#Tales from The Retirement Home

ENTRY ELEVEN – searching… searching…

No matter how long or how often you’ve been married, marriage is always a challenge.

I love my wife. I believe she loves me completely, and I know she is the right woman for me at this stage of my life. Our daughters (“her” daughters, technically) look at us, sigh, make a heart sign with their hands and say, “relationship goals!” as they walk away from their goo-goo parents.

And yet, there are still problems, of course.

My wife confronted me this morning with a concern of hers, as she absolutely should. In my joking manner, I was saying things like, “You’re one of the three best cooks I’ve ever married!”, or “wow, honey, that was as good as any wife I’ve ever had could do!”, which sounds in my head like a compliment, but to her, I’m constantly comparing her to my late wife Melissa or my children’s mother.

I don’t. But I get entirely how she could hear it like that.

But the contrary point is sneaking into my subconscious.

Over the last few nights, I’ve had various dreams with a common thread – my high school sweetheart, the woman I founded Act II with and who passed away four years ago, is alive in the dream, and actively wants not to marry me.

In one dream, she simply wanted nothing to do with me; in last night’s dream, the common thought I’ve had that I should have picked up on her hints back in 1992 (but was a thousand miles away and had been burned too many times by the failures of our long-distance attempts to maintain a relationship) was transformed into one where she resisted the possibility, instead of me.

And for obvious reasons, I can’t discuss those dreams with my wife, who already thinks I’m comparing her to Melissa all the time. (Ironically, in one of the dreams, I’m happily married to Dana, and Melissa’s openly contemptuous of our marriage. I wasn’t upset about it in my dream, but the dream itself upset me when I awoke. Not the way the priorities sat in the dream; rather, the very fact that I was having that kind of dream.)

I found a sermon on marriages that reminded me of the most pressing instructions in the Bible on marriage: the last half of Ephesians 5, where Paul describes how wives and husbands are to behave –

 

21 And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

22 For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. 24 As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.

25 For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. 28 In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. 29 No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. 30 And we are members of his body.

31 As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” 32 This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. 33 So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

 

It’s a two-way street, of course. Ironically, I learned this from Melissa. She more than fulfilled her “submit to her husband” part, even while gently guiding me to the Lord as God had guided her to do. Once she was comfortable that I was finally a man of God, she released the instruction of the children in the Lord to me.

But she need only submit to her husband IF her husband is fulfilling HIS part of the bargain – to love her sacrificially, with the same kind of love Christ had for His church. Well, I wasn’t a follower of Christ, I did love her sacrificially, and she knew it.

And so I learned how a marriage was supposed to work. In retrospect, the mother of my children and I had a similar set-up, purely by accident. I gave her most of the decisions to avoid conflict, but when it was something critical (in my opinion), that’s when I “put my foot down” and insisted on my way. Those were the times when she decided to trust my decision-making and went with my decision. It worked for us, but it required trust in each other’s decision making to work. When trust fell to the wayside, our marriage fell apart as well.

Now, I understand how to make my marriage with Dana work – I am to love her sacrificially. It may not be the way I want, but for her sake I will relent on issues such as this – issues that don’t damage the long-term sanctity of the marriage, the family, or our relationship with Him.

So, I will gladly watch my flippant comparison speech, for the sake of my wife’s happiness. Because I would gladly sacrifice not only my freedom of speech but my very life for her, as Ephesians would demand of me – as Christ would demand of me.

 

#Tales from The Retirement Home

ENTRY TEN – another step downward

So, in answer to entry nine’s question? Yes. Yes I have. 

Admittedly, I overdid it a week ago. My children’s high school (also my own before retirement) had its homecoming a week ago, so I decided to be silly. 

Y’know how in parades, the float riders always throw candy to the parade-goers? Well, I picked a rather quiet spot near the middle school and threw marshmallows ONTO the floats. It was a nice ego boost to have so many of the kids recognize me, even when I’d been mostly off-campus over the last several years, and it was just plain fun. (Especially when my own sons’ float came by towards the end.)

Then I went to the middle school and visited for a while, picking up my daughters in the process; picked up my older son back at the HS, and we went to the local Christian coffee shop to eat and play pool badly. (We ate with great accomplishment.) Finally, I dropped the kids off at the football game with their mother – and then stayed for about 90 minutes to sit and chat with the current band director. (They did fairly well, I thought.)

I expected to be tired over the weekend and then to recover. I was half right.

It’s eight days later, and apparently this is the new normal – pain all the time, not just intermittently, and immediate fatigue upon ANY activity. Folding one basket of clothes knocked me out for a couple of hours yesterday. Driving to Walmart and back did the same. I’m fearful as to what having my children home again this week shows me about myself…

Collapsed last night at one point late just before bed, and bawled. Prayed, did some pain relief exercises (deep, oxygenating breaths are the most effective for me).

My wife is beginning to doubt the idea of a “loving God” who would do this to her devout husband. And I worry that it’s doing the exact opposite of what I’m sure God intended it to do – bring people TO Christ with the endurance I showed overcoming this illness. Instead, I don’t think I’m doing a very good job of overcoming this illness; in fact, it’s winning right now, big time. 

So, how DO I overcome it? I just talked about the pain relief exercises. One of the things I think I need to rev up big time is my prayer life – I’m not spending nearly enough time in prayer asking God to RELIEVE my pain, as opposed to taking away the illness itself. He has Told me many times that my TAM (tubular aggregate myopathy) is His leash on me, which is why He will NOT remove it. But that doesn’t mean He might now strengthen me more than I’ve asked Him to thus far, or that He might not simply allow the Holy Spirit to overcome my pain when it occurs. I have made a point of glorifying God no matter how bad the pain gets but that doesn’t seem to have an effect on my wife, who thinks this disease to be unnecessarily cruel to her husband. 

Excuse me; I think I need to pray about this some more.

 

 

 

 

 

#Tales from The Retirement Home

ENTRY NINE – Daisy, Daisy…

 

The title refers to the song that the HAL 9000 sings as Dave Bowman ejects memory tapes from it aboard the spaceship flying to Jupiter in the movie (and book) 2001: A Space Odyssey, originally by the amazing author Arthur C Clarke, and presented in revolutionary form by director Stanley Kubrick.

As HAL slowly deteriorates, that song permeates throughout the ship. And as I deteriorate, I can hear that tune reverberate inside my brain.

Over the last two nights, I’d thought I’d gotten a reasonably decent night of sleep. So imagine my surprise Monday when I sat back down in the afternoon – and woke up six hours later, when my wife returned from work. Wow…I must have really been tired! But it was a long week, y’know? Kids needed lots of driving around, I worked on the stepdaughters’ car, and so it makes sense that I was tired. ‘K. No worries. Caught up now.

Then Tuesday, I had another six hours of unintended napping! What the hey? I don’t know what’s going on! Should I expect that EVERY day from now on? (That’s why I haven’t posted for a couple of days, except for the fantasy football posts that I’d prepared last week for automatic posting on Tuesday.)

Have I gotten that sick?

(I think the answer is probably YES.)

It’s moments like this that drive home to me the reality of my illness. It can be too easy to forget about that reality, because without having to go to work, I don’t have that day-to-day reminder that I’m getting sicker. With the luxury of being able to work from my cocoon, it’s easy to think that I have strength I don’t really have. But what that hides is that it’s no longer my job that’s tiring me out. It’s just the minutia of daily life: driving to the store wears me out. Walking up and down stairs wears me out. Typing on my laptop wears me out. Even kissing my wife wears me out, although that’s an awfully nice way to wear out.

And there’s that nagging fear in the back of my mind: does that mean that my time on earth is growing shorter, too? “Shorter”, yes, of course. (So’s yours, by definition.) But is it “short”?

Well, in God’s terms, yes, of course. “For a thousand years is as a day to God, or as a watch in the night.” And as our time in Heaven will be, eternity compared to however many years He grants us on earth, it’s as the blink of an eye. What does it matter if we have fifty years of earthly life, or thirty, or seventy, or ninety, or two? Compared to eternity in Heaven – or, for those who haven’t accepted Jesus Christ as Lord, Hell – it’s as the watch in the night that Moses spoke of in Psalm 90. Snap your fingers, and it’s gone.

Best to spend that fleeting time in preparation for the time to come.

Choose your destination wisely. Accept Jesus Christ as your Lord (don’t just say you “believe” in Him!), and you can reserve your trip to Heaven when you die – or more likely, when He comes back in the VERY NEAR FUTURE.

Or, fail to accept Jesus as your Lordand there are SO many people who THINK they’re Christians who live like the world wants them to live rather than how God wants them to, and they’re all in this category and accept your trip to Hell. For eternity. However long you can possibly imagine, you won’t be any closer to being done than you were the first day you arrived there.

Torture, flames, and most importantly separation from God and all of His creations (including all other people), FOREVER.

How hard can living your short little life according to Christ’s Love be in comparison?

 

#Tales from The Retirement Home

ENTRY EIGHT – WITH or WITHOUT? 

So, about four weeks into the school year, almost four months into this new residence, and I’m starting to come to grips with the nature of my new life in #The Retirement Home. Every other week, it’s not all that retiring.

That’s because every other week, my four youngest children are living here with me. My first wife, the mother of all of my children, left us back in 2008 when she wanted to be (as she put it) “free, white, and 21”, came back to her senses over the course of the next few years, remarried, and now that she’s a reasonable parent again, we exchange the minor children every Friday evening. My two teenage boys and twin twelve-year-old girls spend a week at a time at home with me, and then spend a week in their mom’s abode (with their oldest brother, for what that’s worth).

Divorce destroys families, and children suffer the most harm, no matter how well they seem to take it. Having said that, this situation is as decent as can be expected. These four kids have a good understanding of who their parents are, how they differ and how they’re alike, and seem to adjust accordingly. The funniest part of that equation is watching them adjust the first night: They’re talking on top of each other, they use volume rather than manners to get their point across, and all the other niggling habits of the household across town. By the next morning, though, they’re waiting for each other to finish sentences and the other elements of polite society we expect in our household..

So when they’re here, and we have six children in the house, it can get pretty busy. Mind you, they all have other places to be, even when they live here – it seems like my stepdaughters would often prefer to be anywhere but home! My two boys are both involved in the school play, so there are more hours in their school day than for the typical student, and at one point yesterday there were NO children home because literally EVERYONE was visiting friends somewhere else! (Slight cheat – I’m counting my older son as “being with friends” while rehearsing his play.) 

But come Saturday – that would be tomorrow! – we’ll be returning to the deathly quiet of the #retirement home environment: my four children have to return to their mom’s home (I think they’re ok with it; I’m never all that happy about it), while my wife and her two daughters go to Boise for the weekend to see (among others) her new grandbaby and his parents, leaving me here by myself. 

Can you keep a secret?

(That’s not the worst thing in the world for me. My Saturdays were always my introversion recovery days, once this disease really took hold. Now that I’m married, I still wasn’t “alone”, although being with my wife isn’t unpleasant at all, even when I’m really inside myself. But having a day – day and a half, probably – completely to myself will actually be about right for me. It’s long enough for me to unwind a little and enjoy not having to use up my strength in helping my children and wife (which I love to do, which is why I expend that energy that I really don’t have) without – I pray – being so long that I start to get really lonely and thus possibly really depressed. Having church on Sunday morning will aid in that part, tool)

“Oh, woe is me.” (*\/*) 

(Lookin’ forward to tomorrow…)

 

 


#Tales from The Retirement Home

ENTRY SEVEN – AND THEN, The Darkness Hit

The world is a dark place this morning.

Literally dark – a storm is rolling in. Talk about closing summer with an exclamation point!

Emotionally dark – I only get on FB maybe once a week these days as I disconnect from society – in fact, I just looked through my home page and saw that the last entry I actually made directly on Facebook was sixteen days ago! So, it’s actually a nice coincidence that I happened to look today.

I just learned that one of my closest music ed compatriots died of cancer Saturday. Sam Stone and I were teaching buddies with very similar philosophies – children first, music second – for 25 years. He was at a low point professionally when I came to the end of my career because my health was deteriorating. It happened that he was adjudicating a festival with me, and he was feeling like he’d been shuffled into a dead end by his district. He’d gotten his administrative degree and moved into administration – only to be cut back a year later, and of course his old job as band director had been given to another person.

He graciously took over my program here in Jerome briefly – probably just long enough to exacerbate his MS by commuting three hours weekly and being away from his wife Tricia and his family. I know how much crap he put up with here; I pray he knows now how much I appreciated him. He struggled to do the kind of job he knew he needed to do, both because of his own health and because he was trying to do it so far from home. It was a struggle for everybody.

And personally dark – His death is really hitting me hard on this morning of all mornings: first day of school. Today is the first first day since I was literally three years old when I haven’t jumped up and started the new school year at a school. Instead, today, it starts without me. Everyone else in my immediate family is frantically getting the next year of their lives underway… and I’m sitting here, alone, watching them leave because I can’t put forth more than ten minutes of effort without needing to stop and recover.

Sam came to symbolize that transition for me, from a career I loved and was good at – I flatter myself to compare my career to his! – into my slow deterioration phase. When I couldn’t do justice to the Ambush of Tigers anymore, I entrusted them to Sam. In fact, I only retired under the condition that he get the job. I never imagined he’d be gone before I was! But his death, at an age not dissimilar to mine, reminds me I’m not far behind.

Until then, God and the Lord Jesus have kept me alive in this slowly-vegetating state for a reason. Presumably, it’s to write more and spread the Gospel to a dying world before He returns in the near-future… although if You have something else in mind, Father, I’m open to suggestions!!

Why else would I still be here? Cancer takes a person piece by piece. You watch them die. Sam didn’t look like the Sam I knew over the last few months – the chemo had made his hair fall out, the disease had sapped his strength, and he was losing weight in a manner that would make Jenny Craig proud.

Side story – my mother used to be in a weight-loss “club” in the school she taught at towards the end of her life. They’d all pitch in money, and those who made their goal that week (or fortnight or month or something) split the pot. When she got cancer the last time, she started losing weight the way cancer patients do, and lovingly her friends threw her out of the club for “cheating” to lose weight! Of course she would have preferred not to suffer the cancer, and her friends knew that. But it was amusing at the time.

Cancer, like many illnesses, makes a visible attack on a person.

Like my late wife’s fibromyalgia, my tubular aggregate myopathy leaves invisible scars on me.

I can still go to the store, the schools, wherever – I still look relatively healthy. It makes me feel guilty to use the handicapped parking, even though when I’m struggling I desperately need to park near the door or I won’t make it through the trip there.

One of the questions asked of me regularly by those evaluating my disability retirement status, which will take another couple of months, is this: “Can you still do your job?” My good friend Gina Ordaz once gave me the perfect answer for this question, which I’m paraphrasing – “Sure: for about half an hour in the morning, then maybe another half-hour in the early afternoon, and maybe even once more, late in the day, for another few minutes. As long as I can rest the full time in between…”

Looking at me, I appear healthy. And in fact, there’s probably very little that I used to be able to do that I can’t do in a pinch today. If one of my daughters was stuck on the railroad tracks, I’ll lay odds that I could run to save her and carry her away from danger if need be. But it would be debilitating for an inordinate length of time afterwards.

And when I die, I’ll undoubtedly leave a beautiful corpse, as James Dean wanted, because this disease attacks me from within.

It’s killing me, slowly, but not the way you might think.

What’s really killing me, what’s really going to do me in, is a combination of TAM and my worst sin.

Pride.

A lack of humility.

Stubborn self-esteem.

The internal requirement that I feel worthy of living, whatever that means.

Although I could undoubtedly survive with this condition for years more, I know in my heart that unless the Lord returns soon, as He certainly appears to be planning to do, I will not make it nearly as long as I could were physical health the only indicator. My friend Alan, the only other person I know with TAM who’s still alive, has had it for at least two decades. But because my pride won’t allow me to become so debilitated that my wife has to feed me, or that I can’t help my own children, or my continued physical failings finally pile up past my breaking point, there will probably come a night that the devil wins.

Too many nights, the devil pushes those buttons when the pain gets too strong. Too many nights, the devil takes full advantage of my sinful pride. He knows full well that when the pain gets that overwhelming, and the darkness is all-consuming, that all he will have to do is convince me that it won’t get better.

And every time – so far – the Lord has walked in and rescued me. He has more weapons at his disposal than the devil ever dreamed of.

Even today, when the darkness wasn’t so deep (my pain and fatigue aren’t that bad so far, by my standards), He has tossed various reminders at me through several radio shows I listen to which “just happened” to choose relevant topics that brought me back up, or by swinging caring individuals into my life today, however briefly, like my step-son whom I haven’t heard from in months Two teachers I would never thought to run into on a school day “just happened” to be at the store when I went since starting this essay.

And then there are the techniques that He has taught me to ease my own burdens when I can’t quite feel Him there yet. For example, I stopped by a convenience store to buy my daily refill of cherry with a little bit of cola in it. I glanced behind me and there was a well-dressed woman, probably older than me but I wouldn’t swear by it, holding a bottle of pink medicine commonly used for upset stomach. Rhymes with “Kismall.”

Anyway, I asked her if that was all she was buying. She said yes, thinking I meant to let her go ahead of me. I turned to the cashier and asked her to ring the medicine up and I’d pay for it with my soda.

“You don’t have to do that for me!”

No, ma’am, I don’t. That’s why it feels good for me to do it.

Does that count as “helping the poor”? Technically, probably not. Almost certainly not. By nobody’s definition did this woman look poor. But when I get that nudge, I help whomever was next in line that I can actually help. (I’m too often confined to something cheap. That’s the one reason I wish I was rich. It’s too late in life for me to care about having things any more. Or maybe that’s Christ in me.)

But she looked like she was in need. And she appreciated the gesture.

Mission accomplished.

So it helped me, too.  

 

When I’m not fine, I need reminding that there is always Someone who LOVES me.

Psalm 139 does that.

You have searched me, Lord,

and you know me.

2 You know when I sit and when I rise;

you perceive my thoughts from afar.

3 You discern my going out and my lying down;

you are familiar with all my ways.

4 Before a word is on my tongue

you, Lord, know it completely.

5 You hem me in behind and before,

and you lay your hand upon me.

6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,

too lofty for me to attain.

 

God Knows ME! He knows me, inside and out! And not only does He know me…

 

13 For you created my inmost being;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

your works are wonderful,

I know that full well.

            …He also CREATED me! He is my Father, and in a creator’s sense, my Mother as well. He cares for me as only a perfect parent could do.

And what more reassurance could I possibly have that I am useful than to read verse 14?

“I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your Works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

If God made me so “fearfully and wonderfully”, and He has kept me around this long, I must still have a purpose for Him.

After all, I’m too wonderful to have just casually been “left behind”, right?

Finally, I know that God LOVES me, more than just as a parent. Infinitely more than that.

Because to save MY eternal life from damnation because of the sins I commit, He sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to Earth to live a sinless life and spread the Gospel in preparation for His ultimate sacrifice on MY behalf. (And yours!) Jesus allowed Himself to be put through the worst torture known to first-century man for just one reason – to suffer God’s righteous anger that should have been aimed at me (and you) simply so that when the time came, I would be allowed into God’s presence in Heaven via the righteous nature of Jesus Christ, rather than be left out to descend to the hell the fallen angels were cast into.

Can you imagine loving someone THAT MUCH? God loves US that much.

The hell no man was intended to spend eternity in. The hell that we have a free pass from if we simply return to the God Who created us to be with Him in the first place. The hell that can be avoided with the easiest commitment imaginable – the commitment to live under the Lordship of He Who Created us in the first place, Who bought our souls with His Blood when He shouldn’t have had to re-purchase us at all save for our predecessor’s bad choices, Who has our best interests consistently and eternally in mind when He gives us guidelines to live by.

The hell that so many human beings insist on choosing because they are blinded to His Love and His Power by the enemy, the one who controls the day-to-day workings of this world because as a species we chose him over God out of laziness, greed, gluttony, lust, jealousy, anger…

…and the one that will eventually kill me. Pride. The sin that more people fall prey to than any other. The sin that makes us say, “I know what’s good for me better than You do, God.” The sin that makes us say, “I’m more important than those around me.” The sin that makes us value our own needs over those of others. The sin that keeps us from admitting our other sins, even to ourselves.

The sin that keeps man from humbling himself before an almighty God who is demonstrably greater than he is in every possible and conceivable way, like a clay figurine shaking its little clay fist at the artist Who created it, somehow thinking it will go its own way, devoid of the consequences of its rebellion from a Creator it cannot outrun, never allowing itself to comprehend that with a modicum of effort, its Creator can consign it to the clay heap it came from, its existence erased from all memory.

How can we possibly refuse to humble ourselves in front of our own Creator, let alone a Creator with power beyond anything Thanos ever dreamed of possessing? And WHY would we refuse to humble ourselves in front of a Creator Who demonstrably loves us more than any human being could ever imagine or replicate?

And yet – we do.

And yet – the majority of us do.

And still, our Creator is so loving that He lets our little rebellious clay figurines run amok, giving us every opportunity to come to reason. A God of “human” imagining would have long ago done what Zeus would have done and wiped out half of humanity. A God of the storybook imagining of those who don’t really know the Bible would say that the “Old Testament” God would have wiped out our species already given the sins of the world today.

But the truth is that despite every marker having been checked, every sign having been sighted, and every prophecy fulfilled already, the Lord has not reclaimed His rightful heirs quite yet. Despite the fact that every indication is that He could Rapture His Believers at a moment’s notice, He continues to exercise inhuman patience, waiting for the last few possible converts to come to faith before He retrieves those Who live according to His Will.

Might you be one of those last few converts to awaken to His Grace?

 

 

By the afternoon, things looked better to me. My friend is still dead, but he left a legacy of love that I see the tip of on his FB feed. I don’t need to die to know a similar legacy is out there in my name, among the hundreds and hundreds of students and families I was able to touch in thirty-four years of teaching.

And as for not being at my previously assigned post on this first day of school? Well, I did go to the district office building this morning, the same building I taught the alternative school in the last five years, to apply for our reduced lunches for the children. It was nice to visit with Brianna and Francesca, two of the sweetest human beings in existence, in our Food Services office.

And out of sheer rebellion for a system I no longer participated in? I wore blue jeans to school.

 

 

 

 


#Tales from The Retirement Home

ENTRY Six –It’s Quiet Uptown…

My wife skipped town.

It’s for a good reason, though. Our grandbaby (I’m working on that phrase – technically, I’m only the “step-grandfather”) is thriving up in Boise, two hours away, but his mother’s going through a rough time, as new mothers often do. So my bride’s gone up there to help her through what she can for a couple of days – guide her through some doctor’s appointments she’s concerned about, make sure she’s taking good care of herself and not just the baby, because if you fall apart, so will the baby!

So I feel guilty missing her. She’s doing what’s more important than babysitting me.

But too often, especially on the weeks I don’t get to see my own kids, and my step-daughters are in and out of the house so fast that I don’t always know they were here, she’s the only human contact I have any more, outside of this computer.

Many mornings, I go to the local convenience store and refill my soda cup for the day not because I crave the cola (or the cherry syrup I load it up with, which would be closer to the truth), but because I crave the company the visit allows me. I could count a good half-dozen of their employees as friends, and another half-dozen of their regular customers. Sad.

But I take the soda back to the #retirement home, settle in for the day in my cocoon, and from then until about six pm or so, you and your ilk are all I have to communicate with. THANK THE LORD that I have you people for company! I feel particularly blessed when someone takes the time to leave a comment about my thoughts for me, either here in the blog itself or on the Facebook page.

All right; back on task.

Although my wife and I both had four boys and then identical twin girls, and although we’re within a few months in age, she started the baby thing before I did – her oldest is a chiropractor in Huntington Beach, 32 years of age, with a seven-year old son. Unfortunately for her, they’re a thousand miles away, so she’s been deprived of being a grandmother in person for most of his life. In our three years of partnership – 2 ½, to be truthful – I’ve only seen them in person once.

So, with the birth of grandson number two in comparatively nearby Boise (two hours away by freeway), her opportunity to be a grandmother in person has increased exponentially. She’s made four journeys up there in the baby’s 3 ½ weeks of life, three of those over at least one night. It’s a prohibitive distance for me, and the lack of a decent place for me to sleep once there destroys any inkling of a plan to make the trip with her. I don’t think I can make a two-hour car trip anywhere any more, and as nice as it would be to see the baby in person, I don’t want to be a burden when she’s trying to help her son, daughter-in-law, and baby grandson.

And baby is indeed very cute.

But it does leave me here, alone, “abandoned”, and lonely. And as school gets revved up, with registration and teachers returning to work, and kids prepping for the start of courses next week, I find my depression is slowly increasing from that – being “left alone” isn’t helping that.

 


#Tales from The Retirement Home

ENTRY Five – The Ennui…

While I’m officially retired already, the summer break over the last five years has been not all that dissimilar to what I’ve had scheduled this summer.

Only instead of spending the first six weeks teaching summer school (from an increasingly sedentary position each year, as I have been over the last six years), I was moving from two houses (I spent more of my energy moving the half-mile from my own place to here, although over the last week or so once I’d finished, I was full-time cleaning out the last remnants of my bride’s old house) into this one. Ended about the same time – Independence Day week.

Then, just like the last several post-band-director summers, I had no drill to write or show to prep, and I led a rather quiet few weeks – just like I did here. The major difference was the location, the unfamiliarity of the surroundings of this retirement home, and actually, the occasional step-daughter prancing through the house, trying not to live here but use it instead as a home base to work from. They are proto-typical teenaged girls. (My seventeen-year-old son asked me once this summer if he was the odd one or if it was them. I assured him it was him, and I was happy about his being odd.)

But now, it’s registration week. Fair week. The world – my old world – is cranking back up. There are people at each school I used to work at – high school, middle school, alternative school – and I’m not only not a part of it, I’ve officially given back the implements of being a part of it.

Keys, for example. My key ring is so light. I’ve never had zero school keys on my key ring for more than a couple of months at most, when I was transitioning between jobs. But now, I have no duties requiring keys.

Just the ones on my computer keyboard, I suppose.

And as the children head off to school in a couple of weeks, it’s going to be even harder, I suspect. For 34 years, I had a classroom (or two) to prepare, a show to create, several bands to set up curriculum for. Before that, I was on the receiving end of all that preparation – buying the notebooks and equipment I’d need, getting my schedule set up, revving up for the school year to come. Even pre-kindergarten, my parents would be the ones preparing for their teaching years in August.

My life has revolved around the school year for literally my whole life.

And now – it doesn’t.

September will be no different than July was.

Or November or March or May.

Monday and Friday are going to be identical.

Why should it still be “hump” day when there’s no contrast to make a slope from?

And I’m starting to realize how hard this is going to be to adjust to.

 

 


 

#Tales from The Retirement Home

ENTRY Four – Hello? Is Anybody Home?

It’s 2:45 in the afternoon, and I haven’t left my cocoon this entire day. Oh, except for once, when I had to go pee around four-thirty in the morning.

[NOTE to READER: If there are parts of this tale that seem odd to you, like you’re missing something you really should know to understand what I’m telling you – try reading ENTRY ONE, which fills in my background as it pertains to what you’re reading in reasonable detail. I really don’t feel up to regurgitating any of it again. Thanks.]

The population of my retirement home today, unless something mysterious has happened overnight – or this morning – or early this afternoon – is precisely one. And that one, as you no doubt figured out unless you tweet in all caps, is me.

Have no fear; I haven’t slept like a teenager or Rip Van Winkle. I’ve been awake since seven or so. I took my morning double-handful of pain meds when I returned from my morning ablation, went back to sleep once the pain diminished enough, and got another couple of hours of sleep.

Then, I prayed. I take Second Thess five-seventeen seriously – “Pray without ceasing” – and have a fairly constant mental conversation going with God, but I try to have a more formal time of prayer in the morning as “first thing” as I can. It’s pretty easy to do when there’s no one to rouse you first thing, and nobody whose itinerary you choose to follow rather than your own.

I listened to and read the Book of Revelations. (Light reading, I know. But I’d just finished it during my yearly “Bible-in-a-year” morning reading, having spent a couple weeks reading it bit by bit, and I wanted to take it in as a unit.)

Then, I fiddled with my phone while I listened to several of my favorite radio pastors – Richard Ellis, Greg Laurie, David Platt, Jon Courson.  A luxury I never – well, rarely – got to partake in when I worked for a living.

Amidst and between all of this, I put together two pieces: an article for the Australian sports magazine I write most regularly for, The Roar (an article only math geeks will love – I’ll post it on the “Following Football” page for later), and another, smaller one for a religion site I like. They took a while, and before I realized it, it was now, which is about 2:45 p.m. or so.

That’s the advantage of the retirement home (hashtag…). There’s no other obligations to interrupt me, and nothing else that would sap my very marginal strength. I had a couple of pre-examined pieces that I was able to insert into the second article that allowed me to have personal feedback without the “personal” part of it, and my editors at The Roar will take care of the feedback when the sun comes up around there… which, come to think of it, it already has, “tomorrow”, down under. Weird.

When I was working, teaching full time, there was an energy drain that may sound trivial to the reader, but to me, fighting a myopathy that sucks every moment of free energy from my body, was more draining than running to school sans car. Getting dressed. Eating breakfast. Preparing a lunch. Brushing teeth. Basic grooming habits. (Showers are few and far between – the pain of the water hitting my skin is usually unbearable when I get up in the morning. I’ll sneak one in during the afternoons if I can.) Driving the short distance to my alternative school, currently located inside our district office building. Elevating to the second floor. Walking from the elevator to my desk and sitting down.

Doesn’t sound that bad? I needed recovery time by the end just to do that much. Let me compare it with my current physical drains during the similar time span today:

 

(computer keys clicking)

 

That’s about it.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Especially when I have a debilitating condition that makes expending energy prohibitive.

Except…

Except I’ve never lived like this before. I spent thirty years with an eighty-hour a week career (that I loved), building and teaching a band program for high school and middle school. That meant constant work teaching, lesson planning, composing, logistics, concert or show prep, and so forth. It was a life, not a 9-to-5. Add on a marriage and children and I didn’t allow myself much down time. And my life before that wasn’t that different – Caltech was constant, and I did quite a lot of extra-curricular in high school, and so forth… Basically, I was wired to be going, going, going all the time. It was an effort for me to “take it easy” – my idea of relaxing, too often, was to undertake a different kind of project for a change (that’s how I got started writing novels and short stories).

The very notion of not keeping busy is anathema to me. And now – that’s exactly what I’m doing.

Nothing.

So far, I’m cheating a lot. Obviously, I write (much more than just this column). I track several of my favorite sports. There are a few things to do around the #HOME that I can putter with.

But that’s trivium. Barely enough to keep me awake.

Or maybe that’s a sign I’m wearing out? Hmmm….

Maybe I do need to take a nap.

 

 

 

 


 

#Tales from The Retirement Home

ENTRY Three – “This Town Is Like A Prison!” (Not for Me, Mind You…)

[If you’re not old enough or of that particular musical taste to recognize a J.Geils band lyric in the title, you’re completely forgiven.]

There’s an old joke about how what used to be punishment when we were younger is now a reward once we’re older… Being grounded from going out? An introvert’s dream! Going to bed early? Oooh, oooh, can I? Go to your room! Oh, thank you!!!

            Enter my two eighteen-year-old stepdaughters, stage left.

They were both in the same car accident the other night – neither was driving, nobody was drinking; in fact, very little fault to be found. The driver had his seat belt on and neither of my girls did, so when the car slid off a gravel road into a ditch, the driver was held safely in place while my stepdaughters both suffered minor concussions (plus a few other niggles).

Moral of the story, everyone – wear your seat belts EVERY trip, even if it’s “just a short one” like they were on that night. (I’m having a hard time throwing this stone – I’m guilty of that “short trip” exclusion myself on occasion, so I’m trying to learn vicariously from their misfortune and bad judgment.)

Anyway, back on point.

After a couple of doctors’ visits each yesterday, their mom and I placed them under “house arrest” for a few days. Not as punishment – they can go wherever they want if their mother or I am driving. But they’re under doctor’s orders to rest their noggins for the rest of a week – call it five more days, anyway.

You’d think we sentenced them to Alcatraz.

Fortunately, there are carrots and sticks to be used, and they really are good kids at heart and understand we have their interest at heart. For one, they really aren’t in trouble for anything regarding the accident. It was one of those combination of several little factors – the driver is a young man we know well; boyfriend of one of the girls. Perhaps he was going one or two hairs too fast; the gravel road is a different beast from pavement, and he wasn’t used to it; it was dusk, which makes sightlines tougher; there was dust in the air because they were following an ATV to wherever the whatever they were headed… all sorts of details that the devil is in. They were also out in the Nevada wilderness at the time, outside of cell range, so our collection of teenagers had their first can’t-call-parents crisis to deal with themselves, and they did alright. (And they DID call home once they reached an ER in Elko.)

But that was then, and this is now.

And now, they’ve been left with step-dad as prison guard, as mom still has a steady job to call her own. So, do they test my fortitude? Sneak out around my back? Blatantly disregard my authority?

Sorry, no. This isn’t a rom-com or a slasher flick set-up.

They were perfectly fine. They had movies to watch (Moana was first in the DVD player), and we’d picked up some yarn and new crochet hooks to pass the time. Oh, and just because they couldn’t drive away from the house doesn’t mean their boyfriends couldn’t drive TO the house. Not quite “Netflix and Chill”, but they were fine.

And step-dad got to spend most of the time back in his cocoon, one ear open for questions and one on monitoring duty.

Thirty-five years of teaching comes in handy at a time like this. How do you think we got the reputation for having “eyes in the back of our head”?

The next day isn’t too bad, either, because after lunch I’ve promised them that I’d drive them down to the big city to handle some important details with them – college arrangements at the local JC, quick stop at the bank, a couple of business refund-type deals, and then dinner with mom after her work and a possible movie showing.

Except that…

…while we were progressing down the road from stop number two to number three, a phone call comes in.

Big brother’s wife has just gone into labor in Boise. Cancel all other plans – mom and the girls are heading out of town to go take care of family and coo over a new baby!

And papa bear will be left behind, because that’s too long a trip for me to take any more without severe pain. So when the next installment of #Tales From The Home comes around…

…it will be a very quiet home.

 

 

 

 


 

#Tales from The Retirement Home

ENTRY TWO – WHAT Am I DOING Here?

It’s now 11 a.m., and I’m in what feels to me like a rather sterile bedroom. Oh, sure, there are paintings of flowers on the wall, including one staring directly at me when I’m lying in my “cocoon”. But none of it’s mine, and none of it feels like home to me at the moment.

[NOTE to READER: If there are parts of this tale that seem odd to you, like you’re missing something you really should know to understand what I’m telling you – try reading ENTRY ONE, which fills in my background as it pertains to what you’re reading in reasonable detail. I really don’t feel up to regurgitating any of it again. Thanks.]

Once my bride and I settled into this facility, it seems more like a “facility” than a home sometimes. Like this morning, for example. Here, let me try to explain what it feels like today:

 

            I asked the live-in caregiver to leave the door open when she went off-duty for the next ten hours or so. The nice thing about this retirement home is they’ve allowed us the ability to get up and use the dining facilities at our leisure. My room has a walk-in closet, a fine view, and a very nice restroom facility – bath, shower, toilet, lovely two-sink countertop. The live-in caregiver does a remarkable job with the whole suite, although out of habit I do try to do some of the cleaning and such myself when I can. (Between you and me, I’ve got to tell you: the caregiver is really hot.)

            Just outside of my room, there’s a nice dining facility – chairs and table, full kitchen, the works. Top of the line, frankly. Adjoining that is a commons area with a television, a piano, a computer (although I generally use my own laptop and smartphone instead), and a lovely supply of books and movies to entertain the residents with.

            Here’s the best part of this facility, too – when any of my children or stepchildren want to come visit, there are guest rooms upstairs where they can stay for the duration of their visit! I hardly ever go up to see what those guest rooms are like (in my condition, the stairs are rather challenging), but they seem sufficient, even nice. None of the children have complained about their rooms, although they were rather warm at night until the managers adjusted the thermostat to accommodate them.

            But it’s been a strange transition for me, moving out of my own small home where I’d been for the last 20 months or so of my teaching career as my health deteriorated and I could no longer take care of the larger home I’d had for the first decade living in Jerome. The week after my retirement, I came from that house to this… well, “retirement home” is what I suppose it must be, since I retired, and it’s now my home. It took the entire month of June and then some to finish the transition from there to here, but even though things have stabilized somewhat, there’s still a significant unfamiliarity about this place.

            You see, I sacrificed most of my furnishings and personal belongings when I downsized into the small home I was most recently in – what I didn’t give away, I threw away. God pressed me to sacrifice my “packrat” tendencies and eliminate my desires for “things”. Hence, I wasn’t about to “yard sale” any of it – the whole point was to eliminate any attachment to the monetary culture of the devil’s world. I’ve come to learn the truth of Christ’s declaration that “You cannot serve God and Mammon” – that is, either you are enamored of the things of this world, or your priorities are for the spiritual treasures we are called upon to bank in Heaven. “The love of money is the root of all evil.” Mind you, I never had a particular love for money (or else I wouldn’t have chosen public school teacher for a career when I had far more lucrative options available), but I did too often appreciate collecting things, things that in truth I didn’t particularly need. That, as much as anything, was the reason God pressed me into my first move, and specifically into as small a place as possible and still have my children around.

[And when we moved here (stepping out of “character” for a second), my new bride and I had duplicates of durned near everything, of course (with both of us in our fifties, we’d each been running our own households for years). When we acquired our newlywed home, much of what I possessed was discarded for its doppelganger from her home – either because she’d more recently purchased her version, or mine had cat hair all over it (which my allergy-sensitive wife understandably preferred not to have to “fumigate” to survive in her own home), or perhaps I was less attached to my version than she might have been to hers, or sometimes just by the figurative flip of a coin. The net result of those two moves together is that while my children hung on to much of what they’d owned two years before, probably 75% or more of my personal possessions are no longer with me; discard clothing and Bible books, and that percentage goes much higher. ]

Most of what “stuff” exists around me is unfamiliar at best.

            So, as I step out of my room this morning into the facilities dining and common rooms, I have the sense of being a permanent guest, perhaps a “resident” in this retirement home of mine. It feels homey, but not particularly like my home, if that distinction is clear enough to the reader. It is becoming a very pleasant place to reside, and I particularly enjoy the times when the live-in caregiver is here, spending her free time with me. I do enjoy her company very much.

            But it has lent a distinctive tinge to my retirement. Rather than any feel of continuity, I really have the sense that I’ve started a whole new life, with a completely different mode of living. With my frailty now front and center in my life – I no longer go to work, while the person I share a life with not only does, but then comes home and cares for me far more than I do for her – I really do feel like a ward of the facility now, no longer in charge of my own life to some extent.

            Alas, that’s generally the difficulty with living in a retirement home, isn’t it?

-g

 

(PS – Disclaimer alert! My wife would vehemently disagree with much of this assessment, by the way, and of course in all the meaningful ways and most of the trivial ones, we are equal partners – certainly as much so as any married couple should be. I’m certainly no “kept husband” – I’m merely discussing my own perceptions here, and even those are meant somewhat glibly.)

 

 

 

 

 


 

#Tales from The Retirement Home

Entry One – Background Information You’ll Need To Know

            It’s 10 a.m.

            I’m still sitting in the same recliner I sleep in – my “cocoon”, I call it, after I doctor it with five pillows to encircle my body, angling me into a semi-fetal position that reduces the pain and allows to sleep most productively.

            I am about seven weeks into my health-induced retirement from teaching, five years plus seven weeks past my health-induced retirement from my chosen profession: director of bands in the public-school system, most recently here in Jerome, Idaho.

            All other things being equal, I should still have six more years until retirement – my “rule of 90” date (under Idaho public service regs) allowing for full retirement coincided with the high school graduation date of my twin daughters, my youngest children, in 2024. When I remarried in 2010, after a whirlwind reuniting with my high school sweetheart, I thought that the timing was going to be perfect – get the children through school and (at least) into college, then relax with my wife and maybe even move into a motor home to follow the kids as they followed their dreams.

            But about that time, I started developing a disease called Tubular Aggregate Myopathy, or TAM for short; it’s a malfunction of the STIM-1 gene that causes an overproduction of these sixty-nanometer wide tubules of (mostly) proteins throughout and perpendicular to all of my skeletal muscles.

            “That doesn’t sound so bad. How harmful could those little collections be?”

            Well, they serve to restrict those muscles in such a way that they cause the user – that’s me, in this case – great pain and severe fatigue. There are some other symptoms, but those are the two biggies.

            It wasn’t so bad at first.

            I noticed first that I didn’t recover from marching band season as easily one year as I usually did. Then I started getting tired faster, and by 2012, it was severe enough that I started going to the doctor’s office, to start what would eventually turn out to be a year-long search for the cause of my affliction.

            Mind you, I didn’t expect it to take a year. At the time, my sweetheart wife was herself suffering dearly from fibromyalgia, among many other difficulties, and I went to her physician with the thought that perhaps I might have the same condition.

            No dice. But he did become my point man in the Saint Luke’s medical system (the most extensive in Idaho) as we looked into every possible cause they could think of. I visited physical therapists, cardiologists, neurologists, rheumatologists… My rheumatologist was a gentleman raised in India, who eventually got so frustrated when all the “normal” possibilities turned up empty that (I say this mostly in jest) he dusted off his Big And Ancient Book of Old Indian Blood Tests, which made several phlebotomists cry trying to figure out how to run the tests for him!

            Our breakthrough came that winter when, of all people, the man who was the advising physician for my oldest son’s Gifted/Talented program’s health clinic did a quick surgery on me one morning. He extracted a chunk of muscle tissue from my thigh, flash froze it, and sent it by helicopter to the University of Utah, where by chance a certain dye test prompted someone there (whom I would kiss on the lips if I ever found out their identity!) to take a closer look at under the university’s electron microscope.

            And there were the telltale tubules.

            A quick biographical check told them that I was neither a severe alcoholic (not a chance – I don’t drink) nor pregnant (even less likely!), and then my rheumatologist called me at school with the news.

            “Hello?” That distinctive Indian lilt in the voice was unmistakable.

            “We’ve found out what you have. Write this down: Tubular Aggregate Myopathy . Okay? All right, now you know as much as we do. Good luck.” <Click.>

            Well, not quite.

            But it turns out that TAM is so rare that nobody in the St. Luke’s system had ever even heard of it. Only about 50-75 people have this condition, generally men for some reason, generally in our forties, fifties, or sixties. In my reading about other people’s histories, and in talking with the one other person I can find on line with the disease (in Ontario, Canada), it seems that to have discovered my TAM diagnosis within only a year of searching is something like a record. Certainly, it was a shorter search than any of the people I’ve learned about.

            And that turns out to be critically important, because of how TAM works. The tubules never go away – they just keep accumulating, and they continue to increase in their strength. In fact, the more one uses one’s muscles (and everyone does every day, of course), the more tubules are produced. So if it takes, for sake of argument, three years to discover that you’re not supposed to still be exercising to stay in shape to “ward off this fatigue”, as every reasonable doctor would generally recommend to every reasonable patient, you’ve spent two more years than I did accelerating the progress of your disease, probably into wheelchair proportions.

            As for me? I learned about my TAM quickly enough that while I’ve used a wheelchair on many occasions when necessary, for the most part I’m still walking, driving, and doing everything I used to do.

            Just…. Just not for very long any more, that’s all.

            I’ve slowly deteriorated since 2010, then, having given up the delusion that I could keep up with the 80-hour weeks of a band director by retiring from it in 2013, and accepting the school district’s gracious offer to head their one-room alternative high school instead – a much more sedentary job.

            At first, it felt like a vacation – I even bought some Hawaiian shirts to wear there as a personal inside joke to that effect. But as I continued to get weaker, and as my fuel tank grew smaller, it stopped being such a sinecure. Two years in, I again thought I’d have to give up the profession because of TAM. But to my surprise, my superintendent found an amazing assistant for me within his own church – a fellow Christian, an amazing woman who had already retired from an HR career and whose primary duty, she told me, was to take on as many of the physical duties of the job as possible, and thus extend my teaching career for as long as possible.

            Have I mentioned how much I love my school district? Can I mention it again?

            But finally this spring, the spring of 2018, it becme too much. Even given the least taxing position imaginable in any school district, I’m still unable to stay alert for the seven consecutive hours of a typical school day. All I really had to do, thanks to my paraprofessional aide, was sit at my desk, doing little to nothing of physical impact, help with questions occasionally when a student brought it to my desk, and be the Gandolf of the bridge when trouble arose. And yet – and yetI couldn’t make it through the day any more, triggering my necessary decision to retire.

            Which brings us back to today.

           

            This is my third marriage, through no intent of mine except to start them. Wife number one, the mother of all six of my children, lives across town from me and is (of course) who I share custody with. (A long set of stories go with our marriage and her decision to leave us, which I’ll undoubtedly share someday when she gives me reason to do so through her current choices. Wife number two, my aforementioned high school sweetheart, eventually passed away from those multiple diseases, just before Christmas 2014. But four years of marriage to her was better than none, although her death is still my biggest test for Romans 8:28 at the moment.

            My new bride and I got engaged last Christmas (2017), and we intended to have a wedding in June this year (2018). Then we started working on how the insurance and other legalities would have to change with the marriage, and where we could find a house available within this school district to house all of our kids, and my introversion started increasing as I thought about the potential for large numbers at the wedding… so we eloped during spring break in March. (That is to say, we called our pastor, asked him to meet us at the church on Friday afternoon, had a couple of family members there, and get married. Seven minutes. Twenty people total in the wedding “party”, audience and pastor included. Perfect.)

            God, however, as He has done so many times in our lives, had His own timetable He was working on, and it still said June. So while we lived in separate houses for April and May as a married couple, it never really felt much different yet than dating. Then, on June first, the perfect house in the right neighborhood showed up. We contacted the realtor the next morning (a Saturday), he showed us the house Monday morning, and by the evening we had the keys in our hands. By the time we were ready to physically move in, we’d reached the two-week vacation people that I get with my children’s mother every summer (the rest of the year, we alternate a week at a time), so my kids got two full weeks to move their stuff into the new house and prep it the way they wanted it, and so forth. (Just as He had planned, I’m sure.)

            My new bride is the perfect partner for the current, sedentary version of me. We met two years ago online and fell in love very quickly. Whenever I get depressed about my inability to be or do what I could once be or do, she’ll remind me that she never even knew that version of me: she’s only been in love with this version of me. It’s even possible that we wouldn’t have even been compatible twelve years ago (not that either of us were single at that time, anyway!). But we certainly are in 2018, and that’s the only thing that matters.

            She’s still gainfully employed, however, despite being within a year of my age (or, as most people our age still are, depending on your POV), and she’s reached an enviable position in her field of choice. So, as with most weekday mornings, she’s left by now to go work in the slightly larger city of Twin Falls, which lies on the other side of the same Snake River Canyon that Evel Knievel attempted to sky-cycle over in 1974, and which Eddie Braun successfully flew over last summer.

            Which leaves me alone in this still unfamiliar house.

 

            It’s now 11 a.m., and it’s time that I finally venture out of my cocoon for the first time today. (Almost true – I did go to the toilet at about five this morning; while alert-ish, I took the waking opportunity to gulp down about half of the forty-plus pills I consume daily in order to keep my pain, spasms, introversive traits, and other conditions under control. (The exact number of pills I take varies daily, depending on how bad the pain gets. And the earlier I can sneak that first dose in, the better the chances of keeping the pain under control in the morning when I do wake up for good. The morning is usually the most productive part of the day for me – scheduling plans past mid-afternoon is usually unconstructive at best.)

            Today, I seem to be the only one in the house that my new bride and I just started renting together last month. My four youngest children still reside with me half the time – joint custody – while my bride’s youngest girls live here full time in theory, although being age 18 and having both boyfriends and jobs means that we now joke that they live here even less that my kids do.

            Since I’m becoming more and more introverted and sedentary, being alone isn’t that big of a deal. But…well, in my next entry, I’ll relate to you what it actually feels like to me here.

            (And don’t panic – most of my entries will be FAR shorter than this one.)

-g