Hollodays

Holidays can become hollow through twists of fate.

Thefts of Loss, inevitable and unexpected change these special days on our calendar for some.

While the growing annual marketing madness annoys most people, it is stinging reminders to many of a loss stained day, a holiday that they would rather not endure.

Loneliness gives these once fond days an ache, changing them into days of dread with a hollow feeling.

Perhaps we should all make time on holiday’s to quietly think about those who are hurting.

Eventually most of us will have our own turn.

 

Every day is a Gift

Spring is a favored time of year, when warmer days grow longer bringing the season of growth.  Almost all are re-energized and happier, unless, something is wrong.  Time had made Sarrah and I a pair of aged Pals, hanging on to moments, savoring them as they slipped… away….  I figured that one way or another; this would probably be my last summer with Sarrah.

In the winter at the beginning of Two Thousand Ten, I started another prescribed pharmaceutical experiment in my quest to relieve some of the struggle with my dragon.  This drug called Gabapentin, in my understanding is supposed to block some nerve pain, was added into my plight to relieve some back pain and hopefully help with the incessant foot irritation that showed up after the car crash.

When I started with this drug the Doctor said that he wanted to draw some of my blood in order to form a base line and check it again, monthly, to “Monitor my liver”.  I asked, “Why, does this drug fry the liver?”  With a wry look, he said, “No, just want to be thorough”.  The drug worked for about a week and then the gains trailed off….  When I returned for blood work and discussion, he doubled my dosage, which achieved the same results.  And a month later he again, doubled my dosage, which would probably achieve…  This last time I held off and thought it over for a couple of days.  I decided “Screw It!” and phased myself off of this drug entirely, over the period of a week, for good.

About a month later I was back to the Doctor at which time I told him that I’d had enough of Gabapentin and had stopped taking it.  He replied that was probably good and that “My latest blood test showed an elevation in some liver enzyme numbers” and that he thought it was “Probably nothing, but that an ultra-sound test of my liver would confirm this”.  He asked me if I’d like to schedule the test.  My facial expression must have portrayed what I was thinking, but I said “Yes” to be certain and he scheduled the test.  I did not mention any of this to anyone as I figured it was probably just due to the use of the drug.

A few weeks later I had the test done, which leaves you with a nice coating of slippery stuff on your clothes to enjoy for the rest of the day, to help remind you… that something might be wrong.  While the lab tech did the test I saw something a little different on the screen and apparently so did she, as she seemed to revisit that area, a few times.  I asked her if she had found something and got the ‘matter of fact’ reply that she “Just does the testing, the Doctor would Interpret the results”.  I left semi-reassured with the understanding that “If Anything suspicious was found, they would contact me Immediately”.

Some more weeks passed and I was back to be seen by the Doctor at which time I was told that “Well, I see something in the ultrasound results.  But these tests aren’t really very good, that another test, a CT Scan would be much more accurate and conclusive.”  What he saw in the ultrasound test “Looks like a 3cm mass, but could be a shadow from a rib or something.”  Somebody forgot to call.  As always I asked him speak with blunt honesty, using words that anyone could understand.  He said, “Well, medicine sometimes speaks with a forked tongue, It could be Nothing or It could be Cancer.”  “Would I like to have a CT Scan, to be more conclusive?”  To give this smart man the benefit of the doubt, I assume that such stupid questions are borne in the legal ass-end of the vile beast we accept as our insurance industry.

I chose to continue keeping this misadventure to myself, completely, at least until after the test results.  While going through the process of having the scan done, one of the two technicians asked, “Why I was having the test done?”  With a smile I said “Could be Nothing, or Cancer”.  I’m guessing my reply wasn’t normal, from their reactions, but we all agreed and hoped for nothing.  Afterward, I walked Sarrah around their beautifully landscaped parking lot in the sunshine.  She found a few suitable flowering bushes to sniff and some manicured grass, to pee on.

During the periods of waiting, I did a lot of thinking….  I don’t see how a person could avoid over-thinking and maybe a bit of self-pity in a situation like this, mostly I found my mind racing with it all while trying to keep a chin up, poker face.  At times, maybe half a dozen, I would be in a crowd and would sort of drift off watching everyone else scurry around all caught up in the minutia of just another day.

I also did a bit of online research, while most people were busy sleeping.  I have heard that you should not surf the Internet searching for possible medical issue information, but come on, really?  How can you not?!  With the advent of smart phones, a person does not even need to get out of bed.  I did a little web surfing and found a few disturbing factoids.  Liver Cancer is: in the top five most painful, top three worst odds and does its thing quickly.  I don’t remember much else.

I maintained my silence, even as the odds shifted more against me.  Not having to talk about It was beneficial in trying to not be consumed by constantly thinking about It.  I did not discuss all of this with anyone, other than Todd, my Acupuncturist for an alternate opinion and maybe some educated friendly guidance mostly about how I was handling “the waiting game”, and keeping it to myself.  He concurred with how I was handling it, or at least claimed to, which helped a little.

I was betting on the “Could be Nothing” gift horse.  Also, I kept believing that there was Nothing to lose by keeping it to myself, except of course the probable eventual backlash for doing so.  While many may find fault with me for not sharing, many others do not.  I believe the person in the tough spot gets to decide how to play their dealt hand.  After all there was a fair, OK slim chance that it was nothing and I didn’t want to freak people out, for nothing.  I felt that I needed to spare others from this medicinal test and wait game, at least until there was actual news, for everyone’s sake.

I began keeping a Journal.  In one of those ominous clinical looking (until decorated) Black & White speckled composition books.  Journalizing seems to be something many want to do, some do and most stop.  I wanted to capture my Brain Droppings.  Some notes and reflections recorded to see how I dealt with it for short and long-term souvenirs’, something to look back on one day, maybe.  I wrote thoughts; some rambling’s, made a list, and kept a few practicing medicinal notes and a couple crappy-sketched doodles.  If nothing else, the journal would be left for others to have after, later.  I drew great strength, as always, from my speckled friend.  Sarrah was happy to do whatever I needed; walk, rest and listen to me think out loud or simply reflect in silence.  Not being a practitioner of journalizing (unless assigned or purpose specific), I now felt driven to do it.  I found that writing in my journal relieved a little of the pressure, from my mind.

Yep, in my journal I made a ‘life is short list’ page and started on with it, one that if I only had a few months left and needed to squeeze the most from each day.  I had watched the movie “The Bucket List” a couple of times before this, as noted in my journal, “Wake up, time is short reminder”.  That movie has a different vibe now, but still offers a good message for me, as before.  I have always tried to keep ‘my list’ short, by experiencing those things deemed important and seizing many opportunities, as they became available.  But now I felt an urge to make a quick short list of some things that I would be grateful for experiencing, before being too far gone, to create some fresh memories for me and others.  A favorite one on my list was to eat more Seafood!  Kind of a bittersweet goal as I had developed an “Intolerance” around my birthday ten years earlier, to my favorite food making me violently ill.  I ate a bunch of it anyway, convinced that I could “Power Through It” and did, mostly.

For whatever reason, I have the recollection of a creative writing assignment (from a class that I did not take) in which the students had to ‘write their own obituary’.  This was always a little morbidly interesting to me, but then again, after all who better to sum it up?!  This became a little more important to me, but also in an additional, different, evolving way.

About nine months earlier, I had relented to all of the invitations and joined the cult of social networking known as Facebook.  I chose to think of it a little as a self-directed montage with my directing of the world, as seen through my eyes.  I felt fortunate to have started this in the event that someday, someone, like my Granddaughter Gracey may find it interesting years from now.  I still plan to generate an ‘old school’ obit and keep it up to date, in my words.  Then again maybe enough has already been written.

I contemplated the possibility that if I did have this insidious disease, spending the last of my time, making the best of it instead of in torturous treatment (to end up essentially the same) would deserve an honest look.  In other words, I probably would have gone to a beach instead of a hospital.

At this time I decided upon a park bench for a memorial of sorts, probably somewhere along the Long Beach Peninsula, with the simple words “Bryan Goffe was Here” (in a font resembling a ‘carved with a pocket knife’ look) alongside an embedded paw print.  Instead of a tradition marker, I merely want a bench.  Leaving something useful in a nice place that’ll possibly evoke and contribute, giving those who wish a place to visit and enjoy a bit of tranquility and maybe even some occasional mischievous debauchery.

This life event also solidified a thought that I’d had prior; to have my ashes launched out of an airplane onto the sleeping volcano Mt. Rainier.  I grew up in the once small town of Enumclaw where the plateau meets the foothills with this majestic mountain for a daily view and think this would be a nice place to return to the earth.  Maybe half of’m by my bench.  I am sure there are rules against such things, but also have faith in my friends’ abilities to overlook minor issues like that.  Besides, we try to live with too many… rules.  I still want the bench, now.  I would like to select the locale and enjoy the view, myself on occasion.  Now, I usually spend a moment with each memorial bench that I come across and wonder…

One selfish motive for silence was that I wanted a normal Father’s Day, the kind that should never be taken for granted.  I never knew how much I wanted this, until it got closer to actually happening.  Perhaps I had lived too long with a touch of mental defense against the perceived improbability.  This year’s was to be my first Father’s Day celebration with my daughter, on the actual day, and Possibly my last.  The big weekend arrived; my parents, Nissa, Heather, Gracey and of course the cats and Sarrah all gathered at the Beach House.  I got what I wanted and needed, for all.  Even the weather was on its best seasonal behavior.  We had a very nice memorable family weekend, without anyone worrying about me and treating me differently.  It was my most special, gifted Father’s Day, Ever.

It was a long tough day, waiting for the afternoon Doctor appointment to learn the results of my CT Scan.  As I wrote in my journal the morning of June Twenty Eighth, Two Thousand Ten,

“Yesterday was my toughest, so far.  Probably in part because I was alone with Sarrah and the cats, working on things around the house.  Of course I meet with Dr. Marinkovich today to see/hear what the CT Scan found, which is “real pressure” not to mention a gihugous distraction of the mind.”

That day my clock went crazy.  The ticking sounded off, as if the pendulum was slowed.  But when I did look at the clock, the hours were passing quickly, faster than normal.  I cannot remember the forty-five minute blur of a drive; I must’ve been on some kind of mental autopilot.  I got to the clinic early and soon was taken to one of the rooms, to wait.  I sat there watching… their clock.  He was running late.  I was mentally trading places with him, wondering what ritualistic psych-up things I would have to do, to prepare myself to tell someone “Hey, guess what…” The later he was, the longer the clock ticked off time, the more I was convinced that “I was Doomed”.  He finally entered the room, twenty-three minutes later than I did.

The words “Your liver is Healthy” were awesome!  We wrapped up the appointment quickly and I got out of there.  To celebrate Sarrah and I walked around the parking lot and down the cut-off trail to some other clinical buildings, for the last time.  We were never coming back here, to this place, ever again.  I also called Nissa at work to give her ‘the news’.  It was an odd conversation as she was blindsided and absorbing it all must have been a little overwhelming.  I posted a brief comment on Facebook and received several relief-oriented comments and a few remarks of surprise.  The residual benefits of making the most of each day could now be even sweeter…  I would now continue to focus even more on making the best of Summer time.

I suppose this Scare Dance with Cancer and the possibility of it, was another of life’s unintended hidden gifts.  Being forced to focus on the bright side and making the best of each day, while coping with burdensome facts of mortality is something that I do not think I could have done as completely without having gone through this twist of fate.  I was deeply compelled for a few weeks to constantly feel that each moment, of each day, Is really a gift (Even the Shitty ones).  At least that how is it began appearing to me, in the rear view mirror.  Not enough people get the experiences gained from seeing the end of a road, without it ending.

As my friend Jeff’s mom Alice (she was known as Al to friends, many of whom were considered extended family) told me around twenty years ago, “We’re all Dying of Something, Make the Best of the Time you have”.  Being the oldest known person living in the United States with Scleroderma for forty two years, made her a torture humbled, overqualified advisor in such matters of perspective.  I always remembered her saying this to me, but don’t think that I actually really understood it.  Now I think that I do, or at least on a deeper level and will always hear her sharing those thoughts with me, Thank you Al. (Al passed away January Twenty Eight, Two Thousand Eleven.  I hope she’s dancing to her heart’s content!)

Paradise

The combined goal was to have a getaway.  Our own place to escape from home; gather experiences to build on and collect layers of memories with family, friends (old and new), by ourselves and of course with Sarrah.  We felt the need to have a destination to long for, when elsewhere and in need of a daydream.  The kind where, when you close your eyes and turn off your ears, magically… you are there.  A retreat in our world where time is put in its place; less measured and untracked, removing deadlines and the forces that push them, in order to simply enjoy moments.  As well, to be our familial gathering site for holidays, birthdays and for the best event, no special reason at all.

One main requirement was for somewhere that had ‘enough’ so that boredom wouldn’t sneak in, but ‘much less’ than where we live and work.  Another priority was for somewhere that other people would be interested in joining us, on occasion.  We wanted and needed a better connection with nature and land, perhaps even where land meets water. Near enough for an after work escape and the occasional early morning return “Cannonball Runs” back to reality.  A peaceful spot to let human springs unwind and recharge batteries, repair the mind, refresh the body and I suppose nurture the soul.

We frequently reviewed the pros and cons of making this kind of investment.  All of the traditional points of retirement planning and age-old wisdom were mulled over.  Was this a wise investment?  Would there be resale value if the need came?  Should the required funds be squirreled away instead for later in life?  As living Life reminds us all too often, Death usually arrives uninvited and often earlier than envisioned, erasing long term plans.  The constant tricky challenge of maintaining the balance between “Save for a rainy day” and “Seize the moment” will always persist, with only the benefit of time passed to judge.

As we leaned toward the decision to enjoy some of life’s rewards now and along the way, our belief that the dividends from these experiences would payoff for the rest of our lives became clearer.  It felt like the right thing for us to do.  We chose to enrich our lives and those important to us, Now.  Who knows, a working life retreat may become a retirement haven packed with the comfort of fond memories.

After a couple of years of leisurely exploring the quiet coast, small lakes and rural mountains of Washington, we narrowed our focus to the Long Beach Peninsula.  The miles of beach, quiet unlit roads and laid back locals enable this area to drip with comfortable solitude.  This area is around one hundred fifty miles or more importantly measured with time, around four hours drive, each way from where we reside.  This distance is greater than we had initially hoped for, but it also enabled affordability (Seattle/Distance=Price).

Angel

A little dog lives on a shelf near my kitchen window, the rectangle of glass that I stand in front of while I wait.  Waiting for coffee to drip, food to cook and often be eaten at the sink underneath.  The main window where I quietly watch some of the world pass on by and think or try not to.

***

Coffee cups, Calendars and Pictures are some of the Pop Culture commercial products that turn into gifts when you walk down the path of life with a pet.

Before Sarrah’s first Christmas She was given her own ornament.

Initially I thought this odd little white dog with black spots, beige and brown wings, a gold wire halo and string to hang it was strange, a dog ornament for a dog.

As newness of these trinkets wears off, they blend into cupboards, shelves, walls and some boxes along with the rest of a person’s possessions.  Quietly these items are not really even noticed for a few years and then they become souvenirs of a life.

The little Angel Dog that I once thought odd came out for Christmas 2010 and never went back.

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Eye of December

Another newer wrinkle of our annual tradition in what has evolved into the month of Christmas, we escaped to the Beach House for the weekend prior to the actual holiday.  Just Nissa and I with our pets, went to get away from it all and make peace with the season.  This is a nice, quiet, uneventful time to unwind and reflect in our place of refuge, sort of ‘the eye in the storm’ that is December.  This last time Sarrah was clingier and wanted to sit in my lap, many times.  She wanted to do this often in her early years, but with wiggly youthful restlessness.  Now she wanted to be still and press her forehead against me, perhaps bonding in reflection.  I wonder if there was a tear in her eye.