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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Mother’s Happiness

I know little of what my parents thought about any deep subject such as a philosophy of life or their world view. I managed no more than hints or rare tidbits. Regarding my father, I remember too much of the bad and little of the good. The opposite is true of my mother.

I remember more in Mom’s case, and most of it good. The few bad memories were usually not her doing. Mom may have had her share of bad days, but I can’t remember one that was her fault.

My clearest memories are the pleasant ones about our overall relationship. We were close. Not in the best of friends sense you may hear some parents brag about. Mom was my parent – not my friend.

As a teenager or young adult, I would have railed against being called a “momma’s boy.” I now look back on our relationship with pride.

My mother protected me, mostly from Dad, but also from a few other things. Oddly, not from bullies. If I developed an early skill in dealing with them, it was avoidance. Later in life, my approach was more direct. Conversely, she liked telling people how she often broke blood vessels in her hands spanking me. I don’t recall any of that.

She and I argued our share. I was a momma’s boy – not a good or obedient boy. There were times when I was disappointed in her for not coming to my aid. Looking back, I now realize how right she was.

When she did help me, she did it her way. She helped me in a manner that permitted me the dignity of learning difficult lessons the hard way – which was apparently my preference. When she felt like I needed to learn a painful lesson, she gave me the space I needed. I now realize how difficult that must have been for her. My mother’s love for me, and mine for her were never in question.

When Dad’s health was declining and she felt like she needed to help him, she postponed action on the lump in her breast. After his death, she moved on to her own health care. Everything she did during the period of that treatment, she did with the occasional assistance of her sister. My sister and I lived too far away to be of much help.

While Mom was a long-term breast cancer survivor, the invasive disease brought on her death only after she decided to end most of the treatment.

But years before that, the spot on her lung had been removed and she was recuperating in the hospital the day my flight from Texas arrived in Pennsylvania. Walking down the hospital hallway, the sounds and smells were unique. I would know where I was had I been awakened blind.

As I walked down the hall following the directions I’d been given, I knew I would take the next right into another hall, then right again into her room. I anticipated walking in and finding her groggy and sore from the surgery. I envisioned her smiling up at me, weak and tired. I turned the corner.

The window at the end of that hall looked down on the hospital’s parking lot. Its sill of hard tile was about a foot deep. My recovering mother could easily sit there and gaze down to the parking lot, watching for me.

When she heard my voice, she turned her head and saw me walking toward her. The day after surgery, my 70-something mother jumped off the sill and started running toward me. Mom drove her five-foot-tall frame hard against me, wrapped her arms firmly around me, and then pulled my face down and kissed me.

After I suggested that she get back into bed, we walked to her room and she slid back onto the sheets and pillow. Mom was excited and chatty. She was always happy to see me. But on that day, her response was overwhelming. The doctors and nurses kept Mom alive. All I had to do was walk down the hall at the right time. I became the star of her show. I will always remember how happy she was to see me that day. I’m glad I could help.

Happy Mother’s Day to moms everywhere.
Look both ways and mind the gaps.

W – Wilkes-Barre’s Deer (NaPoWriMo #27)

The deer statue has been resting on the Luzerne County Courthouse lawn, in Wilkes-Barre (pronounced berry), PA, since 1909. However, it was first placed in the city’s central area, where the old courthouse was, in 1866. That was a year after President Lincoln was assassinated, the Civil War ended, and Walt Whitman wrote the poem, Oh Captain, My Captain (all in 1865).

I wrote this poem from the persona of the deer, who never seems to complain. Since home cameras and photography became popular, people have been taking pictures of friends and family sitting on the deer. The photo I used is of my mother holding me on the deer, circa. 1947. Thanks to Sue for tweaking it to look mo’ betta here.

 

 

***

I Knew You When…
by Bill Reynolds

Oh, deer me! As you can see,
my time here’s been so long.
The Civil War was in the past,
all memories aren’t quite gone.

One year after Whitman wrote
his poem of woe, his poem of hope,
I came to this city, I thought quite pretty.

On Public Square, I stood so proud,
for twenty-four years, I knew that crowd.

In nineteen-oh-nine, to a new home I moved,
to guard this lawn where I now stand.
O’er a hundred years, as I’ve now proved.

Six generations I’ve watched them grow,
grands both ways I got to know.

Been standing here without a sound,
through floods and droughts upon this ground,
storms and disasters all around.

I’ve felt your touch and bore your weight,
There’s more to come, so here I’ll wait.
Bring your camera and your smile,
for here I’ll be yet quite a while.

I was here, you all should know
the day yer granddad stood so near.
I’m sure we’ve met, but before I go,
It’s me they call the Court House Deer.

***

Remember the past, look to the future, live in the present.
Mind the gaps and be well.

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.

Insult Poem

Who knew? A form a poetry I can closely relate to. Disclosure: I enjoyed writing this. I went a little overboard with the vernacular — worked for me.

No real person, living or not, is depicted in this piece (except pics) — it’s a joke. A rotter is a cruel, stingy, or unkind person.

Ain’t Seen the Like

Yer ugly and a stupid lout.

I heerd ya drink da bath water,
Af’n yer old lady warshed da diapers out.

But, cha’ ain’t never gettin’ old; yer too rotter.

Yee’d have one redeeming feature,
If’n ye was dead, bu’cher sorry-ass ain’t.

Too bad, so sad, yer a hor’bile slimy creature.
Nah sir, lil’ fart, bu-chew never make’n saint.

Yer jis’ so feckin’ rotten, yer feets be a stinkin’
Yer mudder too asham’ ta le’cha go out.
If’n Ah wuz yer pappy, I’d be a-thinkin’
‘bout given yer nasty ass a good clout.

So I bin-a-tinkin, ‘bout nex weekind,
And yer putrid discustin’ slothy fate,
If’n ya steel wanna, an’ she’s still-a-willin’

Yer free ta take meh daughter on a date.

 

***

See the humor in life, lighten up, and look both ways.
Mind the gaps on country roads.

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.

Father Daughter Collaboration Poem

This poem is a collaboration poem written by my daughter, Julie, and me. We both worked on it. In fact, she initially wrote the first part, as a poem to me. It is not renga because it meets none of the normal forms. It is simply two people writing a poem to each other and collaborating, so style and form are free. One could look on it as a duet, or father – daughter billets-doux (love, or sweet letters). Ardor means enthusiasm or passion. My portion is italicized.

Dewey and Dad
by Julie Barber and Bill Reynolds

You are my father, tried and true
And you my daughter through and through.

You know my heart, my feet and hands too.
Some even say I look like you.
From birth and to your life throughout,
I’ve been there for you, without a doubt.

There was a time when things were harder.
I hope I’ve grown and become much smarter.
If we could go back, I’d want you my daughter.
Together we’ve grown older with ardor.

My father, wiser by the day…. Always profound things to say.
Sharing our life keeps misery at bay.

I look to you when the answers are grey.
You say, “let nothing get in our way.”
You heart and your talent come into play,
Find peace therein, as you work away.

Go out and write and use your talents
It will give your life more sense and balance.
Your words are like clay, your pen is your pallet,
Your life is your muse, your mind is your mallet.

Get off your ass and do it already
The world is uncertain, and time is unsteady.
It’s your life to live, you should live it as heady,
Be happy my child, ‘tis all worth it, you’re ready.

The fact you’re so far away makes me sad
But I’m more than proud and grateful you’re my dad.

She’s Julie, but I call her Dewey

Forever you’ll be my daughter to me,
A lifetime of love, we certainly have.

My daughter, our love surpasses all distance
No oceans divide us, our minds unite us.

As we see one to the other, it will always be,
You rank above others swimming the sea.

Mind the gaps, family, love, friends, and the important things in life.
Look both ways, and all around.