Wednesday, January 31, 2007


I don’t think that I have ever felt so challenged by events as I do now. There are the familiar ones that have been laid bare here in the past, and there are some wounds that stubbornly refuse healing, though I continue to hope. No, the thing that I fear the most, is me.

You see, I quickly learned after hearing the dreaded diagnosis so many years ago, that you can be your worst enemy. You can worry and fret, you can succumb to fear and depression, you can make yourself sicker, quicker by letting all of these negative things into your life. And I resolved to myself back then, that I would fight that with everything that I had, that I would look “on the bright side” and try to find the good things in life for as long as I had it. For the most part, I have been pretty successful.

But now, it is getting harder. I fear that my cancer is becoming active again and I am running out of options to fight it. That alone is not enough to make me feel the uneasiness that accompanies me constantly. What I fear is that I will have to face this alone. By saying that, I am not denying your existence or your kind thoughts. What I am talking about is being without my closest companion as I come to this great task.

You see, it was always going to be me who went first. As I would get sicker and weaker, I would have someone there to take care of not just me, but the kids too. Believing that removed a great weight from my shoulders. That was the plan. I don’t know who changed it, but this new reality sucks.

My fear is that I won’t have the courage to face this alone. You see, to me, courage is the ability to find hope where there is no hope to be found. It is getting harder to see that possible bright spot. This will be my greatest challenge.

There will come times when I will have to choose whether to go through another round of treatment. I know this scenario all too well. I know the desire to fight, to prove to those you love and who love you that you are fighting with everything that you have. But there will come a time when I will not want to fight anymore. C worried that our children would think less of her because, in the end, she couldn’t tolerate anymore horrible treatments, any more stays in the hated hospital, any more pain. I have that same fear. And I know that day will come for me. I just don’t know when.

Through C’s darkest times, I was there. On the rare occasions where I had to be elsewhere, she had her sisters and her mother to lean on. This is not an option for me. I fear being alone at the end. I fear what my children will go through.

Strangely enough, I don’t fear death. I am actually quite curious about it. It’s the getting there that I dread.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


I want to thank all of you who have expressed support for me and my family during this ordeal. My post of last Tuesday triggered a number of entries on the guest book, emails, and phone calls, all of which were deeply appreciated.

This is to let you know that I am still here, in better shape mentally and emotionally than when I last wrote, and trying to stay warm. Perhaps it is the cold that has moved into our neighborhood that has forced the blues away? After all, we are hard-wired for survival on a very basic level and when the thermometer needles start rotating counterclockwise, our baser instincts take over and push all of those namby pamby, new age, touchy feely thoughts about happiness, sadness, emptiness, self pity, right out the window. When it’s cold enough for the snow to make that little squeaky sound under your soles as you walk out for the morning paper and the sun has another couple of hours to clear the treetops and cast its weak, thin, winter rays on your little bean, you know that you had better concentrate on keeping the fires lit and stoked.

So, that’s where we are now – thinking about the “fires.” Of course, this is all metaphorical clap-trap. The “fire” goes on and off by itself as long as the thermostat talks to the boiler and the natural gas pipeline isn’t blown up by terrorists infiltrating through the leaky border to the north. The boiler heats the water. The water heats the floors, and I sit at the kitchen table in my stocking feet with warm toes doing nice mental sighs and trying to remember what the big fuss was all about. Three feet away, through a half an inch of thermo-pane glass, frosty is painting the windows and trying to get in.

So, a few days ago, I was in the pit, and today I’m not (or at least right now). This is one of the harder parts of this journey – the up and down, in and out, nature of emotional healing. It isn’t something that you figure out, fix, and then go on with your life. It’s confusing and topsy-turvy. One day you’re good, the next you’re morose. Or even more likely, making the switch in a matter of seconds many times a day.

If it were not for all of you out there, rooting for us, this would be much different. As it is, when I feel down, I do my best to remind myself that number one, it will pass, and number two, there are friends out there who care, and will do things to help if I just let them know. It does make a difference.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


I just read a very well written piece on depression. You can find it here if you are interested. Normally, I would not think to click on such a link, but it has been a while since things were “normal.” I see parts of myself in the words written there.

Depression is not something that I am used to. Oh, there have been times in my life where I took a downturn. Who hasn’t experienced those? I can think of a couple that were strong enough to perhaps earn the moniker, but as a whole, I would describe myself as a fairly happy person. Till recently, that is.

Now, I understand how someone can wander around in their pajamas all day, and finish up with nothing checked off the “to-do” list. I understand what it is like to be afraid of meeting people, to avoid groups, to retreat to a dark place that wraps around you like a thick and silent blanket. I understand the disfunctionality of depression and it frightens me.

I don’t need more things eating at me from the inside.

Perhaps it is just the time of year. Last Monday was supposed to be the most depressing day of the year according to some Welch doctor who was being interviewed on public radio. I was surprised that they could narrow it down to one. On the flip side, he promised that June 22 would be the happiest day of the year. Pretty gutsy assumption if you ask me. What if you have a rotten June 22? Then where are you? Depressed big time I would think.

I am sitting here struggling with whether to post this or not. To a great extent, this website has served as a personal journal for me as well as a means to communicate with our extended family, but when I fall into these holes, it is much harder to write about the experience and hang it out for the world to see. In truth, I wish I could post entries that were witty and funny, poignant and illuminating, but even if I could, that would not be entirely honest. As it is, I find that I hesitate to talk about the darkest parts.

So I will post this as part of the journal. A marker along the trail if you will, that perhaps can be visited at a later time and seen from a different perspective.

Friday, January 19, 2007


It is Friday morning here. The kids are at school for a half day – it’s the end of the semester. The dog is napping. The breakfast dishes are in the washer.

There is just enough snow on the ground to show where the deer walk their secret, silent paths through the buckthorn and the oaks. The house is silent.

We are settling into the post holiday season that around here means birthdays. J just turned fourteen and K will be seventeen the third week in February. All of these milestones remind me of what has changed since we were doing the same just a year ago. It has not been an easy time for me.

I am seeing a family therapist to work on some of the issues that are bothering, or worrying me. The thing that I am most concerned about is not something that I will go into here other than to say that it consumes a lot of my mental and emotional reserves. Other things that I am hoping to gain from seeing this therapist are to better understand the grief process and to get perspective on how it affects me so that I don’t so much “react” to the environment around me, but with better understanding of my internal “turmoil” I hope to “interact” with the world.

I guess I am seeking more control over my life – something K would certainly see as a negative – stating frequently, and with great distain, that I am already “too controlling” and “need to LIGHTEN UP.” She may be feeling a bit sensitive herself as this is the part of the year when attention to school work and studying begins to really lose its appeal as evidenced by the grades posted on the school districts secure web-site.

I think that we are all a bit anxious right now. Perhaps for different reasons, but it is in the air. My anxiety finds fuel from many sources. This is the tax season and the first one where I will not have my MBA co-pilot sitting next to me. I have contracted with a CPA firm to assist me, but the preparation work is all mine to do. I will be filling out a “shadow” return using our familiar tax software in the hopes that I will be able to do it myself next year when things have settled down a bit.

I am also still struggling in my role as solo-parent. I question myself constantly about my actions. Am I doing enough? Am I too intrusive? Am I supporting enough and in the right places? Am I giving them enough independence so that they will actually learn how to make decisions and grow? Without C to be my “mirror” I feel that I am operating blindly much of the time. Trying to use either K or J for that feedback is like looking into those curvy funhouse mirrors and trying to extrapolate a non-distorted image from that. Doesn’t work very well.

I have people that I can call on to help me with this, but they are mostly living far away and are not here to see or feel the day-to-day interactions that make up our family’s world. It is this sense of isolation that I struggle with and one more thing that I hope this therapist might help me with. I don’t expect her to show me a reflection as much as I hope she can help me with strategies for coping, or point me to resources that can help me learn this new role.

And finally, I need to start cleaning, sorting, separating, and planning for the moving on of C’s things. Some of it will be easy – boxes of junk that she and I accumulated as we lived our lives and moved from one house to the next – the kind of stuff one saves in a junk drawer only to be emptied into a cardboard box on moving day that somehow never quite makes it into the designated junk drawer in the new house. We have several of those.

Harder will be her clothes, her mementoes, the secret things she saved throughout her life whose importance was known only to her. How does one set something like that free? Should I set up a series of card tables and invite her family over to take what they wish? Should I carefully wrap and box it all to be set aside in some secure storage site for someone else to worry about? Should I silently dispose of it while praying for forgiveness? I don’t know, but the need to move through this process is growing in me. My anxiety nibbles at my toes while I dream.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Drivin That Train....

This is a dup. of my CB site:

Tuesday, I got to drive a train – a big one with over 100 freight cars attached. There were stations to pull out of and crossings to blow the horn at and changing grades that required braking and changes in throttle position. It was fun. The only problem was that the world kept jumping forward and back and then broke completely. Yep, it was just a simulation, but one that had a full set of controls, just the same as in the cab of one of those big diesel/electric locomotives that you see pulling the real freight trains around.

I had a chance to do this because an old friend works for the railroad training new recruits on how to be conductors. Others at the same location train the engineers, which is how I wound up in the drivers seat. It was fun to give it a try, but deceptively difficult to judge the behavior of a train that is dynamically affected by dips and valleys, the pull of the engine and the tug of the brakes. There was no “butt accelerometer” to tell you if you were going fast around a corner, or beginning to slowdown after applying the brakes. It did give one pause to consider the possibilities when trying to brake a train with hundreds of thousands of tons of inertial weight behind you as you approach a stopping point.

In the training classrooms there was plenty of evidence of what can happen if the wrong decision is made – giant steel wheels with large portions missing after being ground off by the rail in an emergency stopping maneuver, blown valves from the air brake system, pictures of science experiments gone wrong involving large masses and inertia. Maybe in another life (or in a previous one) I could find myself playing with trains again. I certainly have a fondness for them.

In this life, I was a sailor. Over a ten-year period between the late sixties and late seventies, I was a merchant marine on the Great Lakes. For the most part, I sailed on steamships that employed ancient triple-expansion steam engines using coal for fuel. This is the same principle that powered the steam locomotives that my grandfather fed coal to as he traveled between St. Paul and the Northwest coast back in the teens and twenties. I remember him telling me as a boy how they made their breakfast while on the road. They would stick one of the coal shovels into the firebox and heat it up red-hot. Then they would pull it out and lay it on the floor of the locomotive cab and crack some eggs right on the shovel blade. It had been purified by fire after all and made a handy griddle and plate all in one. When you were done, just go back to shoveling coal with it and don’t worry about cleaning up. Quite an elegant system if you ask me.

And, seeing how he died in his sleep, in bed at the age of 93 or so, it couldn’t have been very harmful to him. Simpler days back then I guess. Things don’t seem so simple now and to tell you the truth, I am struggling a bit. Not too unusual to feel this way I suppose, given what has transpired over the last year, but hard none the less.

Being a single parent is harder than I would have thought. I am facing two teen birthdays over the next month and I am already encountering my lack of preparedness as the “boy’s” BD looms large. I don’t have a party planned, a gift bought, a dinner menu set. Man, how I miss her.

Missing her is hard too. Being single is hard. And dangerous. Too easy to fall into holes of one kind or another.

I am thinking of my own health too. There is so much unknown right now that I have to work very hard at maintaining an even keel. I hope this doesn’t come across as whining. It is not written as such. This is more me trying to spill something out and leaving a marker of how I felt on this particular day. Sometimes it is helpful to look back after a while and see that changes have been made, or conditions changed. There are some times when I don’t know if progress has been made until I see how things were a month before.

Well, this is as far as I go today. The train has stopped at the station. There will be a brief layover.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


That was the New Year "toot" from my imaginary horn. I spent my time welcoming in the new year with a peanut butter sandwich, a beer (three), and the 3rd installment of the Lord of the Rings saga. I got through disk 1 before the sandman whacked me over the head.

It was a pretty quiet night actually. No kids. No dog. No champagne and midnight kisses. My kids bailed as soon as we got home from our California trip. K off to her "par-tay's" and J to his aunt's for a sleep-over. The dog was still with her alternate family as we arrived home too late to go and get her. So, just me and Frodo, and as cute as he was, there was no romance there. Now, Arwyn...

The next morning was so wonderfully lazy. There was no one that I had to get up for. No breakfasts to make. No dogs to walk or feed. I just lay there, drifting in and out of sleep until the natural result of the previous night's beer processing forced me from under the warm and fuzzy sheets. The sun was shining and there was a fresh coating of snow everywhere. Beautiful.

Even though January one was a day just like any other day, it is difficult not to succumb to the reflection of the year past and a look forward at what might be. For those of you who have been following this ramble for a while, you will understand me when I say that it has been a time that I would not willingly repeat. Sometimes when people ask me how I am and I say fine, they get a bit of a funny look to them. The more honest will challenge me by saying, "Fine? You can't be fine," and they are right I suppose. Perhaps I simply feel "fine" compared to how I felt a short time back, but then, sometimes I do feel "fine."

I have found that I have a limited capacity for pain. I don't like feeling hurt and broken. I tend not to dwell on times past that were painful. I don't deny them or actively try to forget, but the hard spots fade in my memory as a self protective process, I think. Plus, I that I am becoming more adept at dealing with our day-to-day issues, which allows me to relax a bit more and not feel so helpless and defensive. Old dogs learning new tricks.

As to what comes next? Who knows. Certainly not me.

I don't do New Years resolutions just like I don't go to church once a week and hope that it will see me through the other six days. Every day is just a day. Some we get to celebrate for their uniqueness like my children's birthdays, some we wish we could rewrite and get a mulligan on. For me, each day is a fresh page that I can write on anew.