Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Parting Gift From Mom (And Dad)

Sometimes when I'm watching a game show I feel that if I won some money, even a small amount, it would change my life.  I'm one of those people who would go on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" and be happy just walking away with $16,000 or $32,000 rather than attempting to go for the whole million.

I am right.  Money can change one's life (or at least make certain things easier).  In no way am I saying you'll be happier with more money.  I don't believe for a second that money can buy happiness.  However, it can make things less stressful if you're smart about it.

My dad and mom made some good investments during their lifetimes.  This turned out to be quite a blessing when Mom had to move to assisted living.  With all of Mom and Dad's investments, including the sale of their house, we probably had enough to take care of Mom for 6 or 7 years, so that was a comfort.

Mom would have hated to know that the money she and Dad had saved would be paying for her to stay in a place she initially hated.  We were glad we had that money, though.

Obviously Mom's death made the use of that money null and void as far as her care was concerned (although we used a portion of it for her funeral and burial, any unpaid medical costs, and her remaining taxes, none of which was nearly as much as I would have anticipated).  We have been actually been quite blessed by what remained to be split among her four children.  All told, each of us has ended up with about $86,000.  And that is life-changing money.

Mom (and Dad) would be delighted to know that the money they intended to pass on to us would be used for the betterment of our lives.  And it will be, I hope.

I, for one, have been able to pay off my student loan (which I've been paying for the last seven years) and put a down payment on a brand new car (I've never had a brand new car until now).  Jonah and I hope to take a trip somewhere and maybe make some improvements to our home, things we've dreamed of doing but never had enough money to really do.  Instead of feeling like I'm living paycheck to paycheck, I finally feel like I can save some money away for our future.

My sister, who has been drowning in debt since she got married, may finally have a chance to get on top of things if she and my brother-in-law are smart about it.  And maybe she, too, can take a vacation, which she's not really had a chance to do too often.

My brother and his his wife can help pay for their son's wedding and their other son's mission and maybe make some good investments.

My other sister and brother-in-law, who have been through bankruptcy themselves (mostly due to my brother-in-law's first wife's medical bills) now have enough to make home improvements and support their family.

It truly is a blessing, and Mom and Dad would be so happy.  My parents were two of the most generous people I've known.  They would be overjoyed that all they worked for is helping their kids and grandkids.  And it's a gift that will keep giving (for a while at least).  Mom and Dad have oil and gas rights inherited from my grandfather and grandmother (who smartly invested as well), and we'll hopefully get about $2000.00 a year each from that as well until the wells eventually run dry.

I miss Mom and Dad every day, but they left us a great legacy of good values and a nice financial one to boot.  It is such a blessing for this struggling artist.

Thanks, Mom and Dad.


Sunday, April 06, 2014

Thinking About Dad

As I have been transcribing Mom's journals, it's been fun and, sometimes, enlightening to read of her life and experiences.  Mom and I were very close so there haven't been a lot of surprises or shocks.  If anything, she only reinforces things I already knew about her.

I have been moderately surprised when she has talked of jealousy she had over how my grandmother favored her daughter (my aunt) over her other children or dissatisfaction with her service in the church, but I wasn't too surprised by things like that.

What did take me aback, which I never knew until just this week, was that there was a period in 1988 when Dad was on antidepressants and seeing a psychologist.  I never knew that at all.  I talked to my sister, who is older than me, and she knew nothing about it, either.

Here's what I did know:

1. In March of 1984, Dad had a small stroke.  Between then and about January of 1988 he had at least one more and possibly a third, undiagnosed one.

2. In early 1988 Dad's boss was concerned with his performance and ordered him to be medically examined on the company's dime.  Dad at this time had slowed down and his memory and ability to learn new concepts was impaired.

3. Dad disliked his job and found it very stressful.  While I didn't know all the details, I know Dad had difficulty with his boss and work environment and was not happy in his job for many years.

4. Dad eventually was given a medical disability and retired in April 1988.  He was happier as a result but continued to have serious strokes and health issues until his death in October of 1992

Apparently, as a condition of his company-ordered medical examination he saw a psychologist.  Mom indicates that Dad was very depressed during the time we was still employed and seeing this psychologist.  Apparently she prescribed him some antidepressants, which he took for a short time before he retired.  I never knew any of that.

Dad was a quiet guy who never talked much or complained.  He was a good man who worked hard to provide for his family.  I loved him very much, but I do wish he had communicated more.  According to her journals, so did Mom.

I sometimes feel bad because for years Dad was stuck in a job he didn't seem to like very much.  Even in the early eighties, Mom indicates that Dad has desires to quit and yet he worked there for 28 years, and on some level, I've always thought his job was partially responsible for his health problems and his early death.

Mom told me once that Dad would have liked to open a record shop.  Dad loved music and that was one thing he talked about doing early in his relationship with Mom.  Instead he went into computer programming and worked for a life insurance company.  I often feel that Dad did so out of a duty to support and provide for his family.  While I admire him for being a good provider (and he did a good job at it), I also feel his job interfered with his personal health, satisfaction, and happiness, and watching his experience is one of the reason I've always tried to do the kind of work that brings me fulfillment and happiness even if it's not always as financially lucrative.  I think that philosophy has served me well even if it hasn't always served my pocketbook as admirably.

I miss Dad.  He was a good man.  I always think of Dad as "behind-the-scenes" rather than "on stage."  Without him, the success of the "production" that is our family would not have been what it was at all.  But he was very unassuming and quiet about how he did things.  He quietly paid bills, planned vacation itineraries, and worked hard to earn the money needed to provide for us and give us a little extra so we could take those vacations, which are some of my most cherished memories.

He would stop at the store on the way home from work and buy each of us kids a candy bar.  He would drive me to school on his way to work.  He would sit quietly in the living room and listen to music or watch a game on TV to relax.

Dad and I didn't have a ton in common.  He was big football fan, loved to fish, and enjoyed country music, none of which I cared for.  He wasn't a big talker, whereas I loved to talk.  I just naturally gravitated to Mom, who loved old movies and theatre and who loved to talk about anything and everything.  I adored my dad; he was hard-working, loving, thoughtful, even-tempered and was a terrific example of quiet endurance.  But I didn't know my dad very well.  I didn't always know what he was thinking and he never shared much about his life.  And he died relatively young when I was only 21.

I have great memories of him, though, and I wish he would have been more personally fulfilled.  He made the choices he made and they greatly benefited our family.  Like my mom, he lived for his family.  I just sometimes he could have found a better balance with living for himself.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

The Lost Weekend...Or...Jonah's Friend, Ray

So Jonah has this friend.  They've been friends since junior high or high school, and this friend (let's call him Ray) has been a presence, both major and minor, in Jonah's life as long as Jonah and I have been together.

I have never liked Ray.

I hate to say that because there are few people I dislike, and I can't think of a single person I hate.

It bothers me that I dislike Ray, not because I want to like him, but because I feel very hard-hearted and tense when I'm around him, which aren't good feelings.  I don't like that kind of negativity in my life.

And while I feel like maybe I should have sympathy towards Ray, I don't.  It's true he's had a hard life.  Both of his parents died when he was young, and his mother's death, in particular, was very difficult on him; he's a drug-addict, he's HIV-positive; he has some mental issues; he's estranged from his only surviving sister; he's practically homeless; and he's pretty much helpless.

And yet, I also feel like he's so immature, irresponsible, reckless, rude, inappropriate, selfish, crass, lazy, unaccountable, dishonest, and a taker that most of the problems he has are of his own doing.  He's like a manchild who refuses to grow up or take responsibility for himself.  He continually blames others for all his problems, but never himself.  While it's true he has sought counseling and therapy, the only therapists he'll stick with are the ones who are willing to validate his bad behavior rather than those who seek to help him overcome his flaws.  He burned through a very sizeable inheritance in just three years, spending it on drugs, partying, and needless gadgets and toys and now finds himself virtually penniless.  He will never find a stable relationship because all he seems to look for is easy sex; that, and the fact that few people can stand to be around him for any extended length of time; he's pretty much alienated anyone who has ever tried to help him or stay his friend, including Jonah, who is finally almost as fed up with Ray as I was when I met him years ago.  He continually tries to dominate the conversation, and usually he and his problems and issues are at the center of it.  He's a leech - the kind of guy who wants to go to dinner or the movies with you, but always expects you to pay his way; the kind of guy who will crash at your house and take your food as though it's his and never thank you for it.  He's a slob and is truly like a little kid who expects everyone around him to clean up his messes and provide for his every need.

Early on in our relationship, I always felt Jonah enabled Ray's bad behavior and Jonah admits that he probably did.  I think Jonah has always felt responsible for Ray because Ray's mom on her deathbed asked Jonah to make sure Ray was taken care of.  And true to his generosity and loving nature, Jonah has tried to do so.  But the friendship has always been so unbalanced: Jonah gave, gave, gave, and all Ray ever did was take, take, take.

About a year ago Jonah finally reached a breaking point with Ray and has distanced himself from his friend, much like many of Ray's friends have done.

I remember when Jonah and I had our commitment ceremony in 2008, Ray stayed at Mom's house with another of Jonah's friends.  Mom's conclusion at the end of Ray's stay was that she liked Jonah's other friend, but really didn't like "that other guy" (Ray).  This coming from a woman who liked just about everybody.

Fortunately Ray lives in California, so we don't see him much.  However, he had to come here this weekend to take care of some personal business and Jonah (unbeknownst to me) told him he could stay here a few days.  I have spent this whole weekend trying to avoid Ray.  I know that sounds mean, but I just don't like him and I don't like how I feel when I'm around him.  He tires and agitates me.  He makes me uncomfortable.  Even Jonah has been avoiding him and told me today he hopes he's leaving tomorrow.  I hope so, too.

I know this must sound terrible, but I just have to vent somewhere.  It might as well be my blog.

---sigh---

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Tribute To Harold

Jonah had a dream about a week or so ago.  In it, Mom paid him a visit.  She was very childlike, much like she was in her dementia days.  She was holding a white book and she was in a blue room.  Those were the main details Jonah remembers and one other big one: she was coming for someone.

I've learned that Jonah's dreams are not to be ignored.  He's very intuitive and almost psychic, and he has had many dreams that have been precursors to major events.  Two days before his dad died Jonah had a dream that his grandfather came to visit, and he was troubled by the dream because he thought it might be an indication that his dad would pass soon, which he did.

Once skeptical, I've learned to take Jonah's dreams and feelings seriously because he's usually 99% right about the intuitions he's having.

We wondered who Mom might be coming for.  My uncle (Dad's brother) was recently re-diagnosed with cancer.  My great-aunt and great-uncle are both in their late 90s.  I wondered who Mom might be coming for.

Two days ago my sister called my tears telling me that the daughter-in-law of Harold (Mom's pseudo-"boyfriend" from her days in assisted living) had called to let her know that Harold was in hospice care.

My sister wasn't necessarily crying over Harold.  It sounded like she had just had a really difficult and painful couple of weeks overall.  In fact, both my sister and I found much to rejoice in.  Harold, after all, hadn't looked well at all the last time we saw him in January.  He was very depressed and lonely and while I'm sure he never would have acted on it, he even seemed suicidal.  His body and spirit were broken.  It was hard to see him like that.

It gives me great comfort knowing he will be with his late wife soon and that he will get to see Mom again and meet Dad as well.  It makes me happy that he will be free of his suffering.

But it also brought up old feelings (or rather, lingering feelings) of when Mom died, and that has been hard.  I also regret that since I saw Harold in January I never spoke to him again.  I was pretty good about calling him and even attempted to several times, but was never able to get a hold of him.  Still, I know Harold knows how I felt about him, and that must be enough.

A friend of mine at work gave me a good perspective as we talked about how I was feeling.  She said, "It was great that this man was able to help your mom make the transition into assisted living and make her feel good about being there after so much time of not wanting to be there.  I believe your mom is now helping Harold make the transition from his life here, which has become very sad, to his life on the other side, which will be one of happiness."  I liked that.

I will miss you, Harold, and I will be forever grateful for all you did for my Mom and for the special friendship you had.  I'll miss talking to you and sharing stories about Mom.  I'll miss visiting you at the assisted living facility (now I really have no reason to go back there).  I'm glad I got to see you one last time before you leave us.  I'm glad you and Mom were away from each other for only a half a year, and I'm glad you'll get to be reunited again (but don't forget, she's with Dad now).  I love you, my friend.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Rock In My Pocket

The last time Jonah and I visited my great aunt together we had her and my great uncle record some of their thoughts about their family.  We did it as a way to preserve some of our genealogy because once my great uncle and aunt are gone, the memories they still have about my ancestors will be gone, too.

As my aunt was talking about her mom (my great-great grandmother), she got wistful about her, and my uncle got teary-eyed as he talked about my his brother (my dad's father).

As I have been dealing with my own grief regarding Mom, I've realized something: this grief is never going to go away.  Not entirely, at least.

There has literally not been a single day since Mom died that I haven't thought about her.  Everything reminds me of her.  And I miss her terribly.

A friend wrote on Facebook: "...putting these things into words is an essential part of the healing process. David Lindsay Abaire says it well in 'Rabbit Hole,' when a parent grieving the loss of her son asks her mother if the feeling of loss - of grief - ever goes away, and the mother replies (I paraphrase) - no, not really . . . It gets better, even diminishes, but it's like a rock you carry in your pocket, and some times you stick your hand in your pocket and your pocket and you're suddenly reminded, 'oh, hello. . . you're still there.' It takes time - a lot of time - but time, though it does not heal everything, does help."

I'm always going to have this rock in my pocket.  That's not a bad thing, but I think of my aunt and uncle weeping for people they lost years and years ago; I think of Dad's mom who lived in sorrow for years after her husband died, so much that she almost became debilitated by it; I think of a friend who will never be able to get over losing her child to an accident-related death.  And I realize I will never get over losing my dear mother.  And there's no reason I should.

I certainly have not allowed her death to cause me to stop living my life, and as I've stated before, I feel her presence with me often, which is nice.  But she is ever in my thoughts, and some days I feel such a longing to have her here with me.

I am glad we didn't have to watch her keep disappearing.  I'm glad she never forgot who I was.  I'm glad I didn't have to watch her physically waste away.  I'm glad I didn't have to watch her go confusedly go through dialysis with an amputated leg, which is what would have happened had we chosen to keep her alive.

One thing I am always struck by was when I came back home to Utah knowing Mom would be dead within a week or so.  She was so excited to see me and like a child, she had no idea she would be dead soon (frankly, I don't think she even understood why she was in the hospital at all).  I don't think it was until we transferred her back to her assisted living residence that she finally understood what was happening.  And I do think there was a point when Mom recognized that she was dying, and I believe those on the other side were helping her understand that.  But that initial meeting when I knew she was dying, but she didn't, has always remained in my mind.  She was just so happy to see me (and I her), but I knew we would be saying goodbye for a while in only a matter of days.

Sometimes I feel guilty that I didn't grieve so hard when my dad died as I have with my mom.  I loved him very much; he was a great father, and I do miss him.  But I have to admit that Mom's death has been harder on me than his was.  But then Mom and I always had more in common than Dad and I did.  Dad liked sports and fishing and country music and wasn't very talkative, none of which I related to.  Mom loved movies and theatre and we had great talks, not to mention 21 years more together to cultivate a relationship than Dad and I had.  I also was, as my family says, "the golden child" to Mom and was her primary caretaker for several of the last years of her life.  Even after her death, I have been knee-deep in her journals and photos and financial and legal affairs.  She is ever present.

Dad died while I was on my mission, and his death almost felt surreal.  I was nowhere near him when he died.  I didn't watch him die like I did with Mom.  I was on the other side of the earth and felt somewhat removed from his death.  In fact, coming home from my mission it almost felt like Dad hadn't existed at all.  When I left for my mission, he was still home.  When I came back he was gone.

I can't really explain it.  I miss hearing Mom's voice.  I miss holding her hand and hugging her and kissing her.  I miss her childlike dementia just as much as a miss the level-headed woman I grew up with.  I miss eating meals with her and going to the theatre with her.  I miss playing games with her and talking with her.

I know pain will lessen with time, but I also know I'll always have this rock in my pocket until Mom and I are reunited once again.  And maybe Mom will again repeat the second to the last thing I ever heard her say: "I knew you did it right." 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Speaking Of Crazy...

This blog post and this article were brought to my attention recently.

I have nothing against either woman.  They can believe whatever they want to believe and respond to it as they see fit (which they have done), but I must confess I do find their behavior a little nuts.

In the case of Well-Behaved Mormon Woman, who I have mentioned before here (and referred to as "an active Mormon who disapproved) and whose blog title sounds as self-righteous as she appears to be in her posts, Jonah and I were honestly flummoxed when we initially saw the title of her post, "Frozen: Not Gonna 'Let It Go' When Movie Advocates Gay Agenda."  We had both seen the movie and had no idea to what she might be referring.  You would think Jonah and I would know all about the so-called "gay agenda," but when I saw Frozen, none of the assertions she makes about the movie even crossed my mind.

Not once.

I've never been a fan of this particular woman's blog, although she is certainly entitled to believe whatever she wants to believe. Having read some of her previous posts, I am at odds with her in certain beliefs she has, but again, she can believe whatever she wants to believe (and does).

This latest post, however, just seems crazy to me. Once we started reading her arguments we at least finally understood what she might have read into the movie, but, in her own words, "I know what some think, because I questioned myself, initially, and I've heard it multiple times when even lightly expressing my feelings about the movie, with others. You think that I've read way too much into it, because I'm sensitive to homosexual issues, or perhaps a bit paranoid."

Indeed I do. Again, believe what you want to believe, but this just seemed nuts. The consensus among my friends who read the post (including one who is very much against gay marriage) was that, yes, this woman is reading way too much into the movie's message and might be just a wee bit crazy.

As for the woman who bought all the tee shirts, a friend wisely commented, "[I] wish I had $600 just to make a statement.  How about you teach your child what's appropriate and what's not, and buy $600 in groceries for the Ronald McDonald House."

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Little Signs And The Story Of My Life

I wrote the following on my Facebook page a few weeks ago:

"I'm sure there are those who get tired of these posts (to which I say, 'Don't read them.'), but for me, they help me through my grieving process.

"I am and always have been a mama's boy. My mom was one of my very best friends. Even though her early passing saved herself and her family from a lot of suffering, there are days when I still can't believe she's gone.

"Many days I'm fine, but there are days like today when I miss her terribly and long for her immediate presence.

"Since her passing nearly five months ago, she has let me know many times that she is still around and very much a part of my life. That is comforting, but it's not the same.

"I just miss her. I hope it gets easier. I guess it's a testament to our deep love that the deep pain of her passing still remains.

"-sigh-
"


I discover that I miss Mom terribly.  While the rational part of me knows that things worked out for the best, the emotional part of me just wishes she were here.

Yet she has shown me many times that she is very much around.

They're just little things, and others might chalk them up to coincidence, but I believe Mom is letting me know she is still very much a part of my life.

I've already talked about the Josh Groban concert.  The song "Smile" has become a way for Mom to let me know she's around.  Recently my brother and sister-in-law and their kids through town and we agreed to meet at a local IHOP.  I started my car to meet them, and a version of "Smile" by Barbra Streisand began to play.  I felt maybe it was Mom's way of letting me know she'd be attending breakfast with us (and sure enough there were two empty seats at our table, so maybe Dad was with us as well).

That's actually happened a lot (the two empty seats).  I attended a fairly full house of the show Rock of Ages, and there were two seats next to me (although I'm not sure either Mom or Dad liked the show), and at a Kristen Chenoweth concert the same thing happened.

I recently visited my family in Utah and we had dinner at Su Casa, one of Mom and Dad's favorite places, and again, there were two empty chairs at a rather full table.  I also saw a rehearsal of one of Mom's favorite shows, A Few Good Men, and found myself beside two empty seats.  (I know Mom loved that one.)

I've also felt Mom communicate to me through music.  Not just "Smile," but other stuff as well - the Josh Groban and Kristen Chenoweth concerts; songs on the radio; etc.  I was playing a rendition of a song I like (which I imagine Mom would have liked) called "And I Love You So,"


and I got in my car to go to work, and the exact song started playing on the radio.


It just felt like too much to be just a coincidence.



One unexpected song has become a sign for me.  About a month or two ago I had seen "The Story of My Life" performed by One Direction.  I liked the song and wanted to watch the video, which I did and which left me a weeping mess.



I don't know if it's because I've been dealing with Mom's journals and photos, but the whole idea of the video (these frozen memories in time; the moving on of time even after loved ones have left us) just really connected with me.

During my visit home when I was visiting Mom and Dad's grave at the cemetery for what turned out to be the last time it was warming up a little after a cold week and I could feel the sunshine on my body, and I closed my eyes and imagined Mom and Dad were beside me, much as I felt Dad beside me when I was on my mission shortly after he died.  I don't know if I've ever shared that story here, but the week he died, I was in church and bore my testimony and when I sat down I felt like Dad's hand was on my shoulder (and I believe it was).  Much in the same way, I felt like Mom and Dad were standing beside me in the cemetery, and I felt that same feeling in St. George recently when Jonah and I were married.  After I basked in that feeling, I got into the car and what should start playing but “The Story of My Life” by One Direction , and I started crying because I just felt sure it was Mom telling me she and Dad had been there. 

Other remarkable things that happened two other times I visited the cemetery.  The first time I visited it was a windless day a bit cold.  I'm not really a cemetery-going kind of guy, but the cemetery was only three blocks from where I was staying so I figured why not?  I was met at the grave site by several geese who were milling around, and it felt like kind of a sign to me.  I guess the life that was present felt like Mom reminding me that she's not really dead, just on another plane of existence. 


  
I hadn't been to Mom's grave since the week she was buried and I broke down.  I just miss her.  Sometimes I feel bad because I didn't behave the way I did with Dad's passing as I am with Mom's.  It's certainly not because I loved Dad any less.  I adored my father.  But Mom and I just had more in common (plus 21 more years together than Dad and I had).  Plus I was away when Dad died, so it didn't seem as present in my mind as Mom's death, when I was stroking her hair and looking at her face at the exact moment she passed.

There were two pinwheels on the graves of a nearby couple, and although I did not feel any wind, they both began to turn.  

 

I wondered if maybe Mom and Dad were making it happen.  It made me feel good to think they did.  I just let them know how much I missed them.

My other visit to the cemetery was at dusk
so it was dark, but as I drove in I saw a herd of seven deer leaping and bounding about the cemetery.  While it is not uncommon to see deer in this part of Utah, the cemetery is in a fairly suburban area where deer don't frequent.  I was actually afraid to get out of the car until the deer departed, but they were a truly beautiful sight to see.  And then I saw a flock of the same geese I had seen previously honking and flying above me.  I took it as another sign of Mom's presence.  It was almost magical.


Recently, for their tenth anniversary, Facebook created commemorative movies based on each individual's photos and posts.  Somehow I felt mine was tailor-made to let me know Mom was around.  Yeah, I know it's based on algorithms and popular posts and photos, but it just felt like Mom had a hand in it.

The movie starts out with my profile photo of my headshot.  Then as it shows my first moments, we see the house Jonah and I bought together when it was just in its beginning stages.  Then there is a cast photo and a teaching job I had.  My most liked posts have to do with acting and my job and the day Mom died.  Then there's a shot of the sun breaking through the clouds the day after Mom died that was my sign from her that she was okay.  Then more shows, a trip to Disneyland I took with Jonah and a close friend, a favorite photo of my cat, the march I did with Mormons Building Bridges at the Gay Pride Parade in 2012, a picture my niece drew of Jonah and me, my current job, a silly photo of me, my family in the early 80s (complete with Dad, Mom, and my siblings), my recent trip to Disneyland with Jonah, and then as the movie ends with a compilation of several photos, there's Mom right in the middle smiling at me, and I think to myself, Facebook could have picked any photo.  I think the center one is based on a profile photo, but if it had chosen the most used or popular one, my headshot would have been at the center, but no, it's Mom. 


I just felt her love, and when I showed it to Jonah I just wept and wept in his arms because I felt so close to my dear, departed mother.

People can call these coincidences.  I don't believe they are.  Even if they were, they bring me great comfort, so I'm taking them as little signs.