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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Joyride - #BlogBattle

Time for this week's flash fiction post for #BlogBattle, the keyword-inspired short fiction contest hosted by Rachael Ritchey. (We're also linked with Messy Marriage's Wedded Wednesday.)

The word this week is RIDE.

"Ride, boldly ride, the shade replied,
if you seek for Eldorado!"

See, this is so cool even Edgar Allan Poe is trying to get in on it!


The Dude blocked the sun.

Just as well; there really is no cool season in Viet Nam, and sitting in depot with the tank in deep overhaul, there wasn't much to do except sit in the shade until the sun chased it away.

But I'd dozed off, and I figured The Dude saved me from a bad sunburn.

He was grinning with a barely-suppressed delight. "TC, I know something you don't know." His voice was sing-song, and teasing.

"You know a lot I don't know, Dude." I was willing to play. "Is it animal, vegetable, or mineral?"

He thought about that for a minute. "Mineral, I guess..and animal."

"Bigger than a breadbox?"


"Smaller than Ship of Fools?" The name The Dude had given the tank had stuck, and I secretly liked it, but the nude 'imagined' sketch of Katherine Ann Porter was a bit hard to take on an empty stomach.

"Lighter, not smaller." The Dude was honest.

There was a familiar thump-thump way down the scale of hearing, and his eyes flicked, giving it away.

"It's a Huey."

The Dude clapped his hands like a seven-year old. God, how I loved that man. "Yessss! Give that sergeant a cee-gar!"

"So did you trade something to get us our own helicopter?" I was kind of hoping he had managed to trade New Guy TC and his crew, but my luck wasn't that good, as I could see them trying to fill a diesel tank with gasoline.


When I got back, with my toes still sore from some ass-kicking, I rejoined the game. "So we have a Huey?"

"For the day...well, for a road sweep. It's been quiet, and I figured we could use some cool air. And the charlie echo thought that the pilots and crew chief might like some beer."

Helo drivers were always short of liquid courage, and the crew, enlisted always made sure they got extra...by arranging to give the occasional tank crew a ride, I suppose.

"All of us?"

The Dude shook his head. "Ell tee collared Biff and Sonny for handholding another new-guy crew on the range."

Ugh. These people were supposed to be able to sight in and shoot the main gun before they got here. Biff and Sonny had a long, hot afternoon ahead of them. Well, better them than me.

"Well,, son, let's get unassed from Mother Earth, then."

The Huey was spinning up on the other side of the depot when we got there. The pilots gave us the Pilot Look, cool behind their RayBans, boom mikes in from of their lips, nodding with a steel-jawed determination. They were probably thinking about Miss July.

The crew chief was in the left-hand pocket, slinging his sixty from a bungee. I was impressed; most Marine helo units required their door guns to be pintle-mounted, with stops to prevent the gunners from shooting holes in their own aircraft. But these guys were cowboys; they rode with the sixties in theior laps, supported by the bungee, and shot freehand. I wondered if they'd do some shooting today, and if we'd get home without shooting ourselves down if they did.

The CE was the friendliest guy there, and his smile grew even wider when The DUde handed him a bag of beers in a bag that was damp to touch, full of cool bottles and clinking ice.

The ice even thawed out the pilots a bit. The AC motioned to the left-seater, who held out a pair of helmets with headsets and mikes. We'd be able to hear what was going on, and even...if we dared...speak.

The Dude slid across the cargo deck, eschewing the nylon sling seats so he could sit in the left-hand door with his legs in the breeze, so I had to do the same on the right side. I did grab a handful of webbing as the Huey pulled pitch and the earth dropped away. The CE looked at me from the pocket and held a finger to his lips. My secret was safe with him. Beer is effective.

The AC had been talking to the tower, which was merely a wooden platform high enough to look down the flightline, with a roof and some radios. As we flew past it the AC removed one hand from the controls and waved to the tower crew, with one finger upraised. "Later, y'all" he said as the Huey crossed the perimeter wire and swung parallel to the road we were going to sweep.

The AC came in the IC to give his passengers a bit of a travelogue. "This-heah road's one-a Chuck's MA-juh ob-SESshuns in these heah pahts..."

Great. Sonny's soul brother was a pilot.

"An, when it's dun DEE-serted, lahk now...why, them little folks git reeel busy. Tha's wha we's gots us a Snake gonna meet us in a minnit, heah...ah, thar's our boy..."

He pointed, and off to our raht...sorry, right, a Cobra ripped past, slashing across our nose.

And meeting the grey streak of a B-40 rocket.

"Craaap!" The AC was so surprised that when his escort got hammered in front of him, he didn't seven wear. His copilot was from Brooklyn, and he made up for the pilot's lapse.

The Cobra instantly trailed a thick ribbon of smoke, and the freq came alive with voices, mainly saying, "We are going down, there are beaucoup Charlie here, we are not happy, GET US OUT OF HERE!"

The Snake dipped below the trees, and a cloud of dust boiled up. The radio went silent for a year that must have lasted ten seconds.

Then the AC spoke. "Two-foah, y'all up?"

Silence. I looked across at The Dude. His face was white, and he was holding tight to a nylon security blanket as well.

"Two-foah? Come ahn, gahy..."

Squelch broke, and then a very strained voice. "Two-four. Wait one."

The AC looked across to the left-seater, and I could see surprise in the way he moved his head. Something in the Snake crewman's voice chilled him.

The next words were in Vietnamese. Chuck loved to catch gunship crews. The result was usually messy.

The tired American voice came back. "Anyone on the net speak Vietnamese?" He sounded dead already.

The Dude's voice was sharp and clear, and I had a vision of a red, white, and blue flag waving in a fall wind. "I do, fella. Put the other guy on."

There was an exchange in Vietnamese over the headset, so fast that even the few words I knew would have been swallowed by the dust of the sentences' passing. Meanwhile the Huey went into a long low oval around a small paddy. The Snake lay on its side, and on every orbit we could see a group of men in the treeline. Two of them had white faces.

"Okay." The Dude was talking to the AC. "We can get our guys back. Condition, they have two wounded. We take them too."

The AC was perplexed in his Southern way. "Whee-HOO. We gonna make a deal with Chuck? How we know he not gonna blow our...uh, bottoms outer tha skah whan we land this-heah bird?"

"We don't. It's either that or they fillet our guys on the spot, while we watch."

The Brooklyn Kid put together an impressive string of bad language, which meant that he was willing to take the risk.

No one else was asked. The AC said, "All raht, tank guy...y'alls gotter get out and co-urdinate this thang...y'all square with that-all?"

I could hear The Dude swallow as he tried to reply. It took him two attempts to get the words out. "I can do it."

The Huey flared to a landing halfway between the wrecked Cobra and the group in the treeline. The AC kept the RPMs up while The Dude doffed his helmet and stumbled across the dried mud of the paddy. A group of Charlies started from the treeline, carrying two makeshift stretchers, and prodding the two captives.

The meeting took on;y seconds, and I felt unprepared to see a group of our enemy, rifles slung, running toward us. Their faces were human, and I wanted, for some strange reason, to cry.

The stretchers were slid onto the deck, and I backed away, both to give them room and to recoil away from the strong musky animal smell the wounded VC gave off.

The Americans, looking dazed, scrambled in after them. One of the VC tossed in their pistol belts, sidearms intact.

The cargo bay was full, and The Dude perched on the skid. It would be a precarious ride for him. He put on his helmet, and when the mike came live I heard his voice, "OK, lift...no, wait."

He looked across to the Charlie Echo, and the kid threw him a bag. The Dude stepped off the skid, and motioned to the Chuck who seemed to be in charge...and handed the surprised enemy a bag of cold beers.

Then he was back on headset. "OK, let's get ourt of here."

As we cleared the field, I saw Charlie departing at a dead run. They knew we's have fast air coming in to deny them anything useful in the dead Snake, and indeed the AC was on vox, asking for that very thing.

Fast air on tap, the AC was silent for a minute. Then he asked the question that was in my head, too. "Tank gah, Ah gots sumthin on mah mahnd."

The Dude sounded very tired. "Sure."

"Waal...and Ah'm not sayin it's gonna happen, y'all, but how did ole Chuck know I ain't just gonna toss these two out the sahd, let 'em larn ta flahy?"

The Dude was silent for a long time, maybe five seconds. Then he said, "Because you're a Christian."

"How'd Chuck know that?"

"I told him."

"How'd Y'ALL know that?"

"I didn't. I had to go on faith."

The AC looked over his shoulder at The Dude, and then looked down the VC closest to him.

The man returned his stare with wide eyes, and his lips were trembling, from pain, I guessed, and fear.

Then I could hear the AC sigh over the IC. He reached into his pocket, and gave the wounded enemy a piece of Beechnut.

Your Dying Spouse 63 - End of Dreams

We're linked with Wedded Wednesday, on the awesome Messy Marriage site.

When your husband or wife is dying, somewhere along the road he or she is going to realize the there are dreams, both shared and personal, are not going to come true.

It may be the vacation to Hawaii, or the hike into the Grand Canyon, or the sweeping graceful deck she designed and began to build before she became too ill to work on it.

And now there are the loose ends, hanging about like unquiet ghosts.

Travel brochures. Hiking equipment that'll never be broken in.

Or the deck itself...perhaps its posts sticking out of the leaf-blown yard like gapped teeth.

If it sounds depressing, it is. The reality of the situation can be denied for a long time; the plans for the trip can go on when there's the need for a hospital bed to be moved into the living room, and hospice has to make that first dreaded visit.

There might be a miracle.

And finally the hope fades, and your mate knows that the only miracle will be the final one we hold in faith.

It's a terrible moment to live; it's a terrible moment to watch.

What can you, as the caregiving spouse, do to help?

First, don't accelerate the process. Don not discourage the inception of a dream on the probability that it probably can't be fulfilled (with obvious exceptions that can lead to serious injury or financial ruin). This is often done with the best of intentions, to cushion an inevitable disappointment and to help direct energy toward the possible...but that's not your job.

You can't live someone else's death. In the end he or she has to be responsible for their own emotional well-being, and the best thing you can do is to be supportive. And to help pick up the pieces.

You can't prevent the shattering. You can hold them in your arms amidst the wreckage.

Second, try to help make the possible dreams come true, at least in part. This can take sensitivity and planning, but there's a surprising amount you can do. I wanted to get into dirt-track stock-car racing, but it was clear that even a mild crash - which is part of the game - would be very hazardous for me. So Barbara arranged for me to turn some laps in a friend's car while I still could. It gave me the flavour, with little danger (though I did spin the thing out several times). It's a wonderful memory.

In the example of the unfinished deck that your wife was building...if you can't hire professionals to complete it, ask your friends for help.

Yes, it's humbling to have to ask, but it gives these people whose presence in your life you value the chance to do more than say "I wish there was something I could do".

They can make a difference, and perhaps complete the project in time for the dying person to see the vision become reality...even if not by her own hands.

Finally, if the loss of a shared dream is a disappointment to you, don't share that disappointment with your terminally ill spouse.

It's an unfair burden; illness is not entitlement, but there are additional burdens that dying places on a person's heart, and you should avoid adding to them if possible.

And guilt is a funny thing; a large percentage of people with terminal illness do feel at least a small sense of guilt..."if only I had lived healthier, exercised more, smoked less..."

Those are terrible thoughts to have at three in the morning.

There is one more thing you can do, really, and that is to cherish the dream. Make it part of your life, if you can, to demonstrate that your mate, and the life you shared, won't be forgotten.

Another tough one to write, because I see this happening in my life. I'm still working as if I have plenty of tomorrows, but today hurts so much that it's hard to believe that.
I still have dreams, though. Keeping this blog going is one of them.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 62 - Hard Feelings

This post was inspired by Paul Byerly's essay 'Choose to be Wronged' in The Generous Husband on September 27, 2015.

We are linked to Inspire Me Monday, and with Wedded Wednesday, on the awesome Messy Marriage site.

Seriously (or terminally) ill people are not easy to live with. They're hurting, and uncomfortable, and scared, and they are liable to say hurtful things, lashing out against the most convenient target...you, the caregiver.

Life is not a book or a movie; unhappy, illogical things happen, and relationships can be soured, and never quite fully repaired, because of trivialities. There's no story arc that we can see from our perspective.

I wonder how many divorces began from an argument about leaving the toilet seat up?

But what do you do? When you're verbally attacked and slighted, what do you do?

The greeting-card approach is to try to keep yourself reminded that the person who's hurting you will not be around that much longer. It's the sentimental approach, and it's usually not very effective, because it demands that you live both in the now, and in the future.

There are better ways.

First, when you're attacked and offended, wait before responding. Just wait, and think -

What will a harsh response-in-kind actually do? Will it change your spouse's mind?

Not likely. Attacking in kind will cause defenses to be raised, and will be more apt to solidify the position he or she has taken. Shocking someone into seeing their error only works in Hollywood.

It'll thus perpetuate the argument. Adding fuel to the flames is a metaphor that's become a cliche, because it's so very true.

Meeting anger with anger is sometimes justified as cathartic, a 'venting'. But we're not pressure tanks that explode when overfilled and thus need safety valves. It's a nice image, really...but it's wrong.

Catharsis breeds more anger, and more unhappiness. Jonathan Shay, in his landmark study of PTSD Ulysses in Viet Nam, found that veterans who attended therapy in which they were encouraged to 'let it all out' were more likely to kill themselves than those who never received (and acted on) that advice.

Another thing to consider - and this is hard for most to think about, much less enact - is that you're not supposed to give someone else the 'keys' to your emotions.

It goes against so much of what we, in the West, take as Truth. I'm nothing without you...my heart is in your hands...you complete me...those are the messages we get from popular culture

But consider this - God created us as individuals, built in His image (for those of you who don't believe in God, or are not on speaking terms with Him, I think you can accept that we're all individuals anyway?).

We're responsible for what we feel, and for how we act on our feelings, and for what we say.

It sounds like a form of distancing, and it is, and that may feel wrong and almost scary. But that kind of distance does not say you don't matter enough to hurt me; it really means I choose not to take offense at this, because my mental health is important to me...and I can show you a purer compassion when my mind is clear.

(OK, you do lose the supposed joys of make-up sex, but that embrace is just the other side of anger's coin; you're embracing an unhealthy pas de deux that can eventually do damage, through both the lows and the highs. In that dance you're a slave to powers that can accelerate to scar your soul, and tear you apart.)

To turn to Gautama Buddha for a minute (a smart man, and Buddhist's don't consider him God), we find what are called the Four Noble Truths -

  1. There is unhappiness
  2. Unhappiness has a cause
  3. Unhappiness can be overcome
  4. There is a way to overcome unhappiness
We will have disagreements; we will fight. That does make us unhappy.

We far more often over trivialities than over major issues, and that's especially true in the case of terminal illness.

We can be delivered from this unhappy paradigm for life.

And the way to do that is simply to think before we respond, reflect on the consequences, reflect on what a harsh response will do to us...

...and then, taking Jesus' hand...

...turn the other cheek.

This is important for both the caregiver and the terminally ill spouse...BOTH are responsible for their words and actions. Illness is not entitlement.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 61 - No Room for Doubt {FMF}

Back with Kate Motaung and Five Minute Friday, the timed key-word-driven writing challenge.

(We're also linked with Wedded Wednesday, on the awesome Messy Marriage site.)

Today's word is DOUBT.


I am going to make it. I am not going to let this kill me.

There is no room for doubt.

The week that was, was dreadful. I thought I'd hit the basement, but the pain and nausea elevator kept going down, down, down, and I never realized that throwing up could hurt so much.

Nor that I could be so weak on my knees (Weak on my feet? Not that day; crawling was all I could do, and the dogs were horrified.).

And, pardon the directness, that I could lose so much blood that quickly. (My service heeler, Ladron, needed a bath, which she did not like. So did her pal PITunia JezeBULL. She doesn't like baths either...teach then to stay out of the way when I'm puking!..but maybe that's why they were horrified.)

I digress.

Things are bad enough that I cannot afford doubt, I cannot afford to be reflective and sentimental. If I'm going to have half a chance, I have to be ruthlessly single-minded., now more than ever.

Yes, this blog will continue; it's my duty and my desire to document this.

But I am determined that there will be a happy ending. There are miracles, and if God's tarrying, I'm gonna squeeze it out of Him.

No doubt.


A bit shorter than usual...having a wee bit of trouble keeping focused, and hitting the right keys...in this suburb of hell, I was pretty scared.
Now I'm pretty mad. I don't like what's happening, and if attitude and determination can win out, I am going to survive.
One day at a time, one minute at a time.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Gift - #BlogBattle

Time for #BlogBattle, the weekly keyword-inspired flash-fiction competition hosted by Rachel Ritchey.

This week's word is...wait for it...ORCHID.

Well, okay. Orchid it is. (And we are also linked to Weekend Whispers and Still Saturday, and with Wedded Wednesday, on the awesome Messy Marriage site.)

The Gift

Another day, another bridge guard to pull. Only this time the bridge was a mess of broken metal in the riverbed, which begged the question, why are we guarding this?

Note to self...if something you're ordered to do in Viet Nam seems stupid, do it anyway. 'Just because' is a perfectly justifiable answer over here.

But the sunset was lovely. The sun dropped behind the clouds that had built up over the Highlands, and when it dropped from view the air seemed ten degrees cooler. The clouds were backlit, outlined in flaming oranges and silvers and yellows and golds  Too many shades to count.

And the river turned from its daytime brown to a ribbon of reflective mauve, the sluggish daytime flow transformed into delicate smoothness.

"Ah gots to take a craaap," said Sonny, as we sat on the turret watching the transcendence of the day.

He took off his CVC helmet, and I put mine on, losing the beginnings of the Asian night-sounds to the hiss of Western static. 

Sonny dropped off the side of the tank and ambled down the embankment road, looking for the right spot. I had once had a dog that would take about half an hour to do just that, and I hoped Sonny was smarter than the dog.

Biff handed me up a box of Cs. "Dinner," he said, with a smile. "Can we heat 'em?"

I looked across the river. Everything was quiet, and the ARVN platoon on the far embankment was lounging and smoking. They would have been doing that, oblivious, if Charlie had been about to drop a company-plus assault in their laps. ARVN readiness wasn't a very good combat indicator.

I shrugged. "Yeah. I guess." Then a dreadful thought crossed my mind. "id you check for peaches?"

Biff nodded. "I went through 'em earlier. The peaches went into the river." The canned peaches in some boxes were bad luck.

"Good." We'd have a better chance of survivng the night. I felt all warm and fuzzy inside.

Sonny was smarter than the dog. Duties completed, he climbed up the glacis, reached into the driver's hatch to give The Dude a friendly rap on the head, and leaned against the turret. "They's havin' some kinder party down yonder, in the ville."

"Yeah??" Why he thought I'd be interested in a Vietnamese party, I couldn't say.

He took awhile before saying more, and his voice was choked. "Ah think it's a birthday party."

I looked at him, and he was not looking at me. He was pretending to look across the river, but the lovely evening light showed that he didn't turn his head far enough. A twilight-limned tear was sliding down his cheek.

"They's singin' now, TC."

I took of the helmet. Far away, I heard a familiar tune, but the inflections of the voices that raised it were utterly alien.

It was Happy Birthday, sung in Vietnamese.

The Dude must have heard it too. He'd slipped quietly out of the driver's hatch and stood with us on the deck. "Party for a kid," he said.

"Yeah, Dude. A kid." Sonny was still looking across the river.

Some of the riflemen we had as protection had stood up, and were listening as well.

"Think we should crash the party?" asked The Dude.

I was surprised; the way he said it was out of character."No...I don't...well, what do you mean?"

"We could bring them something. Something valuable. Something from the C's?"

It was a nice thought, but the most valuable things in the C rats were toilet paper and cigarettes. I couldn't picture us as America's ambassadors, the Wise Men from afar, dropping in on a child's party bearing asswipe and lighting a Lucky Strike for the birthday child.

"I was thinking franks and beans." They were something of a delicacy for us. It would be a sacrifice.

"We could give them ham and..."

The Dude interrupted me before I could finish the profanity that described ham and lima beans, the meal that looked like the contents of a baby's diaper. "We're trying to win their hearts and minds, TC. Can't do that while they're puking."

"Franks and beans, then. Give 'em everything."The Dude was right; it would be a good gesture, and probably good for our souls to be eating spam until the next resupply.

Biff had worked his way around the gun from his seat to the loader's side, and looked up through the hatch. "We're giving what to who?"

"Whom," said The Dude.

"Whom are we giving our best stuff to, then?"

"No, who  are we giving it to...or even better, to whom are we giving it."

Biff told The Dude what he could do with his English lesson, a suggestion that would be anatomically awkward, and The Dude smiled and said, "You're welcome."

Sonny had field-stripped the C's in the gypsy rack for the gifts, and asked, "Who's gonna stay with the tank?" We obviously couldn't leave it unattended. I mean, there was a war on. Someone might steal the hubcaps.

"I'll stay," said Biff, resentment dripping from every word. All two of them.

"Well, let's go be the good guys." The Dude jumped off the tank, and Sonny followed, sliding down the front, using his pulled-up blouse as a sack to hold the cans.

Biff leaned out of the loader's hatch. "Guys? I was just kidding. Those things aren't kosher anyway."

"And he's been eating them every time he can grab a can," said The Dude. "He's going to need a long talk with his rabbi."

The party wasn't hard to find. Kids having fun in Viet Nam sound like kids having fun anywhere, and if we were in any doubt, as we turned up they alley a whole flock of them ran around out legs, chasing after a half-deflated soccer ball.

The war has to stop for fun, sometimes.

"Wait here a sec," said The Dude. He'd paused to read a sign in Vietnamese on a hootch we were passing, a sign lit by the lowest-wattage bulb ever built. And it flickered. He went to the door and rapped smartly. The door fell off its hinges into a dim room, and out flowed a torrent of angry Vietnamese words.

The Dude listened apologetically, and then picked up the fallen door, laying it gently sideways in the door frame. He spoke in what I thought was a placating tone, but my knowledge of Vietnamese was such that he might have been telling them that we were going to drive our tank through their miserable hootch if they didn't shut up.

He turned to Sonny and me. "Be right back. Going to get some orchids."

I could hear the smile in my loader's voice. "Mah uncle Bubba's got one a them. 'Bout a hunnert acrees. Grows p'cans. Y'all are real nahce, givin a kid orchids."

The Dude paused and asked, obliquely, "Your uncle's named Bubba? What's his real name?"

"That is his fer real name. He's got it tattooed on his shoulder."

"So he doesn't forget," murmured The Dude, and disappeared into the dim hootch.

A moment later he emerged, followed this time what could only have been Vietnamese for 'Please come back again soon, and bring you dollah!" We were only supposed to use MPC's, the Monopoly money that we were compelled to trade our greenbacks for when we arrived in-country. And the locals couldn't use MPCs, so we wouldn't be destroying the economy by spreading dollars around, since they were worth more than their weight in gold. Way more.

Yeah, right.

The Dude held something that looked like a bouquet. It was a bouquet.

"It's a different country, TC," he said.

If someone had given me flowers for my tenth birthday, or whatever, I;d have been seriously angry. Flowers were for girls.

And the soccer players sure made it seem like the birthday child was a boy.

Sonny asked, "So them's from the orchid y'all bought the kid?"

The Dude stopped in mid-step, and hesitated. "Something like that."

The party hootch was festooned with dim but colorful lights, and there was the sound of laughter within. I hoped that The Dude wouldn't knock on this door.

he didn't. Instead he called out a greeting in Vietnamese, and a moment later a short, plump and pretty mamasan gave us entry. Her eyes widened at seeing three Americans, and her smile widened even more when she saw the cans of franks and beans.

She called back into the hootch, over her shoulder, and a very formally dressed young boy came to stsnd next to her. He was wearing a long tunic, scarlet and gold, and wore a hat that reminded me of Jackie Kennedy's pillboxes, only it was a deep blue, again gold-trimmed.

He bowed formally, and as The Dude bowed back, Sonny and I emulated him. Half a dozen cans slipped from Sonny's embrace. The child paid them no heed, but mamasan scrabbled across the dirt for them.

Then The Dude said, in very clearly enunciated Vietnamese, "Vua choi lan, quan choi tra." He handed the orchids to the boy.

Mamasan gasped and put her hand to her mouth, and I wondered if her husband was going to come out and shoot us for whatever The Dude had just said.

Then she grinned broadly, and bent to whisper into her son's ear. Then she spoke to The Dude. She talked too fast for me to follow even if she'd been speaking English.

The boy looked up at The Dude, put his hands together, and said, "Cam on bac." Even I knew that part of it was 'thank you', but the full phrase eluded me.

The Dude bowed again, very low.

And abruptly, the boy turned and went back to the party. Mamasan hesitated, looking first to The Dude, and then to Sonny and me. For a moment I thought she might kiss us, but that's not the Vietnamese way.

She gave us a smile that was far more fulfilling than any kiss could be, and closed the door.

Your Dying Spouse 60 - FUNerals

We're linked with Wedded Wednesday, hosted my the terrific Messy Marriage site.

Some people take the Klingon view of death - it's a transition to eternal life, and the body can be disposed of in the most efficient way possible.

But others like to plan ahead, to the point of taking advantage of prepaid funeral arrangements, and take an active role in the 'program' for their own memorial service.

I take the former view, personally. I don't want people talking about the man I never was, and presenting a Powerpoint show of a life I never had.

The truth of a life is found in the way it's lived, and not in the way it's remembered. I'd rather let the legacy of what I tried to do right be the only memory.

That may be an extreme view. I have a lot of them, so it's not lonely.

But if your mate is a planner...even if you're not, try to join in, because they're trying to tell you something that's very much in their hearts, something they can't directly express.

They're afraid of being forgotten, of being just a picture in a scrapbook that one day just won't be opened.

So they plan...and the funeral is really a way for them to say, "I was here. I mattered."

And sometimes, they want to have a bit of fun with it. Music's often a big issue, and when I dying person thinks about what songs will be sung at his or her funeral...the sad ones are usually shown the door.

No 'Memory 'from Cats.

Van Halen is likely to crash the party with 'Jump'.

Or perhaps it'll be AC/DC taking the stage, with one of the top five memorial-service songs...wait for it...'Highway to Hell'.

This may sound perfectly dreadful, but please, don't through cold water on your mate's plans. This individual is faced with something that's frightening even with the strongest reserves of faith...and isputting a brave, and laughing face on to get through the moment.

You're not going to get renounced by Jesus because you went along with putting AC/DC or Motley Crue on the playlist.

For one thing, if you change it at the last minute, your spouse isn't exactly going to call you on it.

Second, even if you let it stand...so what? Music may have a particular resonance with a person's life; knowing, for example, that it means something to an Iraq War veteran to have the unofficial anthem of that conflict played at his or her memorial service won't place you in the position of an accessory, sending them to hell at the last minute. (The Iraq anthem is 'Bodies', by The Drowning Pool.Here's the link to Youtube, if you're curious, but don't say I didn't warn you. Just remember that this is what resonates with the kids who we sent to die to make the world safer for us.)

It'll mean you understood, and understand, and that you have a sense of humour.

Even in the face of death.

Let the FUNeral begin.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 59 - Slave to Time

We're linked with Wedded Wednesday, hosted my the terrific Messy Marriage site.

When death is on the horizon, even though it's like a cloud no bigger than a man's hand, the way one handles time changes.

For the dying, time takes on a very different shape. It becomes a very finite resource, and there are some things which you, as a caregiving spouse, may have to learn faster than you'd wish, and deal with...even when it's hard.

First, the most important thing in your mate's life will be quality time spent with you. This may seem like a cliche; but please, don't approach it that way.

We want to think that the intimate realization of mortality makes us wiser, and makes our hearts softer. It does, in many areas. But sometimes the difficulties inherent to just being human take over. Calm acceptance on the edge of Eternity would be nice, and sometimes it's realized.

But not always.

First and foremost, the petty disagreements and fights that are a part of most marriages are seen as a sort of small tragedy. The Sunday that may be ruined over in-law troubles,or a credit card bill is something that can't be regained. When you're healthy, there's always tomorrow. The storm will blow over, and good feeling will be restored.

But when the hourglass is running out its sand, it looks different...because by the time things are back to normal, one's physical condition may have changed such that the moment can't have a do-over.

Kara Tippetts mentioned this in one of her blog posts; she spoke of the day she realized that she'd probably driven a car for the last time. And soon after, her husband had to make the necessary but painful call to Hospice.

There will be a last time for everything, and you don't know when that will be...but you know it's coming. It makes one want those moments, those experiences, to be 'perfect'.

They can't, of course; nothing in this life can live up to the ideal we hold, and that dichotomy of desire and disappointment can make for some emotional swings.

Please understand this; if there's disappointment it's not directed against you. It's a reaction to the coming loss, and the loss of second chances.

Life often offers do-overs; Barbara is my first and second wife; there was a divorce in there. I'm so very grateful for that do-over.

But now, it's different. What's done will have to stand.

You can help, simply by recognizing this. Just understanding that things that seem everyday to you will loom large in the heart of your husband or wife.

Second, if your spouse is still able to pursue an avocation, you may see unexpected anger when things go wrong, and something may need to be redone. It's an odd kind of perfectionism; the avocation, or hobby, has become a large part of engagement with the world. It's your mate's proof of life.

And losing the time needed to redo something, or correct a mistake, can become more frustrating than you may realize.

For a writer, say, losing the day's output to a computer problem is unpleasant. But for a terminally ill writer, there's the feeling of a race against the clock. The pages that have to be rewritten mean - or seem to mean - that there's less of the work that can be finished in time.

The pressure is on, to get it right the first time.

Please be patient with this. It's hard, I know. It's not easy to watch the person you love the most berating him- or herself over a mistake they made in not saving the document. And the anger shown toward that (blankety-blank) software can seem disproportionate.

We're doing our best; because time is now so very precious.

What do you think? Have you seen this happen?

(And yes, I may have driven a car for the last time. A dear friend is coming to town next week...and I'm no longer well enough to go with Barbara to have lunch with her...and trying to talk around pain makes even having a conversation a challenge. I can write, but talking...well, it's slow and halting, and words have to be forced out through a barrier of pain.)

We're linked to Inspire Me Monday.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 58 - Celebrate Celibacy {FMF}

And we are here again for Five Minute Friday, the keyword-inspired blog party hosted by Kate Motaung. We're also linked with Wedded Wednesday, hosted my the terrific Messy Marriage site.

Today's word is CELEBRATE.

And I bet you're already taken aback by the title, right?


This is going to be very personal - be warned. And it's from a guy's point of view. Prepare to be shocked.

Celibacy is fun.

Sex is now out of the question for us. I'm in too much pain, and Barbara is horrified that I could die during intercourse. Heck of a last memory.

But I'm still human...and some things are hard to give up

There are compensations, though, to a celibate life.

First, though, to be able to be happy in it, you've got to step away from the physical desires. Not to denigrate them; that's just sour grapes. But to look at their place in life, and to realize...I am much more than that.

I don't have to find an identity in sexuality, or in 'potency', or whatever words men like to use to 'feel like a man'.

It's a choice - to turn those energies and those desires into something else entirely. The pshrinks call it sublimation.

I call it transcendence.

It's a step in transcending myself, really; to step out of this box that is my body, and to allow my spirit to soar free. A part of me is no longer tied to a self-image that had been, unfortunately, tarnished by stereotype and posturing.

I can focus on compassion now, on listening. I can see through the veil a little more clearly, because my reflection isn't blocking the view.

God's voice is clearer now; I'm not drowning him out with an instinctive "I want".

I can focus on what really pleases my wife, while not thinking of what I might get in return.

In discipline, there's freedom.

I like being free.


Whoa. Never thought I would have the nerve to write this one. I'll be very interested to hear y'all's comments.

Fire away.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Distance Between Hearts - #BlogBattle

Time for #BlogBattle, the keyword-inspired weekly short fiction contest hosted by Rachael Ritchey.

The word today is Distance.

The Distance Between Hearts

Sometimes it just doesn't pay to get out of bed. Especially for Nguyen Ho Tran.

I'm not sure what his story was, but I'm guessing that he didn't set his alarm clock, and his buddies bugged out and let him sleep when we came to call on their bunker complex with a hundred of our closest friends, footmoblies from the Dead. 

So poor Nguyen popped up from a spiderhole, rubbing his eyes, and found himself staring down the barrel of our main gun. Biff didn't have to traverse far to get the guy's face in his sights.

"Hands up, Charlie?" he said quietly over the IC.

If Nguyen had been a little bit smarter or a lot less terrified, he would have done just. Of course, the fact that The Dude was inching the tank closer and closer to his black-pajama-clad body probably didn't help his peace of mind.

He screamed, turned, and ran. With a hundred of the Corps' best riflemen in the immediate vicinity, he didn't get far. One of the Dead casually raised his M16 and sent a bullet through the runner's right leg. Then he looked up to me. "We're not takin' chieu hois, but if y'all want a prisoner, he's your'n. Otherwise..." The rifleman shrugged, the Southeast Asian deguello.

"Yeah, we'll take him." I didn't know what we'd do with a wounded VC, but for some reason I didn't want what started as low comedy to end in blood. Too much of war was already like that.

The rifleman waved and moved on. As he passed the wounded VC he said, "This'n 's y'all's lucky day, ah reckon."

"Sonny, get the aid kit. Biff, get up here, and cover us with the fifty." I took off my CVC helmet as Sonny came up through the loader's hatch, aid kit in hand.

Charlie was a mess. The bullet had gone through the meat of his thigh, and must have nicked the femoral artery, because blood was coming out in spurts. He was losing a lot, but it could have been worse. We needed to get the leg tied off before anything else, though.

Sonny opened the box and took out a tourniquet, and some gauze. The VC watched him, and then I heard The Dude shout, "TC! Watch his hands!"

Charlie had slipped a hand into a pocket, but he must have understood the import of the shout, because he threw up his hands, jabbering.

The tourniquet slipped off, and blood sprayed across Sonny's face. He swore, and said, "This gah wanna live, ur not?"

A couple of pieces of paper fluttered down, landing in the blood on the ground. Charlie grabbed at them, squealing, and I grabbed his hands. "No."

He sighed, and went limp. I looked at the papers; one was obviously a letter, and the other, a photograph.

Sonny had tied off the leg, and in a surprising move retrieved the letter and the picture. He laid them on the VC's chest. "Here."

To me he said, "TC, he ain't gonna make it. Ah cain't get the artery closed."

In the background I became aware of the deadly shuk...shuk...shuk of the blood pumping overboard.

"Sonny, get back to the tank, and swap with The Dude. Maybe we can get some intel before this guy goes."

The prisoner was holding the photograph in both hands, staring into it, through it. Then he turned it a little, so I could see.

There was a smiling black-haired girl with Eurasian features, a picture taken in a place without war. "Mon amour," the VC whispered.

You never think of Charlie with a girlfriend.

"Ma femme."

You never think of him with a wife, either.

The Dude was there, kneeling in the bloody ground. He spoke to the prisoner in Vietnamese, and got a scratchy hurried whisper back.

"TC, he says his name's Nguyen Ho Tran..." 

Another whisper, and a name.

"And his wife's Marie. She's half-French."

A choked sob, more words.

"He loves her very much. He wants to go home. He thanks you for giving him the picture. TC, I don't think we're going to get any intel out of this guy." He looked at me. "Sorry."

"It's all right." Seeing Nguyen dying, I wanted to go home, too.

Nguyen reached out, and tried to take my hand in his. I realized that he was trying to give me the letter.

"He asks that when all this is over, that you write his wife and tell her that he loves her and always will, and he will be waiting in Heaven."

I bit my tongue to keep my voice from shaking, and then spoke. "Is her address in this letter?" We never kept correspondence with names or addresses; it provided useful intel and leverage if we were captured or killed, and the enemy got it. I figured Charlie was at least as smart as us.

Nguyen apparently understood; he made feeble writing motions. "Dude, you got a pen? He wants to tell you, I think."


I jumped up, and ran back to the tank, yelling for Sonny to toss me something to write with.

He leaned out and dropped a pencil, its eraser chewed off, into my hand. "You gettin' intel?"

"No. His address."

"His what?" But Sonny was talking to my back. It was surreal, but we had to do this right.

In a fading voice, Nguyen dictated  an address...I only understood a little..."Rue de-something" and Hanoi.

Well, Some intel at that. Nguyen was apparently not VC, but NVA. I wondered if it mattered.

Nguyen was gasping now. His blood volume was getting too low, and he was running out of oxygen. He held the picture almost desperately, as if he could lock eyes with Marie across the miles, and that would save him.

I felt movement, and Sonny was at my side. "TC, may I?" He held his beloved harmonica.

I nodded, and Sonny began to play Amazing Grace.

Nguyen's eyes brightened at the first notes; there was recognition. I wondered about the things I would never know. What did it mean to him? Did Marie sing it softly in their Godless land? Was it their private rebellion?

The Dude began to sing, but for a moment I couldn't place the words. Then it hit me; he was singing Amazing Grace in Vietnamese. (Right-click here and open a new tab if you'd like to listen in.)

I thought back to the churches I'd attended, and the sermons I'd slept through.

The Dude cam to the end of the song. Then he reached up, and closed Nguyen's sightless eyes.

Sonny was tracing patterns in the dirt with a fingertip reddened by blood. "I don't wanna just leave 'im, TC. I wanna bury 'im."

"All right."

The Dude touched my arm. "TC," he said quietly, and motioned with his chin.

We had an audience. A dozen of the Dead were standing around us. Each had their helmets in their hands. A rail-thin sergeant with crisscrossed scars covering his bare arms raised his hand, like a schoolboy asking permission to speak.

"Back in the world I was a lay preacher. We'll bury him, if that's okay?" A couple of his men were kicking the dirt, trying not to look sorrowful, and failing.

"Sure. Thanks." I looked to The Dude and Sonny. "Mount up, guys, we're done here."

And I had a letter to write.

Your Dying Spouse 57 - In-laws and Outlaws

We're linked with Wedded Wednesday at the wonderful Messy Marriage site - check it out for great marriage resources!

"It's your fault that my child is sick! Your (fill in the blank) caused this illness, and you're not taking good enough care of her/him!"

Yes, some in-laws really do say that when your husband or wife - their child, whom you wooed away from the family's safe embrace - develops a serious or life-threatening illness.

And if they don't say it...many think it.

Thankfully, there are also many in-laws who are nothing but supportive, and who provide both practical assistance and an emotional refuge for the caregiving spouse. My father-in-law and my late mother-in-law were absolute bricks; wonderful, caring people who knew the right things to do before we knew we needed them. (If you are also blessed in this way, won't you share your story in the comments?)

But for the rest of the world, it can seem like a cross between the Alamo, the Spanish Inquisition, and the Jerry Springer Show.

You're doing your best, and you're second-guessed at every turn.

You're exhausted but still have to face in-depth interrogation from 'concerned' family members.

"We're her family, after all...we know her." Oh, really? She left home for college at eighteen, and we've been married for twenty-four years, and she sees you around three times a year...well, so obviously I don't know her better. Sheesh.

Yourlifestyle is called into question..."Those late hours you keep, trying to get ahead of everyone at work...I could see how much strain that caused for our poor child, having to keep your dinner warm until nine or ten some nights!"

"I told you you shouldn't get a dog. Our boy was allergic to cats when he was a child. That's why we never had pets."

As you can see, both courtesy and logic will be shown the door. Respect for privacy was never admitted in the first place.

So, what to do? (No, you can't have them deported.)

The most important part of dealing with a difficult family is to present a united front. You speak for your husband; he speaks for you. You support one another's decisions in public, even if privately you think they're wrong. A visible disagreement leaves a gap into which a verbal and moral wedge can be driven, splitting you apart...and believe me, there are families that would love to take that opportunity, terminal illness or no.

Second, don't over-share. We live an an age of information overload, and it's made many of us accustomed to sharing details of our life that we would have kept private twenty years ago.  Unless there's a reason to know the details of treatment, there is no reason for someone outside your marriage to be 'kept up-to-date'.

There are exceptions; a change in prognosis, or a treatment that will result in visible effects (like chemotherapy or radiation, or...obviously...surgery) is an appropriate piece of information to share...but be clear that you're not putting it out for debate.

Encourage visits, but don't have an open-door policy. You may one day need the help of even difficult relatives, and need it badly. You don't want to drive them away; they're not the enemy, and they do have love for your spouse, their child or sibling, even if their way of showing it grates on your nerves.

Be compassionate. You're not the only one who's losing someone. Their knowing that they can and should only be at some remove merely makes it harder for them.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 56 - To Avoid Going Mad...

Being a caregiver will eat you alive, if you let it...and not to let it, you've got to be proactive.

Your terminally ill mate will probably want to stay in the workforce as long as possible, and you should encourage this.

Dying is above all demeaning; the process of a slow death takes away so many of the things that give us self-respect and a feeling of self worth (and the right kind of pride) that anything one can do to combat or at least delay the process is helpful.

But one day, he or she will be home for good...and you will become the primary social contact, and the sole-source for physical and emotional care.

It's natural, and expected...I mean, you didn't marry not to be the support when the "or worse" part of the vow comes to call, right?

But it's still hard, and it's draining. You may literally have someone following you around the house while you're doing chores, or insisting on going to the store with you when yo'd always shopped for groceries and clothing alone.

And you'll want to scream. Not because he or she is unpleasant, You'll want to scream because they're always there, and there are times when all of us need privacy; shopping or vacuuming alone is where we build it in.

To be blunt, they're trespassing on the parts of life that are subconsciously staked out as yours,

You can't diplomatically turn them away without hurting feelings, sometimes quite badly. But what you can do is encourage other activities that will provide a form of respite care that will benefit your spouse, and will benefit you.

The simplest way to do this is to simply encourage interests (within reason). If your husband picks up a magazine on fly-fishing, and allows how he might like to learn to tie flies, don't denigrate it, even if you loathe both fishing and fish. It's a cheap hobby, and even if he can no longer go out to fish himself he can develop[ friendships with people who do...and maybe he can supply them with custom-tied flies.

It will keep his head 'in the game' that much longer, and keep him connected with the world. All for the cost of fishhooks, twine, feathers, and some small tools.

A pet can help, too. Perhaps you've been too busy to get a dog, but your wife grew up with them...and now she's more homebound than not.

The house gets awfully lonely when you're the only one there, and you can't leave. I know; thatis where I am today.

The sound of canine footsteps, the happy bark, even the "Uh, Rufus? Don't lift your leg...uh, there...oh, crap" add life to the world.

And little (or big) Rufus will take the burden into his furry shoulders. (Yes, we have a Rufus; he's a Jack Russell.)

It's easy to fall into dependency, and hard to crawl back out. With a little bit of thought and foresight, you can improve quality-of-life for both your spouse and yourself.

And who knows? You may decide to take up fly-fishing...accompanied to the stream by..."Uh, Rufus? No, please, don't eat the fis...oh, well. More where that one came from, I reckon."

We're linked to Inspire Me Monday and Wedded Wednesday.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 55 - Still the Same, and Not {FMF}

Five Minute Friday again, hosted by Kate Motaung, and the keyword is SAME.

Also linked to Wedded Wednesdays at Messy Marriage.


As I write this, I do not know how to go on. Pain's reached a level where the day is turning into a series of snapshots, artillery illuminating a dark landscape, occasional words cutting through static on my headset, Flares dropped from a circling helicopter.

Muzzle flashes, and tracer's probing fingers in the night.

I still have the same hopes, the same dreams. I'm not so different from you. I'm not pried completely away from life.

Not yet.

But the defenses are starting to fold, and I have to find a way to shore them up, and keep going. I have not the same strength I had.

Something's broken.

I need breathing space, a time to heal, a place to bind wounds and catch breath.

The same dreams are there, and I want to go on. I have to go on. I don't want to lose me.

But I can't stop the pain. In tears - it hurts.

And so, God, you've got to pick me up. You, and the arms and hearts that make up Your body in this world.

You've got to carry me through this dread field of steel rain, to where I can rest in defilade again.

To be the same. To still be me.

Is that too much to ask?



This was not easy. None of it is.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Headlights - #BlogBattle

Here's our entry for this week's #BlogBattle, hosted by the gracious and lovely Rachael Ritchey.

The keyword is HEAD.

Here we go...


Another muggy day in Viet Nam, but the discomfort was dispelled somewhat by the fact that, in the interest of crew cross-training, Sonny was driving. His throttle foot didn't seem to have any intermediate settings between off and full, so we were getting a nice breeze, and setting a new M48 land speed record.

A VW could easily outpace us, but a VW doesn't weigh 50 tons, so it felt pretty good.

We were on the return leg of a scissors sweep; we'd be met by the New Guy Tank, outbound, at the hinge, halfway home. The thick air didn't keep down the dust, but it sure made it stick to us, and the dust being a reddish-ochre, it made us look like the Mechanized Sioux. Watch out, Custer!

The Dude was sitting on the edge of the loader's hatch, Sonny's usual travel perch. It too loud to talk, but he suddenly grabbed my shoulder and pointed behind me.

A grunt platoon was clustered on the far side of a paddy field, by a deserted ville, but one of the yokels was splashing toward through the young shoots and water and nightsoil, waving and shouting.

"Driver, halt," I said into the mike, but Sonny was ahead of me, and was already slowing the tank and easing it toward the side of the road.

"I'll see what he wants, TC." The Dude vaulted part me, direct from the turret roof to the ground. Eleven feet.I was impressed.

Over the idling engine I heard snatches of conversation, and then The Dude's voice, high-pitch in horror. "He's got a leech WHERE???"

He turned to look at me, eyes wide, and an unusual procession set out toward us from the ville, bearing a figure aloft. The figure was naked from the waist down, and its legs were spread wide.

The Dude ran back to the tank, and climbed up. To my question, he nodded, and said, "Yeah, TC. Half in, half out."

"Ugh." I shuddered.

"Well, that's not the worst of it. He tried to smear bug juice on it, but that didn't work. No one had a dry cigarette, so they thought C4 would work instead." You can boil a cup of water in about thirty seconds by setting a tiny piece of C4 alight, It won't blow up; it needs a detonator to do that. Well, usually.

I nodded. "That may not have been the best thing to do."

"No, TC, it wasn't. The C4 lit off the bug juice, and burned him pretty well, while the leech went pretty much the only place it could to get away. This kid's got to go to BAS; they've got a surgeon waiting."

The patient was being gently slid onto the front-right fender. The headlights had long-since been ripped away by something long-forgotten,, so the fender was actually a pretty good place to carry him. Even though the kid was heavily doped, he was holding his legs wide apart. The affected area was several shades of red, ranging from claret to scarlet.

Sonny was watching from the driver's hatch. "Why don y'all put 'im ass-fahwahd? Get some ahr cundishunin whar he done need it?"

"Makes sense," I said. The grunt LT had come up to the tank, and when I looked at him, he nodded.

"You can't get him down the turret, I'd imagine." He spoke with the patrician tones of Harvard Yard; it was kind of a treat to the ears.

"No, sir," I said "I wouldn't even want to try. Would you?" I just wanted to hear him talk again; after months of boonie rap, it was a cool glass of water miraculously appearing in the Sahara.

"No, sergeant, I find that I agree with you. I'd rahthah you keep him on the fender. I'll detail one of my boys to help hold him in place." He waved a young PFC forward, and boosted the boy onto the tank. "There you go, son. Hold a place for us at the bar, won't you?" 

He nodded to me, and the rest of his men followed him back across the paddy.

The PFC looked around nervously. "I ain't not ever never been on a tank before, sir...what do you want me to do?"

"I'm not a sir," I replied.

"He hasn't been knighted yet," said The Dude, "But I have. You can call me Sir."

The PFC's eyes were wide. "Uh, ok...sir."

Sir Dude continued, "Just make sure he doesn't slide down the front of the tank, or get dumped over the side. If he does he'll get hung up in the sprockets, and that's a real mess to clean up."

The PFC gulped, and nodded. He was very young. He had to learn fast, that life was cheap here, and death was always worth a laugh. He sat down next to his...well, not wounded, but very unwell friend, and I told Sonny to start off again...but not like he was trying for a 0-60 record. We couldn't do much over 45, anyway. On pavement.

The start was surprisingly gentle, and we'd gone about a mile, almost within sight of the hinge where we'd meet New Guy Tank, when The Sir Dude had an idea. "TC," he said. "want to play with the New Guys' heads?"

The return sweep was like going downhill, and I was happy. "Sure."

"You know the meurochrome in the aid kit..."

Within a few minutes we had a mildly protesting but giggling Biff reddened and emplaced on the left fender.  The Dude jumped off the glacis, rad a few yards, then turned around. 'Beautiful! Red headlights!"

The PFC said, "Y'all tankers are crazy. Y'all know that?" But he was smiling, too. Leech Guy was in Morphia's warm embrace, and couldn't know of the extent of his participation in our little joke, so The Dude got his beloved Leica out and took a few pictures, to be mailed to Leech Guy's parents, for them to hold for his return. We prided ourselves on our considerate nature.

The timing was perfect. We were underway again, Biff holding tight, when New Guy Tank came into view.

"Driver, slow down, let's give them the best show in town."

I could see New Guy TC glassing us with his binocs. The Dude took ours and glassed him in return.

Then he said to me in a n ominously casual tone, "TC, I think that's the Boss."

The figure in the commander's cupola still had the binocs to his eyes, and as the distance closed I could see he was eyeing our new accessories.Then he lowered the glasses, and yeah, it was the company CO.

The Boss had taken one of his rare jaunts outside the wire; he didn't like to go far, because the corncob that nature had apparently placed up the chuff made travel difficult.

There was a rumour that he'd smiled once, at the end of Old Yeller. I expected him to stop us, and perhaps shoot us pour l'encouragement les autres

But no. The New Guy Tank glided past us on the left, gleaming through its coat of road-dust, Biff waved to The Boss; the occupant of the gunner's hatch had dropped down, to save his innocent eyes from the sight.

The Boss turned his head as we passed, and I turned mine, maintaining the eye contact that made me feel like a tiger's next meal.

And then the New Guy Tank stopped. The Boss disappeared into the turret, no doubt to bring out the hand weapons, and perhaps some light line to use to bind us.

"Driver, halt." Sonny eased us to a stop, and we waited in guilty stasis.

The Boss re-emerged from the commander's cupola, and looked at us sternly. No smile, no mercy in his eyes. A recruiting-poster Marine officer.

And then with a flourish, he turned, dropped his pants, and bent over to grab his ankles.

Apparently they had meurochrome too.

And a toothbrush...for his wide and inverted grin was scarlet as well.

Your Dying Spouse 54 - Strong and Fragile

We're linked with Messy Marriage's Wedded Wednesday, and 3D Lessons for Life.

Consider, oh caregiving spouse, the robin's egg.

A lovely shade of blue (and a Crayola colour1), the robin's egg is strong enough to carry a small and vulnerable life, but fragile enough for that new life to emerge.

There's a lesson here, and the lesson is for you.

You have to build an enormous strength to survive your spouse's Long Goodbye; there's no question about that. You have to carry your own emotions, and theirs, and deflect the assaults of your peace of mind - both unthinking and deliberate.

"Wow, you really don't get out much any more, do you?" Kind of hard to do when you're emptying bedpans.

"You mean you haven't seen the latest Hunger Games film?" No, but I've seen lots of x-ray films, and as horror stories, they're worse.

You've got to be tougher than Rambo, and less pervious to insult and injury than the Terminator.

But those can't define you, because one day the ordeal will end, and you'll have to be fragile.

There will be a new life opening within you, a small spark of hope that you may not want to recognize for a long time.

Nonetheless, it will be there, because the Lord promised that the Son would rise.

You can nurture this gentle murmur of the Almighty...simply by being open, being vulnerable. Being the egg that bore its burden, and can now crack.

How? You may well ask. You've crawled through your heart's Armageddon. How to you cradle a thin green shoot of grass? How do you protect a nestling?

It's hard, and it's simple.

There's only one step.

When you feel a smile coming, after the thundering tragedy, you'll resist it...out of misplaced respect (would he or she want you to frown forever?), but also out of fear.

Because the smile, when you let it come, the first few times, the first few hundred times, will be followed by welling tears, and choking sobs.

Let them tears come, because they are the lubricant for your eyes...without them, blinking would be painful.

They are the prerequisite to vision.

The vision of your journey, from heartache through steel strength through fragility and brokenness...and out to life, once again.

I can't be there with you. But I want to know that you can smile again.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 53 - Say Yes to Drugs?

Being a caregiver in this most stressful of situations is probably the hardest challenge you'll face during your lifetime. Caring for the person you love most while he or she is fading from this life is not only physically difficult, it's a constant emotional wrench that affects you in ways you may never have imagined.

It' two long a list for five minutes, but this road can raise your blood pressure, reduce the effectiveness of your immune system, make your appetite vanish (or the opposite - comfort foods got that name for a reason), keep you from sleeping (or lure you to escape in sleep), and cause a very understandable degree of depression and anxiety.

You're surrounded, and you may find yourself fighting on all fronts.

You may need help to come through this in the best shape possible. Pharmaceutical help.


Many people - and I am one of them - hate the idea. It' feels like admitting a weakness, to take medication. And we may have a valid dislike of the side-effects...when you stop taking narcotics, withdrawal is horrible.

And you may be afraid of addiction.

On the other hand, when you break a leg, you need a crutch. And terminal illness in your mate or yourself is way worse than a broken leg. Long-term stress can really damage your long-term health.

It comes down to you, as an individual, but here are my thoughts. I am assuming thatyou are working with a doctor or counselor who's got prescription privileges.

  • FIRST, do NOT self-medicate. Alcohol is not something you can turn to under stress, and if you're worried about addiction, it's the most addictive substance out there. If you drink wine with dinner, you may be tempted to have just a little more, to calm you down. That can be an easy start to a bad road.
  • It should be obvious...but illegal and quasi-legal drugs are also a terrible idea. Marijuana is legal in some states, and legal for prescription in others; your spouse may well have it under prescription, for pain. Don't 'borrow' it, and don't find your own supplier. It's not harmless to begin with. It can impair judgement in the long-term, and the strength and quality can vary widely.  DOn't go there...and obviously, none of the hard drugs under any circumstances.
  • If you're blood pressure's up, accept what your doctor prescribes (if you can tolerate it). Hypertension, over time, can cause severe kidney damage (among other things), and that would be a nasty legacy of your caregiving days. You may be able to find a combination of lifestyle factors you can use (change of diet and meditation) to reduce or even eliminate the meds.
  • Antidepressants can be very helpful in pulling you through the down days, and helping you avoid making bad decisions in while in the grip of sadness. The depression, in this case, is probably situational, and it will lift at some time after your spouse's death. It sounds cold, but while we carry sadness to the grave, Situational depression's a temporary phenomenon. It goes away over time. (Obviously, if you  have clinical depression, caregiving can make it much worse, and you need to be monitored more frequently than usual.)
  • The anxiety engendered by are giving can make life miserable...and it can lead to a depression that's hard to shake. There's not a bit shame attached to taking medication that will help you keep an emotionally even keel.
The important thing is to let your doctor or counselor know what is going on, and how you're coping; and if medicine's prescribed, give it a chance.

Yes, this will make you a more effective caregiver, but even more important is the care you give yourself.

You are important. Your health is important.
And the happiness you may yet find in life is important.


What do you think? We're often described as an over-prescribed society, but there seem to be areas in which an aggressive approach with medication is helpful, and needed.

We're linking with Inspire Me Monday and Testimony Tuesday.
We're also linked with Messy Marriage's Wedded Wednesday.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 52 - I Want to Live {FMF}

Time for another Five Minute Friday, the timed and keyword themed writing challenge, hosted by the gracious Kate Motaung.

The keyword this week is YES.

(We're also linked to Lisha Epperson's Give Me Grace and with Messy Marriage's Wedded Wednesday.)


Yes. I want to live.

The past weeks have been difficult, more painful than I could have imagined, and frightening. The pain in my midsection (along the lower margin of the ribs, and in the back, on the right side) feels like I've been chainsawed. Straightening up is hard. Walking is an ordeal - every step with my right foot sends a spear up the leg into my gut.

Eating is a chore. I have to get the calories in, and hydrate. It hurts to eat, but allowing myself the luxury of eating as much as I think I can just starts me down a slope that' can't be climbed again. I have to hydrate, one sip at a time. The calories are counted - I've got to reach a certain intake...

...and maintain the activity level to burn those, and keep my body as fit as I can.

And sleep - the literal stuff of nightmares. The dawn is so welcome!

And that's why, YES, I want to live.

The dawn brings hope. Not the false hope that this will all go away, but the hope that I can transcend this vale of tears, and still do something useful.

Most of the dreams I had are fading. I'm not going to be a successful and renowned author...but I do have one published novel,Blessed Are The Pure Of Heart, and I'm proud of it. Readers like it. So do I.

I'm not going to finish my airplane-building project...but every day I can still do something small, because meaning is, in the end, found in living the process.

Our marriage is not what I hoped it would be, now...Barbara has to help me bathe, and help me dress. She is always wondering, when she leaves for work...will I be alive when she gets home?

And sometimes I'm in so much pain that she wishes God would take me, so I wouldn't have to suffer any more. I understand that. I know the value - and please don't ask for details - of the coup de grace.

But I love her, and she loves me, and sometimes we can share a small joke, or a squeeze of the shoulders that counts for a hug. It hurts too much to hug her properly. But one does what one can.

I like the smell of her hair, and the way the morning and evening lights make her eyes sparkle.

And YES, I still want to live. I want to see the sun rise, and feel its warmth. I want to sit amidst the dogs, and let them play around me - and they're very careful not to hurt me - they know.

I want to read a good book, and see a movie that challenges me to keep going, to look for meaning on those dark days when all seems lost.

And I want to be here. I want to tell you all that this life is worthwhile in the details, even when the big picture is darkening.

That it isn't about what you experience, what you get out of it.

Life is about what you give from where you are.

I'm giving everything I have now.


Honesty is hard. It is also required.

There was a song running through my head while I wrote this - Enya's "Book of Days".
Here's the Youtube link, if you care to give it a listen