Staying in play…

I woke up one morning a couple of weeks ago – in the middle of an ever intensifying nightmare where I was pretty certain I was dying – if not right then, at least pretty soon…and that I would never see my son Chris and his son Eamon again after today (they had been visiting for a week and were leaving today). I felt tears welling until I got hold of myself and thought what a stupid thought to be having at 6:43 in the morning. But, I got to tell you, it was pretty real (I’ve actually been pretty close to the cross over point, so I know these things). I straightened up and pulled myself together. I’ve never had a dream quite like this one before.

I had a flash back on it when I dropped them off at the airport to go to back to Maryland a little later in the day. I nearly lost it as I hugged my son goodbye. I think he felt it too. It wouldn’t be unusual. I’m 72 with a crappy heart. These things happen after a certain age.

You would think, with the omnipresence of death/end-of-life thoughts that fill our minds towards the end – or as we become conscious about time left of those we care about (parents) who are walking the great divide – that there would be at least some direct conversation about death and life and what it all means…or perhaps more correctly ‘meant’. But we don’t do it for some reason.

Visits like this one, where my son and grandson spent more than a week visiting me here in my Minnesota isolation, always prompts attempts to put a good face and a good spin on “how we’re doing”. We try to present, quite automatically, ourselves as perhaps a tad less wizened than we really are…and that we still are at least somewhat “immortal” and as “sharp as ever”. In the grand charade of ‘forever viability’ we pretend that end-of-the-trail goodbyes are “unnecessary” and premature – right now…even though the actuarials and boots-on-the-ground reality suggest otherwise.

While we were together, we made sure we did a lot of “vital signs” activities to prove the point to each other that everything was just fine…and would be, for the foreseeable future. We walked a number of miles daily, and played golf a couple of times (walked), went to the MN zoo and to a Saint’s baseball game – and out to Prior Lake to revisit where we once lived when Chris was a boy – which couldn’t have been more different than where Eamon, his son, grew up (he’s a NY city kid).

We ate out at favorite places – and watched the failed St Paul fireworks display from the high end of the high bridge.  And we talked incessantly. Never about the obvious subject of the near death proximity for the wizened leader of the pack.

I don’t know why we didn’t. God knows we each think about the  inevitability of an encroaching date with the reaper when within each other’s presence. Can’t help it. We certainly talk to others about it enough when we are outside of each other’s earshot. “So what do you think? How’d you think he’s doing?”  “I dunno, he eats well enough, maybe a little paunchy. He’s got another 10 years in him.” “Wish he’d clear up his DNR though.”

Should be an easy subject. “Hey Dad, you’re 72 with a low probability of making 80. Maybe 77 or so is about the length of your run, I figure. That’s 5 years. How you feeling about that? Anything important you want to do, or get done, before then?  Anything we can help you accomplish in making any of that happen?”

So. Since no one seems to want to ask, I guess it’s up to me to get the ball rolling.

First, on how do I feel about reaching the end of my string?

I’m surprisingly OK with the thought of “crossing over” it seems. I’m basically a ‘reality and truth’ kind of guy. My great reality is that I have a stent in my heart, which I got after a big time “widow maker” heart attack that has been collection sludge for 17 years now. And I don’t have one of those fancy defribulators that promise to keep you going long after you die…that I can place false hope on to carry me safely into my dotage. And to tell the truth, I frankly don’t have any great interest in chugging through decrepitude in my eighties and nineties. Particularly, if I’m seriously incapacitated…or gorked. Then I want to be out of here. And a nice clean, minimally disruptive, big time heart attack sometime before then would be considered a godsend. At least that’s where I am now on the subject.

And while it’s possible I may be reduced to a whining pathetic “tired of living/scared of dying” old man, who curses god for forgetting to snatch him up along the years – I’m hoping my read on “time” is right enough to where I never become a resented burden, or a grizzled and delusional old man whose family wished God would mercifully remove from the screen.

I’d like to think if god is a little pokey in getting the job done that I’d have the grace and presence of mind to force his hand a bit. A lot of people I know are opting out on their own schedule these days. We’ll see. I’ve been known to restructure reality in my mind before – so you never can tell how it all is going to turn out in the last act. Hopefully I’ll be clear as a bell when the balloon goes up.

I do need to set up DNR guidelines right away.

I’m leaving burial up to my kids. I really want to keep it simple and as cheap as possible. Cremation. Burial or no burial. Kids decide. Ashes tossed off the bluff in Shoreham (which I’d love to watch – the wind generally blows in from the water) or retired to one of the family plots with extra openings. Or with Mari somewhere (Really? Yes actually, I did spend the better part of 40 years with her after all). I have no firm “last wishes” on this. I’ll already be out in the great flow of the universe by them – patiently awaiting new arrivals.

So, the big question.  How do I want to spend my remaining time?

Doing important things he shot back. Important to me at least. I want to spend time around my kids – and theirs. To be more of a part of them than I currently am and have been, before leaving. To know them better. To have them know me better. To share thoughts and feelings and perspectives and personal missions…and to laugh about shit. And to dream a bit. And to be around the family people who are part of my life who have always been there, but maybe not acknowledged and embraced enough. And a few I’ve missed entirely for one reason or another. Some time with Mari and brothers and sisters and cousins and long time family friends – all whom hold important pieces to lifetime puzzles, and who hopefully hold answers to questions not yet asked…

I also, for some reason, want to go and re-touch important places I’ve touched before – to reassign values lost or forgotten…or that were not fully appreciated or understood before.

I want to see if I can put it all together in my mind before I die. Like maybe I want to take it all with me. All wrapped up and tucked under my arm. I want to see how my past formed me throughout my life – and how it influences and forms my life hence forth…to the degree that I can. I want to clean up some stuff that needs cleaning. I want to let some stuff go that doesn’t belong there or need to be there – because it never really did. I want to review a few past decisions made, to make sure I didn’t hurt people too badly, or that left scars that need some acknowledgement and attention.

Certainly not a victory lap. Just another lap…to end the race with a little better understanding of what was at stake here. And to get a better understanding about how it all turned out. It’s mostly all already ‘turned out’ I understand…just not all understood. Stuff lost in running too fast – and when there was just too much going on – or when things got to too cluttered or chaotic – or were surrounded with too much emotional drama and external interference.

I’m looking for slow laps to reflect on, more carefully…to see if I’m able to discern importance and meaning and understanding and implications from what happened in my life and in the lives of others – that maybe I missed or misinterpreted first time around. What’s it was all about, what it meant, how it changed things…how it influenced what is now – and will influence what will be tomorrow. Things I need time to think about, to develop into notions and considerations and conclusions.

It ends up being all about people and time. ‘Then’ people and time – and ‘now’ people and time (frequently the same people). And what we did with and about both – and what value it brought into my and others lives. Not much else really. Nothing else is really very important. Or very important at all. No medals. No applause. Just gratitude, appreciation and understanding. Just friends and people who I love, and love me…who provide the measurement standards of life’s value.

One other thing is important. At least to me. I want to gain a better understanding of how all this contributed to forming me along the way…to where I am now – as a connected piece of the divine flow I understand that I am part of. Closing the space between consciousness and meditation…and between meditation and absorption into the flow itself. I feel very comfortable with this thought. It’s exhilarating actually. Immersed in life at the end. Hope it’s real. It feels like it is.

Mostly and beyond the above, I really don’t want to collapse into an endless diminishing/ ‘vanishing point’ kind of glide path.

For the past couple of years feeling various blends of lethargy, inevitable physical depletion, boredom – and low grade depression I guess – combined with incremental subtraction from the world of ‘present tense’ and from full contact involvement that getting older brings with it…frankly diminishes interest in living. At least beyond a certain intolerance point. I hated – and now fear as much as hate – living in that passive state which has ‘glide path’ stamped all over it.

I am in ‘stasis’ this precise minute. And if I don’t do something immediately, I fear I will lose the time, opportunity and will – and physical ability, to act.

My life is surrounded by a decreasing number of pieces that increasingly don’t move…very much, or at all any more. I know precisely where my life is right now. I know exactly what to expect – and even expect the “unexpected” events once considered wildcard interruptions that we all know about…but didn’t allow ourselves to think about because they framed endpoints and diminished capacity and decreased involvement.

Right this very minute I can fill in my calendar for the entire coming year. I know where I will be, and who I will be with (if they can hang in for another year)…and what I will be eating and who I will be eating with…and the meetings I will be attending – and the role I will decreasing playing as the seasons evolve and as people move along their personal trajectories. I know the people I once loved to be with, who increasingly I see out of obligation and service – and out of honoring old friendships…who are still worth the gas costs to get there and back. I know I will lose a number of people to death and worse (and I know that indeed it may well be me who picks the short straw). I know what my weeks will look like – and my weekends – and what my holidays will look like…and where I’ll be, and where I’ll no longer will be invited because, because…because life intervenes. But, I still have things to do it seems. And for the time being, the capacity and the freedom to do things I choose to do.

And, unless I get out of here right now, I know for dead certain, will begin the slide into the mouth of the glide path…and I’ll never get to do what I want to do with the rest of my years. Because if I don’t act now – I’ll be letting the time and the critical decision point to act – pass, as though they were unimportant. No, no, no. I’ve done that before…when I had time to get things right again. There’s no time this time.

So. It looks like I’m off to Alaska. The first leg. Joseph Campbell would be proud.

Hear it’s cold as hell up there.

JMB – July 17, 2015


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