"No Easy Way Out"
The Ray & Elizabeth Spear Clan circa mid 1930s
Nelson, Keith, Donna, Eugene, Dale
I was fortunate to be able to spend a significant amount of quality time with my mom after my father’s passing. One of the last things my mother and I did together before I left Michigan was to visit my dad’s older brother, my Uncle Keith, at his home. He was the last living member of the original clan of five siblings—all born in the 20s with the youngest, Dale, in the early 30s.
I felt bad for my Uncle Keith. At 83, almost by accident, he managed to outlive not only his parents, his sister and four brothers, but he also survived his wife and youngest child to boot. Based on observing his sad experience, I can definitely say that outliving nearly everyone in your immediate family is not like winning some kind of contest. On the contrary, the poor guy was miserable with a capital M.
Eugene & Keith in the late 1940s
During our visit, he’d intermittently stop in mid-conversation and weep bitterly at the thought of his recently departed “baby girl,” Dawn, having left us much too young in her mid 40s. Openly weeping, head bowed nearly to chest, he continuously sobbed how he missed her. Her recent passing obviously had broken his fragile spirit, what there was left of it, not to mention breaking his old heart, already weakened from decades of atherosclerosis and more than 60 years of some serious chain smoking. I noted an ash tray full of butts on the table next to him. Obviously his health was the last thing on his mind.
Over the years, I became very fond of my Uncle Keith and Aunt Marilyn; I think, because they had demonstrated so much fondness for me. From the time I left for the marines at 18, over the next 27 years thereafter, whenever I made it home on leave they always made it a point to come see me. No matter what they had going on, no matter how busy, they made time to come visit, without exception. They dropped everything and came, every time. It was probably Aunt Marilyn who had the most to do with this wonderful aspect of their affection for me, but as a team, I think they were both pretty special. Even after Aunt Marilyn died of cancer a few years ago, Uncle Keith never failed to ask my parents how I was doing whenever they spoke.
In a special homage to the Aunt Marilyn side of “the team,” over the years, she spent hundreds of hours knitting Afghan coverlets, one for each of my kids, starting with Marie in 1979 all the way through Sarah in 2003. Only my mom showed more interest and got more involved in welcoming my children into the world. Indeed, I was determined to name my child (the one that turned out to be Sarah) either Marilyn or Keith, depending on the gender. My wife at the time wouldn’t go with Marilyn, so, she compromised and agreed to Sarah Marilyn. Post Mortem: Strange how things rarely go as imagined. When I learned that Uncle Keith had passed away last week I pictured him as leaving us by way of a simple heart attack or stroke, where he simply left us and moved on to be with the rest of his departed family and friends, but no, unfortunately I was disavowed of this notion when my mom sent the following email:
“…There is some controversy over Keith's death. When they were taking him to the hospital the original responders were just transporters. When they tried to move Keith from their gurney to the medical ambulance gurney they dropped him and he landed on the right side of his head. He died shortly after that. They tried to resuscitate but could not save him...”
“What a Keystone Cops episode that was for Uncle Keith's last moments. Geez. Seems like all the Spear boys just had bad luck on the end side of their lives, didn’t they? I mean, didn't any of them get a break? Now this... and what does that mean...transporters? What the heck? He had a heart attack at home or something and they didn't send a medical ambulance? I never heard of such a thing as "transporters." Explain please?”
“He was at St. Francis Nursing Home, as the doctor said he could no longer live alone at home. They called the ambulance to take him to the hospital, as he was having some bad chest pain. Instead of the ambulance coming, it was people who are equipped to only take the patient to the hospital (transporters); there must have been a problem at the EMT Center. Well, then the medically equipped EMT ambulance finally did arrive, but only after they had already gotten Keith on the transporter gurney outside the nursing home. So, they elected to transfer him. Why they couldn't use the same gurney is beyond me.
You are right though; all four of the brothers died the hard way—no easy way out for any of them.”
Labels: family history, old age
We just came in from watching Angeles City bring in Christmas with a bang, or more like a series of them, plus a bunch of mighty booms and a lot of pipsqueak pops.
From way up on the tower platform in my backyard, Janine, my 12 year old step daughter, asked me if we did it like this back in the States. Of course I told her no.
“Where I come from, Christmas is all about “Silent Night, Holy Night”, not “Boom Bang Pow Night.”
I suppose though that I can sort of see the rationale behind all the fireworks here on Christmas Eve—celebrating the birth of Jesus is as good a reason as any to pull out the stops and shoot off scads of heavyweight bottlerockets and Roman candles. Regardless, it’s pretty cool being above the trees and roof tops and getting a 360 degree bird’s eye view of all the celebratory action.
In fact, we didn’t know which way to look for the best displays. From that height there’s a lot of area to try to cover visually; so, Divine, Janine, Jenalyn and I scanned our own sectors and called out whenever a particularly good series of rocket propelled pyrotechnics were being set off. It’s a good system and will serve us well next week when the REAL show happens on New Year’s Eve.
Last year, I sat and stewed in my room trying to watch TV, and mostly just cursed the intrusive explosions going off all around the house for most of an hour leading up to midnight and for a good half hour and more afterwards. I admit that it’s much better being outside and feeling a part of it all. Some might say, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” but I’m not exactly joining in, just observing it from 50 feet up.
It was nice, almost comes close to being a thrill, especially when some of the big boomer bottlerockets explode just a few feet away from our perch. Deliciously scary, and FUN!
Labels: Angeles City, Culture, Philippines
Death and the VA
I was in Las Vegas when I received word by way of an email that my dad was dead. Actually, it was two emails. The first one was from my oldest daughter, the one married to Barry, a US Army Blackhawk pilot currently stationed in Iraq. She simply wrote, “Daddy, call grandma right away!” I knew then that my father was either gone or very close to it. Before calling my mom I opened the other email from my brother: “Dad breathed his last this morning at …”
Even now, many weeks later, I still feel nothing. One of my buddies is a psychiatrist and I mentioned to him that I have no sadness. In fact, that I feel nothing at all—neutral. His style of analysis is partially to use his own life experiences in helping his patient’s to cope and understand. When his dad died he also felt little, or so he says. In other words, if it happened to him that way, well then, it must be normal, whatever “normal” means. And just between friends, I think both he and I are both “football bats”—we be screwed up, ebonically speaking.
I started writing this not long after I returned from across the Pacific, but I stopped after finishing just the two paragraphs above. Other than the arthritis in my fingers and the tendonitis in my wrists, the real reason is something else—the current bane (and purpose) of my life.
I feel like two people: the person I show to others, the guy who seems to have it fairly together—that’s the fellow that speaks pleasantries and nods hello when he’s forced to leave the sanctuary of home to meet with and help local fellow veterans down at the office. But truthfully, that doesn’t feel like the real me; that’s a fake, an imposter. The real “hidden me” lurks in a dark place, lost in a sea of stormy nothingness. Actually it is a sea of something, and that roiling sea consists of anger, no, gusts of outright visceral rage, and all of it mostly directed at the local VA.
My voluntary (unpaid) involvement with service officering, which entails my assisting fellow veterans and dependents in trying to deal with a very difficult to deal with Veterans Administration, is in fact killing me, exactly in the way that cigarettes leisurely kill smokers, or the way high blood pressure silently kills the sufferers of that deadly condition. In fact, just writing that word, “VA,” causes my blood to boil, my teeth to grind, and my thoughts to seethe.
I’ve noticed too that my failed marriage, the resultant separation from my girls, and the death of my father and others, that all of it seems to make the continuous problems I encounter with the VA, and the schmucks in there intent on screwing over my people, all the more worse.
I was trying to explain the depth and cause of my VA-induced fury to someone the other day. You see, it occurs to me that, unlike most, I never get to get to achieve closure. The irony is that most of the people I’ve assisted to an endpoint rarely continue to harbor any ill will towards the very institution that gave them so much trouble over the months, and even years, of their quest for the benefits due them. Not so with me, since there’s always a fresh line of vets in the midst of getting their dose of “VA hard time” before hopefully eventually getting their claims awarded to them, albeit at times many years after filing the initial claim.
My predecessor, and the guy who originally asked me to help him do this stuff, used to growl at me as he listened to me complain loudly and continuously against the barrage of boneheaded decisions coming out of Manila, “Spear, calm down. You can only do what you can do. When you leave the office, don’t take it home with you.” If only I was put together that way, but I’m not. Most nights I hardly sleep at all, as my mind squirms with the latest bit of obtuse VA meanness.
So, my father died, and instead of pondering his passing, all I can think of is my vitriol for this merciless government bureaucracy. Is that healthy? One of the other ironies of this very real detestation is that my own personal dealings with the VA have been fairly good. I was eventually awarded compensation for all the conditions I claimed (after about 18 months of challenging and fighting) and I now receive all the meds I need to keep my body in one piece, although, I seem to be losing the battle to keep my mind together (perhaps because of my volunteer work with vets—my cross to bear, as my mom calls such things). So, I’m not angry for me, I’m mad because of what I see being done to others. I want it to stop, but I’m mostly powerless against this non-empathetic heartless machine. After all, nothing breeds despair more than helplessness
On the other hand, perhaps it’s good. While my heart and mind are filled with spite and hostility, and yes Mr. S, with disdain, maybe it’s keeping me from falling into a pit of isolated gloomy sadness, where I think I might otherwise be, for I’m pretty certain that once I stop doing this stuff that I will rarely find cause to leave the confines of my compound. Even now, I hate leaving it and can’t wait to pass back through the gate.
PS: Whenever I post about the VA, as soon as I do so I feel uneasy about it, as if I should keep these unhappy thoughts just between me and the veterans to whom I normally vent my spleen. Notice though that I don’t include specifics on active cases. I’m not supposed to do that while still doing my service officering. Anyway, my counterpart is the one who speaks nicey-nicey. I don’t like what they are doing down there and I obviously don’t care if they know it. As for my counterpart, he’s not any happier with the way many of the things are done at VARO Manila, but he keeps his really foul thoughts between the two of us. Poor guy—he still believes he can make them change their ways. I just don’t see it ever happening. Institutionalized unresponsiveness, I believe purposeful, predicated on advancing careers based on building reputations purely on budgetary mindfulness. I don’t know how else to explain it—it’s all about the money. If I was in charge of it all, if the shoe was on the other foot, I certainly wouldn’t allow the things I see from my perspective. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.
More thoughts and observations on the death of my dad in the works… I’ll try to stay away from venting on the VA for a while, or try to. I mean, what good does it do?
Labels: family history, VA