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, August 26, 2018

Saying goodbye

It never gets any easier
Yesterday one of my favorite politicians died from brain cancer. He was 81 and would have turned 82 this coming Wednesday. This is not news to anybody, but for me it was a bit of a shock. When I learned last year that he had developed the same kind of cancer that Ted Kennedy and Beau Biden died from, but that it had been caught early, I was hopeful that even at 80 he would prevail.

When I read over the past year about the amazing breakthroughs made in treatment of this particular type of cancer, I began to hope. John McCain was always a true fighter and, over the years, I watched him stay true to his beliefs, even bucking the party line when it wasn't what he thought was right. But I sure didn't expect to feel the way I did when I learned last week that he had stopped treatment for his condition. That told me, sadly, he also would succumb.

I felt a kinship with him for many reasons. We were both parachutists, and when I visited the "Hanoi Hilton" in Vietnam years ago, I saw a display behind glass of the gear he was wearing when he was captured by the Viet Cong. Inside, along with his jumpsuit and helmet, was his parachute, the thick lines coiled neatly and the faded silk of his canopy looking like it could be used even today. Pictures of him during his five years of captivity were arranged alongside the display. I was fascinated and spent a good long time studying it.

The Vietnam War was horrible in so many ways, both sides suffering such terrible losses while those in Washington stayed comfortably removed from the awfulness. Many years later, McCain became one of the leaders in Washington who fought to normalize our relations with Vietnam, and now many veterans from that war have returned to the country to try to make sense of it all. Today I see homeless veterans on the streets begging on street corners. I despair for our sense of fairness. What a world!

There have been quite a few people over the years whom I have mourned, even though I only knew them through the media, from Martin Luther King and JFK, to Kofi Annan and Nelson Mandela. Great people that I shared the planet with for a short or long time. We all end up dead in the long run, but mourning good people who pass away before we do is cause for reflection and sadness on our loss. The world will long remember these remarkable people.

I am only six years younger than McCain was when he died, and I realize that when he was 75, he was seemingly healthy, as I think I am. It's a reminder that age continues to cause our decline, and that's totally normal. Perhaps I'll make it into my eighties, but perhaps I will get sick and die before then. Normal either way. In any event, I don't think I would feel there is anything in my life that I left undone, or unsaid, or unexperienced. In these final years, I am trying to enjoy my many blessings and tie up any loose ends I've left unraveled.

I've had more than my fair share of loss over the years, starting when I was 22 and my son Stephen died suddenly of spinal meningitis. More than fifty years later, I am still trying to learn how to grieve properly. Back then, there were no grief support groups to attend, and I must say that first loss was the very hardest I've experienced. In 1993, when my mother died at the age of 69, I was able to handle it much better, and I've learned that the stages of grief are real: you don't stay feeling like your life is over for very long, and that gradually, very gradually, the scars of your loss will heal. But there will always be scars. You are never the same, just as John McCain bore the scars of his five years of torture for the rest of his life. I bear the scars of my losses, too, even if they are not visible they are just as real.

It's only when we allow our losses, which are a natural part of life, to distort us into incapacitation, make it impossible to carry on, that it becomes a problem. Today there are many ways to help us heal, ways that didn't exist a half century ago. If I were to lose my dear partner, for instance, I would grieve terribly, but I would attend support groups and connect with others going through the same thing. And I would find a way to carry on with my new scars, until I too finish my time here and move on.
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” – Winnie The Pooh
Today I will spend some time watching the news, which of course will be filled with stories and remembrances of McCain's time on earth. It will trigger some memories I've had of loved ones I've lost, and believe it or not, I cherish going into those reminiscences of times gone by, people long gone.

I will also remember to cherish those I share my time with, starting with the one who sleeps next to me right now, and those whom I look forward to seeing at the coffee shop, my neighbors, my friends, those of you in the blogosphere, those with whom I also share my life. It's good to be reminded of the brevity of life every once in awhile. So, dear friends, until we meet again next week, I hope you will do a little of that, too. I wish you well and that all good things will come your way.


Linda Myers said...

I heard about his death this morning and I am sad. He and I had different opinions on a number of issues, but as far as I am concerned he was a man of honor, and who can ask for more?

Marie Smith said...

What he suffered during that war gave him a perspective few others had. I saw how he spoke of Obama during the election campaign when supporters asked McCain about him. A man of honor indeed!

Linda Reeder said...

Yes, as Linda M said, we had different opinions on government, but I almost always respected him (there was that Sarah Palin thing) for he was truly a man of honor.

William Kendall said...

I picked up a paper this morning and the front page had the news. It wasn't unexpected given the last few days. He was a complicated but fundamentally decent and good man, and honourable. The world needs more like him.

Arkansas Patti said...

He and I didn't agree on many things but how many people in your life are you in total agreement with? However he didn't let rigid party lines dominate. I felt he always had the American people's best interest at heart first. He was an anchor in rough waters and will be missed.

Rian said...

I personally think the best epitaph ever is "he was an honorable man".

Elephant's Child said...

An honourable man who enriched the world.

Gigi said...

I was very sad to hear of his passing. He was one of the very few politicians who seemed honorable and bent on doing what was right whether or not his party agreed with him. We need more people like him in this world.

Linda d said...

A good, honorable man. The world is a bit more scary with him gone.

Far Side of Fifty said...

He was a good man, a survivor of awful torture as a POW.

Susan C. said...

I know nothing about American politics but he appeared to be a man who having suffered a great deal (like so many great leaders did) came through with humanity and empathy....(like so many great leaders did) we should learn from people like him....if we were clever.

Red said...

Losses cause us to stop and consider where we are. We usually pick ourselves up and move on again.We all have losses to experience. We also have to consider our own end and come to terms with that.

Rita said...

I may not have agreed with many of his positions, but he was a man who went through darkness most of us cannot even imagine yet found his way through it without losing his light. I greatly admired that he could put country before party. Seems especially hard to lose a selfless, honorable man right now.

Tabor said...

That Pooh quote says it all. If you have nothing to mourn for, you have not led a ery rich life.

Galen Pearl said...

I came back from my cabin (no access to news there) to hear about his death. I was sad too. I'm glad that Obama and Bush will give eulogies.

I love that Pooh quote. I was talking to someone recently who still mourned the death of a parent who died some time ago. How wonderful, I thought, to have loved someone so much that their death had such an impact.

Rhapsody Phoenix said...

Ah life.
We live.
We died.
If we are smart we laugh a lot, share the love we feel for others with them and leave a mark of acceptance and grace upon all we meet.

CrazyCris said...

Moving words DJan.

I remembered thinking 10 years ago, I wouldn't have minded too much if he won the elections instead of Obama, because he seemed to really stand for something, even if I didn't agree with it all. (until he selected Palin as a running mate... ouch! He fell a few notches in my regard there)

He was definitely an honorable man, who believed in his country and was true to his beliefs. He will definitely be mourned and missed.

I try not to think about loss too much, I know it will come inevitably (and with the grandparents already has). Just thinking of it brings me down. When I see others lose close family members I always wonder how they move on. I guess "this too shall pass" for everyone.

Dee said...

Dear DJan, last September a friend and I vacationed for three days in Washington, D.C. While there, I rode the underground tram from the Senate Office building to the Capitol. Stepping off the tram, I stood directly in front of John McCain who was waiting to get on.

I have always voted a Democratic ticket. But I have admired John McCain, even whole disagreeing with some of his policies. Who would not admire a man of such great integrity. A man of great morals, not afraid to walk a path different from his party. A man who people his country and its citizens above mere Party policies and partisanship.

So I said to him, "Senator McCain, I so admire your integrity. And the courage it took to vote as you did for the health care law." He looked at me--really looked-- and smiled. Then he put his left arm around the middle of my back and said, "Thank you. that means the world to me." I was so touched by his graciousness.

I so remembered that encounter during the days after his death when I watched television and heard all that was said in praise of him. Peace.