Tag Archives: Old Dog

When They Say It’s Almost Time…

Every so often, a person will say, “Well, I think it’s almost time for me to go.”

They say it with such introspection, I’m not certain if they are talking to me or if their internal monologue simply escaped accidentally. 

When my mother was preparing to make her departure, even before her cancer was diagnosed, she came to visit me at the home my husband and I share.  She had been here many times before and had seen the “Nana Room” we created just for her.  The single bed was surrounded by photographs of her family, some of which were nearly one hundred-years old.  I put her suitcase on the floor and watched my mother sit on the bed.  She looked around the room and looked almost lost.  I sat next to her and took her hand.  She began to cry.

I asked, “Mom, what’s the matter?” 

“Look at my family,” she whispered through her tears.  I began to cry with her.  As I scanned the room, as with new eyes, I realized she was not seeing the photographic faces I saw; she was seeing her mother and her father.  She was seeing her uncles and aunts.  She was seeing her long deceased cousins.  The veil was shorn and there was nothing I could do about it.

I said, “We have a wonderful family, Mom.  We’re very lucky.” 

Mom composed herself a little and said she was just tired and needed to rest.  As she laid on the bed that she said was one of the most comfortable on which she had ever slept, I closed the light and let her rest. 

I went into the living room and I said to  my husband, “I think Mama’s not going to be here much longer.”  

nde_295192702_stdI knew she was telling this room, and me, good-bye.  I knew she was giving me a heads up that the end was approaching and that she would be with her family very soon.  My mother and I were very, very close.

That following September, Mom called me to tell me that she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.   I took a leave of absence from the school where I was teaching and immediately moved to Dunsmuir to take care of her.  On November 23, 2005, Mama died.

That night, the day before Thanksgiving, some friends of ours brought over Thanksgiving dinner for us to share.  As we sat at the table, my brother, who had been battling alcoholism for thirty years, said that anytime he was supposed to go, he was ready.  He said that living the life he had, with homelessness, transience and alcohol, was underrated by most people.  He liked his life and although he knew he wouldn’t live as long as I would, he was going to live according to his wishes nonetheless.

He died March 9, 2006, three months and two weeks after my mother died, from a pulmonary embolism after thawing out from frostbite.

Three months later, in June 2006, our seventeen-year-old mega-chihuahua, Bootsy, (yes, after the amazing bassist, Bootsy Collins), decided he was going for a run.  He was nearly 20 pounds overweight from congestive heart failure, but he wasn’t going to be stopped.  He got away from my daughter in a mad rush and went running.  Bootsy had always been a dog of the streets, with the scars to prove it.  He loved his life. 

In later years, however, he had slowed way down as he was approaching his twilight years.  This night was different.  As a moderately healthy forty-seven-year-old man, I could not catch this old, fat, unhealthy dog.  He was going to run and there was nothing I could do about it.  He was trying to let go and he wasn’t going to allow anyone, even my husband who had shared a life with him for seventeen years, stop him.  He was going to go out in a blaze of glory.

By the time I got him home, with the help of young strangers at the gas station who helped wrangle him, he was exhausted.

It wasn’t too long after that he sauntered into our bedroom to lie down, barely able to breathe, coughing that watery cough of terminal lung congestion.   My husband slept on the floor with him that night.  When I got up the next morning, as was his custom, he began following me to the kitchen for his meal.  He never made it.  He listed to the right, fell on the shiny hardwood floor in the bathroom and after a couple of coughs, our beloved Bootsy died.

His message was clear and he was, sadly, correct.

The next year, in May 2007, my former mother-in-law, the woman to whom I always addressed as “Mother-in-law Dearest,” called to tell me that after years of palliative therapy, her emphysema and lung cancer was getting the best of her.  She had said this before, but this call was different.  Although I had been separated and divorced from her daughter for twenty-two years, we remained close. 

As she went into the hospital, she asked me to come pray with her.  Of course, I did. 

When I arrived, she asked me how someone knows if they’re ready to go?  I responded that there is an internal sense of closure that cannot be denied.  I said that if and when she was ready and she allowed the natural process to happen, she would go.

She closed her eyes, took my hand, and those of us in the room, three of her daughters, and my two daughters/her granddaughters, prayed together.  After awhile, the room went silent. 

After five minutes of heavy silence, she opened her eyes and said, “I’m still here?” 

We all laughed.  I left the room after kissing the woman who had been part of my family for thirty-five years and wishing her a wonderful journey home.  I told her that I would miss her terribly.

For the first time in all those years, she said, “I love you, son.” 

“I love you, too, Mother-in-law Dearest.”

The next morning, my daughter called to tell me that she had died with only my daughters present.

Each one of these individuals gave me a message that I chose to hear… thankfully.  They know better than I when their time is coming.  The children with cancer with whom I used to work many years ago taught me that lesson best.  They always, always knew when they were about to go.  It was just up to us to see the signs and listen to the message. 

With two of my aunts, recently, they both told me they were leaving in their own ways.  I heard them and told my husband.  Within the month, they were gone.

I just returned from my current mother-in-law’s house.  She had a message for me.  

Laden Sky at Dusk

Laden Sky at Dusk

The Poignancy of Passing Time

James in 1959

James in 1959

As I approach my 50th birthday in twenty-four days, my brother is awaiting his second child.  This year my youngest child will be twenty-nine.  My eldest adopted child just turned forty-one.  My birth mother died at the age I’ll be in July.  For some unknown reason, this birthday is a big deal to me.  The others just haven’t been this weighty.

I remember vividly being a young father in some ways.  In others, it seems like a long, long time ago.  With my granddaughter turning sixteen in September and driving a car now, I realize that my days of active, day-to-day parenthood are far behind me in my lifetime’s rear view mirror. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy about where I am.  I’m married to a wonderful man and have a sweet, little dog.  I see my grandchildren every so often and my children call or write to me regularly.  I have no complaints.  My work is good and I am loved.  I have everything a person needs to be truly happy, and fortunately, I am.

The thing is, the poignancy of the passing time is remarkable to me right now.  On that day in March 1976, when my first birth child was born, I never thought I’d get here so fast and so early.  Today, I’m forty-nine years old and I’m at a life place at which most people arrive usually when their fifty-five or sixty-years-old. 

All this hyperbole about fifty being the new thirty is ridiculous to me.  In my life, fifty is the new sixty-five.   That patronizing language is used by people who either didn’t have their first child until they were thirty-five, have pawned their offspring on nannies and boarding schools for them to rear, or don’t have children at all.  For those of us who have walked our children and grandchildren to school, and those of us who have dealt with losing a son to miscarriage and a daughter’s cancer, and those of us whose entire nuclear family of origin has passed away from suicide, pancreatic cancer and the consequences of alcoholism, well, for us, fifty is not the new thirty.   For those of us who have paid attention to the changes and the sameness of last eleven Presidents of the United States, and those of us who have watched everything from the assassination of a beloved president to the hanging of an Iraqi dictator, and for those of us who watched our hair turn gray and our skin develop little spots on our hands, fifty is not the new thirty.

Yes, we’re living longer.  My uncle is 102-years-old, for goodness sake.  Yes, we have more technology and access to information than at any other time in history.  Yes, our country is 233-years-old, and yes, I’ll probably be around another forty years, God willing.

James in 2009

James in 2009

For today, however, I’m looking back and seeing the long road on which I’ve traveled and marvelling that I got this far.  For me, it’s a miracle.  With several great-grandparents who died at thirty-four, a birth father who had multiple bypass heart surgery in his mid-fifties and myself having a heart attack and two strokes, I’m grateful for the journey I’ve had so far and the wonderful people with whom I’ve sojourned.  God knows it could have been very different.

I understand that in the big scheme of things, fifty-years-old isn’t “old,” but it is a milestone, and as I take stock of my life thus far, I am in awe of what has happened in these 18,214 days of my life.  And, yes, my precious and vibrant friends, it is poignant to me.

A Proud Moment in Film

A few months ago, a group of us decided to produce a film called, “Two Tears in a Bucket.”  The script was written by a new friend of mine, Dave Garcia.  He asked me to take one of the roles and line produce the picture.  I was not terribly busy, so I agreed. 

I’ve never had anything whatsoever to do with film in my life before this.  Nothing.  Not one tiny thing. 

It was going to be a lark.  Sure, I’ve produced many theatrical stage productions before, but this was a new adventure and I’m always up for a new adventure. 

We cast the film, worked out the logistics and began rehearsals, which I think are important.  I did the acting coaching, some of the directing, location management, scheduling, budgeting, and many of the other activities a line producer does.  The more I got into the process, the more enjoyable it became.  I realized that I was actually pretty good at this.  Although I had no formal training, after thirty years involved in theatre, I understood the concepts. 

Our cinematographer/editor came along and we were ready.

In the middle of this process, we were fortunate to do a tiny little six minute film, “Out of the Frying Pan,” which, incidentally, can be seen on YouTube. 

This film was a great training ground for us.  We learned what we could do and what we couldn’t do given our limited resources, limited time, and limited experience.  We were fortunate to have amazing people around us to get it done at all.

Once we were ready to begin filming, “Two Tears…” we felt as though we had a head start.

Tonight, a few of us gathered to see the first cut of our film.  I was prepared for the worst.  We’d done our best, but with few exceptions, we were neophytes. 

What I saw tonight was a surprise and a pleasure.  The first cut of our film was a testament to all the dedication, love, and effort everyone had pulled together for this project. 

The film is now going to the composer for the score.  Rick Dean Sumners has the responsibility to reflect the heartbeat of the piece.  Yet, another joyful connection in my life because I’ve know Rick a long, long time and know that he’s going to do a superlative job.

We have a real film developing here, ladies and gentlemen; a film of which I am so deeply proud.  I can hardly wait for you to see it.

This is what comes from true collaboration and focus.  At this point in my life, I suppose an old dog can learn some new tricks.

The process, quite honestly, has been a rollercoaster of emotions for me, but worth every moment.  I suppose that’s what comes from being willing to take the risk to make yet another dream come true.

Time for a New Wardrobe

James and the Amazing Technicolor DreamHeart

James and the Amazing Technicolor DreamHeart

To tell the truth, I simply don’t have the money for a whole new wardrobe; however, I don’t think that’s what I’m thinking about right now, anyway.  I’m shopping for a whole new emotional wardrobe to wear. 

For the last fifty years, I’ve been wearing the durable wear of son, grandson, father, grandfather, brother, husband and friend.  Occasionally, I try on artist and leader, but most of all, it’s family man.  

My children are in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s now.  (I know, don’t ask.)  My eldest grandchildren are driving.  It’s time to change my clothes.

I’m buying something red and purple.  Something in royal blue would suit me just fine.  Of course, those are chakra colors that represent my energies that I choose to evolve.  Red is for my passions.  Purple is for my spirit.  Royal blue  is for my inner vision.  Add some green for my loving heart and a smidgen of yellow for my strength, and I’m on the road.

By “on the road,” I mean that quite literally.  I’m going to travel a bit this year in my new drag.  I’m not really sure my husband is coming along since he has to work, but I’m going anyway… and good for me.

Of course, anyone reading this  who has been alive more than twenty years will say, “He’s going through a mid-life crisis.”  Not so, my friends.  There is no crisis here.  It is a choice of joy. 

I will still be all those things, but I will be them from a cell phone or a laptop with an aircard.  See, I know about the latest technology; at least, some of it.

Other will say, “He’s not even very old, so, why is he worrying about ‘changing his wardrobe?'” 

My birthmother died at 50, the same age I am now;  my great-grandmother at 34.  I have a list of medical issues that caused me to receive on the “RealAge” test, the age of 85 years old.  What does that tell you?

So, whether I’m in mid-life or end-stage, I won’t know until I get to that last moment, just like 102 year old Uncle Gene, who’s still waiting to find out.  What I do know, however, is that every moment of this life will be my version of “unapologetically perfect” until my last breath. 

Pull your cars over and get out of my way.  I have the proverbial top down, a brand new set of duds, and enough grey in my hair to say, “Fuck you,” to anyone telling me, “No.” 

And, here is where I bow, grateful that you understand that I’m simply claiming my life in a new way… my way, wearing what I choose to wear… finally.

Huge Horizon

As I view my life from the perspective of nearly fifty years, it seems as though I have been around for a long, long time.  This time, however, is all relative, both literally and figuratively.

In the early part of the twentieth century, our relatives routinely lived into their fifties and sixties and that was considered elderly.  Today, I called my great-uncle Gene who is 102 years old to wish him a happy birthday.  One hundred and two years old.  I’m not even half way to that number. 

When I was younger, they used to say that fifty was middle-aged.  I laughed, asking who in the heck lived to one hundred years old?  I have my answer and the answer is in my genes.  The supporting part of all of this is that he is not unique.  His sister died last year at the age of ninety-seven.  It’s all there in the DNA string that binds us.

I’d better get off this being old kick and figure I’m only half way there.   They say that only the good die young.  I know it’s not true because plenty of wonderful people grow old and many cranky people die young; however, if the adage is true, I may live to see the millennium change again. 

With everything else that has caused us to change our perceptions, this issue, too, is shifting our concepts.  We do live into our hundreds time and time again, growing in frequency all over the world. 

With DNA research being what it is, they may find a way to stop our cells from aging and we will live to be two hundred years old. 

I have to admit, I don’t want to live long enough to receive a Hallmark card that says, “Happy 200th Birthday, Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Grandpa!”  or “Happy Bicentennial Birthday, Dziadzia!” 

If that actually happens, God is going to have one very pissed off man standing at the pearly gates when I finally arrive.  That is assuming, of course… well, you know that I’m trying to say.

So, my friends, get comfortable.  It may be a very long flight.  Bon voyage!

Beginning and Ending

This old dog is perhaps learning some new tricks when it comes to perception of life.  A realization has appeared about how I have seen my life and the lives of those around me. 

Endings have been so difficult for me for my entire life.  They have caused me such anguish, and I know these transitions affect others in similar ways.  They live with those of us who are burdened with our sadness like albatrosses around our necks.

I spoke with my Aunt Mary today.  She recently turned ninety years old in October.  After nine decades, with all her friends dying around her and her awareness of her own end approaching, she continues to look toward tomorrow.  Certainly, she remembers her past and is troubled with sadness over those who have gone before her; however, she demands her tomorrows in a way that others of her age seem to do.  Perhaps, it is because she necessarily has fewer tomorrows than those of us at fifty, or so we think, that she awakens with a new vibrancy at the dawn. 

In the late night of her life, she continues to see her mornings.  I love that about Aunt Mary.  Maybe someday, I will love my mornings in the same way.  It may be beginning now and that would be a good thing. 

I can’t help but wonder what my older grandchildren, who are now in their teens and pre-teens, are learning from how I live my life.  I’m not that old, but still I am their grandfather and, as such, am modeling generational life to them.  They are learning how to age from me and their other grandparents. 

Are we sadly struggling with each day?  Are we lifting ourselves from our beds ready for a new adventure?  I must ask them at some point soon how they are perceiving us, their elders and ancestors. 

I saw a picture of myself today at a concert by a band that one of my former students is in.  I saw a man who is certainly older, but still vibrant and ready.  It made me so happy.

The time has come for me to take a page out of my beloved Aunt Mary’s Handbook of Life and dance and sing and laugh and visit and share as though I won’t be alive forever.  The truth is, I won’t be.  After a heart attack, two strokes, pre-diabetes, high cholesterol and blood pressure and early emphysema, I know I won’t be here forever.  I may not even make it to Aunt Mary’s age. 

My faith and my life experience has taught me that I can, however, live a life of joy and truth, intimacy and vibrancy for every minute I am here.  All I need do is commit to the choice.  Of course, I grieve for those who have gone before me, which has included all of my direct-line ancestors except for one, my birth-father.  Even my younger brother has departed before me.  But, these loving people can also be reminders of my mortality and how important it is to live and love my life with my eyes, hands, heart and spirit wide open. 

What a great tribute to my deceased family and a grand legacy to those who are following my generational path if I do so.

Old Dog, New Trick

Those days when I feel like a high school student again learning something new are my best days.   Days similar to when I was not yet a dozen years old and my father, the pharmacist, taught me to read and write in the Latin prescription abbreviation lexicon, such as q.i.d. meaning four times daily, help me feel empowered by the fact that my still available brain cells are in fully working order.

Today was just such a day.  I read State Attorney General Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown’s official response as an amicus curie regarding Proposition 8.  This brief, filed in anticipation of the upcoming hearing about the constitutionality of Proposition 8, was lucid and vibrant in its language.  AG Brown hit every salient point in his attempt to respectfully remind the California high court of the specific law and precedent regarding this case.  As a citizen who remembers when he was referred to Governor Twinkie, I am especially grateful to The Honorable Mr. Brown for his insightful and powerful points of law.

Amongst his many important points, Mr. Brown reminds the court that in Article 1, Section 1 of the California Constitution, our citizenry is imbued with inalienable rights afforded to all its citizens.  Not unlike our Federal Constitution, these rights are to be wholly ensured for the entirety of the population without prejudice.

I am no lawyer and I have not done any research on the case law whatsoever.  I can only say that reading his words gave me hope; a hope that resonates within me back to a time that may have even been before my own birth.  In these last few months, I have learned that I can, once again, have the pride and hope in my state and country that we are moving in the right direction and that everyone will be given a map for the journey there.

When my Aunt Mary would bake one of her delicious chocolate cakes for my birthday, my mother would make sure everyone at my party would get a piece and that each piece was the same size.  She would remind me, if I happened to complain that I was the birthday boy and should have the largest piece, that I did nothing to earn the cake.  This dessert was simply a way to celebrate with everyone the event of my birth.  Everyone there got the same size piece of cake.  It was automatic.

Mr. Brown has suggested to the court that everyone should get an equal share of the cake in the State of California.   He is promoting  the concept that whether one is homosexual or heterosexual, Asian or American Indian, short or tall, young or old, no one has earned the right to have a larger share of happiness in their lives.  We are each entitled, by our very citizenship in this state, to the right to be offered a slice of California life and joy equal to anyone else’s.  Whether one chooses to accept is up to them, but the offer must be there in the first place.

Certainly, Mr. Brown did not talk about cake or height or age, but that is what I read between the lines. 

Is it possible that the signateurs of all the Amici Curie in this case who support the overturning of Proposition 8 all believe similarly with regard to the law, even if, in their private lives, they may feel differently?  Can it be true that a small majority of a population can vote to erase the codification of joy and then be held accountable for that blatant discrimination?  Apparently, these things are true.

There are many who wrote in support of Proposition 8.  They, too, have the right to speak freely and put forth their cause before the court.  From the briefs I read on their part, I was a bit shocked at what I read; however, I know that beliefs long held are strong.

I have no idea how the court will rule.  I know what I want to happen, but fortunetelling, especially in this day and age, is a bit beyond me.

Thanks to Mr. Brown, however, I have found another level in my resurgence of hope.