Monthly Archives: February 2019

A SOLITARY LIFE

Many years ago the wife and I were on a plane ride, probably heading back East. The row we picked had 3 seats  across with a middle-aged woman already occupying the window seat. My wife Vivian took the middle seat and I was left to sit on the aisle. (I would always take an aisle seat on flights since, even then, I would have to pee like 40 times a day and I needed quick access to the bathrooms.) Once Vivian was seated comfortably, the woman next to her began a stream of non-stop chatter that lasted the entire flight. Seems she lived alone on a small mountain top, isolated in the woods, with no one to converse with. I believe it was somewhere in Wyoming. With the opportunity now to release all that pent up verbiage that was bottled up inside her, she let it flow non-stop onto my poor wife, like lava erupting out of a mountain. Vivian exclaimed after the flight that her ears were ready to fall off.

But it got me to thinking why a single woman, or anybody for that matter, would choose to live in such lonely isolation. I guessed at the time that there was probably some childhood trauma or abuse involved in her making that decision, but on further reflection, perhaps not. People these days are generally extolled for their extroverted personalities, while introverts are usually regarded as anti-social. But just as extroverts recharge their batteries through inter-action with others, introverts are often more comfortable alone with their own thoughts. Of course no-one is entirely one way or the other. Extroverts do need some alone time while introverts do occasionally mingle with others. But neither life-style choice is inherently good or bad. It just is-for the person exhibiting that type of behavior. In any event, it had me thinking more about this subject, since my personal circumstances have changed so dramatically at the present time.

As I’ve written before, an out-going, glamour filled existence doesn’t necessarily fill the bill. If it did, four of the biggest American pop stars since the end of WWII would not have done themselves in so gracelessly. Neither fame nor fortune, nor tens of millions of adoring fans world-wide, could stop Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, and Whitney Houston from ending up at the undertakers abode decades before their time. More recently, Anthony Bourdain, famous celebrity chef and world traveler, hung himself in a Paris hotel room. He seemed to have it all, fame, fortune and world-wide recognition, but just could not cope with the process of daily living. I guess it takes a certain quotient of fortitude to get through each day until we end up on the other side in the next dimension. And for those fearing death, Helen Keller, a person who should have had a keener insight than most, stated that death is merely the process of going from one room to the next.

The comfort that comes with living a solitary life was expressed brilliantly by American writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau in his opus on Walden Pond. Starting in July 1845, Thoreau lived alone on the shores of Walden Pond, located in Massachusetts, and kept a journal of his solitary experiences witnessing the beauty of nature for over two years. Walden is an exceptionally deep and remarkably clear kettle lake, and it inspired an awareness and respect for the natural environment ethic in Thoreau as shown in his writings. One hundred and eighty years later, Thoreau could be considered the father of today’s environmental movement. Thoreau always believed that living alone on Walden Pond greatly enriched rather than diminished his life. The solitary experience amidst nature was almost beyond description he later confided. Today Walden is visited by over 600,000 tourists annually.

I bring all this up because now, in the final stages of my life, I’m forced to live a solitary existence. As I wrote in my last piece, my dearly beloved wife, partner and best friend for 53 years died of of cancer this past January. So I’m left to rattle around in this big empty house by myself. And it’s not on Walden Pond. Of course, I still have my 12 year old cat, constantly begging for treats, so I guess I’m not entirely alone. But for those of you with religious leanings, do you ever wonder why God created or allows cancer to flourish. Yes, man has performed heinous, dastardly, hideous and evil acts throughout the centuries. But cancer? That’s on God’s watch.

 

 

 

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BEFORE THE CANCER CAME ….

Before the cancer came there wasn’t the slightest doubt in my mind that I would be the first one to go. After all, I was 3 years older than her, and in this country women generally outlive men by about 5 years. And she always seemed so much stronger than me health wise, and much more capable of handling difficult, messy legal and personal situations that inevitably occur after the death of a spouse. Besides, from personal experiences it appeared that women were better equipped to handle this type of tragedy and adversity than men.

Before the cancer came she was eager to indulge in all the various social opportunities that life in our new home city had to offer. We both retired from our jobs when we were in our fifties and moved from the the East Coast to Las Vegas. She loved going to the overpriced, style over substance shows featured in Strip hotels. Yes, they generally offered lots of noise and glitz, little in the way of depth, and were designed for tourists who wanted a break from throwing their money away in the casinos. But it made her happy so we went. As the years wore on, however, we frequented those shows less and less.

Before the cancer came, she had designed for herself an entire array of card and mahjongg games in the community social center to keep herself fully occupied. She, and her card-playing buddies, would often go at it to well past 10: PM. When she finally came home she would have to watch a little TV in bed in order to wind down before shutting out the lights. As the years wore on, however, her night games became less and less frequent, until finally she only played during the day. Then the daytime games began to diminish also.

Before the cancer came she had decided that our weekends would start on Thursday, which generally meant eating out and gambling. The only nights we ate dinner at home were Monday-Wednsday. On the weekends we would always see new movie releases, then have dinner at a quality restaurant and finally end up feeding the machines in some casino. The few times that she did manage to accomplish a major hit she was so highly excited and joyful. It was wonderful to behold. And then, like all the others, that activity also began to diminish. I suppose one could call it the process of growing old.

Then one day the cancer did come. I remember I had been out by myself that evening and when I came home I was in a hurry to check my email on the computer. Before I could do that, she announced to me that she had cancer. “What kind of cancer” I shouted in shocked disbelief. Seems she had been to the doctor who ran some tests and told her that she had Stage 4 cancer in her colon that had spilled over into her liver. At first I was in full denial. “How can they determine that you have colon cancer without first doing a colonoscopy,” I shouted. So she scheduled an early morning colonoscopy. When the doctor finally came out after the exam and told me that she did indeed, have colon cancer that had spread to her liver, my heart sank. This can’t be happening I told myself over and over. This is what happens to other people that you hear about through gossip. But now, this was the new reality for both of us.

So, at first she sought treatment at a nearby Cancer Center, which put her on a regimen of chemo pills which in the end did nothing but give her neuropathy in her feet. The simple task of walking became more and more painful for her, and then impossible as time wore on. So next they started giving her almost 2-hour long infusions of chemo which initially seemed to be working. But they also made her highly nauseous and by the end of the week she was usually throwing her guts up. She started losing a lot of weight, not an unusual occurrence for cancer patients. But early in 2018 the chemo seemed to be doing the job to the extent that she planned to attend our granddaughters wedding that was be held back East, 3000 miles away.

Two days before the wedding in May 2018, however, she developed a stomach blockage and had to be taken to the hospital, and the trip was cancelled. Our other granddaughter was also planning a wedding on the East Coast in October 2018, and my wife had faint hopes of making that one. But by then her health had deteriorated to the point that such a trip also became unthinkable. Another stomach blockage occurred and this time they decided to operate. But it meant staying off the chemo for weeks before the operation. She became weaker and weaker and the simplest of movements like getting in and out of bed became undoable. The last time we went out together was in early December 2018 and she could barely make it. I sometimes believe that if she had not been denied the chemo for such a long period she might still have been with us. Maybe thats just wishful thinking.

On January 9, 2019, the love of my life, my wife and best friend for near 55 years succumbed to cancer. And here I am, alone and broken-hearted, left to rattle around in this big empty house by myself. I Skype with my 3 daughters which does help considerably, but it’s still an empty existence. I’m reminded of the poem that Irish poet Dylan Thomas wrote to his father who was on his deathbed at the time-” Do not go gentle into that good night; but rage, rage against the dimming of the light.” In the end, my beloved Vivian did go gentle into that dark night. But she was more than ready to be finished with the suffering that cancer had inflicted on her frail body. The only consolation I have is that I’m pretty old myself, so I should be with her again on the other side in the not too distant future.

 

 

 

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