Saturday marked the one year anniversary of my mother Evelyn’s passing. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about her. When I wake up in the morning, I can remember her voice and the countless messages she would leave on my answering machine checking in on me. During times when she had no phone, she would drop all of her coins into a phone box located down the hill, it was a phone box I would eventually drive past with my wife when we came over to visit. That’s how she was. She had a heart of gold and would give you her last penny if she loved you.
We saw many sides of Evelyn in her final years. I am choosing to remember her laugh, and those wonderful phone calls where she had such wisdom for me. I’m learning to stand on my own now.
It’s been a difficult year
I’ve fallen off the wagon taking care of my health. For a while there I was doing good, but news of Mum’s death threw me into a spiral of recklessness. I became very isolated, comforting myself with food. For months I thought about dying in the same manner she died. I thought about death a lot. I thought about the big machine of the medical system and how we can all get pulled into it, but eventually realized Evelyn was in very good hands in her native Ireland, probably much better hands than I would be here in the United States. Work was something I used as a diversion and so I kept busy through 2016 and now well into 2017.
While this was going on Stephani was fighting her own battle, taking care of her ailing Grandmother who late last year fell and injured her leg, losing mobility. She spent considerable time these past few years visiting Nana, taking care of her, and it has been such an incredible challenge for her.
The sun brings a new opportunity to heal
I wake early every day, prioritizing exercise and immersing myself in a good podcast or audio book. We’ve been ordering Blue Apron dinners and eating healthier. We are both feeling happier and healthier. Dad and I recently reconnected and it has been nice speaking with him again. I hope to convince my brother that blood is thicker than water.
I’m learning that life isn’t about what you have, it’s who you have in your life, and how you spend your time enjoying it. I will live the remainder of my days honoring my Mum and living a life she could never have. She paid a great price to give it to me.
It’s been quite a terrible year. I’m sitting reflecting on the year that just passed drinking coffee, having a think about what 2016 dealt and what 2017 might hold.
A body in decline
Things had not been going well for my Mum these past few years. At the start of the year I noticed that the words in her vocabulary had started to become limited and our interactions by Skype phone had become weekly check-in’s to make sure she was keeping warm, that the care givers were visiting her, and that she was using the electric fire in her bedroom, the appliance we had installed, but that she felt was too costly to run. She had recovered from a nasty chest infection a few years prior that landed her in the emergency room and in recovery for close to a month. But now her memory was failing her as she tried to remember Stephani’s name and sometimes even mine. Her greatest challenge in the end was her fight against Cancer and COPD, which would again land her in the hospital, this time from a broken hip. She was trying to switch off or turn on electricity to a power strip next to her television, and toppled over, breaking her hip.
This month I have been remembering what it was like for Mum near the end of her life. Gasping for every breath. Shouting at the nurses. Being sedated. Staring off into space for hours at a time as I sat at her bedside making small talk, repeating questions I knew she had answered an hour or so before. My job was to keep her in good spirits by bringing up the good times. I’d say my Mum had a relatively happy life once she met my Father, but the marriage was not easy. We moved around quite a bit as Dad made the leap from lorry driver to antique dealer to U.S. immigrant, taking us along for the ride of our lives. She developed a dependency on alcohol during my teen years, and this only seemed to amplify her inner sadness and feelings of low self esteem. I remember coming home finding her drunk and crying often. She had a very sad streak in her personality. But the sad streak was a gift too because she wrote some lovely poetry. I know I inherited this from her.
This year I have spent a lot of time self analyzing my own traits and trying to develop more self awareness. I know that I have the sad streak. I know where it came from, the challenge is managing it and living with it. This month I have been sad a lot. Some days it has been hard to get out of bed. Some days it has been hard to smile because it will be the first Christmas I will not be able to Skype Mum and talk about the good old days. I think what’s different compared to three or four years ago, is that I am able to recognize when I am sad and I know that the feeling will pass in time, so I get on with my work and move forward.
This year we lost so many great and talented artists. David Bowie, Prince, Greg Lake to name a few. David Bowie knew he was dying and decided to look death in the face and laugh, leaving us a beautiful thank you card in his “Blackstar” album. Prince passed away from complications related to a dependency on opiates, something thousands of fans found hard to accept, and Greg Lake, from Emerson, Lake and Palmer passed way at 69 after a long battle with Cancer. Only recently have I started to appreciate Greg’s music, even wonderful 80’s rock anthems like “Heat of the Moment” which he sang with his band, ASIA, and ELP’s “From the beginning”, which I love to play on the guitar occasionally. Greg wrote a beautiful Christmas song called “I believe in Father Christmas” and I think this one song will be his swan song, remembered and sung for years to come.
I hope Joe Biden continues to work on President Obama’s Cancer Moon Shot project to cure cancer. It is taking so many victims. But after the election, and seeing the kind of administration we will have near term, my hope for lofty, aspirational ideas like curing cancer are slowly fading with each cabinet appointment.
I hope 2017 is a much better year than this one. I can’t wait till 2016 is over, so we can move forward as a country, and as individuals in whatever battle we are waging personally.
Good health and happiness to all of my friends in 2017. Your friendship means more than any of you know.
Fifteen years ago today I woke up to the sound of the today show, sitting in bed drinking coffee with my then Fiancé Stephani. I remember watching them break away from their current story to lower Manhattan where a fire was reported at the World Trade Center, and minutes later we saw a second plane fly into the building. We sat there in utter disbelief at what we were seeing.
All I wanted at that moment was to hug Stephani and keep the frightening World from coming into our home. Every day from that moment on would be a blessing for us. We have our lives, nobody can hurt us, can they? Could they hurt us? Why do they want to hurt us? We did not understand.
I had lost my job a few months before this, laid off as the tech sector underwent a tumultuous time. Things were bad. I couldn’t find work, I was depressed, and now this. Whatever this is, I wasn’t sure. But I remember staying glued to the television for most of the day hypnotized by the footage of the twin towers burning. Our country was under attack, things would never be the same.
I remember the images of people hanging out of the windows in the building, some were starting to jump out and fall to the ground. I remember thinking what an awful death. The desperation. Those firemen and first responders running into the building not knowing it was about to come down on top of them. All of those families losing their loved ones all at the same time. The magnitude of the attack was incomprehensible.
In the afternoon I had an appointment to meet in Anaheim with a woman I did business with in my prior job. It was an interview to see if we could work together on a contractor basis from what I recall. I remember getting dressed for the interview and not wanting to go, but forced myself to drive to Anaheim. When I arrived for the interview, both of us were very preoccupied with the events taking place on on the east coast and decided to reschedule the meeting. I had this overwhelming desire to be at home in my condo watching what was happening.
I’ve never really understood why some people hate America so much. This country has given me a rich life of experiences and opportunities. Why would someone want to destroy that? I still can’t wrap my head around it. I know it had a lot to do with military bases in Saudi Arabia and politics. I just have never been able to understand why they hate us enough to take their own lives and the lives of innocent passengers.
About a month after September 11th Stephani and I got married. It was a wonderful day. Our friend Andy played the bagpipes for us. Andy passed away a few years ago. My Mother couldn’t make it to the wedding, we were so sad she missed it, and now she has gone too. We are all going to be gone some day. We must make the most of our lives, fill them with rich joyous experiences, because we only have so much time here. We should never live in fear because doing so would mean that those who wish to terrorize us have won. I am so lucky to live in a country where I can work and enjoy life.
Fifteen years later I have a better understanding of why the attacks happened. But the World is a sadder place. We are safer sure, but the fighting rages on around the World. On September 11, 2001 we were one country, one people, but I can’t say that today with the bitter political divisions as we head into election season, one candidate running on fear tactics and the other representing the status quo. I can only hope for better days and peace as we remember those lost. I am sure they would want us to hope for peace.
Well it’s April 27th, my Birthday. I’m sitting in the kitchen having a coffee, flipping through Facebook smiling. It’s been a hectic few months at work, and there’s been health trouble for my Mum in Belfast. But other than that, life is great.
When I was 25 I was a very worried guy. I worried about everything. Whether I would be able to pay my bills, if I would find a good job, if I would become famous and if I would ever find love. It was all one big ball of worry. When I was in elementary school, one of my Teachers noted on my report card “Gary is a worrier”. He must have been in tune with what was bothering me, worry has been at the root of my being ever since I was a child.
As a grown man I can see the error of my ways. Worry will get you nowhere. At 25 I had been in the United States for 8 years. I had just got my green card, and my first “real” job as a van driver for Inacomp. I was in a band and would write songs in my spare time. Listening to those songs today I cringe, because the worry came out in my writing. I was 25 in a new country with nothing but opportunity before me, yet my mind was preoccupied with worry.
If I could take a trip in time back to my 25 year old self I would look him in the eyes and promise him that life will turn out just fine. To stop worrying about things. Stop taking everything so seriously. I would tell him to insist on better healthcare for that ear infection and save that hearing in the left ear.
At work I fumbled through life fueled by worry. I’d tell my 25 year old self about the joy of sitting still, and the joy of taking a walk and looking after one’s self. I’d tell him that rejection will happen, some people will fall out of love with you, but there will be moments of clarity down the road when it will all make sense, and your best friend will be sitting on a park bench right next to you.
It’s a happy birthday indeed. I am a man who is finally becoming self aware. I know where this worry came from, it’s in my DNA, it’s how I was wired. But I am learning to accept it and live a life of purpose, seeking work that challenges me and new friends who understand me.
As we normally do on Sunday afternoon, Stephani and I stopped in to our local grocery store to pick up some food and supplies for the week. As we were checking out I could hear Stephani strike up a conversation with Maureen our checker. I’ve seen Maureen before, a quiet, kind woman. Today she seemed a little sad.
Not hearing everything they were conversing over above the background noise I moved the items from the shopping cart onto the moving conveyor, tossing our canvas bags on top and putting up the next divider for the person behind us.
Maureen was talking about an item the last customer bought. She mentioned “Seal Beach” and on today’s copy of the daily paper, the Orange County Register, the cover featured a courtroom image of Scott Dekraai. Scott was a former tug boat captain who in 2007 gunned down his ex-wife and seven other people at the Salon Meritage in Seal Beach. It was the worst mass shooting in Orange County history. Dekraai went to Salon Meritage looking for and targeting his ex-wife Michele Fornier, Maureen’s sister. Today, in addition to scanning cans of peas, pasta, fruit, bread, beer and whatever else Huntington Beach had on the shopping list, Maureen was scanning copies of the Orange County Register featuring the face of her sister’s killer.
I am not sure if she had any alternative to working today, but if I were her boss, I would have gladly given her the day off.
We told her we remembered that awful day as if it was yesterday. It was horrible. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to have lived through that experience, losing your sister to a monster like that. Just terrible.
It made me remember that each one of us is fighting our own very personal sadness each and every day. For Maureen, it is trying to get over the loss of her sister, greeting customers with a smile as they wait in line, consumed with their own lives, thumbing their mobile phones, missing out on an opportunity to cheer up perhaps the saddest person in the room, the person right in front of them.
by Check out this sweet looking ride parked in Huntington Beach today. We walked around Huntington Beach today, this crisp, windy last day of 2014. We had some lunch at the end of the Pier at Ruby’s Diner, always great … Continue reading →
It’s been a peaceful Thanksgiving. We had dinner with the family. Festivities included arranging our nieces and nephews to recreate a famous family snapshot in the front of my in-laws house. As is normal with me lately I enjoyed things from afar, sneaking candid photos of the family while the rest of them conversed, keeping this otherwise quiet Southern California cul-de-sac buzzing with conversation about Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, college studies, church fund raising and even Cyber Monday. We all enjoyed a delicious Thanksgiving dinner, celebrated by millions of friends, neighbors and countrymen.
Later in the evening Steph and I were in bed watching a movie when the phone rang. It was Stephani’s Mom, Dottie. The conversation consisted of “no”, “for how long?” and “We’ll be right there”, at which point she put the phone down and told me her Dad was feeling ill and we needed to take him to the hospital. We threw on whatever outfit made sense in a panic and bolted out of the house.
When we arrived back at my in-laws and entered the house, I could see my Father in law, John, hunched over the kitchen table in obvious pain. I’ve never seen him grimace like that before, so we got him into the car and headed off to Hoag Hospital. He told us he had pain in his lower right side for the past five hours and had been vomiting, so the hospital recommended bringing him in as a precaution.
We got him checked in, Dottie went with him while Steph and I sat in the waiting room and watched the steady stream of patients come in over the next few hours. A woman who had been drinking wine came in with her right hand bandaged and held above her head, her fingers were purple. She had apparently fell and landed on glass. There were drops of blood on her orange shirt, or was that Cabernet? After the wine lover came “Tequila Sam”, a large man now positioned in a Hoag Hospital wheelchair. Tequila Sam had sprained his ankle earlier while drinking tequila. He looked a little bit like Bryant Gumble, was jovial, even disclosed to us in the first 60 seconds that he had been married four times. He was wearing expensive slacks that had been cut to length with scissors, which gave him a slightly homeless look. His companion wore expensive snowboarding pants and sat quietly across from Tequila Sam as stretch marks around his ankle grew larger while he was feeling no pain.
We sat in the waiting room gazing at our mobile phones until a slim man in dark jeans and hoodie stood in front of us pacing. He looked like a healthy Southern California surfer in his mid to late 50’s. I didn’t get his name, but he looked like a Sal. So let’s call him Southern California Sal. Sal had striking white cropped hair, was either very tanned or of Hawaiian descent. He had a magnificent white toothy smile, and white white eyes which peeked out from his silver rimmed glasses. He was nervous and jumpy. After a few seconds he sat in the chair in front of us and started to recount why he was at ER. He pointed out a young man on the far end of the waiting room who was sitting with his wife and a young teenager, and told us that he and the man had become friends over the past few months. The man had recently relocated his young family to Southern California from New Orleans. Sal said “He was like a breath of fresh air to the neighborhood.” A few days ago his new neighbor’s Father flew in from New Orleans to join them for Thanksgiving and while at the airport fell and broke his shoulder and injured other parts of his body. He was a man who had lived the hard life, had, as Sal put it “not taken care of his body”. He wound up at Hoag Hospital for two days and had been checked out with a clean bill of health on Thanksgiving morning.
Sal was instantly likable and someone who I wished I could trade for one of my current neighbors. He was friendly without being pushy, and had a kindness about him. I started to sense that I was not giving him 100% of my attention given the gravity of the current situation, checking the screen of my phone. But then he told us why they were there tonight. He said they were all enjoying Thanksgiving dinner together when his neighbor’s Dad stopped breathing and went down. Sal had a firefighter background and knew CPR, while his neighbor called 911, Sal performed CPR until the ambulance arrived saying “I wasn’t going to let this guy get away from me.” Sal had our full attention at this point. Stephani and I sat there listening to him retell the past 30 harrowing minutes.
The door of the ER flew open and the doctor called the name of the son who was sitting in the far side of emergency. The two of them went around the corner and the two women who were with him went into the ward. After about 2 minutes the door of the ward opened and the two women slowly walked out. They were crying. Sal walked up to them and they said “He didn’t make it.”
We don’t know why the man died. All we know is these two neighbors were enjoying a Thanksgiving meal together. Sal’s 6 year old daughter had presented his neighbor’s Father with “Get well soon” paintings just a few hours earlier and Sal wondered how he was going to be able to explain to his little girl that the man had not survived. Sal called a cab, but before he left he shook our hands and said how nice it was to talk with us about it. I think in that moment he just wanted somebody, anybody to talk to. Minutes later I thought to myself wow, I just touched the hand that within the past hour had been pressing on his neighbor’s family member’s chest, trying to keep him alive.
After a battery of tests John was released and Stephani took him home. It’s been one of the most memorable Thanksgivings ever, getting to see how my neighbors are helping each other. This morning I wonder where Sal lives and hope I run into him again at a Starbucks. The next time I will get his number and try to make a new friend. Sorry I didn’t seize the opportunity to do that this time Sal wherever you are.
I never had children, but if I did, I would try to be a good Father. Being a Father is a huge responsibility. You pass on your DNA, your wisdom, your hopes, your aspirations and yes your love. But sometimes you pass on your troubles, your guilt, sometimes your anger to your children. You expect them to behave a certain way, you expect them to accomplish what you may have wanted to accomplish and when they fall short, some Fathers take out their frustrations on their kids. It’s a hard job. A big responsibility.
What do I know of Fatherhood anyway? I never had children. I almost did when I was a teenager, but that was interrupted. I think that was my opportunity, but the timing wasn’t right, I was an immigrant, I was dirt poor and needed to find my path. I think back on those times and wonder what kind of Father I would have been sometimes. I know I would have been a hard worker, that has been a constant in my life, work. That was a constant in my own Father’s life. I know that it was a constant in my Grandfather’s life when he worked in the shipyards of Belfast, and his Father before him when he built furniture for the inside of Titanic.
Being a Father takes patience and dedication. When your kids have problems you need to be able to communicate with them. You need to be able to love them unconditionally, and for a great many Fathers out there, this comes naturally, for others it’s hard. I admire Fathers who stand by their children and support them no matter what. Fathers who work at having a good relationship with them have my respect and admiration. Fathers who give up on their kids are lazy. Fathers who place conditions on their relationships lose in the end. The children stop calling, stop coming around because they grew tired of the moaning, tired of the criticism, they grew tired of being victimized. They move on.
If I had children I know what kind of Father I would try to be. I would be a kind, patient, generous Father. I would covet education. I would teach my kids to love their fellow man. I wouldn’t discriminate against others. I would try to teach them practical life lessons. How to manage money, how to negotiate, how to play guitar, you know, the important stuff. I would teach them to stick with a job, even though its tough. I’d encourage them to look inward and explore their emotions. I would actively listen to them and encourage without browbeating them. Above all I would love them unconditionally. I think if I did that they might respect me as a Father.
That’s a tall order isn’t it? Being a Father sure is a hard job. So, Happy Father’s Day to all the Fathers out there who are doing it right, every day.
This morning I clicked onto the headlines to see what was happening around the world and was jarred by the sad news that actor Philip Seymour Hoffman had died at 46, apparently from a drug overdose. Hoffman was one of my favorite actors, perhaps one of the finest actors I have ever seen. Each time a new movie would come out staring Philip Seymour Hoffman, we wouldn’t wait for the DVD, we would go to the cinema to watch it. His performance in “The Master” was one of the most powerful pieces of acting I have ever seen. He was brilliant in “Doubt”, electrifying in “Charlie Wilson’s War” and masterful in “Capote”.
Drama as a genre is my favorite. In my DVD’s you’ll find movies starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jack Nicholson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ewan McGregor, Michael Shannon, Robert Di Niro and Al Pacino. My movie collection contains an equally magnificent assortment of films with women like Dame Judy Dench, Kate Winslet, Meryl Streep, Tilda Swinton and Cate Blanchett. I relish great acting, and feel sad at the prospect of never seeing a new film from Philip Seymour Hoffman ever again. All day I’ve been trying to come to grips with the loss, it’s going to take a while to accept.
What makes it harder as a long time fan of Mr Hoffman’s work is speculation he died from a drug overdose, a heroin overdose, and had been separated from his partner since October, and that he was a Father to three middle school aged children. Was it hopelessness? Was it heartbreak? Was it boredom? Was it selfishness? What was it that allowed the dark vines of addiction reach out to such a gifted man and pull him back under? A talented, complex man like Hoffman would be hard to truly figure out based on the body of work he left us. The depth in each of the characters, the intensity, the passion. In “Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead“, Hoffman played Andy Hanson, a man who had been embezzling money from his firm, and was about to coax his younger sibling played by Ethan Hawke into joining him in a scheme to rob his parents business so they could benefit from the insurance money. In the movie there were scenes where Andy would visit a heroin dealer who would inject him. The apartment was a new age, feng shui, high end Manhattan apartment, much like the $10,000 per month abode Mr. Hoffman had been renting since October. These scenes seemed a little out of place in the movie, a little too raw for my own taste. I wonder now if these scenes might have posed a risk of triggering Hoffman. When he died, he had been clean for 23 years.
I will never understand drug addiction. Heroin is a killer. Last week I heard about a new blend of heroin that’s made with Fentanyl, a powerful pain killer, more powerful than morphine. Twenty eight addicts had died in one town in just two weeks. Truly frightening. Heroin scares me. I once started to watch the film “Trainspotting” starring Ewan McGregor, but was so disturbed by the heroin scenes, I had to turn it off. Heroin has killed so many of our most beloved artists and musicians. Drugs in general are killing thousands.
Tonight I am sad for Mr. Hoffman’s family, his little children and the acting community who have lost one of the greatest actors of our generation. It will take me a long time to get over Philip Seymour Hoffman. I am truly gutted.
Stephani met me when I was in my early 30’s and by then my hearing loss had started to manifest its self, mostly in social settings, where I had started to retreat from loud environments. She puts up with a lot. It must be tough having to repeat yourself constantly. My hearing loss is profound in my left ear, and partial on the right. If I can control my environment, sitting in a particular seat in relation to a gathering I am more comfortable, however, if I end up with someone to my left, event with my cross-aid hearing aids, it can be a real challenge understanding what is being said to me. The other thing is misunderstanding things completely if I am not wearing my hearing aids.
This video was published on the Phonak “Hearing Like Me” site. It encapsulates a very upbeat version of what life is like for a hearing impaired or deaf person vs. what it is like for the hearing person. I think reality is somewhat less rosy than this lovely picture, particularly when you balance things like the stresses of traveling with a hearing impaired individual, anxiety and confusion with other emotions like pride or fear of humiliation. If I could put my life experience into one sentence it would be “bashing through it, one day at a time”. I’d give anything to have my hearing back, honestly I would.
So, what has your experience been? If you are similar to us, what is life like for you?