Tuesday, May 27, 2008

On the Bright Side...

REUTERS - "Newly diagnosed cases of post-traumatic stress disorder among U.S. troops sent to Iraq and Afghanistan surged 46.4 percent in 2007, bringing the
five-year total to more than 38,000, according to U.S. military data released on
The statistics, released by the Army, showed the number of new PTSD
cases formally diagnosed at U.S. military facilities climbed to 13,981 last year
from 9,549 in 2006."



This news item settled down around my head like a helmet today. These individuals who are spending months at a time away from their families, their friends, their homes, every comfort they possess, are returning home with physical injuries and limitations as well as mental and emotional scars. They will populate our communities in incredible numbers, scarred in ways most of us cannot imagine.

Somehow, though, despite the weight of this notion, my brain sought a light pathway through the dense grey. What if these soldiers coming home wounded in ways we can see and those we cannot are met by love and compassion? What if our culture, our society, was forced by the sheer numbers to learn how to make our neighborhoods a better place for them to live? What if, out of necessity, we adapted to the needs of those who require gentleness and kindness, accomodation and understanding? What if, as a collective, connected community we reached out and proactively created ways for these courageous individuals to feel safe? Maybe the stigma attached to mental trauma and illness diminished. Perhaps our first instincts shift from fighting to talking.

What if?

What if, regardless of who is "to blame," we all realize that it is in our best interest to come up with new methods of helping those around us feel as though they are part of the bigger whole? Instead of criticizing the military actions that led to these injuries and leaving the treatment to the government, what would happen if we started a dialogue that included the idea that we are all responsible for each other's well-being? Can we imagine what our lives would be like if we simply accepted the fact that these individuals have been deeply scarred by events beyond their own control and we all took one small step toward easing their return to their homes?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

May I Be Excused?

I'm full.

This intense mourning thing has brought me to a very strange place. I'm not sobbing uncontrollably or wailing or ripping at my clothes. That's not my style. In fact, since coming home from the memorial service, I'm not much of anything.

I'm still the mom - making lunches, driving kids from point A to point Z and all points in-between, squirting antiseptic on bloody knees and cooking healthy meals. I'm still taking care of the house and the pets and the yard. Still listening to Bubba bounce his business ideas off of me and phoning the insurance company to refill prescriptions.

But beyond that, I am simply full. In a normal week, there is more than enough capacity in the Super Big Gulp that is me to contain difficult stories of friends and family. Tell me about the fight you had with your partner, the sticky issue at work. I'll listen to you talk about your fears and hopes and offer tissues and a soft shoulder to lean on. Let me bring you flowers or an encouraging card or dinner for your family tonight. I've got enough time and I want to show you I care. You are not alone.

This week, someone has snuck that enormous orange paper cup out to the 7-11 while I wasn't looking and filled it to overflowing with my own stuff. I have no room for anything else. I just want to put the lid on this bad boy and carry it home without anything slopping over the side, leaving sticky residue on my pants or my shoes. Once I get there, I'm not sure what to do. I don't particularly want to stick a straw in it. In fact, just taking the top off and gazing into the cup is honestly all I can manage at this point.

I know that there were other people who felt strong ties with my father. I know that there are others who are grieving intensely for him. I just don't want to talk to them. I don't want to hear anyone else's story of their relationship with Dad. I don't want to know how they're coping and I don't want them to ask how I am. I just want to hold this container and look into its depths. I've never seen it full and I can't imagine how it can ever be less than full again.

I'm resentful that the world is continuing on around me. The trees are blooming, commuters head to work and home again day after day, baseball season is underway. Everything looks the same outside but nothing is the same. How is that possible? How can this world look the same without my father in it?

In the meantime, I am deeply grateful for the words of support and love that come my way each and every day. I am using them to insulate my big orange cup. My big, full, orange cup.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Would it Be Wrong to Giggle?

Last Sunday night, right smack in the middle of the Survivor season finale, we heard a distinctive 'bloop' noise. Bubba and I were settled in to the couch, breathing easily after a couple of really hard weeks. We had changed into our sweats, snuggled up under a blanket, and flipped on some passive entertainment.

Accompanying the 'bloop' was a white flash that came from the television. The last color that passed across its screen. Although the sound of the show was still coming from the speakers strategically placed around the room, the television itself was black.

"Huh," I thought. Interesting.

"That was a scary noise," Bubba wouldn't look at me. Like he was afraid to acknowledge that this was something big.

The television (the gargantuan behemoth he purchased without my agreement or excitement just four years ago) was dead.

No worries. After a perfunctory check behind the set itself and a short ritual that involved turning everything off and powering it up again, it was confirmed. So we headed upstairs. You know, to the other TV. Where we finished watching Survivor.

"Oh well," I said with a twinkle in my eye and some seriously thick sarcasm in my throat,"we didn't need a TV downstairs, anyway."


Yeah, I knew how that would go over, but since Bubba started his own business and gasoline has risen to ridiculous heights, we've started to cut back on our spending, so it's not as if he was immediately going to head right out to Circuit City or Best Buy.

He spent the week traveling - eating out, giving speeches, finding the closest Starbucks, and watching TV in his hotel room. Okay, actually, listening to the TV in his hotel room while he caught up on his email in the evenings.

I spent my evenings reading a fabulous book and working on finishing the first draft of the one I'm writing. No television. No noise after dark. No problem.

Tonight, on Bubba's first night home, he managed to stand being downstairs for about 30 minutes after the girls went to bed before he suggested we go upstairs and watch some TV. I decided to humor him, but couldn't resist suggesting that we get rid of the second behemoth television (yup, the one upstairs is even larger) and get a smaller one that would allow the girls more room to dance and set up their desks. He didn't dignify that with a response.

I filled a glass with cold water and took my book just in case there was nothing I wanted to watch on television tonight. I pushed the power button on the remote and the cable box lit up. Rolling his eyes, Bubba walked to the TV and manually turned it on. The green light came on steadily for two seconds and flicked off with a click. Bubba's eyebrows pushed together as he interrupted his stride toward the couch to whirl around and walk back to the television. He pushed the power button on the TV again. Again, the green light. Again, flick. Half a dozen more times he repeated the same steps.

I couldn't help it. I got the giggles. He's pouting and shopping for TVs online. I finished my book and am shopping online for another one.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Dad's Eulogy

My father died in my arms last Friday, May 2. It was a terrifically painful day for us all, as I sat next to him and fed him morphine every 25 minutes to ease his pain. He couldn't talk or open his eyes for very long, but he managed to hold on until he'd seen each of his children and grandchildren. The following are the words I spoke at his service yesterday:

As a young girl, there was nothing I ever wanted more than to please my father. He was the kind of man who wore his accomplishments like clothing. His lapel bore evidence of his involvement with Kiwanis and the city council, his car was always spit-shined and immaculate, his watch was set with military precision. He was the hardest working person I have ever come to know and it was so terribly important to him.

I think that was why people around him always rose to the occasion, too. Having him recognize your efforts and say he was proud of you meant so much. He held himself to such a high standard that it felt awesome to have him acknowledge how much work you put into something.

Having said that, I can recall so many moments where I was struck by his ability to relax, too. I remember one incredibly hot summer day in Klamath Falls where Mom had filled our plastic pool with the hose and set it under the shade of the cherry tree. Chris, Katy and I and were lounging in it to get some relief when Dad came home from work, changed into his jeans, grabbed a Coors Light from the fridge and pulled up a lawn chair. Rolling up his pant legs, he sat down and put his bare feet into the pool, nudging us off to the side, kicked back and popped the top on his beer. We were delighted to have him sharing our cool oasis.

Sometimes in the evenings we would sit around and listen to tapes of Bill Cosby. Dad had such a terrific laugh and a great sense of humor. We spent many hours curled up on the couch together cracking up at the stories of Fat Albert and Cosby’s imaginary conversations between God and Noah.

Ding! “Noah”

“Who’s that?”

“Me, Noah, the Lord.”


“I want you to build an ark, Noah.”

“Right…..What’s an ark?”

“Get some wood. Build it 300 cubits by 80 cubits by 40 cubits.”

“Right….What’s a cubit?”

The thing is, my dad would have built that ark. And he would have done a dang good job of it. He was so committed to doing a job and doing it right. He never started something he didn’t finish. He probably would have been pretty impatient about it all, and most likely uttered some not-so-polite phrases in the process, but he would have done it. He never found anything he couldn’t master – sports, fixing his cars, working a budget, barbecuing a steak, being a grandfather. He’d just keep plugging away, faking it if he had to, until he’d made it into something he could be proud of. Giving up wasn’t something Dad understood.

He was a fighter all the way. He held on through the pain and disappointment of his illness, waiting until he’d had a chance to say goodbye to his children and grandchildren, and he’s still here. I will forever carry his tendencies for impatience and perfectionism. My daughters will carry on the legacy of the ‘pickle factory’ they laughed about every time they got together. Chris holds Dad’s passion for sports and everything competitive. Katy has the honor of having him exert himself one last time to wrap his arms around her.

We will find him in places unexpected and strangely appropriate. Every time the Ducks take the field at Autzen Stadium, whenever we see someone waxing their car in the sunshine on a Saturday, watching the planes take off at the Albany airport, hearing his voice in our heads reminding us to check the tire pressure and drive safely…

In so many ways he will remain, making us smile and shake our heads. It turns out he did build an ark – one that we are all on today, resisting this flood of sadness, sailing through together to a day in the future where we can walk a little taller and breathe a little easier, having found our way through the grief to a place where what remains is pure love and light and lessons learned from him. Thanks, Dad.

Saturday, May 03, 2008


I can do 'see you later,'
'call me tomorrow,'
and 'let's get together next week.'

We should plan something this summer
Dinner, tonight?
We'll be back in a few weeks

Next weekend,
after school,
in an hour or so.

But I don't know how to do
'never again.'

I don't know how to do
'never again.'
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