister ship Musashi) the largest battleship in the world. Ever.

The name was Operation Ten-Go, sometimes translated as Heaven One. Fitting, because it was a suicide mission - if Yamato reached Okinawa, she would be beached and used as a static fort.

But that never happened. Yamato's departure for the south was noted, and she was met by an aerial avalanche of American airpower, and summarily sunk.

What does this have to do with dealing with a dying spouse? Sometimes quite a bit, as it turns out.

We all leave things undone in life, but we expect that most of the loose ends will be wrapped up by the time we die at a venerable old age...and those that aren't will have been filed away by the passage of time.

These include things we'd like to do (the 'bucket list' stuff), relationships we'd like to mend, and sometimes getting square with God.

But when your mate's faced with a terminal diagnosis, these things go from 'someday' to 'NOW'.

And in many cases, you'll have to help, even if it's killing your husband or wife to accomplish this last great mission in life.

You'll want them to conserve their energy, to rest, to live within their physical means...but in dealing with the important stuff, you have to ask yourself...for what?

The diagnosis isn't going to change if they rest, and the appointment with the undertaker won't be put off for long.

But when you help, when you arm them and support them foir that last fight, you can give those final weeks or months a touch of glory.

You can help them to go out...for they are surely going out...with honour intact.

And that's why Japanese sailors fought for a place on Ten-Go.

Losing was death, in the calculus of Bushido.

They wanted to die gloriously.

So do I.


Midnight postscript...please leave a comment, if you have a minute. I'm on the ropes. I need your prayers.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 33 - The Suicide Option

We're linked to Messy Marriage's Wedded Wednesday...please drop by and see some other marriage blogs, by some really thoughtful people!

This is a post I've tried to put off writing, because it's a subject I deeply loathe...assisted suicide. As you undoubtedly know it's legal in several states (including mine), and made the news late in 2014 with the Youtube coverage of the decision of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard, who had terminal brain cancer, to kill herself. (I wrote about this at the time on my other blog, Starting The Day With Grace...please click here if you're interested.)

It's hard to be objective, but I'm going to try, since some of you reading this may come up against this issue...your spouse may one day simply have had enough, and be tempted to reach for the hemlock.

First, some background - the patient has to have a diagnosis that's terminal within six months, and has to have two doctor visits, at least fifteen days apart, before the prescription for the suicide "cocktail" of drugs is issued. The waiting period is to ensure that depression isn't driving the decision, though anyone with a terminal diagnosis is bound to be depressed.

Once the prescription's issued, it can be filled, and the fatal dose taken at leisure.

The proponents of this protocol say that it's a chance for a dignified farewell, that one drifts off to sleep with friends and family gathered around. That it's a choice, the last earthly act of self-control.

Unfortunately, for Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs (among others), it's also a sin. Kind of a bad one; the one they say lands you in hell. Forever, and they don't even let you out on weekends.

I have two problems with the scenario...first, making family and friends watch you die as a deliberate act is a bit heartless. I've seen people die; it's never pretty. The body does not want to give up, and you'll never see this described on the "suicide is painless" websites. It's something I would not want to see, I would not want my wife to see, and I would rather that you, dear reader, never see it either.

My second issue is that suicide removes the possibility of the good that can still be done. A kind, encouraging word from the suburbs of Cancer Hell can mean a lot to someone who just had the nightmare doctor visit.

The terminally ill still have a lot to give, and they should not be thrown away...by society, or by themselves.

That line really says it all...I'm rather proud of it, so I'll stop here.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 32 - Broken But Loved

"I hate my life!"

How many times have you heard that, either in real life, or on TV or at the movies?

Usually the person saying it is a discontented teenager with privileges out the wazoo, but because one thing goes wrong - usually it;s looks or romance - life is something to be hated.

And if your mate's dying, you may well say to yourself..."YOU hate your life? Wanna trade?"

And the person you love, who is dying, might even more be expected to partake of that sentiment.

What we're really saying, though, hating our lives, is that a part of that life...granted, an important part...is broken.

It looks like it can't be fixed, so we want to scrap the whole thing. Kind of like the person whose pride in his new car is ruined by the first scratch...and afterwards, he doesn't care and stops taking care of the thing. (Nothing wrong with pride in a new car, in case you were wondering...remember, if you're a Christian, that is Luke 5:39 Jesus says that no one would want new wine after drinking old wine...new and old are kind of reversed here, but you get my drift...I hope.)

Where were we, after having the wine? Oh, right. Cars.

The problem is that brokenness spoils our concept, and our perception of perfection. We want a perfect life (and advertisers pay good money to convince us to want one). So when our lives break, either in our own bodies or in having to suddenly care for someone who's dying, there's a part of us that hates it, and hates the life that it colours.

(For what follows, please understand that I am a Christian, but this would apply for a Muslim, a Buddhist, or a Hindu as well (I've read the Qu'ran and the Gita, so I feel OK saying that).

Hating is understandable. Understandable, but wrong, because we are broken.

We fall way short of what we're supposed to be, every day. We claim holiness, but the next minute we're down in the mud, and a part of us is reveling in it.

We profess faith, but when things go wrong we wonder if God actually hates us...or if He's merely disinterested...or if He's even there.

We're broken, but however far we fall, He loves us anyway. "For God so loved the world that he sent His only begotten Son..."

Not "the part of the world that's doing OK". The World. The whole enchilada.

And that, writ large, is what we're supposed to do. Love our lives.

We're not supposed to love everything in it. I mean, awhile back I heard someone say that her father's terminal cancer was the best thing that ever happened to her family.

Sorry, but that's a stupid thing to say. You don't love cancer. You just don't.

But you can love the opportunities that cancer gives you. You can love the clarity of appreciation, that you don't walk by the delicate blooming flower, or the shy smile of a child, without a glance.

You can love much of the rest of your life. Or just a little, if things are really horrible.

But love something, even if it's broken.

Because God loves you.

Even if you're broken.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 31 - Why Is A Bad Thing Happening To ME?

Time for Five Minute Friday, hosted by the illustrious and hardworking Kate Motaung. It's a five-minute writing exercise, based on a keyword, which this week happens to be...


And away...we...go...

People ask me, sometimes, <"Aren't you really upset that you're so sick, and that you're dying? Aren't you upset at the unfairness of it all?"

When I say No, they get puzzled...and sometimes they get mad.

Recently I was counting my blessings, and said, "Look, I've got a nice place to sit, a good book to read, a cold Monster Drink, and seven dogs within ten feet of me. What more could I ask?"

The reply I got was, "You could ask for good health, and the energy to do thie things you used to do, and..."

You get the drift. This individual was mad at me. I'm still trying to figure out the logic.

But the thing is, I'm not mad, or disappointed, or petulant at how unfair it is...or wondering if maybe I didn't do enough to placate God (there are some folks I might have offered as human sacrifices...hmmm...there's a thought...)

It's all about free will.

I am a Christian, and I believe that God created us for a purpose...He made us to share eternity with Him. Why? Maybe he got lonely. I don't know, but rest assured...I will ask.

Anyway, part and parcel of being able to become fit companions for the Almighty is that we choose is presence ourselves, and do do that...we have to have free will.

Not only that, we have to live in a world that operates on the basis of a kind of de facto freewill of its own...hence earthquakes and malaria and tsunamis and...cancer. I still feel superstitious about saying that out loud.

We're exposed to a World of Hurt, and how we react to it is a gauge of just how we exercise our free will.

Could God rescue me, cure me? Sure, but to do that would be to negate the whole point of the exercise. It would say that we're really puppets after all, and that God will save His favourite puppets from harm. So we'd better placate Him, and out comes the human-sacrifice list...

(As a quick aside...are there miraculous healings? yes, I believe there are, but I also believe...and I think this is pretty clear in the Gospels' context of healings...that they served a broader purpose...in other words, a healing was a means of communicating something, and the person healed was the medium at hand. And yes, that can be a purpose like showing the efficacy of petitionary prayer, so please, y'll, pray for me!)

So I'm not angry, because God has actually given me something better than a clean bill of physical health. He's given me the support I've needed to formulate an attitude of optimism and happiness, and to learn to see joy in every moment, even through this red haze of pain.

He didn't "do this for me", He didn't "give" me these things. I had to find them for myself, but at the back of each learning, lurking in the back of the classroom, so to speak, there He was, and occasionally He'd throw out a hint.

"You're getting warmer...no, colder...no, LOTS warmer..."

I had to use my free will to discover Joy, and the raod that leads to God, as the only way to overcome the free will of nature that's killing me.

And I choose, freely, to overcome it...every day.


Whew. That was a challenge.

We're also linked to The Weekend Brew.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

#BlogBattle - A Dream of Peace

A couple of days late due to illness, but here's this week's contribution to Rachael Ritchey's #BlogBattle...the keyword this week is DREAM.

We're also linking to Mom's Morning Coffee.

A Dream of Peace

There was a fire mission going out of the Rockpile, and the eastern horizon was limned with flickering white light. The shells arced east, red dots climbing to a fatal zenith, then dropping to disappear into the gloom. The guns' voice was a distant, muted mutter.

"Whaddaya think? A real mission, or just H&I?" I was sitting on the turret roof, the steel still warm from the day.

The Dude had radio watch, and he was sitting on the edge of the loader's hatch, the tank helmet askew on his head, so he could hear the radio and carry on a conversation with me at the same time. It didn't look comfortable. "It's a real mission. Just came over the net. Mr. Charles was trying to sneak out of the Z in force. Company plus."

"Well, he sure picked the wrong playmates." The Rockpile was banging away with their 155s, and if they had the grid square right, not a lot would be left living. They were good at their job.

"Yeah." The Dude pressed the earpiece tighter, listening. "Con Thien's joining in. Looks like they're really dropping the hammer."

I wondered who was out there, with eyes on, giving the gunners the target. Whoever he was, he had to be brave, and lonely, and by now slightly deaf. "Gotta love those recon Marines, and gotta be glad we don't have their job."

"Yeah." The Dude shifted the helmet, trying to make it more comfortable. "It's a friend of mine, actually."


"I was playing with the presets...sorry, TC, I was bored. Gotthe arty net, and recognized his voice. We were in seminary together."

"Wow, what a...wait, what? Seminary? Like, studying to be a priest?"

The Dude nodded. "Yeah. Bit of a change for him, killing people with a radio."

"I'll say." I didn't really care about The Dude's friend. I was trying come with this new vision of our driver, and it just wasn't working. "Didn'y you guys have deferments? I mean, both student and clergy, or something?"

"Sure. Student, not clergy. We weren't ordained. We volunteered. We both wanted to go recon, but the Corps decided I had armor in my blood."

Wow. "Dude, I get it, but I don't get it. I mean, why? You didn't have to be here in the first place...and you keep extending. Your mom drop you on your head or something, when you were a kid?"

He laughed. "Can you believe I like it here?"


"Well, maybe let me put it another way, TC. I find meaning here."

And he had never tried weed. I shook my head. "Beaucoup dien cai dau, Maline."

"Crazy? I think I found sanity here. Back in the World, I might have left the seminary...I couldn't square my head with all that stuff, original sin and atonement and everything. It was beginning to seem made up, just too convoluted and weird to be true. But we're here...and original sin is all around us."

He had a point, as we watched the flashing horizon, and thought of the NVA under the shells, soldiers whose place in the killing game was coming to an end as we watched.

He went on."And so's atonement, writ small. TC, you know why I learned Vietnamese?"

"I was going to say that you learned it to pick up women, but I'm betting that's not it."

"Well, partly...helluva a thing for a future priest to admit, eh? But no, mainly it was to find out how these people feel about us, about the war, about what we're doing to their country."


"And they're amazed that rich people who need nothing would come here to save them from their own brothers. That we are willing to die for them."

That was the first time I had ever heard that analysis. It gave me an odd feeling in my chest. Kind of like my heart was melting. Someone cared.

"The French walked out, the UN ran in circles, but we're here. We're in the mud with them. They feel like they should have headed off this war, but we're here, atoning for their sins. In their place. That's why I'm extending, and that's why, when all this is over, I'm going back to the seminary."

I had caught the 'future priest' bit. "You'll bring a lot to some LA parish...or maybe Vegas?"

The joke fell flat. "No, I'll be finishing up here, get ordained here. It's all set up. I'll be separated from the service at the embassy, when all the fighting's done, and hit the books the next day."

"Good thing you know Vietnamese."

"Yeah, but the language of instruction's French."

"I get it...I mean, I think I get it, that you found God in Viet Nam..."

"He found me, more like."

"Whatever. But you're going to spend the rest of your life here? I mean, you've got a family back in the World, right?" He had talked about his mom, once. The mom who made nuoc mam, the Vietnamese...uh, delicacy.

"Sure. I'll go visit them, from time to time. But this is my place, TC."

"OK, I know you're dying for me to ask...so I'll ask. Why?"

The fire mission ended, and the last gunflashes died away. Their final rumble reached us a few seconds later, and there was, for the moment, peace.

"It's simple, TC. We've showed them that we're willing to die for them. Now we have to show them that we'll live for them, too."

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 30 - Caregiver Meltdown

It's going to happen.

Being a caregiver, especially in the long term, is just plain hard.

It saps your strength, your energy, and even your faith. And you will, I promise, reach a point where your heart simply can't go on, and it will rebel.

There's nothing abnormal or wrong about it...we all have a plan for our lives, and that plan does not include caring for the person you picked to love, dying before his or her time.

It's always before his or her time. It's always too soon.

And sometimes, Scripture doesn't help...when someone says that God means good for you, and not harm, your response will be, on this bleak day, OH, YEAH????

And thus, the meltdown. Outside you may look normal...and God knows, you're trying to keep a brave face.

But inside, you're coming apart. Soundless weeping, quiet screams of pain and rage, calmly disguised agony...just don't take your blood pressure. It'll scare you.

Your heart will cry out...It' not FAIR!

And you're right. It isn't. You see couples planning for a future your ccouplehood will not see. You see confident assurance that there will be a next year, when you know that next year, for you, will be a barren desert through which you wander alone.

Alone. That's the real basis...you don't want to face the world alone...and you're scared.

But that's reality, and reality is often ugly. There is no comfort in those words, I know, not even the chilliest of cold comforts.

So, what to do?

  • Know you're not alone. Appreciate the friends, both in-person and virtual, who will be happy to help you bear this burden. And they can help, if you'll let them. They can help you feel that you are worthwhile, that you're not failing, that your world will not go spinning off its orbit, into solitary space.
  • Find a Meltdown Buddy...someone (same sex, please) with whom you can cry and sceam and vent...even blaming the person who's dying (and you will) for your royally screwed-up life. Someone who'll listen to the transient thought...If I had married my high-school sweetheart  be going through this NOW...and who won't be judgemental, and make you feel horrible for even thinking it.
  • Journal, if you can express yourself through writing, but in a secure location, away from the eyes of your spouse.
  • Be disappointed in God, be mad at Him, call Him every name in the book. Don't feel bad; it's not going to condemn you to hell. God's pretty big, big enough to soak up your anger and sorrow. Remember, His own Son asked why He, Jesus, had been forsaken.
  • Give yourself the gift of a small (and within-budget) comfort purchase...a book you've wanted, an article of clothing that seemed frivolous..something. We're all kids at heart, and the child inside you is scared, and hurting.
  • Talk to a professional counselor; they've seen it all, and can offer insights and strategies, specific to you, that friends may not see. They have training...make use of it. The degree and the letters after the name do mean something.
Finally, don't have a meltdown in front of your spouse. He or she didn't ask to be sick, but there's always a touch of guilt in the back of what is now a vulnerable heart...did I do something that brought this on...something in my lifestyle, my diet?

You can't ask them to carry that burden for you. Dying does not mean a pass from real life, but there are some things that will add to the heartache of impeding death.

And above all...this has been a recurring theme...care for yourself. A lifeguard does no good if she's drowning while trying to hold a victim's head above water. Get yourself solidly grounded again.

But it's not only for the job, the caregiving, not only to succor the dying.

It's for YOU.


What can you add? What did I miss?

We're linked with Messy Marriage's Wedded Wednesday...please click the link to see some really good thoughts on marriage!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 29 - Travel With The Dying

'Tis the season of the Road Trip...

But perhaps, not for you, the caregiver. Or maybe it is, because there won't be another season to be shared.

Travel with the terminally ill can be a challenge, because there's a lot that can and does happen that you'll be facing for the very first...and perhaps last...time.

This in one area in which everything does and should revolve around the person for whom you're caring. Travel is a time of vulnerability, and you, the caregiver, are the guardian. What you may want to do has to go by the wayside, replaced by what has to be done to get the trip done, and come safe home.

The basic rule is, of course, this...energy is a resource. Don't overdo. If you can fly, do it. If you drive, take legs that preserve comfort. Don't make it the kind of endurance event that you did in your twenties and thirties and forties and...well, anyway.

And try to stay in places that are clean, comfortable, and easily accessible. Being able to park outside your room is important, believe me.

Next comes the ongoing medical care, both treatments and medications. If radiation and/or chemo is happening, your husband or wife is probably not going to want to be traveling anyway, but there are lunatics out there. (OK. those who know me, chill.)

You obviously have to coordinate with the doctor about care (and let her or hi know what you're doing), and you have to have enough medication to get you through, plus a few days for possible delays. Painkillers and anti-nausea stuff is particularly vital, as they can make or break the enjoyment of a trip.

Also, if "appliances" are needed (wheelchair, walker, and so on) make sure they're in good order. Having to get service on a power chair when you're at Bryce Canyon (about a hundred miles from nowhere) isn't a fun thing to do.

Know what to expect. if your mate's using a wheelchair, and you're flying, the chair gets checked at the gate, and your beloved is going to be strapped into an aisle chair, a skinny little wheelchair which will be moved down to your seat by a flight attendant. It's not comfortable, but with space limited...there it is. The flight attendants are trained to do this, so please...let them.

If there are mobility issues, you'll obviously be pre-boarded...and the airlines tend yo prefer that you have bulkhead seats (the one at the front of the cabin section, facing a wall). There's simply more room there.

The airlines invariably want to help, and to make your experience safe and enjoyable. But do keep in mind that the emphasis is on safe, and if the gate agent feels that it would be too risky for you to fly, you don't fly.

If this happens (and it has happened to me; I collapsed while waiting in line at the gate counter), please don't argue. You won't win, and the person who said "no" did not want to do that.

In that case, you'll have to wait until the situation is stabilized, and then have another try. The airline can require a medical clearance, in which case a local doctor must be seen. They won't charge you extra (or at least, they are not supposed to) for the postponement.

The prospect of having to see a local doctor brings another thing to mind...paperwork.

Have your insurance information with you, and ready to hand, and have as complete a set of medical records, as well. Sure, if you need to visit an ER they can contact your doctor (and they will), but it's a lot more effective if they can download the information off a thumb drive and get a running start..

Make sure that a list of ALL medications (and allergies) is ready to hand...like, on a pice of paper in your purse or wallet.

Finally, of course, there's the elephant in the room...what if your spouse dies en voyage? If that happens, you'll have a lot of decisions to make relatively quickly, and some of them may be expensive. If an open-casket funeral is in the works, the body will have to be embalmed where you are, and shipped home. Not cheap.

If cremation is the order of the day, it's a lot easier, though the airlines still like to know that you've got a dead person in your luggage. Yes, remains have occasionally gotten lost.

Travel can be a big thing for the dying. It's a chance to say goodbye, to people and places, and also a chance to fulfill some long-cherished dreams like seeing the Grand Canyon, or wrestling an alligator in Florida or seeing the birthplace of Winnie The Pooh (well, that's one of mine...).

And it can be a memory that you, the caregiver, will cherish as long as you live.

What other suggestions do you have? What have I missed?

We're linked with Messy Marriage's Wedded Wednesday...please click the link to see some really good thoughts on marriage!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 28 - The Only Hope {Five Minute Friday}

Five Minute Friday again, writing by the clock on a keyword provided by the most excellent Kate Motaung. We're also linked with Inspire Me Monday.

Today's word is HOPE.

Weirdly, I had a feeling this would be the word, because of an aphorism that's been running through my head.

And here...we...go...

Una salus victus nullam sperare salutem.

In other words...English ones...this means "the only hope of the vanquished is to abandon all hope of safety, for only in abandoning hope can one possibly find the courage to fight through and win.

It sounds better in Latin.

It sounds kind of nihilistic and rather ruthless...ruthless it is, but nihilistic it's not, because when faced with a desperate and bleak future, there is only one way forward.

That way is the complete abrogation of the temporal 'safe haven' that we all hold in our hearts, the 'happily ever after in comfort and rest' that is so beloved of greeting-card sellers and the makers of romantic comedies. (Note that it's NOT a denial of ultimate safety in Christ...I'm talking about living in the world, here.)

When they say you're dying, and it's just going to get more painful and more difficult, you've basically got two choices. Sink into an increasingly drugged lassitude, or force every step, every action through a wall of pain.

The first way, days turn into weeks when you don't accomplish much, bit you're comfortable. More or less.

The second way, every moment is bright and jagged with pain and fatigue, and everything you do is memorable for all the wrong reasons, that for me involve spitting up blood.

But along with the memory you'd rather not revisit, you've done something. At the end of the day, something's been created or improved or whatever, that wasn't done that morning.

For me, it's the dream of writing. I have a lot to say, I think, or at least a lot that I want to say, but the very act of typing hurts...not to mention trying to sit upright at the keyboard. And occasionally have to clean blood off the thing. I have spare keyboards, and usually let Barb clean the bloody ones.

I can;t do much. I pass out every so often, and have to try to figure out just where I was, and didn't I kill off that character in the last chapter?

But we're a few more words to the good every day.

Is it futile? Am I living a pattern that implicitly assumes a future I very likely won't see?

Sure, probably, but so what?

I'm here NOW, and that future is made manifest as part of my present.

And in this present, today, literally bloody and literally reeling...



We're linked with Messy Marriage's Wedded Wednesday...please click the link to see some really good thoughts on marriage!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

#BlogBattle - The Christmas Drop

Time for this week's #BlogBattle, hosted by Rachael Ritchey. Please visit her, and check out some excellent writers!

 The keyword for today's bit of short fiction is DROP.

The Christmas Drop

The Corps done us good, and they remembered that even at Oceanview, hard by the Z and the South China Sea, it was still Thanksgiving. They ran some tracks up the beach, convoyed by a brace of M48s, and loaded to the gills with mermite cans.

And the cans held hot turkey dinners, with corn and cranberry sauce. Plus beer. Cold...well, cool...beer.

"Hey, TC, want to take a walk?" The Dude placed himself between me and the lowering sun. I'd been drowsing, and thinking of home, and wondering what civilian skills would accrue from commanding a tank. The list started out short, and didn't get much longer, so I was grateful for the interruption.

"Sure." I got up, and dusted sand from my pants. The Dude motioned me to turn around, and he shushed the sand off the back of my blouse. "Thanks."

There weren't too many places to walk in Oceanview. Taking a stroll around the perimeter wasn't a good idea, since Charlie would love to celebrate his Thanksgiving by bagging an American turkey or two, so we went down to the swimming pool.

We passed the other tank in my section, the New Guy tank. It was still clean, and the crew still smelled human. That would change, if they lived long enough. They waved, and I waved back. So did The Dude, with a single extended finger.

The pool was an old bomb crater that had blown the water table and remained full. It didn't have any inflow or outflow, so it was kind of green and murky, especially with a hundred guys using it for bathing and lounging, but you take that which you receive in Viet Nam, and you're grateful. Besides, it was easy to clean the scum off the top with a frag or two. Didn't do much for the sludge at the bottom, though, except add a bit of jagged metal. Shower shoes were a must.

Well, at least it was wet.

When we'd gotten a few yards away from the tank, The Dude asked, "Hey, man, your DEROS is coming up, right?"

I nodded. "End of January." Back to the World.

He pulled out his dogtag, and fingered the peace symbol he'd hung on the chain. It was jeweled, and the tiny gemstones sparkled the Asian light. He sand softly, mostly to himself, "We gotta get outta this place..."

It was an old song now, but still the Viet Nam anthem. I chimed in. "...if it's the last thing we EVER do..."

"Hear about the Christmas drop?"

"Rumors. I'll believe it when I see it." Scuttlebutt said that everyone with a January DEROS would be on the freedom bird to celebrate Christmas in the States.

"It's true, this time. Got a friend in S1. He saw he confirmation."

"Yeah, right." Christmas drops, Independence Day drops...tales told to keep the grunts hopeful. Somehow the dreams never came true, and it was still 365 and a wakeup.

"Have I ever lied to you?"

"Uh...yeah? How about the sure thing deep overhaul trip, with the tank?" Our previous 48 had just about died of old age, and The DUde had it on best authority that we'd go to the rear, and stay with the tank while the maintenance tail worked their engine-changing, turret-lifting magic.

Instead, they just gave us a new tank. Well, new to us.

"Oh, right...well, aside from that?"

I started counting on my fingers. The Dude was a veritable fountain of rumor and innuendo, and if we believed it all we'd all be generals now. "Ok, how about when..."

"Okay, okay! But this is the real deal. Christmas drop. You'll be gone in three weeks."

"Watch out, World!"

"Think we'll get a nugget?" The Corps was running out of veterans willing to extend, and new TCs were shake-and-bake creations from tank school. Some of them were remustered amtrackers, which was kind of a nightmare. An amtrac was a big aluminum box designed to carry riflemen over the beach, and crewing one was a job for herbivores. Tanks were for killers.

"I don't know, Dude. I hope not. Nothing I can do."

"Yeah, there is."

I knew where he was going, but he was the crazy one, not me. "No."

"Going to go back to school?" The Dude kicked at a lump in the sand, and a jagged piece of steel skittered out, raising a small roostertail on its bounces.

"Maybe. Grow my hair long,pretend I have a deferment, see what this free love stuff is all about."

"Pretty much worth what it costs, TC."

"Kind of want to see for myself, though." Viet Nam had consumed a lot of my life. The girl I left behind chose not to wait.

"Makes sense." We stopped at the edge of the pool, and tried not to breathe too deeply. As long as you didn't mind the smell and the weird color of the water, it was a pleasant place to stand and talk.

The Dude slipped the peace charm back into his blouse. "Smoke some weed, too. You can jump right in. Forget all about this place."

"What;s it like?"


"Weed?" I was curious. I didn't think I'd ever really want to try the stuff. Beer is best.

"I don't know." The Dude shrugged. "never tried it."

"You're kidding."

He shook his head. "Would you believe, this is the high spot of my life?"

"The pool?" I tried to make a joke out of it, and failed.

"No. Being here. Nothing else is ever gonna touch it." For a minute he looked like he was about to cry.

"So that's why you keep extending? They'll send you home someday, though."

He laughed. "They try. I get on the plane, fly down to Tan Son Nhut, and then get back on another plane headed north again. Once I've missed the freedom bird they don't know what to do with me, so they just let me stay."

"Probably figure you'll be a bad influence on the hippies." The sun dropped behind the evening thunderstorms building far inland, and the temperature suddenly dropped. It was almost chilly.

The Dude looked at me, and in his eyes I suddenly saw Biff and Sonny less than a quarter of the way through their tours, and the crew of the New Guy tank, all clumsy in hope and bravado and fear.

"Ah, the hell with it. What's Christmas without water boos and Charlie and burn detail?" It seemed that everywhere was downwind from the guys tasked with burning the contents of the 50-gallon drums we used in the crappers.

"Thought you might say that. Here." The Dude reached into a pocket, and pulled out a wad of crumpled paper. My extension request. "My pal in S1 gave them to me."

And he handed me a pen. "While you've still got a buzz on."

I signed, using The Dude's back as a desk. "I'll regret this in the morning."

The Dude folder the papers, smoothing them out, and put them back in his pocket. "No you won't," he said. "You'll regret it now."

And he pushed me into the pool.

When I got my head back above the dreadful water, he was standing there, watching me. "Thanksgiving Day, TC. Thanks."

Your Dying Spouse 27 - This I Believe

Linking up with Tuesdays@Ten today....also with Wedded Wednesday.

A few personal notes. Having a bit of a difficult day, so all the more reason to write from the heart. So today, I will.

This I believe...

That life, even in pain, is still worthwhile, and still means something. The horizon may be close, but that does NOT obviate my obligation to do the best I can, every day. Indeed, it sharpens the requirement. With only a few arrows left, every one had better hit its mark.

That people are basically good, and that if one gives them the chance, they'll offer more help than you'd ever believed possible. They're waiting, yearning to link arms with you...and you've just got to step out from behind the static wall of pride, and walk forward with them.

That we make our own choices every day, that affect our lives more than we know. A short nap can turn into a day slept away; the decision to get up, even when tired and in pain, can lead to accomplishments that make the day into a success, rather than a loss.

That cheap cigars have their place, in controlling pain and nausea, and in making me take a few minutes out of the day to appreciate a good book, or part of a DVD. They make me take a break from writing (don't want ash in the keyboard) to consider others' viewpoints, and their ways of expressing them.

That the will to overcome is the requirement for healing, and that healing does not necessarily mean you don't die. You may just die healed.

That love truly transcends time, space and relativity. This isn't my idea; it comes from the awesome sci-fi film "Interstellar".

That God 's love for me does not mean He's going to make me well, but that it does mean He'll give me what I need to make it through the next day, the next hour, or the next moment.

Time to hit 'publish'; going down hard, I think.

But I will be back.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 26 - Morale

We're linked with Wedded Wednesday this week. Please drop by there for some really great marriage resources!

When the horizon starts getting uncomfortably close, it can be really hard on morale - leading to a "why bother" attitude at best, and detachment from life - and self-care - at worst.

Not something you want to see in someone you love, and not something you want to experience yourself...because you, as the caregiver, are also at risk.

The problem's situational (unless there's an underlying clinical depression), but the problem is that situations can set patterns, and those patterns will continue in your life long after you're mate has crossed that horizon, and has disappeared from your ken...at least, for this life.

Consider this scenario - your mate's too ill for an outing to a restaurant, or to the mall, or anywhere. Going out becomes an ordeal.

And, to put it bluntly, there's just so much you can do at home. You can watch DVDs, or listen to music, or play board games, or talk (some couples actually DO talk), but the fact remains that our society has conditioned us to seek entertainment outside the home, as a special occasion, a mini-vacation from work.

Staying home with a sick mate, weekend after weekend, feel like babysitting.

And you do it, because it's the right thing to do.

It wears on you, and it wears on your life. Unless you have a set of exceptionally loyal and compassionate friends, your social contacts are going to wither. Most couples spend time with other couples...and as a "married single" you'll feel out of place anyway.

So after a while, you don't even try. The isolation of the dying becomes yours by default.

But your life is going to go on, as unpleasant as it is to say it, after your husband or wife dies. And you're going to be more isolated that you can imagine.

You'll also be vulnerable, because loneliness is something from which we all want to escape, once we taste how it really feels. There are, sadly, folks out there who look at the newly widowed (and divorced) with a predatory eye.

So...what to do?

  • Go to church, even if you're going alone, if your mate's no longer up to it...and let people know what your situation is, so you can find good groups with which to be involved, good ministries for your skills and resources.
  • Keep up your relationships with your immediate and extended family. A surprising percentage of caregivers start to withdraw from their, and their spouse's families.
  • Be honest with your mate about how you feel, if you are starting to feel isolated. DOn't blame them, obviously - no one wants to be terminally ill - but approach it from the standpoint of keeping yourself on an even keel. Most husbands or wives will understand (though there may, inevitably, be a small amount of hurt...less time with you is more lonely for them); they don't WANT you to be isolated, and will offer suggestions for activities and outlets. If your spouse becomes very upset, or angry, citing feels of abandonment - try to get some kind of counseling, or at least talk to your spouse's primary doctor. Most physicians have seem far too much caregiver stress, and will do their best to help.
  • Speaking of counseling - maintain contact with a counselor, yourself, as periodic 'safety checks'.
  • One thing NOT to do...don't do anything that includes opposite-sex socializing. Don't go golfing with an opposite-sex friend from work, don't take a volunteer shift with an opposite-sexmember of the church ministry tream. Even if it's innocent, it's going to cause pain; the symbolism will be amplified for a dying person. And don't, for Pete's sake, think you can keep it secret...because then it looks like an attempt to hide something deeper.
What can you add?

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?)

We're also linked with Wedded Wednesday this week. Please drop by there for some really great marriage resources!

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.


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.


How'd I do?

We're also linked with The Weekend Brew.