Monthly Archives: October 2010

The Man On The Street-literally

I met a man this evening. A very interesting man, with a remarkably positive attitude, especially given his circumstances. I had occasion to meet him as my husband and came out of one of our favorite pizza restaurants downtown and he stopped to ask us if we knew where he could find work. He didn’t start out asking for money like a lot of people do, although that did happen later on. No, he told us that he had been looking for work for ages upon ages, to no avail. It wasn’t that he wasn’t intelligent or a good person to be around, because he seemed to be both. No, it was because the economy has hit so many people upside the head that no one could afford to hire him (or anyone else) to do much of anything. He had a place to live, which was one positive point. We gave him what was left of one of our pizzas, since we couldn’t do a whole lot else. It wasn’t this part of the story that struck me and inspired me to write, though. That came later.

He told us he had terminal cancer. Brain cancer, and was trying to get the money to pay for one of his anti-seizure medications. God knows I know how expensive meds can be, and how unpleasant life can be without them. And let’s not even mention that cancer made my once-vibrant and active mother practically waste away. I’m sorry I had to put it like that, Mama, but cancer just has to be one of the worst things ever created. That wasn’t what bothered me the most, though.

I’ll admit that this is a subject I only know a little about, if anything at all. But then, since when has that ever stopped me? 🙂

What bothered me the most was that he told us he was a Vietnam veteran and had finally gotten an award letter for money and benefits from the VA (Veterans’ Administration). That war ended on April 30th, 1975. This is October 25, 2010. Thirty-five years, and they were just now getting to him. This disgusts me, but unfortunately does not surprise me. I’m not sure if the cancer was a result of something from the war or if it came on its own later, but it pisses me off royally that someone who took the time and effort to serve our country-who literally put his life on the line-has to beg on the street for money for his medications. Granted, he was going to get a decent sum as the ‘back pay’ for the time it took them to get their stuff together, but that’s not really the point. The point is that here was yet another person who did their part in serving their country (and the draft was around in Vietnam, so it might not have been by choice), and what did he have to show for it? What was his thanks? A lot of red tape, and that’s better than a lot of other people get. At least he had a home; so many others don’t.

It was just so beautiful to me to see his positive demeanor. I think he mentioned being blessed and trying to trust in God about five times in that short, maybe 10-minute conversation. I’ve completely lost faith over much smaller things. Whether he actually wrote it or not, he shared with us a beautiful poem about a rose-about how God takes such good care of small things like that, so how much more must He love us? That’s reminds me of one of my favorite parts of the Bible-Matthew 6:25-34. –

25 “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?
28 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

I say that this is one of my favorite parts of the Bible, but it’s one that I constantly seem to forget about when dealing with everyday things. Granted, I have had a lot of trouble with money and other things lately, but nothing even close to what so many other people have. Meeting this man tonight was a good reminder of that, of how I should be thankful for what I have and trust in God to take care of me. That is one of the hardest things for me to do, to stop worrying and trust. I don’t know why.

Now, I know you’re probably thinking, how do you know he was telling the truth? I don’t. He could have been feeding us a line of bull that would make Nixon look honest, and I’d be none the wiser. That happens. However, I’ve heard enough similar stories to know that it’s very possible for someone to fall through the cracks like this. On the other side of the coin, my uncle gets very nice care from the VA in his area for his cancer. He has late-stage lymphoma and has been able to get a good bit of help from the VA in terms of medicine. He, however, is one of the lucky ones. Blessed ones, rather. He was in the Navy for 26 years-a person is considered ‘career’ and eligible for a pension and all that after 20 years. My father gets a pension, and he was in for 21 years. I certainly don’t begrudge my father and uncle their benefits; God knows they need and deserve it. I just wish that the man I met on the street this evening had been that fortunate. Granted, the man I talked to probably wasn’t in for that long, but It takes a special breed of person to do that kind of job for such a long time, especially after having been to war. God knows, I couldn’t do it. Even so, surely a country that claims to be the richest and most powerful in the world would be able to at least take care of people who had to go to war and come back the worse for it. Again, I’m not sure that this man’s cancer was caused by something in the war, but so many other people have lifelong disabilities as a result of military service. It’s not only the physical disabilities I’m thinking of, although those are no small potatoes. However, mental disorders like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that often occurs in veterans is nothing to sneeze at. In a sense, that could be more debilitating than some of the physical problems, because there isn’t really a one-size-fits-all treatment for it. I’ve known people who are simply not the same as they were when they left; they don’t regret serving, but they can’t help but see that they were changed by their experiences in ways that they don’t always understand.

I am all for the military, but I am also all for people who give up as much as they do being at least given what they need to live and have their illnesses cared for. I know cancer treatment is extraordinarily expensive, but I would hope that people with less serious medical problems than terminal cancer would have what they need to live and work in ‘the civilian life’. A lot of them do, but a lot more of them don’t. I think that is disgustingly maddening and sad at the same time. With all the money this country has spent on wars that are based on lies and getting involved where perhaps they shouldn’t, you’d think they’d be able to afford this man’s anti-seizure medication. But then, maybe they just don’t want to.

The Ghost Sitting In My Chair

I’m just going to come out and say this because I’ve wanted to blog about this for a while but have no idea how to put it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about death. No, not that I want to die. I’ve had that before to an extent, but I’m doing pretty well now. No, I’ve been thinking about the more ‘philosophical’ questions concerning death.

For instance, I keep unintentionally reminding myself of the sign for the ‘palliative care’ unit of the hospital my mother-in-law was in when she had her stroke this past winter. You know what that is, right? Palliative care is when they can’t do anything else for you and know you are going to die, so they try to make it as easy as possible. It sounds so simple when written out like that, doesn’t it? In reality, it’s anything but. I don’t know if you’ve ever been around a dying person…I have, and it’s not exactly something you can see being summed up by a few letters or words. My church also had a seminar about ‘end of life decisions’. No, I didn’t go. I already had a pretty good idea of what they were going to say. It just seemed so…cut and dried when written out like that.

DNR-Do Not Resuscitate. That was the advance directive my mom signed that was put on the refrigerator when the people from the hospice came to get her. In North Carolina, any form like that has to be put up in plain sight in the house any time you have an ambulance or similar come to get a dying person. They would probably keep something like that in her charts as well, but that’s the law. It basically meant she didn’t want to be hooked up to any machines or be kept alive by any extraordinary measures. She said that that wouldn’t really be living, and I completely agree. That’s not a life. She didn’t seem to have lost any of who she was up until she died, but how could someone really have their personality and basically everything else that makes them them if a machine is doing what their brain should be doing for them? They can’t, and that’s the point. She didn’t want to be here if she couldn’t be herself, and I’m the same way.

Here’s another thing I keep thinking of. When I walked by that sign in the hospital so many times, I kept thinking about how it would feel if you knew you were going to die. Specifically, what would be going through your mind in your last moments, or when the doctors ‘broke the bad news’. Things like, ‘what, this is it? I have so much else I want to do! It can’t just be over, can it?’ How could a person’s life be written up in a medical chart as though it were nothing? Would the world even remember I was here? I wonder if these are some of the thoughts that went through my mother’s mind before she died. There’s no doubt at all that she made a difference, at least to me.

I’m scared to death that I will die, that I will leave this world and it will be as though I was never here. I don’t have any kids, and very well may never have any. My husband is older than I am, and so are all of my siblings. Who would be left to remember me when I died, if all of them were gone and I still didn’t have any kids?

Maybe my nephew Austin would…he’s 21 and really more like my little brother than my nephew. I’m only 12 years older, and he lived with us up until he was about six or so. We used to talk a lot and be somewhat close, but not so much now. Like I’ve said in other posts, I don’t get to see my family that often and he lives up in Virginia Beach. My sister has two stepkids, but they didn’t grow up around me. She also has 4-year-old twins, but they probably don’t recognize me much. They’re still pretty little, but the sweetest little boys you’ve ever met. Sev’s sister has a child who will be seven next month…maybe he’ll remember me. He likes to do art projects and stuff with me. I have friends and their families…several of my friends from high school and college’s families ‘claim’ me as one of their own. LOL “Panda’s” dad actually jokes with me, wanting me to call him ‘Daddy’! So maybe their kids will remember me. But even if they did, would I have made a difference in the world in general? I’m sure there are some people I’m forgetting to mention, and maybe it’s not something I should be thinking about. But here I am. Maybe these questions are kind of conceited of me to ask, but there you have it.

I also wonder, how would someone know when it was time? Or would they? The show Scrubs is hardly a deep and profound series, but one episode sticks in my mind. It’s the one where JD and Turk were psyched and rambling about going on one of their ‘steak nights’. Some time before their shift was over, they found out that one of their patients wouldn’t make it through the night. He either didn’t have any family or his family happened not to have made it there in time, but whichever way, JD and Turk decided to stay with him rather than go out. They were talking with the patient-who was still perfectly lucid and knew he didn’t have much time left. He might of coughed or something, but I don’t think he had any physical breakdowns or anything. All he said was, “I’m ready to go to sleep now”. Except he wasn’t going to wake up. He knew this. He knew that closing his eyes then meant closing his eyes forever. I just can’t help but wonder, how did he know it was time to go? Or did he? When he got to the other side, would he remember that JD and Turk had stayed with him, or what they talked about? Would he have known when-I think it was a nephew or a son, not sure which-got there, even though he’d already died? I know this is a fictional character, but what if this were a real person? What if it was someone we knew or, God forbid, us in the future?

I like to think he would. It would seem to me that you can still talk to dead people and they will hear you on the other side, but they might not actually respond. I remember my friend Binky’s uncle died and she said that she hated that she didn’t get there in time because she didn’t get to tell him she loved him. I told her what I said above, that I believe that he knows how she felt, that now he’s able to know and see more than he ever did on this earth.

I’m not just pulling this out of my ass, by the way; I’m taking it from Paul’s statements in 1 Corinthians, chapter 13, verse 12-
“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then I shall know even as also I am known.” (King James Version)

I know Paul might have been talking about something else, and there are other parts of the Bible that imply that the soul of a person who dies is effectively asleep until The Rapture comes. Even so, this spoke to me. Binky said that it made her feel so much better when I said that, even though I thought I didn’t know what to say. I know my viewpoint about people who have died still being able to hear or whatever isn’t the most conventional in the world but I just can’t bring myself to believe that there’s nothing else, or at least not for a long time.

I’m also not at all afraid of ghosts. Yes, I believe they are real, but not necessarily the horror-movie types we’ve grown up hearing about. If you think about it, you’d kind of have to believe in ghosts if you are a Christian-or at least, in one Ghost. I’ve seen my mom physically and in dreams many times since she died about twelve years ago, and I believe I’ve heard and spoken to my friend M after he killed himself three years ago.

One night I heard his voice asking me to tell his wife that ‘this is not her fault’. I just ignored it or thought I was losing my mind…it was in that place where you’re not quite asleep but not quite awake either. I put it out of my mind…until two weeks later, when I heard him again, asking me why I hadn’t delivered his message. I told my husband about this, and some of my friends, and the explanation I heard most often had to do with me being a spiritual person and ‘open to this sort of thing’. I don’t know. Once I figured out it was M’s voice, for some reason I wasn’t scared anymore. Seeing my mom the first time sent me into a panic attack, but seeing her in dreams now is strangely comforting. My sister says she’s seen Mama too.

After my accident, my cousin D told me that I told everyone that I had actually died and seen my mom…I told them that she said, ‘its not your time yet, get back down there’, and so I did. I don’t remember this, but then I don’t remember hardly anything from that time. My husband doesn’t remember it either, but it still makes me feel connected to my mom in a way I can’t adequately describe.

I’ll stop rambling and boring you now, but these are some of the thoughts that have been going through my head lately. Sometimes my mind goes crazy just when I’m trying to sleep, and wanders in weird directions. Judging from a conversation I had with a friend at church a couple of weeks ago, however, it seems I’m not the only one who has these thoughts in the middle of the night. It was just so odd but comforting at the same time that she and I had been having pretty much the same questions and thoughts running through our minds…it was good to be able to talk to someone about this without them thinking that I might be suicidal again like I was about three years ago.

Sweet dreams, everyone! Sorry this is so long, but considering the subject matter, I hope you’ll forgive me.

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