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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 76 - Heart Like Bacon {FMF}

Time for Five Minute Friday, the timed keyword-driven writing challenge hosted by the inimitable Kate Motaung. (We're also linked to Still Saturday. Wedded Wednesday, and Weekend Whispers.)

This weeks' word is BACON.


When someone gets in the way of a flamethower, they're called crispy critters, or bacon.

The last couple of weeks, I walked into a spiritual flamethrower, and I'm fried.

A few hours after writing last weeks FMF post, I stopped breathing for a bit. It was terrifying; I was fully aware of what was happening.

Sylvia, the canine 'face; of this blog, came to the rescue, jumping up and down on my chest and yelling in my face. Canine CPR, and it worked. I'm shaky, but I'm still here.

That was the easy bit.

There was a very personal hit as well, from someone quite close; a very important relationship changed irrevocably (though it will continue), and I was left holding and empty box of future, and memories now condemned.

You're terminally ill, and some things you simply don't expect.

I walked outside after the moment of knowing, and while the sun was still shining, everything had dimmed. I was in the depths of a despair I have never known.

And I felt...taller.

In the dread transcendence, there was a challenge.

I could surrender to sorrow and bitterness, or I could play the man. I could rail against fate, or I could wear the stiff upper lip of my forefathers, and carry on with my duties with a smile and a courteous mien.

It doesn't matter that your insides have been torched. What you give the world is everything.

This is a process, and one I certainly would not have chosen...but in its arrival, I will, in every moment, try to act as a gentleman should, with forthright good humour, and the mildness demanded by good manners.

My morale is at the lowest point it has ever been; no matter. What matter now, and what vitally matters, is what I choose to do in every moment.

And I choose to play the man. To the end; not the bitter end, not the glorious end, but simply to the end.


I ask you patience...I truly )especially now!) appreciate your comments, but I'm finding it difficult to answer quickly, and I have not visited as many of you as I would have liked. Please forgive that omission; I care about you guys, and I am doing the best I can.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Where Lurks Meaning - #BlogBattle

We're back with Rachael Ritchey and #BlogBattle, the weekly keyword-driven flash-fiction contest. (We're also linked with Coffee and Conversation and Wedded Wednesday.)

The word this week is LURK.

This story is a continuation of "The Distance Between Hearts"; you may want to drop by there first.

Where Lurks Meaning

Slow time. The 155s were firing desultory H&I, and off in the distance a flareship was interrupting Charlie's sleep with Bright burning magnesium. And we had a deck on which to relax, and enjoy. Well, the louvered plates over the engine. Sonny had the headphones, and Biff was reading The Cost of Discipleship.

"Gonna write her, TC?"

"Dude?" I feigned dawning wakefulness. I knew what he meant.

"Charlie's wife. Marie. I think you should."

"I may be a lifer, but I didn't mean Leavenworth." Sending a letter to a Hanoi address wasn't a particular enhancement to my career.

"You're not a lifer. We're going to Israel. And you won't go to Leavenworth."

"Dude, I am SO comforted by your confidence."

"You should be. It's all arranged."

I sighed. This was one man you didn't second-guess. "Go on."

"I talked to the chaplain, and he's got a friend here, a French priest. And the priest knows people...you write a letter, it goes by diplomatic bag."

"With my name on it. Nice."

"No," said The Dude patiently, "with my name on it."


"I'm your shield, TC. You dictate to me, and it'll be in my own handwriting, in French."

"You speak French?" The Dude already spoke Vietnamese, but a polylingual tank driver seemed too much.

"Not well, but I can write it." The Dude paused. "Accurately."

"So you'll go to Leavenworth, and not me..." I was going to say more, but The Dude waved his hand to cut me off.

"I've been there."

Sonny had been listening, one ear uncovered. "Whad y'all do?"

"Something I wasn't supposed to do."

Sonny was nothing if not perceptive. "Ah," he said, and went back to the original subject. "I think y'all otter writer too, TC."

I shook my head. "What am I going to say? I mean, Dude, if you're so set on my writing, why don't you write?"

Sonny spoke for him. "It's y'all's job, TC. It done goes with th' strahpes."

The Dude said, idly, "Know what else has three stripes, TC?"


"A skunk."

"Dude I have no idea what you mean by that."

"Nothing. But Sonny's raht...uh, right, TC. It';s your job." Sonny tossed him a message pad. "Ready when you are."

Biff had been dragged away from Bonhoeffer, and was perched on the turret. Great. A full audience.

"Well...Dude, what do I say?"

"How about bonjour? That's a good way to start."


The Dude looked at Sonny and Biff. "Guys?"

Biff spoke first. "Just tell her what happened, TC."

So I did. I dictated a letter that told Marie I was sorry I couldn't identify myself, but that I was with her husband Nguyen when he died, and that he was thinking of her. I told her he had fought bravely, and that I regretted that we had to be enemies in this war, as I thought I might have liked him as a friend.

The last line was kind of a flight of fancy, but it might make her feel better.

"OK." The Dude slipped his pencil into a chest pocket. "I'll put this on plain stationery, and send it on its way." He sidled around the turret, and dropped into the driver's hatch.

"Think she'll get it, TC?" asked Biff.

""Well, The Dude says she will."

Sonny nodded vigorously. "Yeah. The Dude says done, yeah, done."


The last thing I expected was an answer, but here, two weeks later, came The Dude, walking quickly from the hootch the chaplain shared with the dentist.He was waving an envelope, and from his animation I knew it had to be from Hanoi.

There was an odd flutter in my chest.

"Gonna read it to us, TC?" asked Sonny.

"Please?" Biff put up his hands in a praying gesture.

The Dude handed me the envelope, which wasn't sealed. I looked at him, and he shrugged. "Sure." I said. "Why not."

"It's in English," said The Dude. "Well, most of it."

The paper was scented, and I held it to my nose for a moment, eyes shut. When I opened them, Sonny's hand was outstretched. "Givvit here, TC."

I handed it across. He inhaled deeply, then passed it to Biff, who took a sniff and softly said, "Mom."

The Dude retrieved the letter and handed it to me. "Go ahead."

"Cher Monsieur,

"Please be accepting of the gratitude I am feeling on receipt of your letter. While I am grieved that my dear Nguyen is killed, I am grateful to God that someone was with him at the end. May I say that you were a friend to him?

"No one should die in loneliness, and in saving Nguyen from this I think and pray that God will protect you. I hope that your survival will be assured.

"I am enclosing a picture of myself in our garden. You may have it for your own, for I have another. Nguyen loved the flowers, and wanted to grow them for the decorations, but the war came, and there has been little time for flowers.

"I am again grateful for this opportunity to write to you this letter. If you would care to write to me once and again, may I say that it would be pleasing?

?Bien amicalement,


"Dude, take the radio," said Sonny. "I gotta take a dump." He jumped straight from the turret to the ground, a long way, and walked heavily into the night, at an angle away from the latrine trench.

The picture Marie had sent was small, and black and white, and it showed her standing amidst a spray of flowers. Her head was tiled back, and her mouth was slightly open, as if she was about to laugh at something the photographer had just said. I wondered if the photographer had been that North Vietnamese soldier to whose exsanguination I had borne witness.

Of course it was. Love isn't hidden by the small size of the image, or the shades of white and gray.

Sonny returned, still from the wrong direction. The Dude lent him a hand to pull him onto the deck.

Sonny stumbled a little, and wiped his eyes, and then said, "TC, could y'all read it agin?"

Wondering at the depths my loader might have, I said, "Sure," and read.

When I got to the end, Sonny was looking off into the distance. The flareship was still up and now Puff was circling something on the ground, hosing tracer like the wrathful finger of God. His old piston engines were lost in the distant cloth-tearing sound of the miniguns in the old airliner's windows.

"Well, TC, ah knows wha 'we's'all heah, now. Now ah gits it."


"We's heah to make th' world a kinda place where nahce ladies lahk that ain't gotta write them kinda letters."


He looked at me, and now the unexpected tears fell, and I would never tell a soul. "Ya really think, TC? Someday?"

"Someday, Sonny. Yes."

Your Dying Spouse 75 - Simple Gifts

We're  linked with Messy Marriage's Wedded Wednesday/

Little things mean a lot, or so goes the song from the 1950s.

Well, they do.

For someone who's terminally ill, a small, thoughtful gift can truly brighten a day. Two examples...

My sunglasses had a cracked lens, The crack wasn't in my line of sight, but I had to be very careful putting them on when I went outside.

So the other day, Barbara brought home a new pair of sunglasses. Not Oakley shooting glasses, mind you...just Wal-Mart's finest.

But they may have been Oakleys for the pleasure they gave. It was the thought that counted.

Second thing...she'd had to go into town early on a Saturday morning, and brought back some McDonald's hash browns, from the breakfast menu. One of the few things that I can still eat.

The point here isn't the grand gesture, the symbolic presentation, the five-foot-tall teddy bear festooned with hearts and flowers. It's the small thing that one might want or need...and can no longer obtain for oneself.

Goes both ways, though. The terminal husband or wife can make sure that their caregiving spouse gets small gifts too...mainly, the gift of respite.

Dying's a lonely business, and when in that tunnel, most of us want company, and the company we want is usually the person we love the most.

But for that spouse whose presence is in demand, it really sucks.

A big part of the reason it's hard is that the caregiving spouse has to live a dichotomy; engagement with the vibrant, active world, and engagement with tragedy unfolding. The two sides are terribly polarized; the perspectives have little common ground.

And the caregiver's stuck in the middle.

You need respite time, and your spouse can grant you this by saying. "Hey...I'll be OK. Go to a movie, go to Starbuck, get yourself a really nice lunch. Go bowling!"

In other words...Go, without me. Go, and take the time to breathe..

When you're dying, it might be one of the last - and best - gifts you can leave.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 74 - Surrender

We're linked with Messy Marriage's Wedded Wednesday/

Note to caregivers...your spouse may be kind of like the person described below. Adversity does weird things to people.

Recently I heard a TV preacher telling her congregation to raise their hands in a gesture of surrender to God. She said we should be soft.

I turned the channel, because I never learned how to surrender, and I am certainly not about to start learning now. And I am the hardest individual you might hope never to meet.

This may sound like defiance toward the Almighty, about a stiff-necked sort of pride that stands between me and God.

Not the case.

I'm terminally ill, and I accept that. I accept that it is part of God's plan, at least to the point of it being an unfortunate operational necessity. Terminal illness is an artifact of a world in which free will is operative. The things that give us the ability to choose God also make disease and pain a part of our lives.

God is my CO; and He may well send me to my death, if that is a mission which he believes is worth that cost. he will not do it without sorrow, or without the reassurance that He has given me the resources to bear the assigned burden.

It's just that I may not survive, that's all. And that's OK. He gives the orders, I carry them out. Period. Chain of command.

And that's where surrender goes out the window. We're on the same side. You don';t surrender to HQ!

If I'm truly Jesus' brother, and God's son, I don't have to 'surrender' to them. They outrank me; I do the best I can to follow orders.

And I don't surrender to illness. The days have gone much darker, but the harder it gets, the harder I push myself. I may lose, but this malignant thing is going to die with me. Little joke there. Kind of.

And so, softness...what's that?

I'm a hard person. I'm ruthless with myself. Pain hurts, yes, vomiting is unpleasant, and incontinence is humiliating, but so what? I have the same 24 hours, and it may be tougher to get things done...but if I don't do that which I think is important, who will?

I can be 'nice' to myself, and watch passing the time I could have used, or I can kick myself in the butt, wipe up the vomit, and keep going.

I try not to do it, but I do kick other butts as well. Ruthlessness begins at home.

And at the end of the day, I'm glad I didn't surrender. And I'm glad I was not soft.

And when I meet God and Jesus I'll salute, but I won't look away. And they had best not look away either.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 73 - A Fierce Joy {FMF}

Back again with Kate Motaung's Five Minute Friday, the timed keyword-inspired writing challenge.

We're also linked with Messy Marriage's Wedded Wednesday/

This week's word is JOY.


Every time I think things can't get worse, they do. Realizing that you need to get to the bathroom, and all you can do is crawl...and you don't make it...what do you call that?

Living the dream.

I'm living the dream because, please, fellow Brits (by way of Mongolia), pardon me...I AM STILL BLOODY HERE.

This hasn't knocked me off yet, and with the pain, and the humiliation (both physical and in regard to some relationships, I am beating this.

Because I am still alive, and I am still looking forward to tomorrow.

Sure, today was kind of lost to anything but just maintaining position. I wasn't able to do more than take care of the dogs and watch a couple of DVDs as reference to writing projects.

But I am looking forward to a better tomorrow. Cancer, you can't take that away from me!

And there is joy in this fight.

My main allies on the spot are dogs; better than people, they are closer to blood and bone. They get it.

And this is a fight of blood and bone. I have to talk my way through everything I do..."Okay, just do this...and now do that..."

One step at a time.

And there is joy in this. There is joy in kicking this illness in the face, by finding life to be something worthwhile.

There is joy in sharing this, that a death sentence can be something to be celebrated (as long as you have to be there) because you can witness to life's value, and not waste time in stupid sentimental pathos.

"Oh, poor me, I'm going to DIE-eee!"

Pardon me again, but the veriest HELL with that sort of rubbish.

I am going to enjoy this fight. I am enjoying it.



"We are in the place of honour, and we must accept it."
Squadron Leader Philip Hunter, 264 Sdrn. RAF, shortly before he was killed in the Battle of Britain

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Gods of War - #BlogBattle

Time for this week's keyword-driven flash fiction contest, hosted by Rachael Ritchey.

Today's keyword is Mars.

We're also linked with Messy Marriage's Wedded Wednesday/

(A note to the reader - it was not uncommon at the time for Vietnamese men who were close friends to hold hands; it didn't imply homosexuality.)

God of War

Another day, another road sweep, but this one was special, because the Ruff Puffs were coming out to play.

The Regional Force / Popular Force guys had a great reputation for a gentle, peace-loving nature. Unfortunately, their job was to kill Charlie.

They were sure interesting, though.  A patrol with them might mean that some chickens and pigs were coming along, and the guys toted the weirdest variety of weapons outside a museum. From old Nazi MG34s to BARs to Swedish Ks to machetes...these guys had it all. Sometimes they brought along ammunition, too.

And some of them patrolled holding hands.

It was a short run, one ville to the e next, but the Rome plows hadn't cut back toe bush as far as they'd been told, so we had the Ruff Puffs with us a foot-mobiles. If one tripped and fell into Charlie's spider hole, we knew we had a problem.



"New Guy tanks's running away again."

I sighed. New Guy tank had point, and it must have been Timex driving, because they were slowly creeping ahead of the Ruff Puffs, who were in turn doing a reverse accordion to cluster around Ship of Fools.

I wondered if the two watches Timex wore, one on each wrist, made him afraid that he was going to be late for something.

"You want me to catch up to him?"

"No, the Puffies can't run that fast. I'll see if I can rein him in." The New Guy TC was about to get a tongue-lashing, and I was kind of looking forward to it.

I flipped to the common preset, and was about to tell New Guy TC to get his head out of his...


A B-40 shot out of the bush, hit the turret of the New Guy tank, and shot straight up trailing a cloud of yellow-white smoke.

There was wailing around Ship of Fools, as the Ruff Puffs were reminded that there was a war out there.

New Guy TC and his loader had been in eyeball defilade, hatches cracked and only enough of their heads showing so they could see out.

Now the loaders hatch clanged shut as he made like a prairie dog...but the TC hatch flipped open, and New Guy TC rocketed upward, arms and legs churning. He literally hit the ground running, and ran straight at the place where the B-40 had been launched.

Meanwhile, his tank went barreling down the road, fading into the heat-haze.

If Charlie had been there, I bet he was crapping his pants, seeing a lone American running into the teeth of whatever fire Charles might choose to offer.

But Charles didn't know that his assailant was in a blind panic.

"Dude, stop the tank, and go get that idiot!". The Dude had the fastest feet in the tank, and he levered himself through the hatch and down the glacis and the tank groaned to a halt. Sonny jumped off the turret and disappeared into the driver's hatch. "Up!" he said, putting on The Dude's helmet and mike.

The Dude was going hard, but the idiot had a big lead, and I could see dust starting to kick up from the dead ground they were crossing. "Gunner, traverse right, hit the treeline!"

"TC, we got cannister in the tube!"

Crap. Biff was right. We were shooting too close to our own guys, and we'd shred them. "Get on the coax, and keep Charlie's head down!"

The thrity started hosing tracer, just past where ou boys were running. Biff was controlling the bursts so he didn't burn out the barrel.

The Dude looked back, then dug harder. New Guy Idiot TC was flagging, and as out rounds crossed with Charlie's in the air around them, The Dude tackled our boy and they rolled to the ground in a cloud of dust.

And then the coax stopped. "Coax is down!"

"Clear it!"

"TC, I can't!" There was hammering from inside the turret, and Charlie's volume of fire increased. The Dude and The Idiot were not going anywhere soon. Alive, I mean.

"Crap" was beginning to be a useful descriptor for the day. "Sonny, roll toward them, see if we can't..."


We'd just run over a mine, and the end of a severed track clattered sadly off its idlers.

But I'd forgotten about the Ruff Puffs (forgetting about them had been something of a dream...).

Two skinny Vietnamese ran from behind the left side of the tank. One was carrying an MG34, the other, two boxes of 7.92.

And instead of running away, they made straight for where The Dude and The Idiot had gone to ground.

This was not normal behavior for Ruff Puffs.

They ran past our friends, and went prone on a low earthen berm, really just a little mound. The 34 opened up with its characteristic ripped-fabric sound, and as Charlie's fire slackened, The Dude and The Idiot leapt to their feet...The Dude making sure The Idiot went the right way this time.

They reached Ship of Fools completely winded, and as they climbed up onto the rear deck The Dude said, "Who are those guys?"

"Ruff Puffs." They were still firing, but with a broken tank, how could we help them? Charlie had by now realized that the potentially valuable Americans had eluded his grasp, and all he had now was a Ruff Puff machine-gun team on his doorstep.

We couldn't do anything, and in less than a minute a fast flurry of fire made doing anything unnecessary. The guys on the gun were gone, and Charlie abruptly quit playing, and faded into the trees.

The rest of the Ruff Puffs were using the tank as defilade, and when they saw their guys get creamed...they started crying.

And holding hands.

The Dude was watching them, and abruptly turned away, one hand to his eyes.

Funny. Something got in my eyes, too.

Your Dying Spouse 72 - Taking Over

We're linked with Messy Marriage's "Wedded Wednesday"; please check it out for some great marriage resources

Terminal illness takes away a lot; first, the ability of do anything outside of work, then, the ability to be in the workforce...and finally, it takes the responsibilities that go with a shared life.

And yet, we all need work of some kind. Shakespeare recognized this when he wrote -

"If all the years were playing holidays
to sport would be as tedious as to work."

As a caregiver, one of the best things you can do is to make sure that your terminally ill spouse does have a sphere of responsibility, and 'work'; even if that's relatively minor, it should be something that he or she is expected to do. It might be dishes, or laundry, or paying the bills; but it should be theirs.

Until it can't be.

There will come when it's obvious that you have to take over, but it may not be obvious to your mate, and how do you take the work from his or her hands without crushing the spirit, even more than illness has crushed it?

Gently. Very, very gently.

First...if possible, wait to be asked. It's by far the best way, if your mate asks to be relieved of duties through the self-awareness that things have just gotten too hard.

Second...offer to take over on a one-time basis..."If you're not feeling well today, would you like me to do that for you?" Chances are that if it's more than a one-day loss of energy, you'll end up taking over by default, and it will be something of a relief to your spouse to be able to let go.

Third...trade jobs...hand over something you do that's less critical, in exchange for a must-do that is becoming beyond your loved one's capabilities. You'll know...and they'll know...what's going on. But it provides a way to save face...and saving face is critical. Lose self respect, and you lose the will to live.

Fourth...here is what you must (almost) never, ever say..."You're getting worse, and it looks like I'm going to have to take over."This is a killer, and unless it's something like bill-paying...and your spouse refuses to relinquish it even though critical bills are not being paid on time...this is something of the 'nuclear option'. Its ets a person back, hard.

Unless you can get outside help, eventually everything your spouse did as part of shared responsibility will eventually devolve onto you. Your task is to make that transition as graceful and painless as possible.

For both of you.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 71 - Overwritten

Memories are forever, except when they aren't.

One of the truly nasty things about a terminal illness is that the experiences you're sharing with your dying spouse now will, and I repeat will overwhelm and subsume the happy memories you had of a normal life together.

Medication and bedpans will replace marriage vows and birthdays.

Vomit will cover the memories of vacations. Pardon the bluntness - this is reality.

And you will find that as death approaches, it will be something of a relief, and the shared joys will be as pictures in someone else's family album.

There is a remedy.

Reinforce the good memories.

Talk about them. Watch the videos, spin up the  photo albums, and write things down

Write down the remembered conversations you cherished.

And, again bluntly, write down how you felt about your physical love. It'll feel weird. It'll feel maybe improper.

Just like Solomon's feelings for his Shulamite bride were improper, eh?

I guarantee you this...when you set yourself to that task, when you tell someone who loves you and who is going to die that you are working to preserve the memories of your life together, you will do more good than a passel of preachers.

We all want to be remembered well. We all want to live on in the memories of those we love, as a reminder of happy times.

We don't want to be remembered in the way we died. This isn't a stupid Hallmark movie, where death comes with dignity and violins.

Death is horrible.

Please, guys...if you take one thing from this series, this last best effort I am making, let it be this...


I hope you'll excuse the urgency, and the passion.

You see, we didn't do this. And the good memories...

...are pictures in what feels like someone else's album.

And it can't be fixed.

We're linked with InspireMeMonday and Messy Marriage's Wedded Wednesday.

I treasure your comments - circumstances have made my replies slower than I would like; I hope you'll bear with me.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 70 - Green With Envy {FMF}

Time for Five Minute Friday, the keyword-driven timed writing exercise hosted by Kate Motaung. We're also linked to Wedded Wednesday.

Today's word is GREEN.

That's a tough one. Or maybe not.


Life has gotten a lot harder since we met last Friday. Every time I think , well, it can't get worse, atleast for awhile, it does. Now, it's getting really hard to keep food down, and I'l losing weight. Not a good sign.

Things feel ominous.

On Facebook and in other venues I read of friends whose lives are going well...they take vacations, get promotions, get represented by literary agents, get book contracts...I love to read about it.

And I'm not green with envy. I don't envy them at all.

It's not because "I have compensations". I don't. People who say that a terminal illness is a blessing are, pardon me, idiots. This SUCKS. I do not like incontinence, and my service dogs don't like mandatory baths after I puke blood all over them.

I'm not closer to God. he seems awfully far away at the moment, though I still believe in Him. I don't know His plans; I accept what's happening as part of them.

I'm not envious because envy obviates what good I might have been able to do. To wish a changed situation at the very least wishes the deaths of some of the dogs in my care, because the circumstances that brought them here were a direct result of that illness.

Here are two of them, Josie and Reebok. They were puppies, and a day from being euthanized. The first picture is on their way home for the first time, the second is now.

So others may have the vacations, the contracts, the fun. My life may not look like much, but saving a life isn't wasting your life, is it? (If that sounds familiar, it's from the most recent Rambo movie, a film with an unambiguously Christian message).


And now, if I may, a brief revisit to last week's keyword, TRUST

I had initially thought to do a piece on the trust inherent in my relationship with the Almighty, but the thoughts didn't gel coherently. Now they have.

I trust God, but there's no way I can have an "Abba-daddy-trust" with Him. I'm being bludgeoned to death by disease, and sniped at by annoyance (did I really need a painful eye injury that refuses to heal, right now? Seriously?)

If there's 'good and not evil' coming, I'm not feeling it.

But I still trust Him. But it has to be the trust of a fully-functioning adult. A soldier in the abattoir of the Anzio beachhead in 1944 famously said (and only partly in jest), "Please, come, God. Come yourself; don't send Jesus. This is no place for children."

I get it. What the man was saying was, "Let me be a man to match what You're demanding of me in this place."

And thattrust has to be that of a grown up. Time to put childish things away.

I trust that He created a world in which free will is necessary for us to become beings who could share eternity with Him. He has His angels; apparently they aren't quite making it. He made us because he wants us. And maybe needs us.

And the only way we can reach Him is through an exercise of free will, to choose him, however imperfectly we think our execution of that choice is. If we saw our motivations from His perspective, I think we might be surprised at their basic purity.

And I trust that given the necessity for illness and painful death, I trust Him to give me the strength to try to help make the world a better place while I'm in it, and the intelligence and insight to know what to say.

And the compassion to try to understand what my wife is going through, as she sees her world irrevocably changed and the future she hoped to share with me passing beyond hope.

I would love your thoughts. Please, help me to understand.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Scars Unseen - #BlogBattle

Time for this week's #BlogBattle, the weekly keyword-driven flash fiction contest hosted by the lovely and gracious Rachael Ritchey. We're also linked with Wedded Wednesday.

This week's word is SCAR.

The Scars Unseen

Downtime; Oceanview, and the monsoon. The war was on hiatus by mutual consent. Neither Charlie nor the USMC was inclined to fight a war in physical discomfort. But it was cool enough to wait out the afternoon rain in the tank.

"So what's everyone planning to do when they get out?" Biff was a master of optimism, and the renowned genius of the Unlucky Question. Bad fortune hovered over Viet Nam like a mosquito

"We're not going to get out," I said. "We're part of the landscape. We're just going to repeat the same day forever."

"Ugh." The Dude had been dozing. "Don't scare him, TC. He might run away, and then where would Westmoreland be?"

"Seriously," said Biff. "TC, what about you?"

I had no idea. Surviving the war was enough of a goal. I'd seen what a B-40 could do to a tank. "Accounting. I'll be an accountant."

Dead silence. "Okay," said Biff. "That's kind of hard to imagine."


He looked up. Perhaps the answer to my question was written on the bulkhead. "Well, it's a long way from here. I mean, who would you kill?"

"I'll go into accounts receivable. Pay up, or else."

The Dude shook his head. "You'd be like the dishonest servant, TC."

"The what?" My dander was up. Me, dishonest?

Yeah. Guy Jesus talked about in the Bible. Got found out for skimming, and before he got fired changed the debts that people owed his master. You'd just let people off the hook."

"Says who?" I couldn't think of anything else to say.

"Says me," said The Dude. "Sonny, what about you?"

Sonny had radio watch, but he'd moved one earphone away so he could hear us. "Me?"

"Yes. You."

"Waaalll..." Sonny looked down, and then bit his lip. Clearly, he wanted to go back to the farm, and was trying to hold back nostalgic tears.

"Ah'm fixin to light out for Iz-rah-eel. Gonna join the army. Tanks. They got M48s."

I dropped the cigarette I was nursing, and there was an audible thump when The Dude snapped his head back against the turret bulkhead.

Biff was intrigued and wistful. "Really?"

Sonny shook his head like a bull warding off flies. "Yeah. Ah jest don hold with bullies, an I figgered them Jew-boys got pushed round enough. So ah'm gonna jest lend a hand."

And the Pope is Polish. This was just talk.

"Yeah. It's all arr...uh...urr..."

"Arranged?" asked Biff.

"Yeah. When I DEROS ah ain't gonna DEROS. They's gonna outprocess me heah, and ah'm flahin east till ah get thar. Chaplain's got it ahll fixed up."

I really had to get to know these guys better.

"You okay with all that?" asked Biff. "I mean, you're a...what, Baptist?"

"Yeah, but when ah gets thar I'm gonna get Jewish. Ah mean, ya gotta get wet ta swim. raht?"

This was not a side to Sonny that I had ever expected to hear, and The Dude had gone sheet-white.

"You're going to convert?" Biff didn't close his mouth after speaking.

""Sure, wha not? It's jest a little ol' thang, and Jesus was a Jew-boy, raht?"

The Dude said, "Uh, there are some other things..." Life in a tank was intimate.

Sonny beamed. "Ah know what y'all mean Dude, and it's okay. Jest a little ol' snip, and man, I'm thar...ah'm castrated."

"Umm...Sonny..." said The Dude.

"Wha? It ain't no big deal, ah mean, ah won't even ask fer antiseptic. Don't need ta sleep through it...and besahdes, evr-bady's castrated these days."

"Only if you're married," murmured The Dude.

Unfortunately, Biff had just taken a sip of Coke. I handed him a rag.

"You're serious?" asked The Dude. "Seriously, now."

"More serious then a dead hawg in the sunshahn."

The Dude opened his eyes wide at the metaphor, and then closed them tight, hoping it would go away. "And I was going back to the seminary," he said.

"Whattaya mean?" Sonny was perplexed. "Y'all kin go to the cemetery."

"And who's going to drive your tank?" 

Biff paused in his cleaning duties. "I always wanted to go to Israel, but I didn't really know anyone there..."

Oh, great. Our Kentucky Pied Piper was working some sort of magic.

"Uh, TC?"

I sighed. "Sonny?"

"Mebbe they'll let us-all crew up together?"

"Aren't you guys tired of getting shot at? And c'mon...Israel's hot."



"It's a dry heat."

Your Dying Spouse 69 - Free Kisses!

We're linked with Massy Marriage's Wedded Wednesday - please visit them for some great marriage resources.

It's very easy to isolate a dying spouse through the best of intentions

Terminal illness hurts. Your skin hurts, your muscles hurt, movement hurts.

And you don't want to cause more pain, so you withdraw, just a little.

And then a little more. Soon hugs are A-frames, and kisses are quick and fleeting. Like having to kiss a not-so-favourite uncle at a reunion, when you were a kid.

You don't want this...but as a caregiver, you shrink from causing more pain, and in that action cause more than you can possibly know.

Dying is a lonely business. Yes, I know, we should feel the presence of Jesus, and if we don't we're not trying hard enough...I've gotten that message, and it's rubbish. It addresses only half of the question.

Faith is one thing...and as that one thing, it's a great comfort.

But I'm not a purely spiritual creature yet, and it would be nice to have an arm around me.

Having to ask, every time...."Please put your arm around me!"...it sounds kind of bad. Asking for charity.

I don't need charity. I need love.

Even if it hurts.

(Many thanks to Survivor the Rottweiler for agreeing to help provide the graphic. Though the picture doesn't show it, he weighs in a something over 150 lbs. He is the most lovably good-natured goof I have ever met.)

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 68 - Conversations

We're with Inspire Me Monday, today. Please visit them! We are also linked with Wedded Wednesday.

Well, what should we talk about now?

As a terminal illness takes its toll, and the situation becomes obvious to the most obdurate Cleopatra (queen of de Nile...get it?) options for conversation become limited.

You're likely in the workforce...and your spouse has been, or will soon be, invalided out. Your life may be a swirl of personalities and responsibilities, while your husband or wife may be concerned largely with the effects of medication, and trying to get through the day.

Their main companion, barring attentive friends or neighbors, may be the television.

Common conversational ground may be pretty hard to find.

The best thing you can do, as a caregiving spouse, is to listen. Take your cues from what's being said.

There are many people who, when ill, find a dread fascination in their illness, in what's happeningto their bodies. This isn't narcissism; it's more likely fear, especially if this individual had not been inclined to worry over every sniffle in the past.

And there are those who would prefer to say nothing, either out of denial ("if I don't talk about it it might go away") or a deep-seated dislike of 'organ recitals'.

The best thing you can do for the tell-all individual is to simply listen, and ask leading questions, even if you feel like you want to scream, bang you head against a wall, and jump out the nearest window.

I mean, it's BORING!

And if you're married to someone like...well, like me, and you have to pull teeth to find out how he or she is feeling, resist the temptation unless it's absolutely necessary.

As it was this morning; my wife came into the kitchen to find a pool of blood that I had not had the energy to clean up,and when she asked what happened, she was rightly not satisfied with , "Oh, nothing."

Moving to other topics (about time1), you may find that your mate's taken a stronger-than-expected interest in religion. Trinity Broadcasting is available on cable everywhere, and by antenna in many places, and you can get 24-hours-a-day religion. This can be good or bad.

You may find that it suddenly becomes a defining interest, and you'll long for the change to change the channel to Monday Night Football, The Voice...anything!

But even if you feel this way, please, again, have patience and listen, because the questions of eternity loom large in the heart of a person who's going to meet it soon.

You don't have to have answers. But do listen to the questions.

And, finally, feel free to talk about what your day was like, what's important to you.

It makes us feel like we're still a part of the world, that you take the time to include us.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 67 - Whom Can You Trust? {FMF}

We're connecting with Five Minute Friday, hosted by Kate Motaung; it's a five minute key-word-driven writing exercise, and a lot of fun!

We are also linked with Wedded Wednesday.

This week's word is  TRUST.


Sooner or later, it has to happen. Caregiving for a terminally ill spouse takes everything out of you, and more...and it's easy to let slip the controls, and vent about how hard this all is.

To your mate.

It's not the message you want to send, or even something you believe...but the message received is "a part of me wishes this were over".

It's not abnormal that you may indeed feel that way, atleast on some level. We're not Jesus, and part of being human is wanting to see an end to an ordeal.

But to express that to someone who depends on your help to cope with each day, and to live, is unforgivable.

I'm saying unforgivable deliberately, because you'll have broken something that can't be fixed under the aegis of terminal illness.

You'll have broken trust.

When you're dying, the vows you took become a lot more meaningful...in sickness and in health" suddenly becomes real, and you realize how dependent you are, or will become.

And you have to trust your husband-or-wife-turned-caregiver to honour that. When you're dying, you have to do your part through cooperation, but control passes over to someone else at some point.

And if you can't trust them, if you think there's a stopwatch ticking off the life from which you suddenly feel your departure is desired...that's the worst thing.

Break that trust, and you may break the reason for living.

It's a huge responsibility, and it's grossly unfair that you can't express yourself to your mate.

Duty requires that you don't.

And that is why regular counseling is needed. You need a safe place to vent, to scream and throw things and crush pieces of paper into little balls.

A place and person to which you, as a caregiver, can trust to bare your soul.


This was another very hard post to write, but I hope that it speaks to one of the issues of which most people never speak...that sometimes you do want a dying person to die more quickly...not "to end their suffering", but to end YOURS.

It shouldn't be a source of guilt; and it should be faced.

And here is what I was listening to while I wrote this...

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Reaching For God - #BlogBattle

Time for this week's #BlogBattle entry, the weekly keyword-inspired flash fiction contest hosted by Rachael Ritchey.

We're also linked with Still Saturday, and Wedded Wednesday.

The word this week is REACH.

Reaching For God

"Uh, oh," said Biff to The Dude. "What have you done now?"

Sonny was standing radio watch, and the rest of us were trying to stay cool under a tarp stretched from the fenders to a couple of poles stuck in the ground. The air was heavy with the dust dislodged by the army firebase's 155s, banging away in the monotonous monotonous rhythm. of H&I. Providing harassment and interdiction on map coordinates had to be the most boring job on the planet. They wanted a couple of tanks around as a security blanket, and as the only ones were Marine, they settled for that. Us.

"Whad'you mean?" The Dude had been dozing, and sat up."Oh."

A tall, lean officer was walking purposefully toward the tank, followed by a private carrying a 16. It looked like a hanging party, faces set in grim creases. 

Biff had sharp eyes. "Hey, that's a chaplain..." He'd seen the small cross stenciled on the front of the officer's helmet. "Dude, did you piss off God?"

"Not lately." We crabwalked out from under the tarp into the suffocating heat, and stood. 

The chaplain smiled, and his face immediately lit up, the face of a man you'd like to know as a friend. "Hi!"

The private, clearly his jeep-driver-bodyguard, lifted the corners of his mouth wearily, and nodded.

"Hi, uh..." If he was a priest, I should call him Father; if a protestant minister, Reverend. And if he was a rabbi, I'd let Biff do the talking.

He put out a large, slim hand. "Phil Bonhoeffer," he said. "Saw you boys over here, just wanted to say hello."

"Bonhoeffer?" The Dude was interested. The name rang a bell for me, vaguely, but Biff spoke right up.

"Are you related?"

The chaplain turned to our Jewish gunner. "Sure am, son. He was a second cousin."

The Dude said, "TC, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a...what, Lutheran..?"


"Yeah, a Lutheran pastor in Germany, WW2. Really brave...wouldn't back down opposing the Nazis, and he got hung just before the war ended. I've got a copy of The Cost of Discipleship."

"So do I," said Biff. "Sir...uh, would you sign it for me?"

I felt like a heathen. All I had was a copy of The Power of Positive Thinking.

Reverend Bonhoeffer smiled; it looked like he'd had that request before. "Glad to."

The guys climbed up the glacis to get their books, like eager kids meeting Mickey Mantle. If Sonny had a copy as well, I was going to have to rethink my education.

While they were gone, I asked the Reverend, "How's it feel, being asked to autograph your cousin's book?"

He laughed. "First time, it was really weird. But they want a connection with the name, with the spirit. I don't know if I can give them that, but they think I can."

"That sounds like quite a challenge."

"That's what praying's for, son."

I was trying to think of something intelligent to say when The Dude and Biff came back, carrying, yes, three copies of The Cost Of Discipleship.

I really had to get to know my guys better.

This story was originally much longer (it describes an actual event), but after writing the long version, something told me to go back, pare it down, and end it here. It's something of an experiment in intuition, if that makes sense.

The long version was saved, and it'll appear later. If you could let me know what you think - if this minimalist approach 'worked' in presenting both message and character development - I'd be grateful.

Your Dying Spouse 66 - Beyond Death

We're linked up with Wedded Wednesday on the superb Messy Marriage site.

Despite what the title may suggest, this isn't a continuation of the last installment, Heaven Bound.

This is about some things that you the caregiving spouse, may face in the weeks and months after the battle ends.

Your Emotions - you're likely to be a wreck, even if you don't know it. Some individuals process their emotions in real time, so to speak; they face the pain and heartbreak as it's experienced.

Others lock it away to deal with the practical aspects of the final stages of a terminal illness, and seem - and feel - strangely, calm, almost OK.

They're not.

Even if the relationship wasn't terribly close, the end of a shared life, and a world takes a toll. It's like suddenly moving to a new house; the light switches aren't where you expect them to be, and you bark your shins against the furniture, in the dark. Or, if you prefer, it's like having the brake and accelerator on your car switched.

You don't know if you're coming or going, and you have to accept that this will happen. And, for the majority of widows and widowers, it will pass, but in the initial stages you'll not believe it.

Don't try.

Instead, make sure you have friends, now, who will be there for you. Let the people close to you know that you're going to need help.

And sometimes you'll need an accountability partner, on the days that you won't want to get out of bed, or shower, or shave, or eat.

Your Friends - Thta point about having friends and accountability partners takes some thought, because many of the 'couples friends' you may now have are likely to drift away. Partnerless, you don't really fit into the milieu...and partnerless, you may be regarded as a threat to the other marriages in your social circle.

It's terribly unfair, but it's true.

Many churches now have caregiver support groups, and bereavement support groups, and this is a place to develop relationships you may find sustaining, but use some care, particularly if you're a woman.

You're vulnerable, and there are predators out there. There are men (and a few women) who will happily use the opportunity to take advantage of loneliness and pain for the thrill of 'conquest', or for the opportunity for some sort of financial gain.

During the year that Barbara and I were divorced, I attended a church-sponsored divorce support group.

In spite of the best efforts of the pastor, it was a de facto singles' club, and there were horror stories. I didn't stay there long. It was worse than useless.

Finances - First, if you're not the one paying the bills, at least shadow your terminally ill spouse. Know where the checkbook and the bills are, and know the passwords for online bill paying.

Know the due dates that go along with each obligation.

Don't take the job away, unless you have to (or your mate asks you to take over). It's often one of the last things one can do to feel like a contributing member of the family (that's where I am, in case you were wondering).

But know the financial structure. Many organizations will cut you some slack if you let them know that your mate's in the last stages of illness (or has just died), but don't count on this.

Second, be aware of any insurance policies that may be in effect, and be familiar with them. If there are going to be 'uncovered' medical bills, don't let it hit you as a surprise when you're fragile.

Know about life policies, and when death occurs, try to have a friend (or a hired financial advisor) help you set the payment process in motion.

Finally, if there is a significant insurance payout, please resist the temptation to do anything major...like taking an expensive vacation (that some well-meaning people may advise to make you feel better) or moving (unless that's absolutely necessary because of a diminished income).

You won't enjoy the vacation, if you take it. It's be a place of shadows, and tears, and you'll want to share experiences and stories with someone who's not there to hear them.

Wait a bit for that, please.

And moving...it may be tempting to try to get away from a home that's suddenly haunted, but you can't. You'll carry those unquiet ghosts with you.

And you'll imagine the place that you abandoned, somehow wondering why you're gone.

A house can't think, or feel, but atthree in the morning, when you're alone, you can think funny things.

If you're going to move, let the process come naturally.

It sounds like tough-guy talk...face the loss...but it's really the only way.

There's some real wisdom in Steven Spielberg's recent SciFi film Super 8.

"Bad things happen. But you can still live."

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 65 - Heaven Bound

We're linking up with Inspire Me Monday; please give them a visit!We're also linked with Messy Marriage's Wedded Wednesday.

I'm also guest-posting on Norma Brumbaugh's blog today.

I have been told that if I thought more about Heaven., I would not fear death.

I don't fear death. I fear the pain that makes an elastic capacity for bearing it strain to its limits. Today I wanted to bang my head against a wall to try to make it go away - by knocking myself out. WHAT WILL TOMORROW BRING????

Earlier this evening (on the day that I write this) I heard the TV preacher Perry Stone talking about a book in which he described what Heaven is like. What we wear, what we eat, what language we speak, and so on.

Surprisingly, I found the subject uninteresting

From the perspective of one who's going to be shaking hands with Jesus sooner rather than later, I don't really care what we eat in Heaven, and even less what we wear.

I have to admit to an uncharitable thought, that it's something formulated by people who have the luxury of contemplating those questions without the Damoclean sword of immediacy.

Whatever experience they have in theology or Biblical exegesis, they're not helping...okay, not helping me. I'm sure many mean well, but (warning...second uncharitable thought) I also suspect that some of them are more concerned with trying to sell books, or DVDs, or tickets to their public appearances.

Sorry if I sound harsh. No, I'm not. These people are completely missing the point.

They are trivializing the process of dying by making it sound like taking a trip to God's Club Med.

The afterlife matters. It is everything.

The whole point of Heaven, when you're dying, is that it's really there, that the promises are true.

The descriptions in Revelation hold little but academic interest for me. It's written in a symbology that held deep meaning for John's contemporaries, but it's largely inaccessible to the modern mind, except in the most general terms.

I seriously doubt that Eternity spent with the Almighty will have the look and feel of the first century AD. If it's Heaven, it'll be adjusted to us, and won't demand that we adjust to it.

"Whoa, Jesus, the cell reception up Here sucks, Man!"

I kind of doubt that.

John's contemporaries could take it as written because they could feel the magic, and see it unfolding. We are privileged to feel the magic, but what we see will be in terms to which we can relate.

It's a bit like taking Jesus as the Lamb of God absolutely literally; no one has said He was a talking baby sheep.

And speaking of which, I'm not worried about the whole sheep vs. goats thing. We're all goats. The only thing that matters now is mercy.

It all boils down to what Jesus said to the dude on the next cross over...

"Today, you'll be with me in Paradise."

Everything else, I'll take as it comes.

Because I while I still want today here, and I sure want tomorrow There.

My thought for a caregiving spouse is simply this - know what your husband or wife thinks, and believes. Please don't try to overwrite their faith with your own. If you take a more literal view that I do (and I do respect that view, and would be as happy as ever if I were proven wrong) and your spouse does not, please...just listen.

And if your dying spouse is the literalist, accept that. Don't try to prove your own point. Doing so can undermine faith. hen you're in extremis, and holding onto hope amidst the pain, it doesn't take much to cause a landslide. And it's terribly hard to get back to where you were.

After all, when we get there, we'll be There.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 64 - Family, Untied {MF}

Welcome to this week's Five Minute Friday post, the keyword-inspired timed writing challenge hosted by the gracious Kate Motaung.

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

The word this week is FAMILY.


For me, childhood was a time to forget, and the whole experience made 'family' into something like an obscenity for me, and I am using that word very deliberately.

Flash forward to terminal illness in middle age, and that's causing some unexpected problems for my wife.

barbara came from a small but close-knit family in the midwest. Her mother died in 2013, but her father (who visited us two weeks ago) is going strong. She also has two younger brothers. Family is important to her, and there is a lot of emotional interdependence.

I'm the opposite. I'm emotionally restrained (did I hear someone say 'stunted'?) and extremely self-contained. I had to be; I learned early that there was no one to help me, and that any sign of weakness was something my enemies - my family - would exploit.

So now, in crisis, my reactions and needs are nothing like barbara would expect. Her mother was ill for a couple of years before dying and while she wasn't 'needy', she did rely on her family's emotional support, and she leaned into them for comfort...and they could lean into her in the apprehension of their coming loss.

They could cling to one another, and cry.

I can't do that. I can't even imagine doing that.

And Barbara feels helpless, and sometimes useless. In her eyes, I'm holding it in, not trusting her with my fears and hurts. I'm keeping her out of the inner circle.

What she doesn't understand, and thankfully, I think, can't understand is that there is no inner circle.

There's nothing to hold in. I'm dying, I don't want to, sometimes the physical manifestations are frightening, but there's nothing about which to weep. It's just life, and death.

She asks me what she can do, and I tell her, in conscious imitation of the rebooted Spock, "Please continue to perform admirably at work."

That is what's important to me.

She needs the job (and she does it so well that the company needs her). She doesn't just need it for the money; she needs it for the self-definition it provides and provided, that she could re-enter the workforce when I got too sick to work, and be a success.

It's not that I'm soulless and practical, at least, I don't think so.

It's just that I learned to be OK in a hard school, and I'm OK now. She can tend to herself.

I'm good to go.

(But I'd rather stay.)


Another tough one, and another very hard day. I wasn't sure I would be able to write tonight, but seeing the topic, I felt that I had to...this is important.
I don't know how many others there are like me, but I hope that maybe it will provide illumination that might ease, just a little, the heartache.