A Bad Break

I know people expect me to have more acceptance and peace with losing my wife to cancer earlier this year, and I don’t blame them. It has been seven months, after all. As I get further along in coming to terms with my grief, I feel that I am healing poorly. By that, I mean that I won’t be “good as new,” or back to the way I was. I’m impaired.

Consider what happens when you break your arm. You are in immense pain from the fracture, but with proper care, over time, the bone mends, and you heal. What happens if you don’t get proper care or set the break first? Won’t it still heal, but will heal crooked? You would likely lose some function of that arm, and it would be misshapen. Yes, you could get by, albeit inelegantly, but you are forever damaged.

That’s me, emotionally, healing badly from losing my lovely wife to cancer, and it’s changed me forever. It’s like an emotional car crash that I’m recovering from, and it’s left me deformed and handicapped.

And then there is the pain that spikes up out of nowhere and wracks me. That still happens, but it subsides much quicker. It’s no less severe, just shorter bouts. And I still have bad days where I can’t find joy or purpose in anything, but they are becoming fewer. All this is me, healing badly.

Without a doubt, this is the most difficult thing I have done – to keep going without Lynn beside me.

Today, I read a long post from someone who had cancer, and it went into remission. She thanked God and said it was her faith that saved her. Now, I’m happy for this person, but Lynn was a devout Christian, right to the end. Why did God kill her but save this other person? Did Lynn not pray enough? Did she not participate in her church enough? Didn’t read her bible as much as this other person, so you die, and you live? Was it, “God’s will?”

I look at my 92 year old mother, and she’s frail and unable to enjoy life any longer. On more than one occasion, she has said she is ready to go, and that living has gotten very hard, and she’s tired. I love my mother dearly, but each day is joyless and small, passing the time between meals and bedtime with game shows on tv, because anything more taxing is too much for her.

Then I look at Lynn, who was only 57 years old when she was diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer. She had decades of life left to enjoy. She had a husband that adored her. She was vital and capable, and she loved life so much. But nope. She’s gone.

What kind of god does that to people? What kind of god makes someone keep living when they can’t enjoy life and takes life away from someone who dearly wants to live? For me, that is a cruel god, or a god that doesn’t care, or more likely, a god that isn’t there and never was. God’s will, indeed. But none of that is important.

Yes, I’m still grieving… seven months later, I still mourn the loss of my wife. I’m sorry. I want to be better. I want to be able to think of Lynn and remember all the happy times we had together in our thirty years of marriage, without the sadness because she’s gone, but there is no expiration date on grief. I admit though, it is starting to get a bit stale.

KFG.

Accepting Joy

Ever since Lynn died in March, and we went into lock-down because of Covid-19, things that bring me joy have been hard to come by. Even the things I used to enjoy were now lifeless activities. That is, of course, one way depression affects a person. I was so fixated on the loss of my wife, it bled into all aspects of my existence. It poisoned everything. I felt like I was always on the brink of tears. The smallest issue would lay waste to my fragile façade of a smile and crush my heart. I know I’m melodramatic, but honestly, that’s the way it felt to me at the time.

Recently, someone asked me, “What brings you joy?”

I couldn’t answer him. I wanted to say, “Nothing. Absolutely nothing brings me joy anymore,” but that is defeatist and pathetic, and even if I was defeated and pitiful, I didn’t want to sound that way.

Finally, I said, “I have some things that bring me a degree of comfort. I haven’t actually been joyful since before Lynn died.”

I remember feeling committed to NOT having any joy in my life, even though I enjoyed the things that I referred to as “comforting,” my mind didn’t want to unlock and accept the joy, whether I admitted it or not. That was a strange thing because I was denying being happy, even though it was right there.

I went away and thought about it. I asked another person what brings them joy. They have also suffered a severe loss, though different from my own. He said, “Spending time with my dog makes me happy. I enjoy our nightly facetime calls, and I enjoy spending time with my son.”

Wait a minute. I have two dogs that I dearly love. The absolute delight Jasper exhibits when we play does make me happy.  Jojo’s goofy Beagle smile is adorable. My son is the world to me, and I enjoy my friendships and family, too. I enjoy playing games over the internet while facetiming my sister-in-law and her family. I do have things in my life that bring me joy. As simple a thought as that is, it was a revelation to me.

It was at that very moment I realized I could miss Lynn and still have happiness, too. The two were not mutually exclusive. Yes, missing Lynn was profoundly sad, and I miss her so much it hurts. I can also do things that make me happy, and that’s okay. It’s okay to feel both sad and happy in the same day, hour, even minute. It’s okay.

This new outlook made my previously meaningless day much more fulfilling. I regained my focus and started accomplishing work assignments I was putting off. I tackled a couple of small projects around the house. I started cooking more. Not just microwaving a frozen dinner; I was cooking. And I acknowledged when I was happy, and just realizing that made me even more pleased!

Now, I wrote this to help me get clarity on the situation, but I hope it’s helpful to someone out there going through their personalized, nightmarish version of this. My heart goes out to you. I’m so sorry. Take all the time you need to grieve; there is no time limit. Be kind to yourself, and when you can, identify the things and people in your life that bring you joy, and acknowledge them. I’d love to hear what they are if you’re willing to share.

KFG

Entertainment and Angst in 2020

I don’t know about you but rage and angst fill up my social media feeds lately. People are so at odds over the pandemic is a hoax, or face masks will kill you,  or defunding the police, or Trump – the vitriol on Facebook is palpable. People post the most absurd things masquerading as truth, throwing another tire on the dumpster fire that is the year 2020.

In my opinion, protesting on social media is the laziest, most impotent form of protesting. It is precisely a tiny little bit more than doing absolutely nothing at all. People who think the same as you will agree. People who don’t will either scroll on by or argue with you with complete disregard for tact because, you know, acting like a crude little tough guy is easy on social media. Some people get so mean when there is no risk of them getting punched out.

If you find yourself typing out “FUCK YOU” in a post, step back. Is that how you represent yourself? My friends, please, stop being THAT person. And putting in asterisk for some letters doesn’t make it okay, it only makes you look uncommitted. You might as well cuss in symbols – $#!+@$$.

Anyway, nobody is having a good year. We are all just trying to get to the other side of this thing. I think our way of life will never again be the same as before Covid-19, even when we have a vaccine, but let me stop myself before I start going down the rabbit hole of doom, gloom, and despair, and get to the point of what I wanted to share with you, and it’s this:

My choices of entertainment have changed. Right now, with so much death and unhappiness in the news, I need something vacuous and goofy. It needs to be brilliantly stupid. It needs to be… YouTube and, to a much less extent, TikTok.

I have found Rhett and Link, and the Holderness Family, and the How Ridiculous guys. These internet entertainers have become the core of my entertainment since the quarantine began.

Rhett and Link have been friends since childhood, and they produce three main shows on their YouTube channels: Good Mythical Morning, Good Mythical More, and Ear Biscuits, with 16.5 million subscribers. The chemistry they share is what makes the show for me, these guys play the most bizarre games and eat some truly disgusting things. They also have some original songs that are pretty funny. I love it.

Penn and Kim Holderness have a video production company and churn out several videos a week. The Holderness Family creates original music, parodies, and Vlogs to poke fun of themselves and celebrate the absurdity in circumstances most families face. Some of the parody songs are enlightened and always make me laugh. They also come across as extremely likable people.

How Rediculous is a show with infectiously over-enthusiastic Australian guys who drop stuff off of things onto other things. Do you want to see what happens if you drop a bowling ball off a 45-meter tower onto a trampoline? You do. You know you do.

TikTok videos are so short, they often finish before I can scroll past them. I watch lots of cute animal videos here, and of course, Sarah Cooper. Her “How to” series is funny as hell.

Sure, there is intellectual content out there, too, but I need stuff that’s inoffensive and lighter than air. I need to not think about how bad 2020 sucks for a little while. I think we could all lighten up a bit. Take a step back, and watch two guys eat French toast made from things that should not be in French toast. Watch a song parody of Antibacterial Girl to the music for Madonna’s Material Girl. Watch really excited guys throw paper airplanes off the top of a dam.  Look at puppy videos. Everyone loves puppies. And let’s try to lighten up. Please?

Chronic Grief

Chronic health problems are not uncommon. I know people with chronic back pain or chronic bronchitis, for example. These are things they live with every day. Yes, some days are better than others, but it’s an ever-present debilitation, always. These people are damaged in some way, but I marvel at their strength to get up and function normally. They go about their jobs and lives as routinely as they can. Sure, they may be in treatments or physical therapy. They may take medications, but they get up and function as if they don’t have a problem, most of the time. That is admirable.

I told you that so I could tell you this:

I’m in a Facebook support group for people who have lost someone they love to cancer. It’s a very specific subset of individuals, and it is overwhelmingly populated by caregivers who have lost their spouse or life partner to cancer. I was regretfully welcomed into this group when my wife, Lynn, passed away, March 06, 2020. 

Here, we do our best to comfort each other and be present for someone while they grieve. We share stories, we complain, we bolster someone when they are thinking of giving up. It’s a good place for me to be right now, and the people are kind and caring, even though everyone is dealing with demons of their own.

Some people in the group have been without their loved ones for years, and they are still grieving the loss. They do not seem to be in pain to the same degree as those who are dealing with only weeks or months since their loss, but I think that’s a deceptive appearance. I believe they have adapted and simply carry it better. The feelings of loss, sadness, and despair are still very present for them. They are living with chronic grief. I admire each and every one of them. It is the bravest thing in the world to get up each day, with such feelings of loss, and go about the New Normal.

A few words about grief – there is no time limit or expiration date on grieving, and it’s not the same for everyone. Even specific losses by the same person are different. I lost an uncle who was my father figure, growing up. My brother died a hard death with mental illness a few years ago. I’ve lost beloved dogs and cats. I have grieved, mourned, and cried for all of them, and to this day, I miss them all dearly. None of these experiences compares to the awe-inspiring grief I am feeling from the passing of my Lovely Lynn.

And I truly am in awe of my grief, like a child seeing the Pacific Ocean’s waves crashing violently on the rocks for the first time, I am in absolute awe of despair’s crushing power. It’s unlike anything I have experienced in my 56 years of life. I am a broken man.

Like so many people before me, I have to learn how to live with chronic grief – I don’t expect my grief ever to be less. I must learn to carry my chronic grief and push on through my workaday life, and like someone with back pain wouldn’t try to lift a heavy box by themselves, I’m not going to push myself to address emotionally stressful situations alone. I will get some help with difficult things like that. And I’ll get therapy and exercise because it helps me feel better. And I’ll continue to work on being kind to myself.

One day, maybe years from now, you will see me wince just the slightest, and then I will continue as if nothing happened. That will be me, dealing with my chronic grief. But today, I scream out in pain. I have a ways to go.

Moritorium – In Memory of John Douglas Martin, August 22, 1971 – February 24, 2012

“Can you moratorium a cubicle?  You know, put it in a state where no one could occupy it?”

It was a stupid thought, and I was grateful that I didn’t say it out loud.  A moratorium on Doug’s cubicle wouldn’t bring him back.  Doug would still be dead, no matter what.  The cubicle was just the place he worked.  It was not him, nor was he the sort of person that he let his work define him.  Sure, personal items decorated the space, but it was still, just a cubicle.

As the admin dutifully boxed up Doug’s possessions to clear out the cube, sadness took me, and tears tried to rise.  I fought them down – not the time or the place or the situation.  These moments have been sneaking up on me ever since the funeral.  In these moments, I realize, really realize Doug is gone, and I will not see him again.  And that sucks.

Doug was the sort that would do almost anything for anyone. 

Doug, I need a ride to the other side of town at midnight. 

Doug, I need $300, and I don’t know when I can pay you back. 

Doug, I was stung by jellyfish, and I need you to piss on the wound to neutralize the poison

I never asked him any of those things, but I know if I had, he would have complied.  He also would have thought the pissing on me thing was hysterical, too. 

Doug was a guy I worked with, but he was a guy I worked with that really, truly touched my heart.  He wasn’t average, and that always seems to be the way these things go.  The jackass you work with that you sometimes wished would die, he doesn’t.  The good-natured, funny guy that everyone likes, he dies needlessly.  I look for balance in the universe, and I swear I cannot find it in this situation.  It isn’t fair.

 “Good Morning, JOHN.”  He would call me John because I let it slip once that I don’t like going by my first name, John.  This, of course, ensured that Doug would call me John at every possible opportunity.  It was always with a smirk and in fun, but only because he knew it got to me.  Though it was annoying, it was also funny.  An inside joke that everyone was in on.

More than once, Doug invited me to go with him to Mexia and shoot guns or just get smashed on the weekend.  I always declined.  Need to get home… things to do… going to wash my hair, etc.  And I did have other things to do, but I also thought there would be another time.  I ran the clock out, and the opportunity is no more.  Hindsight is 20/20, so they say.  Hindsight sucks.

And that is what I remember about Doug.  Most of it is what I know he would be like, not really what I know he was like.  And I think that is what I mourn most and why I suddenly am given over to tears at the oddest times – I had the opportunity to spend time with a very cool person, and I didn’t, and now that opportunity is gone.

Cool people are rare.  No, really, they are rare.  Honestly, think about how many truly cool people you know.  I bet it is just a few.  Don’t miss the opportunities to be around them while you can.

In memory of John Douglas Martin,  August 22, 1971 – February 24, 2012

© 2012, 2020, Mitch Lavender

Grieving the Loss of a Spouse During the Covid-19 Lockdown

If you have lost your spouse during this time, I am so sorry. My lovely wife of 30 years, Lynn,  lost her life to cancer on March 06, and we went into lockdown due to the Covid-19 virus ten days later, making me stay at home, with reminders everywhere that Lynn is not here anymore and never will be again. To not be able to hold a gathering and celebration of her life. To wake up every morning and sleepily reach over in the bed to touch her and then realize she isn’t there. That is a special hell. So if you’re going through your version of this, I sympathize, and I believe this experience is unique for everyone, but I also think there are similarities. I’d like to share my experiences with you, with the hope that it might make you feel slightly better, slightly less alone, or somewhat less in despair.

First of all, grief is the right thing to feel after losing my wife. It’s correct to grieve during this time. In truth, I was grieving her all through the chemotherapy treatments and then through hospice, before I started grieving in earnest when she died. The sorrow was less when Lynn was still present. I could hold her and kiss her.  Once she was gone, the despair cranked up to 11.

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Solo Board Gamer, Me?

One of the things that I like about analog gaming is that you get together and interact with real people, face to face. While the video game medium has come a long way in adding a social aspect to the gaming, it simply does not compare to the richness of a real-life experience with friends, sitting around the table and gaming together, albeit competitively.

Now, there are solo board games or, more commonly, multiplayer board games that have a solo play mode. Viticulture, Scythe, and Terraforming Mars are popular games in the hobby that can be played solo. In the past, I considered sitting at a table, playing a board game by oneself the equivalent of gaming masturbation. It just seemed sad to me and I didn’t see the point, particularly when many of my favorite games absolutely thrive on the interaction of the players.

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Advice From Someone on the List for a Liver Transplant

I have a friend, Mike L. whom I admire, support, and love, and he’s been careworn with serious health issues for several years now. He wrote and shared the following piece with me. I thought it was profound, particularly when you consider the place he is coming from.

Mike L. gave me permission and rights to post it, so I’m sharing it with you. You probably are not exactly in the place Mike is in but anyone struggling with health issues will identify with what he’s saying. As a caregiver, I certainly do and appreciate his advice.

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Thank You, Murphy

Murphy was a Rat Terrier we got as a puppy. He died in October of 2017 when he was 10 years old.

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Thank you, Murphy.  Thanks for protecting the backyard from squirrels, birds, and neighbors doing things on the other side of the fence.  You would bark and protect us all.  Never once did a squirrel, bird, neighbor or delivery person harm us.  Thank you.

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This is Your Mind as a Writer. Any Questions?

It seemed innocent enough.   A few words on the page; what harm could it do?

A flash-fiction piece here, a poem there – it didn’t take much time.  Before long, I stepped up to doing short stories.  It was only one a week, at first.  Then I was doing it more.  I would lie to my family so I could sneak out and write.  They thought I was going to the store for bread, but I was at Starbucks with my fingers on the keyboard, typing furiously, or sitting in the car, scribbling in a Moleskine notebook.

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GEEK AM I

As a card-carrying GEEK, it is my right… nay, it is my RESPONSIBILITY to complain about the most insignificant and trivial of details when it comes to movies, books, comics, video games, and particularly in my case, board games.

Look at the most passionate geeks out there and that’s what they do – criticize and complain and nit-pick.  I can only surmise that any geek worth his salt would do the same, right?

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Not That I Care (Flash Fiction)

Have you ever been in an absolutely quiet, serene place, void of any distraction at all?  Didn’t it feel weird?

Consider this: If you abuse your body, it creates problems and organs stop doing what they are supposed to do.  So, if you drink too much, your kidneys and liver will fail to filter toxins properly, or if you smoke, you damage your lungs and have difficulty oxygenating blood.  What about your brain?

Inane television shows, sound-bites, self-important celebrities, radio chatter, internet memes, Facebook status updates, tweets, and the general, incessant noise we surround ourselves with every day – subjecting a brain to such a relentless input of low-grade, sensational information, year after year, it’s not unreasonable to think that something had to give and it did.

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Changes

I wrote this in September of 2013 and I was 49 years old, leaving an 18-year career with Microsoft and preparing to start work as a manager at AT&T. It’s an indulgent and heavy-handed write but I’m sharing it here for those who might find themselves in a similar career change and need some reassurance and more to the point, might try to do it alone.


Changes
By Mitch Lavender

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I knew the way and the path was familiar even though this was a new pilgrimage.

Corporations are treacherous catacombs, filled with dead-ends and devastating fates for the unwary.  Eighteen years, I have navigated these passages but too late, I realized I took a wrong turn.  All around me, peers and superiors told me otherwise and that the path was true, but I knew otherwise.  I knew, but it was too late.

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Why Kemet is Awesome

Kemet by Matagot is my favorite area control board game and it’s one of my favorite games, ever.  Over multiple plays, I’ve come to really appreciate (yes, that’s the right word. APPRECIATE!) the game’s mechanics and design.

Is Kemet a game you, too, will APPRECIATE?  I don’t know, but let me run down the reasons why I like it and then you can decide if those things appeal to you or not.  First though, if you don’t know what Kemet is, we’ll start with the vendor’s description.

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