Grieving for Blake: a ghostly affair

Persistent readers know that I have been documenting the demise of my ex-husband Blake here at 115journals. I’ve told of his remarkable 8-year survival with stage 4 prostate cancer, and lately his decline as he began to lose his grip on his perch. He passed away last Monday.

We have been divorced for forty years. We were married for only nineteen. We had two children, who are themselves middle-aged now. To protect their interests, I agreed to act as his executor. I knew it was a bad idea, but I wasn’t aware that I would be chief mourner and ghost-whisperer as well.

When it comes to Kubler-Ross’s  seven stages of grief, I’m a rapid cycler.

Saturday, I set up a little altar in the loving spirit of letting him go, or to be precise, getting him to go. He had turned up in Georgia’s bedroom at 5:20 a.m. in his hospital gown, trailing his blue hospital blanket, confused but vividly Blake. A few days later, Georgia’s daughter jumped off the floor and screamed as something brushed past her in a doorway. Admonitions to go to the light, to go find Leyla, his second wife, fell on deaf protoplasm, as did a final plea to go find his pet Sheba Inu.

In my place, his presence was more diffuse and business-like. He has left me to file several years of income tax, as well as deal with Alice, his resident gold-digger. On Saturday, that seemed charmingly chivalrous, so I set up an auxiliary shrine on the dining room table. As a Taoist, I keep a family shrine with pictures of my people, past and present, Kwan Yin, the Mother, Buddha and candles. I put a picture of 23-year-old Blake in his graduation gown, his obit, a book of Rumi poetry, a dozen tea-coloured roses, incense, Kwan Yin, Buddha and lit bees wax candles. It was the Saturday after his passing, the day we would have had his funeral if he hadn’t opted out of such ritual. I read him Tennyson:

Sunset and evening star
and one clear call for me
May there be no moaning of the bar
When I put out to sea.

Then I got on with my own taxes.

In the evening, I sat down to finish watching The Girl on the Train on Netflix. I had read the book some time ago, and, although I had forgotten it mostly, I knew I hated all three neurotic women and especially the drunken protagonist, who just wouldn’t let up on her ex’s new wife and may have killed her neighbour. About an hour later, my mood had swung from loving a farewell to dear Blake, to get back here: I’ll kill you myself. For my lovely Blake was every bit as good at gas-lighting as Tom, the husband in the story. We – ex-wife, daughter and step-daughter – had compared notes at dinner one February night when the family had travelled from near and far to say goodbye to papa. And he wasn’t beyond blackening each of our names to the others. Then, of course, there was the question of Alice, his latest triumph, 45-years younger, who wouldn’t let us in to see him without a hissy fit, and who had been helping him work his way through the home equity line of credit at a good fast clip.

I repurposed the altar in the name of love and told Blake to get lost.

So here I am, middle of the night, suddenly awake and sobbing with grief. I knew him longer than anyone still extant. I may have loved him best. I certainly hated him best.

He’s gone. I can’t call him up to lament about one ‘child’ or the other. I can’t depend on his caring as much as me. And no, I can’t tell Blake – whatever – anymore.

He believed death was the absolute end. There was nothing after.

In that case, settle down, Boy.

 

Advertisements

Blake No More

Blake 2 days before he fell off his perch

Sunset and evening star
And one clear call for me
Let there be no moaning off the bar
When I set out to sea.

Tennyson

Blake’s last day was devoted to breathing. Three, sometimes four, of us sat beside his bed listening to his breath. We told Blake stories. We laughed quietly. How amazingly, infuriatingly complicated this man had been. How persistent he was even now in spite of agonizing pain that fentanyl and morphine could not entirely subdue, in spite of his failing mind and his inability to communicate.

The nurses came often to keep him comfortable. The doctor came to talk to us. The Salvation Army Chaplain stood quietly with us. We took turns going out to eat. We told more stories.

Blake’s breathing changed. There were long pauses when we thought the worst – or the best depending on your point of view. As the light began to fade over Bloor and Church, there was one last breath. We waited. We nodded to each other. We put comforting hands on his body. We wept silently. After a while one of us went for the nurse.

6:45, Monday, March 19, 2019

There was a glorious red sunset as I rode westward home.

Other posts about Blake and his relentless efforts not to fall off his perch are available at 115journals.com

 

Comedy is Easy. Dying is Hard.

We were bird people as a family. Too many allergies for furry creatures. There were usually two budgies in a large cage, with names like Pip and Midjbill. And God help the unlucky child who pulled off the cover to find that one of these beauties had fallen off its perch.

As constant readers know, my ex-husband Blake is about to fall off his perch. https://115journals.com/2019/01/26/go-gentle-or-rage-two-ways-of-saying-g

https://115journals.com/2019/02/08/place-your-phone-in-your-shoe-and-move-forward/

https://115journals.com/2019/02/23/blake-there-on-his-sad-height/

He has had an ample allotment of borrowed time. He was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer nearly nine years ago, at the same time as his much younger second wife, and has outlived her by eight. Now that time is running out.

I know about living on borrowed time. I am mostly grateful to have had so much of it myself. Mostly, I am grateful, but possibly, like him, I will not consider it ample when the time comes.

Meanwhile, I have a bit part in Blake’s last great adventure. The experience veers between tragedy and farce. There are heart-rending moments, followed by down-the-rabbit-hole moments, involving, for example, shoe phones.

Stories of families gathering before or in the wake of a patriarch’s death have a common theme. Revelation. Family #1 meets family #2 and all is revealed.

We did that on such a brutal winter night that we were the only people in Milestone’s dining room. All three children were beautiful and bright, mine considerably older than the step-daughter and daughter-in-law. Once they got going, trading stories, I had to put my hand up to get a word in. Blake had changed settings, but not much else. “He did that to you too?” was a common refrain.

Since we were all now having to beg permission from his latest live-in lady to visit him we had started out a little testy. Since we had also spent a week trying to clean up the squalor of their home, we were seriously aggrieved. We didn’t want him to spend his last days like that. On the other hand, we didn’t like being screamed at to leave now, nor to contend with Blake’s desperate cries that we didn’t understand.

At least, I concluded from the family revelations that Blake had risked his step-daughter’s life less often than ours as he sailed Sirocco, the red hulled Northern 39. And anyway, we were willing participants in those cross-lake races through 20-ft waves. Or willing to risk our lives for Blake’s approval at any rate.

For a week, a kind of peace descended as Blake’s grandsons sat with him in his third floor sort of clean room.

Then they were gone. Our son Daniel and I found ourselves beside Blake’s hospital bed with his companion Alice, trying to understand proposed treatment and to inject logic into choices. Pretty much to no avail. Blake intended to go back up to his third floor. It would not be possible to equip it with a hospital bed because of the same narrow stairs that had prevented the paramedics from stretchering him down. He had had to walk down with 10/10 pain. But once his hydro-morphone dose was right, he would go back there and if he chose to, he would drive his car. This last decision led to hard feelings. Daniel and I did not agree that persons on opiates with a weakened back bone should drive.

As a result, Blake and Alice slipped out of the hospital last Saturday and ubered home. (Sans driver’s license, which the doctor had had withdrawn.) She watched him climb back up to his eerie. She reckoned he could have a few more weeks there in the company of his cats, warming his creamed soup up in his microwave and snacking on smoothies from his little fridge.

Until. Until the pain got up to 10 again on Sunday and what should she do. And he wouldn’t get off his wet bed so she could change the sheets. And he was cursing the doctors for not getting the pain meds right.

And I was saying, “Call 911!”

I was trying to shop for groceries. It was the second time in 10 days that I had tried to buy groceries while Alice shouted in my ear buds that she couldn’t handle things.

For the next 2 hours, I fielded phone calls -Alice, Daniel, Julia, our California daughter, Georgia, my sister – all of them several times, each call interrupting another. Texts dinging in as we talked. Daniel was about to go over to Blake’s home and call 911 himself when the palliative care nurse arrived at the house. The last I heard, Blake was allowed 2 more short term hydro-morphone when necessary. He hadn’t taken them. He was sitting up, his pain was 0, and the bed was only a little damp under the clean sheets.

The comic who says, “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” hasn’t died recently.

 

 

 

.

 

Blake: there on his ‘sad height’

Blake, on his perch

So the family has come and gone, daughter and grandsons from California and Texas. It went well. Blake basked in their affection.

Now he is in bed #3 on the Elder Care floor of a Toronto hospital, bombed out of his mind on hydro-morphone and offering acute observations: the doctors are being much too cautious; this is a total waste of time; they are not managing his pain – he can still feel it, not a 9 anymore, but even so a 3. In short, he has better things to do.

He sleeps and startles suddenly. “I’m awake,” he says. “What happened?” I ask. “I don’t want to lose control,” he says.

On Monday, the Palliative Care Team will come to assess his needs between 10 a.m. and noon. We will be there – Alice, his friend, Daniel, his son, and me, his ex-wife.

The traffic on this Feb. 23rd, 2019 was brutal. Two hours each way from my western suburb. I listened to David Bowie as I crawled along the Lake Shore. And cried.

 

A Memory of Laughter: contradicting sexual abuse

Brother et moi on a bench in Bois Fort

Above all, I love to laugh. Well, who doesn’t?

I once embarrassed a whole theater section of students at Stratford. We were watching one of Shakespeare’s comedies. I was rollicking with laughter, tears streaming down my cheeks. They turned as one at my unseemly outburst to reprimand me, their teacher. It’s true, they just didn’t get the joke or understand how hilariously the sight gag echoed the lines. It was probably something about cross-gartering and yellow stockings. But even if they had found it funny, they would never have given in to such gut-wrenching, wholehearted, life-affirming guffaws.

As a young woman I could set a table a-roar. The staff cafeteria at lunch time was all the stage I needed. Hapless administrations feared my satiric tongue. Once for two weeks, I had people weeping with glee – over my ongoing, mishandled root canal.

As a lover of laughter, I was an amateur compared to my younger brother. Now there was a funny man. A funny boy originally, of course, and very annoyingly so. He grew up to travel the world and bring back comic stories of – for example – being jailed in Turkey where feeding prisoners was optional. Doesn’t sound funny. You had to be there.

I fell on tough times.

He and I ended up on a road trip in a restaurant in the Big Sur. I was having some vegetarian meal of rice and soy. He was eating steak. He put down his knife and fork and looked at me.

“What happened to you, Joyce?” he said. “You used to laugh.”

We didn’t find a motel room until after midnight. He came out of the office waving the key.

“I told her you were my sister,” he called. “I think she believed me.” He was so overcome with his own wit, he could barely get the words out.

I gave up vegetarianism. I gave up meditating. I gave up spiritualism.

I laughed.

Last Thursday, I listened to Dr. Ford describing a sexual assault she endured. A senator on the Supreme Court Confirmation Committee asked her what the most compelling memory of the incident was. She replied, “The laughter”.

I fell into a quiet study. I declined hourly into a deeper and deeper depression. I began to lose track of myself. I spent Saturday in such dissociation that I couldn’t even binge watch Netflix. I wasn’t sure who I was.

And all the while, I heard the laughter. Not her assailants’ laughter but my own. A lone assailant doesn’t laugh.

Sunday, it occurred to me to cry. That was a breakthrough. It perked me up.

Just as I got myself functioning enough to go to Whole Foods, my brother Face-timed me from Brussels. He was sitting on the bench on the sidewalk in front of his house, smoking a joint. He was wearing a red t-shirt that said, “Beast”. He told me a story about weevils and moths and smoke grenades to get rid of them and could they actually be in his Oreos – he had just eaten three and forgot to check. But Yagoda, his Polish cleaner, whose name means Blueberry, would come and fix it. And as he talked, I remembered to chuckle just a little.

Here was a man who could fall off a ladder, break both feet and laugh that the plaster casts gave his toes claustrophobia. But then I was the girl who could laugh about a root canal.

I would just like to say – and you know who you are – my laughter is bigger than yours. Love is like that.

https://115journals.com/2012/07/20/i-dream-of-etherica-life-changing-dream-2/

See the link for an older, fuller account of the Big Sur incident.

 

 

Good Eggs: John, Burt and Me

Blake, on his perch

It was a medium white Omega 3 egg with a best by date of August 26/18. When I cracked it open on Sept. 7th, it had an enlarged air pocket, characteristic of an older egg, but it smelled fine. I made pancakes with it.

Dear Divine Pancake Maker, please consider I may still be useful, if only for hard boiling and decoration.

I’m seriously concerned. John McCain and Burt Reynolds have been called home in the past few days and we were all born in the same year, 1936. It’s usually tough being 82, but right now it feels downright perilous. Hands up if you are 82 and feel that way.

My good friend/ex-husband, Blake, who has had stage 4 cancer for eight years, is generally well and aiming to match Roberta McCain, John McCain’s mother, and live to be 106. I have no such ambition. Yes, I want to go home sooner than that, just not yet.

Another friend, whom I used as model for Clara in my mystery Hour of the Hawk  https://www.joycehowe.com has reached the august age of 89. She lives alone in her own house and some chores are getting to be too much for her. (She is still an excellent sleuth of course.) Fortunately, she has a handy daughter-in-law who is happy to pitch in.

I myself have a handy cleaning woman, daughter-in-law being neither handy nor happy.

You see Divine Pancake Maker, I’m valuable for snark alone. (Oh, you don’t do snark!)

So here we are, we 82-year-olds who remember the Second World War, who were taught to read by Dick and Jane, who had to do long division by hand and memorize hundreds of lines of poetry, some of which we can still recite. (This was important in case we got trapped for days deep in a coal mine.) Not all of you have been as lucky as me. My first car ride was in a Model A Ford. But most of you can remember when 5 wire coat hangers could hold your entire wardrobe. I hesitate to say we are a dying breed.

Imagine, you young’uns, what a miracle it is for us to fly across the continent in half a day, to share thoughts instantly with others and, not only, talk to them but see them as we talk – my brother going out the dutch door of his house to sit on the bench in Bois Fort (Brussels) to smoke.

Brother et moi on a bench in Bois Fort

Were you born in 1936 or do you love someone who was, please comment, say something to keep us 1936ers hanging on to our perch.

Blake still perching

Lead into Gold: contradiction to despair #10

I made it around the little lake as dusk fell. My old legs wanted to give in, but then a piano started up a familiar intro on shuffle. What was this song? I knew it would play me home – Van Morrison Philosopher’s Stone. (See end note)

Years before, recovering from major surgery, I sat in the Starbucks across from Culver City Studio in L.A., listening to this song. The Harry Potter movie of that name had just been released from Sony, just down Washington Blvd. I still hadn’t emerged from pain and weakness of the operation and, it must be said, the terror of a second cancer diagnosis.

Was it really possible to be an alchemist and turn this lead of suffering into gold, I wondered.

Morrison sings that even his best friends they don’t know that he’s searching for the philosopher’s stone. He’s out on the highway and the byways in the cold and snow, alone and relentlessly searching.

In the years that followed, I caught glimpses of that magical mineral, but foolish me, I had no idea that, when it came to lead,  I was ignorant – I knew nothing.

A decade later, I got a crash course. It involved emergency rooms, sudden trans-continental flights, first responders on multiple occasions, several hospitals, many, many doctors and pharmaceuticals, bureaucracy enough to break your heart, intense fear and terrible despair.

It’s a hard road/It’s a hard road, Daddyo/ When my job is turning lead into gold.

Then this week nearly six years later, we raised our heads at last. That the patient would survive the ongoing disease, we had known for a while, That the patient had relearned how to function in the everyday world despite catastrophic losses, we also knew, What we recently discovered is altogether more wonderful. The person we almost lost, through the agency of this enormous suffering, has become the person she always wanted to be.

Concise Oxford Dictionary: The philosopher’s stone – supreme object of alchemy, substance supposed to turn other metals to gold or silver

One of a series of contradictions to despair 115journals.com

 

 

 

Contradicting Despair

My series on contradicting despair has been on hiatus for a week or so because I have been doing deep research into the problem. https://115journals.com/2018/07/30/let-it-be-contradiction-to-despair-9/

This research has been made possible by a series of unfortunate events involving an automatic door, an elevator that failed to launch and a damp cushion. As a result, all those summer days from July 15th to the present, Aug 8th, have provided a rare close-up opportunity to examine despair. (Let’s leave CNN out of it.)

Coping techniques have included flailing about, biting sarcasm, talking to kind people who should rightfully not take my calls, sleeping whenever possible, reading through hours of insomnia and foot soaks.

Chardonnay bottles have been emptied. Half a library has gone to its new Goodwill home – on the off-chance that “Death Cleaning” was necessary. Temporary truces have been struck with superintendents in apartment foyers. A good deal of personal insight has accrued.

In short, “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” as either Vladamir or Estragon said while they waited for Godot.

Drunkenness: probably NOT a contradiction to despair

It’s quarter after 3 and there’s no one in the place
‘cept you and me
So set ’em Joe
I got a little story I think you oughtta know….. (Harold Arlen/Johney Mercer)

(Frank Sinatra,melancholy, on a bar stool -the apotheosis of melancholy, too romantic to be despair. Tears in my beers).

It was quarter to 4, when I woke up. It’s inching toward 5:15 dawn now. No big deal. A friend of mine hasn’t really slept for six months. I just logged 4 hours. She sometimes gets only 2, although there are signs she’s moving out of Winston Churchill territory. Five hours seems doable to her now.

What better time than the tail-end of the night to contemplate drunkenness.

For the past few days of global chaos, I have been reading Ken Bruen’s last two Jack Taylor crime novels, The Emerald Lie and The Ghosts of Galway. When I say ‘last’, I mean adieu Jacko, at least that’s what the author has implied in interviews. From the condition of the man, it’s no wonder. He has suffered so many vicious attacks as a Guard and a private eye that he is a physical wreck -lame, deaf, with mutilated fingers, and a heart full of grief. All of his friends and even his dogs meet dreadful ends because of him. Well, not even Bruen is heartless enough to eliminate every last one. Maybe there is a short story that will clear up the oversight. Jack drinks! He likes a Guinness and a Jameson chaser. He likes the Guinness built just right. In the right mood, he can lose months of his life to these libations and then months more to the aftermath.

He can’t go into a bar without someone, usually a woman, with a wad of cash, sidling up to him and saying, “You’re Jack Taylor.” It may be a simple job, like ‘find my lost brother’ -who is entirely fictional, but more often as time has gone on, it has been ‘Look what this bastard did to my girl. Get me some payback.” Payback gets gotten, although not always by Jack. Jack’s a hurley stick man, but others in his orbit use more lethal means.

Jack is a good man, his landlady says early on and his good friend, the outside nun, later on. He is a keen man for justice, humanized by reading and music and his love of dogs and swans. He has been hardened by his “walking bitch of a mother with her tame priest”, by the corruption of the church and  the government, by the miserable poverty attendant on the collapse of the Celtic Tiger and, perhaps most of all, by the water tax.

Suffice to say Bruen knows from PTSD.

The Irish have a reputation for enjoying a drop. I do not say drunkenness. Who am I to judge? I lived with Connor for many years. He gave up martinis every Lent. I lived in hell for 40 days each spring. I have a beloved relative, Colin, who is more sensible and less church-ridden. He says of his year-round habit, “Mostly ice,” as he pours his Bombay Gin. Vermouth doesn’t even get to breathe on the glass. Both get loquacious, even argumentative. I got many a cooking lesson in front of guests from Connor. Neither fall down or pass out or miss work.

I find it hard to read the Joe Nesbo books where Harry Hole descends into drunkenness and heroin. But then some experiences have to be first hand: sex is another one. And Harry is needed sober and strong back in Norway.

College binge drinking lost its glow for me before I got out of high school. Just that one, totally horrible, unable-to-feel-appendages experience put me right off. The stag and doe parties that I see depicted on Brit telly and which apparently happen here as well are not my cup of booze. I also had a terrible experience with a brownie on my niece’s 50th. That  limited my appreciation of getting high for good and all.

I know I drink too much wine for a person of my age and constitution. A 6-oz-glass puts me in legal jeopardy, although drinking in solves that problem. Drinking alone? Get real.

(A librarian once told my daughter never to eat while reading. My daughter was outraged, “You have to eat, you know.)

So the flaming world is falling apart. The leader of the free part is tailoring his actions to please 30% of his country. They don’t seem to be terribly well-informed about historical precedent. They don’t seem to know much geography and certainly even less economic theory than the rest of us. Which is saying something! They can’t tell a good guy (Canada) from a bad guy ( Russia). They claim to be helpless to prevent child massacres on their home soil. To them, children separated from parents and locked in what sure do look like kennels if not cages, brought that on themselves, and can damn well show up in court to coo or babble their own defense – in Spanish.

Who wouldn’t drink?

The most drunken person I ever met was my Aunt Mae. She was drunk on the love of Jesus, and joyfully swept all and sundry up in her ecstasy. Also she wouldn’t say no to a nip of brandy.

Jesus and I fell out one time.

Yet I know that what woke me up this night and what is keeping me awake is fear and self-restraint and that the answer is release.

Coleman Barks organizes some of Rumi’s poems into ‘Tavern Madness’ in Rumi: the Book of Love. The tavern is a place where passion breaks loose, an excited place where one is out of one’s mind, with others.There is the shared sense of the presence flowing through. We are connected. We are one, present and absent at the same time. I love the poem that says
I didn’t come here of my own accord
And I can’t leave that way
Whoever brought me here will have to take me home.


It reminds me that something has charge over me. Whatever that is will see me safe home.When I read that, I remember I am not alone in passion or rage or goodness or hope or despair or terror. Whether what holds us together is DNA or Soul, it is universal and wise enough, drunken enough, to triumph.

In the meanwhile raise a glass – soda water with or without lemon will do. Drunkenness, O Necessarily Sober One, is fundamentally not about alcohol.

(Full disclosure: my biological grandfather, who hailed from the Emerald Isle, died syphilitic  in New Hampshire madhouse. But may have been teetotal.)