Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Life Without Dad

My Dad never felt sorry for himself. He didn't believe in complaining or pity parties. He told me he'd learned that from his father. "There's no point in complaining about pain," he said. "It doesn't make it go away." So even though my Dad has been in a lot of pain for the last 15 years -- ever since a botched hernia surgery that left him with a tummy bigger than Buddha's -- he rarely talked about it.

He didn't talk about anything painful... not about his lack of mobility, not about his cancer, not about the treatments, not about his fears of death. He didn't sink into depression either. He just went about his life as best as he could, not wanting any pity or special treatment.

He almost died on the operating table to remove the tumor they'd found last Thanksgiving. Miraculously, he survived not just one long surgery, but then a second emergency surgery to correct a problem from the first surgery, despite the high-risk status. After months in the hospital, he recovered only to discover the cancer had spread to his liver. Still, he didn't give up hope. He got his chemo treatments, in between bridge games and computer work.

He had visits from all his children, grandchildren, and even his new great-grandbaby over the summer. He actually seemed to be getting better, as impossible as that may have seemed. And though he never talked about death, he called more often and seemed a bit more sentimental.

I knew my Dad was living on borrowed time, but it still was unexpected to get the call from my brother last Thursday telling me he was back in the hospital. I made it to Sacramento in time to see him again. My brother, sister, Mom and I were all with him in the hospital. They removed all the apparatus and tubes taped to his face, expecting him to die right away, but he held on for another few hours, much more at peace than the night before, from what I hear. On a light morphine drip, he drifted in and out of consciousness, sometimes alert and looking at us all. We could see the love in his eyes in those moments of lucidity. And even during those final hours, he'd give us these looks as though he were teasing us or rolling his eyes at our drama. It's hard to explain, but my Dad is known for his off-the-wall sense of humor, so it's not so surprising that he could even find a way to joke with us on his death bed and still make us laugh.

When he took that last breath, we all broke down. The finality seemed surreal. How could he possibly be here one minute and gone the next? Now would be the time for him to open his eyes again and laugh at his prank.

Four days later and it still doesn't seem real. I know this feeling well from losing my brother. The feeling that nothing else matters. Why is everyone worrying about such trivialities such as celebrity gossip or weather reports. When people innocently ask, "How are you?" I contemplate saying, "I'm terrible. My father's dead." But, I figure it's better to just stick with the more acceptable, "Fine."

I am constantly distracted or staring at pictures of Dad, trying to etch him forever in my memory. I want to call his phone answering machine, just to listen to his voice again. I want to tell the world they need to stop what they're doing because nothing will ever be the same. The man who could do anything, the man who knew all the answers, the man who loved his family with all his heart, the only man who will ever love me unconditionally -- that man is gone.

So basically, I'm feeling sorry for myself. I'm doing the very thing that my Dad never did, even on his worst days. But I will at least end it with a smile, because I know that's what he would want.

Dad, this one's for you:

I want to die in my sleep like my grandfather... Not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car.”

Love you...

Monday, August 23, 2010

No church for the disabled...

I've been visiting my friend, Craig Dunham, in Evergreen, as often as I can. His ALS is in the later stages now, and I know he cherishes visits from friends. I could write a whole book about Craig... Instead of "Tuesdays with Morrie" (a book about the lessons learned from an ALS patient) it would be "Sundays with Craig."

Craig has always been very independent and active. He was a biker and hiker and someone who was always up for anything. And now, even though he can no longer move or speak, he's still got that same fiery spunk in his eyes that says no one is going to hold him back from living. For quite some time, the only function he still has is with a part of a finger, but boy, he gets a lot of use out of that finger. If his hand is placed in the right spot he can operate his motorized chair. He zooms that baby around like it was an all-terrain 4-wheel drive SUV and those of us that are trying to "help" him have trouble keeping up.

One of the things that Craig has always insisted on is that he wants to attend Mass each Sunday. He is a devout Catholic. In fact, one of the most inspirational things about Craig is his incredible faith and acceptance of his fate. I have never known anyone to have a stronger faith.

Though the Knights of Columbus from his parish had said they would give him rides, for some reason, they don't seem to be following through very often. Craig lives about a mile from his church, so one time, he actually motored that wheelchair on his own all the way to the church... Yeah, Craig is crazy. I know he's gone out on his own and gotten stuck or had problems...not something that you want to happen when you can't move or talk...but, again, that's Craig. More determined than ever to not give up on life. Don't even try and stop him.

I remember the first time I showed up on Sunday and he asked me to drive him to church. It was winter and I hate driving, especially when it's a specialized van that I've never driven, I don't know where I'm going, and I can barely figure out what Craig is saying. (This is back in the days when Craig could still talk, but he was pretty hard to understand.) I told him I thought it was a bad idea. He would not take no for an answer. He didn't have to talk for me to understand what his eyes were telling me: "Yvette, if I can drive this wheelchair with one finger and live with this awful disease every day, you can drive that van and get me to church!" And so I did.

That first time wasn't bad, but soon the church was full of construction scaffolding and all kinds of obstacles, with absolutely no wheelchair access! Do you think that stopped Craig? No way. One time I took him and he just zoomed up this steep incline over rocks and dirt, the wheelchair nearly overturning while I'm standing back horrified. Craig is a dare-devil with that thing. A little spin isn't gonna stop him. In fact, I'm sure he'd love to catch some air and do a few flips if he could.

OK, fast forward a couple months. Construction is STILL going on and the church has done nothing to make it any easier for the handicapped. One day, I showed up to get him to church, and we weren't able to make it. The curb and construction obstacles were just too great, even for Evil-Knievel Craig.

I called the church and spoke to the priest, sure that he would be as outraged as I was that one of his most loyal parishioners...a man that deserves all the prayers we can give him...couldn't get in the church! But no. He was full of excuses, telling me that Craig was the only parishioner in a wheelchair and the project would be done in a couple of months.

Unbelievable! First of all, of course Craig is the only parishioner in a wheelchair because no person other than Craig would even attempt to get in that church with a wheelchair! Secondly, Craig does not have a couple of months to wait around for them to finish their project! He has been robbed of just about every physical function possible, and now his church isn't even going to accommodate him so he can get in to pray to God? Believe me, I was upset.

I wrote a long email to a bunch of the leaders from the church, expressing my concern that there was no wheelchair access and that the Knights of Columbus were not signing up to give Craig rides. Within 2 hours I got an email back saying the situation had been handled. There would be a ramp for wheelchair access available and the KoC would be reminded of Craig's wish to get to church. I patted myself on the back and felt relieved.

Two weeks later, I checked the volunteer sheet and saw that Craig still needed a ride to church. I wanted to check out the situation for myself, so I drove him, and there was a little piece of wood, a makeshift ramp to get him over the tough spot. It wasn't perfect, but we made it.

The following week (this last Sunday), again, no one from KoC had signed up to drive Craig, so I made the trip up again. This time, when we got to church, there were orange cones blocking the way of where we needed to go to get to the ramp. I got out and moved the cones and, thanks to the help of a wonderful woman who has been helping Craig, we were able to get him to Mass.

When I questioned the priest after Mass, he claimed "he was doing everything he could... It was a construction zone and there were rules and liabilities." I lost it! I started crying and asking this priest why he wasn't doing more to help Craig...such a loyal parishioner for years and years. And here he is, in this absolute need of compassion and prayer, and the church doesn't welcome him and help him! They block his way with construction and cones!

Now I'm not a confrontational person. And the last person I would ever want to confront or be disrespectful to is a priest. But, boy did this guy make me mad. He told the congregation about the great acoustics and flooring they were all getting thanks to their construction project. They apparently are spending millions...yet are they even concerned about people like Craig that can't make it in the church while all this is going on?

I was so upset by this priest's attitude. Craig is the most deserving, wonderful, faithful man of all time, and I cannot believe his church is treating him with such disrespect. To the priest's credit, he did send me an email later, apologizing, and saying the cones would not be blocking our way from now on. But that doesn't take away from the sting of his words. His lack of compassion for Craig left me with such a deep sadness and anger.

Why is this church not stepping up? Why aren't the Knights of Columbus, who are already going to church, going the (literal) extra mile to pick up Craig? Why aren't all the people of this congregation gathering around to help and support this man who has given so much to his faith community? I know there are people who are helping him much more than I am, and I'm grateful for them. But I am truly disappointed with this Catholic church and its leadership. I, myself, am Catholic, and this is an embarrassment to the religion.

I've hesitated about publishing this and I have not mentioned the name of the church or the priest for Craig's benefit. I know Craig loves his parish and the congregation and I would never do anything to hurt him. He is at the end of his life and I know he wants to leave the world with peace in his heart. I only hope that his church community finds a way to show him the love and respect that he deserves.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Chivalry, Women's Lib, and Steve Harvey

Mary Jo Fay's blog post, Are Women Killing Off Chivalry? apparently hit a nerve with one of her readers, who sent her an anonymous scathing email retort. The woman compared Mary Jo's chiding women that don't appreciate chivalrous men to blaming women for everything from the poor economy to 9/11. She reminded Mary Jo that all the people who flew the planes into buildings were male.

Now here's a woman who has a stick up her butt! Somehow she translated Mary Jo's blog post message of "women should appreciate chivalrous men," to "women are the root of all evil." Geez, some people can't wait to become defensive about how poorly their gender is treated!

I've heard the arguments over gender inequality from both sides. I know both men and women who have been greatly mistreated from both discrimination and reverse discrimination. But I don't think that has a whole lot to do with chivalry.

Personally, I love chivalry. When a man open's doors, offers to pay, pulls out my chair, holds my coat, I think to myself, "This is a man who knows how to treat a woman." However, I know there are women who prefer to be treated "equally" and find these types of manners old-fashioned and demeaning. There are some women who take the woman's movement to an extreme and get offended if they are treated "like a lady."

Though I'm not one of "those" women, I am quite independent and promote equality for women. Does that make me hypocritical? I don't think so... I feel women can be strong, independent, and treated "equally" where appropriate (such as at work), and still be feminine and honored for their femininity. I think men, too, should be respected for the wonderful masculine traits they bring to a relationship. I'm sorry to say, male-bashing seems somewhat commonplace among the female population, and I've come to realize how hurtful this can be.

As much as I enjoy a chivalrous man, I disagreed with much of Steve Harvey's book, "Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man." In this book, Harvey implies the main thing men want from women is "the cookie" (sex) and that all this chivalrous behavior on dates is aimed only at that. I thought much of what he touted in his book was very sexist and out-dated. For example, he very clearly felt that men needed to be the big bread-winners in the family. One of his chapters is titled, "Strong, Independent -- and Lonely -- Women." He tells a story of a couple where the woman made more money than the man. She proceeds to remind him of what a loser he is by making a public scene at the grocery story. This is the kind of thing that happens, Harvey warns, when men are not the primary providers.

The obvious reason why the couple in the story was having problems, wasn't about money. It was about lack of respect. Both people in the relationship deserve respect and to treat their partner with respect. That means you listen to them. You support them. You find ways to make them happy...whether that means paying for their meal or making them an apple pie. Pay attention to what makes them tick and respect that. Stop worrying about "gender" generalities and just love the person you're with for who they are.

Side note: When I originally read Steve Harvey's book, I was making a very big salary, so that may have been part of the reason I was quite offended with his implication that couples in which the woman made more money were doomed for failure.

I would just like all those men that were intimidated by me to know that I lost my cushy job and most of my money, so I am available for all the provider-wannabe-men out there...

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Single Men Have the Same Concerns as Single Women

The other night I had a chance to share Happy Hour with two eligible bachelors! Imagine my delight when they both agreed to be interviewed for my blog as long as they were anonymous. As it turns out they both had A names, so I'll just call them the A-men. (Adam, if you're reading this, I want you to know that you're the original A-man... )

OK, back to the A-men. So these guys are both good-looking guys -- in their forties, but they could pass for being in their thirties... good hair, no beer bellies, energetic. A1 has never been married and A2 is divorced, but his marriage had been very short. Neither of the A-men had kids and their lifestyles (from what I could gather) seemed active and "Boulder-ish." Even though I'm only a couple of years older, I felt quite a bit more... suburban. I live in family-oriented Superior. I've been a soccer Mom. Before long I'll be a soccer Grandma! But nevermind... this is about them, not me. I'm just saying that I think single people with no kids typically have even more of a single lifestyle than those of us that do have kids.

What surprised me is that these good-looking single guys had the exact same kinds of concerns as women have! I had originally assumed that if they were single, it was because they probably were afraid of commitment. I admit, that's usually my first assumption, especially for the never-been-married set. But after talking to them, it didn't sound like fear of commitment was an issue at all! In fact, A2 said that in his relationships, he was usually the more "clingy" (or at least, the one who wanted to spend more time together as a couple...) Both guys sounded as though they really wanted to be married, or at least in long-term relationships, but just hadn't found the right woman.

A1 asked rhetorically something I know I've often thought myself, "You gotta start questioning why I'm not in a relationship. What's wrong?"

We talked about the universal phenomenon -- we're interested in people who aren't interested in us, but usually not interested in those who are interested in us. Or maybe we're initially attracted to someone, but once we get to know them, we realize it's just not a great fit.

A2 described this feeling of not really being ourselves because we want our date to like us. We jump through hoops, trying to be the person we think they want us to be. Even when we know we shouldn't, we can't help ourselves. "It just shouldn't be that hard," says A2, claiming he won't do that again.

We also talked about getting pickier as we have gotten older. We've been through enough relationships to know we shouldn't overlook the red flags. And, as we get older, we're more settled in our independence. When you haven't had to compromise for years and years, it's kind of hard to look at giving that up. Another thing that most of us older daters have are the scars of broken hearts. Once you've been through a very painful breakup, as much as you may long for a new long-term-relationship, it may be hard for your heart to open up to someone new.

I argued that men have it much easier than women. I said that it seemed there were many more single women than men in the area. The A-Men disagreed. In fact A1 (a fellow-geek) and I tried checking Boulder demographics with our iPhones, but we were unable to come up with any conclusive results about singles. (We did, however, find that there was an overwhelmingly high percentage of men and women around 20-years-old, undoubtedly due to the University, which made me think I might have much better luck finding a mate in Florida than in Boulder...)

A2 felt that finding an available woman in Boulder was very difficult because there were so many good-looking people to compete with. Boulder is full of beautiful people, we all agreed. I thought this logic had some holes, though. There are attractive men and attractive women everywhere, and they are usually the ones in high-demand. If A2 moved to a place full of ugly people, he wouldn't have any competition, but he probably wouldn't be too interested in the women, either.

The bottom line, however, is that these single guys were not so different than single gals. I could relate to many of the frustrations... Even though we each are different in our histories and our lifestyles, there is a bit of a common bond amongst older singles. I was really impressed with these guys -- they opened up enough to share a vulnerability that many men wouldn't. It helped me realize that in many cases, single men struggle just as much as single women.

I stayed at Happy Hour way too long -- how often is it that I get to pick the brains of men about relationships? -- but it was worth it. I wish I would have had the answers for all of us...figured out why we (when we were all so clearly wonderful) weren't in relationships. I really don't know, but at least for that night it worked out well for me, because, after all, I had a wonderful evening enjoying the attention of two handsome men. And so I'll end with a small prayer of thanks: A-men!

Sunday, August 01, 2010

The Invention of Lying - What if we always told the truth on first dates?

The other night my older son, Matt, came over for dinner and brought a movie that he said I'd really like: The Invention of Lying.

He knew I'd be interested because I've often debated whether the world would be better if we were always 100% honest. I came to the conclusion that there were times when dishonesty was OK and wrote a blog post about 5 Good Reasons to be Dishonest.

The movie is about a world where lying is unheard of. Everyone says whatever is on their minds, however embarrassing or rude. It starts with a blind date between beautiful Jennifer Garner and Ricky Gervais. Jennifer (I think her name was Anna in the movie) expresses her disappointment at her lack of attraction for her date as soon as she meets him. She notes that he's fat and has a snub nose. The waiter also says to them both that she's out of his league.

As much as we hate to admit it, this judgment of how attractive someone is, is probably the first thing that goes through all of our minds when sizing someone up for dating. The first question you ask yourself is, "Am I attracted to how this person looks?"

We all know that there are a lot of things that are more important than looks. I just read this morning a blog post, Beyond Face Value. Dating Goddess says:

Sometimes I can remember to look beyond the surface, but I admit I also fall prey to deleting online profiles of men who sound good when reading their description, but their pictures aren’t “my type.” It’s a common complaint that daters don’t give others a chance if they don’t look appealing. It’s also a common fear that when you meet someone for that first coffee encounter, they will turn on their heel without even saying hello once they see you

She reminds us to look beyond the surface. Yeah, yeah. This all sounds good in theory. I certainly can love a person for their personality. But what about the passion that comes from that physical attraction? Should we give up on finding that? Is it settling if we partner up with someone who we just don't find physically attractive?

What do you think?