Showing posts with label death. Show all posts
Showing posts with label death. Show all posts

26 December, 2018

On meditating with your demons

Learn to meditate with the monsters.
Sit down and sup with the demons.
But don't let them feed you.  - from Field Notes: 26 December 2018


Zhong Kui, the Demon Queller
One of the things you hear in the rooms is that holidays create resentments, which end up leading alcoholics back to the bottle. My family is pretty supportive and not as dysfunctional as other family situations I've heard about in the rooms and on the streets. But there are times when life jams up and somewhere between the anxiety of trying to be a good guy, a decent husband, and an empathetic listener, it's only with the grace of God, a loving wife, and a good sponsor that I managed to stay sober.

Coming home from my latest trip west, on another failed trip to find the real Los Angeles in the glitter that is LA, I threw myself into the list of Things That Needed Doing. It fell sometime while I was traveling eastbound through Missouri that the wife and I were going to host Christmas dinner with my family. Now, this isn't exactly a stressful thing, in and of itself. My immediate family is smaller than some and none of them are particularly taxing. But it falls at a time when there is a lot going on.

Specifically, my father-in-law is dying. 

This spreads out in several different ways. Everything is being done to keep him comfortable and right now, he's doing as well as can be expected with Stage 4 Large Cell Carcinoma. In other words, lung cancer -- the kind not brought on by smoking, but as a side effect of the anti-rejection drugs he takes so his body doesn't reject the kidney transplant he received 6 years ago. My mother-in-law is approaching the whole thing with as much stoicism as she can, which is in her nature, and my wife is trying to follow suit, though stoicism is not in her nature at all. 

For me, Christmas is mostly about keeping things moving -- 10,000 wheels all in motion going in different directions -- through the season. I'm trying not to focus on my own issues wrapped up in all this, or the feelings it brings up about my own father's death and my general anxieties about people I love dying. 

Yes, I know it's natural for people to die. I can intellectualize that all I want, but that doesn't change how I feel about any of it at the moment.

But I am learning how to sup with my demons. There really isn't any choice. And one of the people teaching me how to do is, oddly enough, my father-in-law. I don't want to dismiss his experience -- an experience I know nothing about, really -- but I do think of all the people I have seen in the process of dying, he is probably the strongest person I've seen. He doesn't always bear up well. He gets tired and cranky and I think he's probably as tired of being fussed over as he is of the cancer. But he doesn't just give up, either. He's resigned, I supposed as much as anyone can be. But there's a resilience to it all, too. He's waiting. He's tired, but he's waiting. He carries it all because that's where he is right now.

 I was asked as recently as today if the holidays made me want to drink. I can honestly say they don't. I don't miss drinking as much as I miss not feeling. But I know what happens when I try to manage my feelings with artificial means. So I pick them up, my little demons, my little monsters.  The ones that used to hound me minute by minute of the day. That's where I am right now. I pick them up, and take them with me and hope we all learn, them and me, how to get through this world that seems so much more appealing in the absence of feeling.




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25 May, 2018

Memorial Day: For all the Fallen Fathers (and Mothers), Real and Imagined

On leave in Florida. 
I am 45 years old and I'm still coming to terms with the impact my father's death had on my life.
Just when I think I've caught all the ripples and echoes created by the absence of gravity Dad instilled in my life, I end up finding just one more thing. One more ripple. One more echo. And it never stops.
The impact of his death on my life when I was 17 has been and is incalculable. It set into motion virtually all the circumstances that my life now is built upon, from my own fatherhood that has long defined the geography of my life to my writing which has long been the compass I've used to make my way through map I draw with every step I take and every line I write, to the deep anger that drove me towards self-destruction,  the weight of guilt and obligation that tore me away from self-destruction, and the imparted wisdom that eventually drew me back to the greatest love I could ever imagine. 
My father was a complicated man, though I don't think he wanted to be one. Then again, it's possible that men placed on pedestals always look complicated. Through the years of learning more about myself, I've been able to humanize him a little more... especially as I am now the age he was when I was small and  I was in and out of the hospital -- the age he was when he became my hero and the archetype by which I still (whether I mean to or not) judge all would-be heroes, real or imagined.
It also happens that my father was a veteran of two wars (Korea and Vietnam)  that America has
consistently overlooked. I would say that he part of the ignored generation of American Veterans -- but the truth is that our government has historically ignored those who risk life and limb in defense of the ideas embodied in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Our government breaks bodies and spirits, but it does not buy what it breaks. And while my father was fortunate enough to come back physically intact and mentally steeled, it's impossible for me to say exactly what the impact of his military service was -- which started when he was 17 and continued until he was almost 40.
It's impossible for me to understand the impact it had on him because I have never served and because he died before he felt like he could share those stories with me. 
I feel the absence of those stories almost as acutely as I feel his.
It's also impossible for me to understand the loss felt by sons and daughters whose fathers -- and whose mothers --did not come home alive or in one piece. And although I've long held the opinion that war is a travesty perpetrated by cowards too far removed from the devastation to feel its impacts, as time goes on I find that I see it even in starker terms. War is a sin, and a tragedy with an impact so devastating that it's easier to make more war than it is to examine the impacts.

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