The Paradox of Love – Joan and John

This is my second post in a series about the paradox of love. It is a little different in that it’s about a man I’ve met, and a couple in love. I’ve included two of his poems.

Let’s answer this question: What is the best hoped-for outcome of any relationship?

Even Grimm’s Fairy Tales don’t finish with the “and they lived happily ever after” fantasy. The best we can hope for is, until death do us part. Barring the end of the movie The Notebook, murder-suicide pacts, or certain accidents; someone gets left. And we are often made miserable by our loss, about being left without someone we love, or about how that happened.

I don’t know John Gorow well. We attend the same writer’s group. John’s an old timer in the group; I’m new. He agreed to allow me to publish the story he related to me, and the poems he wrote. It is a remarkable and inspirational story. His poems are wonderful.

Joan and John Gorow met in 1969, when both were recovering from divorce. Prior to their marriage in 1972, Joan told John that she had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). According to John, Joan’s health setbacks did not begin for about 28 years. Since 2000, her MS was a problem. Then came breast cancer. While treatment led to a full recovery, a Parkinson’s diagnosis soon followed, in addition to her worsening MS.

For approximately 15 years, John was Joan’s constant companion and full-time caregiver. As Joan’s health continued to deteriorate, the burden on John increased. In response to that challenge, John wrote the following beautiful, heart-wrenching poem.

***
CAREGIVER
by John Gorow

Time moves on
Inconvenient impairments become life altering
Legs don’t do what she wants
Hands have difficulty holding things

Normal chores are no longer normal
Cooking becomes dangerous
Washing dishes is impossible
Clothes can’t be carried to the washer while using a walker
The vacuum can’t be pushed
Self-worth begins to fade.

The one who has been cared for must now give care
She has cooked for me
It is my turn to cook for her
She washed our clothes
I will do the washing
She kept our home clean
I will try my best

It is assumed we all can dress ourselves
That is no longer true
Showering on her own can’t be done
No more going to the bathroom by herself

Memory slips – confusion arrives
What day is it?
Where are we?
I need patience
We talk, and then we laugh – I cry on the inside

Kids tell me to get help
I finally do – one day a week
Who is it harder on – her or me?
I get some freedom – she does not.

Caregiving is tough
Better than the alternative
I want her as she was
It will not happen
But then again, I do have her

(October 17, 2013)

***

Seven months ago, on October 22, 2016, John no longer had Joan with him. Since then, John has suffered and struggled with his pain. He wrote the following poem to directly address grief in response to the prompt: what brought you to your knees? In the fifth stanza, he directly addresses the paradox of love, vis-à-vis his grief.

***

GRIEF
by John Gorow

Who are you, grief?
Why do you pester me?
You have dropped me to my knees.

I knew I would have to deal with you,
But is it forever?
You keep lingering in my life.

I think you may be gone,
Then you grab me once again.
My laughs turn into tears.

Others have told me about you,
But you don’t behave the same with all.
I can’t determine when you will rise again.

What a paradox.
I have tried to hate you,
But without love you wouldn’t be here.

I know we will take the rest of my journey together,
So I must accept you.
That acceptance will be slow.

You should know
I will no longer dread the tears you bring me,
You will need to accept that.

You can stay with me,
But I will slowly rise from my knees.
I will move forward, but not forget.

(May 18, 2017)

***

I want to close this post with the same line John ended his email to me. It’s a beautiful one-line poem of five words.

“I miss her very much.”

***

As we look both ways and mind the gaps,
let’s not forget that some of us are suffering.
Let us love and support each other, and at all times, let us cherish those we love –
paradox or not.

 

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NaPoWriMo #16 (No AtoZ on Sunday)

This poem is about underground coal miners – people who did, or do, very dangerous work. My father and grandfathers were three. This is also about life in our home when Dad still worked in the mines.

During my early teens, the mining business shut down in northeastern Pennsylvania. This was due to the Knox Mine Disaster in the late 1950s and the easy, cheaper, and cleaner use of oil to heat homes. Today, most coal mined in the USA is exported, but the industry continues to decline. Only 30% of electrical power in America is produced by coal.

Old coal mine entrance. A dark abyss.

Nearer My Hell to Thee
By Bill Reynolds

Before leaving the daylight, and going into the pits,
They look deep into the ground, to the soul of the abyss.
The blackest of blacks, the darkest of darks, and danger,
The dank abyss peers back as men descend into nature.

Far below ground, the mine was there lurking, waiting;
That dangerous, disgusting damnation of sound,
For some small wages, they go into that hole far underground.

Deadly it was and deadly it is, they never know when…
Many wives cried at the loss of their men,
Who died in the gut of the deplorable depths.

It was frightening work miners chose, those jobs that killed.
Black hard hats on heads, mining lamps on to cut the dark,
But still never safe. In denial or not, it was dangerous work.

Blackjack and Brass Knuckles same as my father had.

Father was, and so were both grandfathers, miners all.
Walking home through muddy fields and dark alleys,
Dangerous on pay days; all cash in their pockets,
With blackjacks and knuckles, maybe a gun.

He’d push open the gate, then let it slam with a thud.
Dad would stomp up the stairs and in the back door,
It was always the back way after a day’s work.

Covered with coal dust,
The sweat of the labor, and the stink of the mines;
Smoking his Camels, always coughing and coughing.
But he was my Dad, and it was always like this.

I remember Dad much blacker.

Everything filthy, his clothing all rotting,
Black on his skin, and in his gray hair,
He didn’t know about the black in his lungs,
the deadly back dust was glued on hard, but not to his soul.

White at his eyes and over his lips,
he’d set down his lunch pail. No hugs, no kisses,
just “hiya,” and not much of a welcome.

His coat and his cap, and his boots all come off.
Trounced upstairs to the bath, footsteps pounding the way,
Transformation, about to take place.

In cold water each day, he washed coal dirt away,
From his face and his hair, his neck and his chest,
From his waist to his feet, but not from the rest.

Nothing could wash the coal miner away.

Not the water, the union, the beer, or smokes.
Not on the inside, from his throat nor deep in his lungs.
Black dust in his body and in with his blood.

In a coal mine.

It was always the same, until the disaster.
Miners to work, to suffer and die.
Returning to homes, dirty but to homes they came.

Then one day, the depression set in.
The mines all shut down, proud miners, no work.
One day it all ended and everything changed.

Miners laid off, the mines were all closed.
Oil was king, and nobody noticed.
No more abyss, just a new kind of dark.

If you not yet sufficiently depressed, watch this.

Mind the gaps and look both ways.

Poem: Mortality

Apparently, like so many things in life, sometimes it just ain’t happenin’. So, with my apologies, here is more poetic driveling twaddle by this old flapdoodle.

Mortality
by Bill Reynolds

Life gives us surprises – good news and bad.
William who wrote, and he basically said
Nothing is good, nor is it so bad, somewhere I read,
We judge it to be. It’s all in our head.

Not our thinking to make it, ‘tis just what we do.
In the mind’s eye, does yours see it too?
Let’s take on this life, with its up and its downs.
Bring it on now, I’ll return parts not used.

What has no beginning and nothing for end?
Every life, it seems, must continually mend.
Then, it concludes with a message to send,
Forever can deal with what’s left in the end.

Mortality saves me from losing more friends,
Our state of reality gives a second great worth,
Listen again to sounds long ago penned,
To be in a life, since the time of our birth.

While all this must end, it’s all that we have,
So live to the best, and into eternity send,
We played with the good along with the bad,
No one will ask, after we’re gone,
To return all happiness and fun that we had.

Let’s live it to the fullest, defiant to the end.
But, look both ways, no need to rush it.
Mind the gaps, too.

Elegy Poem for Mom

An elegy is a mournful poem. I wrote this elegy regarding the loss of my mother, more than 25 years after her death. The elegy is one of the oldest poetic forms. It’s identified by what it says, not how it says it.  The Greek word elegeia means song of mourning, and is often included in classical Greek tragedies.

Missing Mom

The day Mom died, I stood there and cried.
To the surface my guilt came out of my eyes,
Beside her deathbed, letting go of our life.
Her suffering had ended, and I was alone.

No person is perfect, no human unsoiled.
Enshrined mother’s love, was sunshine to me,
‘twas the essence of my childhood memory,
My loss just the same, never again she will be.

She’d lived a rough life, through to the end,
But she loved me as only the mother to son,
That unconditional love, will never be done.
Only her death could end our last day.

Alone. Just alone.

Her voice and her scent, ecstasy to me.
So much I still miss them. I can still see.
“Hiya,” she’d say, to even the worst.
As kind as she was, so how she asked me to be.

Mom we still miss you, your face and your smile,
The sound of your voice, the look in your eyes.
Never again, will you be for us to see.
The loss that brings a sadness, one forever I’ll feel.

Mind such gaps, look both ways, and remember love.

There is a Time

I first wrote this blog several weeks ago. Then, I gave it up and decided not to post it. However, something happened to change my mind – so here it is.

right-to-die2When would you like to die?

I choose never. I also would like to remain mentally and physically healthy during that time. I want the never die answer to apply to all people I love, like, care about, and anyone who I don’t want to leave me. It’s settled – no more death, no more suffering before death in lonely misery and pain. No more loss, being left, or watching someone wither away with cancer. Problem solved in less than 80 words. Praise be.

This is an issue of rights. I’m one of many who think our right to die is as basic as any natural human right. We can’t choose when and how we die. No one can help anyone else decide that.

Any of us could be accidentally killed at any time. Otherwise, and more likely, the people we pay to keep us alive will find that, eventually, nothing they can do will prevent the inevitable.

right-to-die3

I assume that for most (not all) of my family, my death would be something of a big deal. Like birth, it’s a one-time thing. Unlike birth and life, death has no end. But it does have a process called dying, and that seems to be the larger concern we share regarding the topic. It is the getting from life to death that we worry about. I am going to tell you about two deaths.

When I first met Dixie about four years ago, she was a fairly spry and cantankerous 98-year-old lady. I attended Dixie’s 99th birthday party. I watched as she introduced each arriving guest to each of the 15 or so other persons in the room, correctly by name and relationship. Then, she would tell a little story about each new arrival. Dixie stood, and moved around the room, in short heels through all of this for two hours. I was amazed. Her 100th birthday party was a memorial service. Dixie died in her home of a heart attack or similar cardiac event about six months later. If we could all be Dixie, I would not be writing this.

I met Joe less than two years ago, when I moved into the same apartment building. Last April, I attended his 96th birthday party. While not quite up to Dixie’s condition, Joe seemed fine to me. He was able to get around well with a walker. He drove and took care of virtually all his personal issues. Joe was very independent. I’ve been told that he informed others (not me) that he was concerned, and if his health failed too much, he would commit suicide.

After returning from a trip to the emergency room a few weeks ago, sometime during the night, Joe stepped into his bath tub and used a pistol to end his life. He was alone at the time and left no note and no explanation. I was shocked. But as I learned more, I’ve come to understand his motivation.

right-to-die1I live in state where physician assisted suicide and death with dignity are legal. However, getting a prescription is not easy and a patient must be terminal within six months. There is more to this. I don’t believe that we have the right to force people like Joe into this position. But we do.

In most of America, it’s illegal for us to receive any assistance in bringing about this inevitable event. Suicide is illegal in some states.

Jose H. Gomez, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles, CA, has written about the right to die: “There is no such thing.” Many religious people will not grant anyone the right to end their own life (believers or not). The circumstances don’t matter: age, pain, suffering, loss of all hope of recovery, or loss of any dignity. Only “natural” death is permissible. If that’s what people want for themselves, good for them. But for others who wish to die, evil and cruel laws are unacceptable.

I fully understand the difficulty of this issue. Click here to read a good article on the right to die with a fantastic video, both of which are much more balanced than my opinion. Another eye-opener is an excellent TED talk on dying that I have watched several times. Click here to view it.

right-to-die4I’m sure that we’re technically and legally smart enough to figure this out so that people like Joe, or others with painful terminal illness can be granted the relief that a god who cared would grant them. But that is only going to be possible as we become more secular and religion is separated from law.

For each of us, there is a time to be born and a time to live. Always look both ways because there is also a time to die.

DEATH

The inevitable & unavoidable conclusion to life.

The inevitable & unavoidable conclusion to life.

During late October many cultures begin preparing for the first days of November. They remember the dead, acknowledge the end of harvest, and prepare for the dark days of winter. It begins with Halloween, then All Souls’ or All Saints’ Day, The Day of the Dead, and Samhain. Many believe it’s the time of year when we’re closest to the other world and death itself. The Fairy Tree story that ends this blog tells a wee bit more.

death6

It’s our only certainty—we die. Beliefs about what follows the end of human life range from nothing to Paradise and 72 virgins or reincarnation. Let’s not forget the whole Dante’s Inferno thing. Our beliefs about an after life affect our choices while living.

While no one has told of their experience following permanent death (we have near death accounts), there are stories with bits of information. Little of it is dependable or useful. Theories abound, but the database of the deceased is void of demonstrable facts. Only the dead know, and they’re not talking.

Efforts to resist death seem logical, but are eventually fruitless. While many consider death a condition leading to afterlife, most people (not all) avoid dying as long as possible. An exception is when living prolongs a life of hopeless suffering. Others choose death through martyrdom. We disagree about our right to die (whole other blog) and we normally work hard to keep living.

death4In the United States, more than two-million people die each year. The CDC reports the top four causes as heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease, and accidents. I say, smoking, smoking, smoking, and driving plus illicit drugs because they are the major producers or triggers of those four “causes.” The root cause of most preventable premature deaths in the USA is smoking (so quit).

It can be difficult to determine the difference between a still living or recently deceased person. Without more information, we can only define death as an absence of life. Our legal descriptions require a physician to certify the time and cause of death. While absence of all brain activity normally defines death, court cases fog the legal definition. When there are uncertainties, we gain information through autopsy.

death3

While we’re fascinated with death, many of us avoid serious discussion of it and find it morbidly unpleasant. The death of friends, loved ones, and people we hold in high esteem represent the ultimate, painful loss. Our own death signals loss and aloneness, which is sometimes comforted by religious beliefs.

death2

Yet, we sing of death, we write about death, and we (should) discuss it. We often honor death’s inevitability with both art and science.

Since first hearing it, I’ve liked Ralph Stanley’s (died, June 2016) rendition of the song, Oh, Death, which is a plea with the Grim Reaper for another year of life. It was made famous in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? Hear a short version by clicking here.

From a list of ten poems about death, I selected two by famous poets. All ten can be found here.

“Death” by Rainer Maria Rilke (died 1926)

Before us great Death stands
Our fate held close within his quiet hands.
When with proud joy we lift Life’s red wine
To drink deep of the mystic shining cup
And ecstasy through all our being leaps—
Death bows his head and weeps.

From Queen Mab, by Percy Bysshe Shelley (became famous after his death in 1822)

How wonderful is Death,
Death, and his brother Sleep!
One, pale as yonder waning moon
With lips of lurid blue;
The other, rosy as the morn
When throned on ocean’s wave
It blushes o’er the world;
Yet both so passing wonderful!

death1Life is the time made precious by our inevitable death. May we fully enjoy the many pleasures and loves discovered and experienced while living. And may we all “…lift Life’s red wine to drink deep of the mystic shining cup…” because death is next for each of us.

Life is uncertain, look both ways.