I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Day of the Dead

I saw a couple of women outside the Farmers' Market who had set up this table display for the Day of the Dead, November 1. They looked like mother and daughter to me, and the mother spoke no English and her daughter translated as I asked about the display. They are selling the sugar skulls for $5 each, to be set in your window to remember your loved ones. Mother told me that November 1 is to remember your lost children, and November 2 is to remember your lost adults. They had handouts telling more about the Mexican holiday of Dia de los Muertos.

What I discovered in searching for the origins of the holiday is that in the Catholic Church, November 1 is All Saint's Day, and November 2 is All Soul's Day. Makes sense to me, and Wikipedia tells me the following:
Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars honoring the deceased using sugar skullsmarigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed and visiting graves with these as gifts. Due to occurring shortly after Halloween, the Day of the Dead is sometimes thought to be a similar holiday, although the two actually have little in common. The Day of the Dead is a time of celebration, where partying and eating is common.
So here it is Halloween and I'm thinking about my lost children. It's been such a long time ago that Stephen died, back in 1965, and he was only 13 months old. It was a life-changing event, because at the age of 22, I had no idea how to process the loss and became a lost soul myself. Chris was four years old at the time, and he basically lost his mother as well as his brother. It's a time that I rarely look back on. But for the Day of the Dead, I want to remember them. My strongest positive memory of that time is a day when Stephen and I played peekaboo on the bed, with him laughing in that strong baby way, his whole body convulsed with laughter, which of course made me laugh, too. We kept this up for hours, and it remains a strong visual and auditory memory.

I suppose it's normal that with the passage of time your memories begin to fade. I realized when thinking of writing this post that this has already begun to happen with Chris, too. He died in August 2002, now more than eight years ago, and the awful memories of those days of his sudden death have  begun to fade, too. I wrote about it here, and I don't want to think of those days right now, but instead the person he was to me.

Chris had a lot of characteristics of his father, whom I had divorced not long after the death of Stephen. Many people know that the death of a child can be a catalyst to force the parents either closer to each other or apart. We didn't have a great marriage, much of which I attribute to our youth and inexperience. I think we would have made it if Stephen hadn't died. Those characteristic mannerisms of his father and ways of looking at the world that Chris displayed are now precious memories. Funny how something that annoyed me has now become something to make me smile with fond recollection.

Chris was really smart. He liked to make up new words that were similar to familiar sounding words and would amaze me with them. I can't today think of any particular ones, but I attribute that to my fading ability to recall them. One day when he was a kid of ten or twelve, I got a call from the school that he had arrived without his shoes. This was in Michigan in February! (After Chris would walk to school, I left for work.) He had ditched his shoes because he read that Indians didn't need them, and he wanted to see what it was like!

He had a great sense of humor, and I can still remember his infectious laugh, which makes me smile just to think of it. He was also a ladies' man, always coming to visit me as an adult with a different woman, and almost all of them had a small child. Chris always adopted these kids in his heart, and I think it was the loss of the relationship with the kids that hurt him the most when they broke up. He never married until he was in the Army, in Germany, and he married a German woman who had a young boy from a previous marriage. They were all very close when he died. Chris never fathered a child himself, and I've always wondered why.

My two sons are still alive in my heart, and Chris comes to visit me frequently in my dreams. I find that being around infants and especially babies around the age that Stephen was when he died fill a need that I still have. I am constantly amazed that the old adage about time healing all wounds is so often shown to me. There is no pain involved in the memories of either of my sons. I am sure that if I allowed myself to grieve for them, it would return, but what's the point? I want to remember them both with the love and devotion they deserve.

So that's what I'll do.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Thinking out loud

Today I am struggling to write in my usual Sunday morning fashion. Last week I was lamenting my folly about possibly hurting my ears by skydiving with a cold, and this week I have been tossing and turning at night thinking about Medicare and the lack of dental insurance. When I was employed, I had both health and dental coverage, and I never thought much about it. Today it's a whole different story. I waited until I was 65 to retire so that I could be covered by Medicare. And Medicare doesn't care anything about your teeth or your eyes, so you are left to cover that yourself.

If you aren't yet of Medicare age, hopefully by the time you get there the situation will be improved, or at least changed, from what it is today. The confusing number of options and how they affect you is astounding. I don't know how somebody whose mental faculties are diminished can cope. I consider myself smart and with all my faculties, and I am completely flummoxed.

It all started when I received a letter in the mail this week from my primary care doctor that he will no longer accept the Medicare Advantage plan I am currently on. If you only carry straight Medicare, only 80% of your costs are covered, and you have to find a prescription drug plan anyway. The Advantage plans cover both. Medicare has four parts: A covers your hospitalization; B covers medical insurance; C the Advantage plans, and D is drug coverage. Then there are private insurance companies who sell "Medigap" plans that cover the parts of A and B that Medicare doesn't cover. These costs together than be totally crippling. But, as many of us know, illnesses these days can bankrupt you forever, if you end up in a hospital for any length of time.

If you watch any doctor and hospital shows (like House or Grey's Anatomy), they never seem to consider the costs of all the tests and operations they perform at the drop of a hat. That's not the way it works in our country, for sure. You don't opt for expensive treatments, and if you have no insurance at all, you don't even get regular examinations. I cannot believe how much I took for granted in my employment: I was completely covered at no cost to myself in the early 1980s; at a very small cost to me in the late 1980s, but before I retired in 2008, the costs were horrendous. I was paying more than $400 every month out of my paycheck for MY portion of health insurance costs. My employer paid the rest and was busy trying to get everyone to move to something that required you to deposit $5,000 for each person into an account and draw from it.

I didn't worry; I was ready for Medicare, and I thought all my problems would be solved. NOT! At first, in Boulder, I enrolled in a Humana Advantage plan that only cost me $20 a month, and I would pay a co-pay at my doctor's office of $15 for each visit, $30 if I needed to see a specialist. It worked great, but then we moved to Washington state, where the same plan cost five times as much and was not accepted by most doctors around here. Humana is not very popular up here. You can only change your plan once a year, November 15 to December 31, but since I was in my initial enrollment period, I was able to change to something else. I spent countless hours on the phone trying to work all this out, but I finally decided to stay on regular Medicare with a Medigap plan, and a separate prescription drug plan. Even if you don't take any drugs, you are penalized for the rest of your life if you don't sign up right away with Part D.

It worked quite well for that first year, except that I was paying $200 a month (plus the $100 that Medicare deducts from your benefits for Part B), and I never saw the doctor except for a checkup. It seemed to be too much to me, so last year I moved to the Medicare Advantage plan that was accepted by my doctor and covered drugs, too. It worked so well... until now. Being forced to go back into the morass and figure out how to proceed has kept me awake so many nights. And the real problem is that there is nothing for couples, so if you figure that Smart Guy also needs coverage, and we have only our Social Security and annuities, you can see that the costs can spiral out of control very quickly.

Then there's the dentist. After checking into dental insurance, which is ridiculous in both its costs and coverage, I decided to just bite the bullet, pay all the costs myself. Of course not long after finding a new dentist, I needed to have orthodontic surgery and an old crown replaced. We are talking thousands of dollars here. I have also reluctantly concluded that the aforesaid crowned tooth is going to require a root canal, because in four months it still bothers me daily. Another thousand dollars into my mouth. All my savings are dwindling in order to keep myself from going into debt.

Now I know that there are so many people who have absolutely no recourse, no job and no insurance, so I should count my blessings. But the reality is that as I get older, my teeth will continue to cost me more; my health needs cannot be counted on to remain static; and I am approaching my 68th birthday. Not far from there to seventy.

Old age is not for sissies. It not only requires more determination to stay fit, but it also requires assistance from the health community. And the ability and income to access it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


This Sunday morning I am sitting up in bed (as usual) with my laptop warming my legs as I write, but without Smart Guy in bed next to me. He decided to get up, since my coughing fits kept him from being able to sleep much last night. Same for me.

I noticed a scratchy throat early last week but didn't think much about it, since I figured it was my time to get whatever is going around, and everyone gets a cold now and then. This one started gently and made me think it would gently leave. But no, that's not what has happened. Some sneezing and congestion, but nothing to keep me from my workouts. By the time I got to Thursday, though, night after night with a sore throat, I stayed home from my usual hike with the Seniors. I really wanted to go, but I figured that six hours on a hike with a sick person would not make me especially popular. I stayed home thinking I was being smart and would bounce back quickly, like I always do.

Yesterday, Saturday, I woke feeling well enough to head down to Snohomish and join my favorite people for a couple of skydives in the sunshine. I really thought I was well enough. The first jump went without incident, so I packed up to make another one. This time, however, upon opening the canopy my right ear didn't act right and simply hurt. I guess my sinuses had enough gunk in them to keep my ears from equalizing the pressure. I landed and realized that I shouldn't have been out there jumping anyway, but I did think I was well enough with most of the congestion being in my chest. I made a mistake and this morning the ear is sore and complaining.  I don't think I did any permanent damage, though, and I had a good time with my friends. It's amazing how much difficulty I have staying home from skydiving when the weather is fine and my friends might have too much fun without me. I've got more than 4,000 skydives but sometimes I act like a newbie.

Last night I got up in the middle of the night, unable to stop coughing and went to the all-night store for some cough suppressant. Not only was I unable to get much sleep, but Smart Guy, who never complained and offered to go to the store for me, couldn't have slept more than a few hours either. I would have let him go instead of me, had I known what I needed. I was the only person in the store other than the guy at the register. Music blared overhead anyway, I guess it never goes away. After reading the labels carefully, I got what seemed to be the most straightforward option. Went home, swallowed the liquid and went back to bed.

Now I sit here, thinking that this must be the least interesting post I've ever made here. But it's what is on my mind right now: my folly and my illness. It's hard to think of much else when you're not feeling well. If it were not for my ear, the congestion, my croaky voice, the cough -- why, I'd be just fine!

I am not a good patient. Between whining and complaining, I overextend myself because of a belief that I am indestructible, which is not true. There's a whole lot of denial in my mental makeup, but it's usually invisible because I can't see what I don't acknowledge. I remember my paternal grandmother who disowned her daughter. Until the day she died, when asked about her daughter, she would say, "I have no daughter." Even when she was dying and Edith (her daughter) wanted to see her to make amends, she said no, she had no daughter.

I wonder if traits like denial and lack of forgiveness are inherited. I never spent any length of time with my grandmother, but she lives inside me, and I wonder about it. If I told you who I think I am, it would not be accurate, because I don't think any of us can see who we are except through the lens of our family and friends.

Or is that true? Is it worthwhile to look inside for the answers? If so, how does one go about it? That is what this blog is supposed to help me with, but I am flailing here, wanting to discover something about myself that might be unknowable.

I'll feel entirely different when I'm well. So here you are with my October ruminations.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Happy birthday, John

Yesterday would have been John Lennon's 70th birthday. I saw many references to it, and I find it very interesting that thirty years after he was killed, he is still remembered and even revered by so many. He was the Beatle who meant the most to me, and I followed his career closely. I was among those who were devastated when he was shot and killed.

I found this picture of him on the Internet, and if you enlarge it, you can see it is made of myriad different images of him. I remember when he took several years off to raise his little son and be a stay-at-home dad. Not many men would do that in those days, although today it's much more common. He was such a creative and amazingly talented person, but I am still surprised that he is still in the hearts of so many of us. I still miss him, and I wonder what he would have done with those thirty years that were taken from him.

Today is a special day in other ways, too. It's October 10, 2010, or 10/10/10. Next year we'll have an 11/11/11, and the year after that, 12/12/12 which is supposed to be the End of the World. Or some believe it's 12/21/12, to be exact, right at the Solstice. I spent some time reading about it on Wikipedia and found that the ancient Mayan calendar ends at that time, and several other people and fringe groups project significance on the date. I suppose as we get closer we will have many more apocalyptic warnings. Reminds me of the Y2K hysteria.

Today, however, I can simply admire the symmetry of the alignment of all those tens lined up in a row. Exactly the same number of years that John had stolen from him by a madman's gun. I can still wonder what he might have accomplished in those years. When I look at Sir Paul McCartney's thirty-year journey, and compare what I think John would have accomplished, I speculate about where John's brilliant and unique mind would have traveled.

We were of a similar age. He was born in 1940, and I was born in 1942. I will be seventy in two years, and it's been an amazing thirty years, when I think back to the person I was in 1980 and travel backwards in time through my memories. One event stands out: a few days after John was killed, there was a worldwide solemn moment of silence planned at noon, I believe. I know it was in the middle of the day, and I was in sunny Boulder just leaving one of my favorite restaurants. Suddenly it grew quiet all around me, and I remembered the planned moment of silence and stopped where I was and allowed myself to feel the heaviness in my heart.

It grew very quiet, no cars whizzing by. The only sound at that moment was from a young man riding by on a motorcycle with a boom box on it, playing "Strawberry Fields Forever" at full volume. Everywhere around me I saw tears glinting on faces, loss and grief fresh for a man we only knew through his music. But what music it was.

Happy birthday, John. I still hear your music wafting through the airwaves, almost every day, thirty years later. Your songs have never lost their magic. I guess they never will.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


I've been sickened by the story of Tyler Clementi, the young Rutgers University student who jumped off the George Washington Bridge last week. He did it because the other two young people in this picture spied on him through a web cam in the privacy of his room and watched him having sex with another male student. Then Ravi streamed the video to his 150 Twitter followers. It's all over the news, and I can't help but think about Tyler's death and the shattered lives of Ravi and Wei, who were arrested and then released.

Tyler was a gifted musician who didn't know he was being watched during those moments of intimacy. I've wondered how I would feel if I found out that I had been spied on while having sex and decided that the sense of betrayal and invasion would be huge. All three of them were Rutgers freshmen and only 18 years old. You don't learn much about the rules of college in three weeks, that's all the longer they had been away from home and away at school. But I think Ravi didn't realize how awful a crime he was committing by spying on his roommate. If he had thought about how he would feel if the tables were turned, maybe he wouldn't have done it. But when you're 18, you don't think about consequences the way you do when you're an adult.

Tyler was a sweet, shy, gifted musician who had asked his roommate for the dorm room for a few hours. He didn't know what had happened until rumors started to spread about what Ravi had done and who watched him having sex. The last thing he did before heading to the bridge was to practice with another musician (who said he didn't know anything was wrong) and then take his wallet and cellphone out of his pocket before jumping off the bridge. I can only imagine the turmoil going on in his head.

An article published today on NJ.com has shown that this suicide and the act itself, all happening during the run-up to National Coming Out Week, is causing ripples throughout the world. Already action has been introduced in the New Jersey legislature to stiffen the criminal penalties for cyber-harrassment. Ellen DeGeneres put a plea on her program to ask people to be kind to each other and help to keep something like this happening again. And this tragedy is only one of four similar suicides at schools around the country since school began, all because of young kids being unable to handle the cruelty that others showed toward them because of being gay.

I keep waking up at night thinking about things, and this suicide keeps coming into my thoughts. It's because the world of instant media and streaming videos has become so easy to access, and young people don't seem to know how to handle it. From that article:
"Intolerance is growing at the same time cyberspace has given every one of us an almost magical ability to invade other people’s lives," said Robert O’Brien, a Rutgers instructor who says he has, by default, become a spokesman for "overwhelmed" lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students on campus.
 The juxtaposition of, as he says, an almost magical ability to invade other people's lives with thoughtless intolerance has caused this outcry. It's a sign of our times, and when you think of Facebook, Twitter, and web cams on every little device in our pockets, I guess this collision of values was inevitable. But I would have thought that this kind of invasion of privacy would only appeal to sick voyeurs.

Those two young voyeurs are probably very sorry about what they did, but it's too late for them, too. Their lives are irreparably changed because of this act, whether it was unthinking or premeditated. It doesn't matter: I'm sure they are in hiding somewhere, not going about their business at school as if nothing ever happened.

Our world is changing so fast, and technology is not only our friend (making it possible for me to write this and state my opinion) but also very much like a loaded gun in the hands of children.