The last year was one of many losses. So many friends passed, one after another. Some were close, some fringe, all were a part of our lives. The last on the last day of 2014 is the most difficult, as he has been my closest spiritual partner for several years. It leaves me lonely.
When Gerald died in February I was angry, his death was stupid, the result of a stupid act by a driver, a stupid health care system, a stupid legal system. He died because he wasn’t wealthy, because the hospital wouldn’t give him enough time to recover from a traumatic brain injury, because the driver that hit him didn’t have enough insurance, because his insurance didn’t have catastrophic coverage for long term care. People don’t understand that devastating health issues mean devastating decisions and devastating consequences. In Gerald’s case it lead to his death. No matter where we looked, who we asked, how we tried, not enough funds were raised to change minds. His wife’s grief is inconsolable. There are no words to comfort her. She is attempting to find a positive way to honor him by working to promote bicycle safety and change local laws.
Mike lost his long time barber and friend Ted in October. Ted had cut his hair since he was a teen, and had listened to him through the death of his dad, the birth of his kids, the end of his marriage, the difficulty of caring for his mom and mine, his time at 911, his joy of his sign business, his love of California and traveling. He had given us the pleasure of knowing Mr. Petty, the wonderful man who polished shoes at the barber shop, and did an amazing professional job. Both were true Believers, and it was always a comfortable place to talk about God and His support in our lives. Ted sold the best Chow Chow in the South as a church fundraiser, so Mike stocked up every month when he got a haircut. The few times Ted was on vacation or was away because he was getting cancer treatment, Mike was brave enough to let me cut his hair, but he’d call Ted and tell him that he needed to get well because the butchering he was getting just didn’t cut it! Every time he called to make an appointment he had a cool reason to give Ted for needing a cut that would make him laugh, “Deborah says it’s time to get a haircut cause my eyebrows are looking like Andy Rooney’s.” “Deborah says it’s starting to look like I have a Benny Hinn combover and I need a haircut.”
When Mike’s mom was in the nursing facility after her leg amputation due to her Alzheimer’s, lo and behold Mr. Petty was on her wing. We got to see him every day and treat him like the wonderful gentleman he was. We got to know a great man personally, introduced to us by Ted. Ted came weekly to see him, and when Ted was too sick to continue coming to see Mr. Petty, we made sure that he knew the supplies of chocolate and sodas he brought were taken care of for him. Ted recovered and got back to work for several months, but the cancer was back within a year. Mike’s cutting his own hair now, but there’s something big missing – “I need a haircut and you might have to get out the bush hog.”
Mom and Dad called just after Thanksgiving to say Jimmy was gone. Not his dad, Jim who had dementia and had just moved from next door to them a few months earlier. Jimmy. He’s just a couple months younger than I am. We were raised together with a few other friends. Our parents, The Group, all went to junior high and high school together, and have remained friends to this day, as have we as their kids. All they knew was that he had fallen, hit his head and was dead. Oh God! It was too hard to take in. His beautiful and talented daughter Rachel, and his wife Brenda. His brothers and sister, they’d lost their youngest brother in the 80s, and their mom a few years ago. His brother called Mom the next day and said Jimmy had been really depressed for years, wouldn’t seek counseling. His dad was now settled near his daughter and brother, his daughter finishing college. His brother and wife had been up to visit for Thanksgiving and had a nice time. A week later Jimmy was gone, and he hadn’t fallen. It is so difficult when you can’t get through to people you love how much you value them and how much they mean to your life.
I’ve had severe depression, lasting for months, sometimes for more than a year and on. I know. I’ve resisted counseling. I’ve gone to counseling. I’ve resisted medication. I’ve had meds. I’ve had friends help me. I’ve worked really, really hard to help myself. I’ve had dogs sent by – God. He’s the one in the depth that has held me always, the only One that is always consistent. “Put your trust in God, not in men.” I have had and do have friends with depression, who have contemplated and attempted suicide. I know. We talk. We sit together. We bargain. One day at a time. You are each incredibly valuable to every person in your life. Life changes with time. Give life time.
Carl was so sick for years. He had to be in and out of the hospital over and over. During it all he constantly helped others. While he was so sick from a blood disease that was ravaging his body he kept working at the volunteer fire department near his home. And when one of his best friends was hit while riding his bicycle by a van and the medical bills mounted, he was one of the major forces that began fundraising. He pushed to find ways to help pay the bills, to fight the hospital that wanted to send Gerald home too soon, to find ways to get Gerald the therapy he needed. He worked with the neighbors and firefighters to care for Gerald’s farm while his wife was at his side for months, through snow storms, thunderstorms, lawn mowing, leaves falling. He was there right before Gerald passed at hospice, still trying to find a way to get the hospital to change their decision about Gerald’s care. Carl continued to help with fundraising for the next eight months, and was at the special memorial cook out Gerald’s wife had in the early fall where close friends and family celebrated and remembered the biker who preferred flip flops and shorts to polyester pants and a white shirt he had to wear for County work. Carl shared some funny “Gerald Stories”, we all had them.
Two months later Carl was in the hospital, so horribly sick. He still posted FB messages, and was totally positive while asking for prayer. He did get the care he needed. The infections were too much for his body to over come, and he joined his friend Gerald before Christmas. Another difficult loss, for his wife, for Gerald’s wife, for their fire department, for us.
Dec. 31, 2014 in the late afternoon an email arrived from a friend that is part of a support group I’m in. She said that she was sorry it had been so long since she’d written but she wanted me to know her brother had passed away. On August 25th. Stunned. I’d been calling and sending emails to him off and on for months, hearing nothing. But that wasn’t unusual. He often went long times without a response. A very private person. A person who “went underground” to protect himself physically because he was not well, and emotionally because he has PTSD after Viet Nam. There would be months of not hearing from him, then many calls of long conversations and emails between us. I’d decided after the first of the year I was going again to his home to see him. His sister and I had a long talk, she was with him at the end, she still cares for their mother. I know why I hadn’t been called.
Meeting him was what my sister calls “an Act of God.” I had been in a caregiver support group a few years, then was asked to help with keeping it going when the leader couldn’t be there any more. He walked in one day saying his VA counselor had suggested the group, as he was helping care for his mother who had dementia. His sister lived with her, he helped as often as he was able, but his PTSD caused problems with helping as much as was needed by his sister. He came often for awhile, then not much, then not at all to the group meetings. He had a wonderful talk a few times with one of the kindest and most honorable men I know, a father, a husband, a caregiver in the group, and it helped him tremendously. And one day he asked me a question, that led to a long conversation after a meeting, one that changed his view on many things, but mostly on why he was here with his mom. And from that, we became spiritually supportive for each other, an incredible friendship I cherished.
“Why am I here now and able to be the son my Mother wanted me to be, when she has no idea who I am, when she can’t even have one clear thought? She wants me to be the little boy I used to be, not the man I am now. What sense does that make?”
“Maybe you just need to be the little boy she wants you to be at that moment for her. In those moments, be that little boy. Be in the moment with her. That may be the reason God brought you back here, so you could go back and be that little boy again and redo the things you think you did wrong, and she could give you that simple mother love again.”
We both got it. He knew why he was here, why he’d left his life up North, come here, what his caregiving was to her. It was to just be. Nothing more. And over the years we talked about God and His promises. We reminded each other of His blessings, His Plan, His future for us, His supplying for our needs, His support. We prayed together, and he prayed in a powerful and concentrated way.
One day he sent a message that he had liver cancer. He wasn’t going to have treatments, no surgery, no chemo, no radiation. God would heal him. No discussion. And he didn’t want anyone to know. Not his family, not other friends, please pray for him. For months and months he went this route; his health would decline, he needed doctor visits, sometimes trips to the ER and medications. Still he told no one, it wasn’t something he wanted his family to know, he didn’t want them to worry, to be burdened, to have to deal with it. He would be healed by God because he believed totally that he would. We constantly prayed that would happen. The cancer spread.
He called one afternoon and asked me to write things down for him so he wouldn’t forget, the things he wanted to have done when he passed, how he wanted his affairs handled, how he wanted his stuff done for him when he was gone. He was unusually rushed, listing things as fast as I could write, not waiting for questions. He was going to talk to his daughter about these things but he knew she would be upset hearing for the first time he had cancer and he didn’t know how long he had left. He wanted someone he could trust to know what he wanted done in the end, someone who could guide and help his daughter. He was adamant that his family not waste money, that they follow his wishes. He said his daughter was stubborn and would try to change his mind, but his mind was made up. I promised him I would do whatever he wanted, and would carefully care for his kids and family when the time came. But more I promised to him that I would care and support him throughout his life. A few days after he’d talked to his daughter I sent her an email, then talked to her on the phone. She had a hard time with the information, she was an organized, straight forward, linear person. She took over her Dad’s affairs. They butted heads. They compromised. They came to an agreement.
I saw him last at his home months ago. He wasn’t well, but still preaching to me of God’s grace. We spent several hours talking. He showed me pictures of his parents, his grandparents, his family. He was so proud of them, how hard they’d worked to raise him right, what they’d done to give him opportunity to become successful in the South. He talked about his early life, how he had messed up and disappointed his Mother, how he’d had a difficult time after Viet Nam, how he’d not done right by his kids. He talked about how he was trying to make amends with his kids. I shared how difficult it was for adult kids to understand their parents, how Mike was dealing with the same issues with his kids, and me with my parents. We remembered how our friendship was started because of parents, his mom and my mother in law bringing us together in such a strange way. I told him I felt like I’d failed his family, not being able to find them the help they really needed to help care for their mom in her home just a few hours a day, no community services, no government services available all the years I’d been searching, over seven year now. Some friends of his stopped by, surprised to have the door opened by a white girl in the ‘hood, having him introduce me as a special spiritual friend. We ended our visit with a prayer together, the way we always ended our conversations.
“Deborah, Thank you for your prayers, I haven’t stop praying sense we connected in the SPIRIT, I’m reading GOD’S words every morning in my quite time. I’m growing Deborah and it is awesome. I’m still standing on his word trusting and believing no doubt he will do what he promise. I find myself praying for all GOD’s children. I thank GOD for you and your encouragement. I’m well and have a balance in my life. It’s a hard walk but I’m not giving up.The JOY OF THE LORD IS MY STRENGTH AND MY SHEILD. I’m in a very good place in my life. GOD hasn’t changed and his word is truth and it shall endure for ever. I’m not there yet but I know he loves me unconditionally. In this season he has me till he says I’m calling you HOME. ‘TO GOD BE THE GLORY’. The most sincere thing I can say to you is that I LOVE YOU From my heart and you and your Family will always have a friend in me. May God continue Bless you and your Family. THERE’s NOTHING TO HARD FOR GOD!!!!! CM Member of the Royal Priesthood.”
Missing – Friends.