The Texas Bohemian

Word artist. Jack of all Trades.

Happy Birthday Mom

Today is my mom’s birthday.  She would have been 87.  One year ago today she was facing a quick end to her life and suffering from cancer.  In my archives are the stories of her struggle and the part I played in being her caretaker.

I wasn’t a very good son sometimes.  I didn’t visit enough though I tried to make sure she never needed anything.  We were pretty close.  I called her every day.  It’s those phone calls I miss the most.  At times off and on during the day when I had a thought I’d call her up.  If I built something or came up with a new idea I’d go show her or go bring her here.  She was always complimentary and kind.

My kids loved her dearly.  She loved them, too.

Mom had a long life though I wish it had been longer.  I hope I last as long as she did.  I’m convinced she would have lasted longer had it not been for her local water supply that was terrible and full of toxins that cause the kind of cancer she had.  Woodlawn water killed her, of this I have no doubt whatsoever.  (Our water isn’t any better.  We now have filters.)

When my dad died I crawled into a hole and didn’t come out for over a year.   I took it hard.  Mom, like dad, was a good friend.  Friends are few and far between with me.  It is selfish of me to think “I lost….” as if they lived for me.  But in reality for most of their lives and mine that’s the way I viewed the world–though I would not admit it.  We humans tend to see things as they relate to us.  “Our” wife/husband, “our” kids, “our” parents, like they are there FOR us.  How selfish.

I am sorry, mom and dad, for thinking you were there for me.  I was wrong.

Though it is part of the Christian belief, this idea of serving others, it is not quite so practiced or even understood by Christians.  It wasn’t until I no longer believed in that religion and became a Buddhist that I finally understood what Jesus taught, better said by Buddha, regarding our selfish nature.  (Of course it might have been better said by Jesus but two thousand years of manipulation and “interpretation” changed things.)   I learned my lesson too late to be the son I should have been.

I can say that I learned early enough to be there when mom needed me at last.  I am  happy to have had the time I did with her, difficult as it was, during her last days.  It was those times between trying to keep her in bed and watch nurses and doctors and so forth that I found time to read and contemplate about where I came from and where I need to go.  It was in letting her go that I learned how to let Christianity go too.  Both passed away from me entirely at the same time.

The suffering we have is often self-inflicted.  I caused myself suffering and inadvertently caused mom to suffer because I was possessive of her: “My” mom.  I should have been her son instead.  I was her son at last, though.  After she died I could have let guilt and sorrow drag me into a pit as I did when dad died.  But that is suffering too.  Instead I understood that as Buddha teaches everything is temporary.  There are comings and goings of all things.  Learning to accept this is an end to suffering.

Finally, I could be guilty for not being mom’s son rather than believing she is “my” mom.  I have forgiven myself as I know she forgave me.  That is the nature of love: forgiveness.  This, too, the Buddha teaches, that others are important but we, ourselves, are important too.  If we neglect ourselves we not only cause our own suffering but we cause others to suffer.  Thus I choose to forgive myself.

My mom loved me always and forever.  When I was a child she was not always kind.  Sometimes she was abusive.  I forgave her of that many years ago and loved her in spite of it.  Then she had to learn to forgive me and love me for seeing her as “my” mom and for my not being her son.

Our life on this earth is short and temporary.  It would be much longer and the value of our lives would all be extended, however, if we would all learn a few lessons from Buddha’s wisdom.  The most important lesson we can learn is how not to see other humans as possessions, “my” family, “my” friends, etc.,  and instead see them as valuable beings to whom we should give ourselves.  When we change this single attitude we change the whole world.  Suddenly all those things friends and family do that hurt us no longer sting because we realize  the stings are caused by them not bending to our will.  But why should they?  It is our will that should bend to theirs.  Then they are happy and, after all, is that not what we hope for if they are friends and family?

In turning loose of mom that day last November I learned to turn loose of self.  I watched Christianity fail her and my family.  Buddha’s words did not fail me.  It was the  ultimate test.  The greatest gift mom gave me besides her love was the opportunity to see truth revealed and and in becoming her son I at last found my foundation in Buddha.

Thanks mom.  I know you would not be very happy about my Buddhism but then you always hoped for my happiness more than your own.  I finally understand why.

I miss you and I love you always.

August 9, 2009 Posted by | Blather, Religion | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I cried today.

I am shaking a little right now.  I’m rather upset.  The truth of war is ugly, so ugly it gives nightmares to the strongest men.

My son, Trace

My son, Trace

In my research I ran across a link to a video about a massacre in Iraq last year.  It took some digging to find a copy, all the links were gone.  Not surprising.  I managed to find an embedded copy that I am not so sure I even want to see.  The first few seconds were enough.

From the Video

From the Video

A little while later I was trying to catch up with my nerves.  My boy came in, walked up to me and gave me a huge smile.  I realized how much he looked like one of the boys in the video.  Except the boy on the video had a hole in his head a tennis ball would fit in.  That boy’s eyes were open, vacant, empty.  My mind merged the two images and suddenly I was holding my boy and crying.

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May 24, 2009 Posted by | Blather | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Choose Peace

The letter arrived today.  Now Lufkin has yet another reason to scream at the liberal crazy guy.  View the letter update here: And The War Goes On.

My wife and I had a little “discussion” today.  She, like almost ever other American, sees the war the same way the military sees homosexuality: don’t ask/don’t tell.  The reality of war is far from her mind.  I don’t know how to get her to understand.  I don’t know how to get the rest of America to understand the horrors of war.

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May 23, 2009 Posted by | Blather | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Anchor is Gone

It has taken a few days for me to get around to this post.  I’ve been thinking about how to write it. No luck yet.

Last Thursday my three siblings and I were together for the last act we’ll ever do as a family.  It’s likely I’ll never see my oldest sister again.  I will see my brother and youngest sister very little.  We finished the task of dealing with mom’s stuff by signing the papers to sell the house.  It’s over.

All these years that house has been “over there,” the anchor of a family separated by different attitudes, lifestyles, and religions.  We all have a few happy memories but in all none of us had a happy childhood.  Mom was not always easy to get along with.  We loved her, though, at least three of us did.  Not to sure about my younger sister.  Anyway, the house was the anchor.  Now that it is gone there’s nothing holding the family together at all.

Mom and dad would be very sad, probably, about the disolution of their little family.  I’m a little sad too.  All that is left of mom and dad is a stone in a cemetary where their remains rest.  That and an assortment of stuff scattered among our things.  There’s memories, of course, plenty of those.

What is a family?  In some cultures family is everything.  In most cultures family is important.  It seems less important in this country.  Families don’t get along very well here.  In our case it’s not so much getting along as it is that we’re so different we don’t have anything but a few memories in common.  I, especially, am the odd person out (as usual).  Christianity is a big part of my brother and younger sister’s life.  I am Buddhist.  Where do we find a meeting of minds?  We don’t.  They dance around subjects, avoiding anything that might lead back to a discussion of beliefs or point of view.  I miss all of my family.  I’ve never really been a part of it, though, for a very long time.  When mom died I lost my last best friend outside my own family.  When mom died, too, she took with her the reason we’ve all had to act like a family.

Maybe it’s more difficult for me because I do not have a circle of friends like my three siblings do.  My oldest sister has fewer but she has her family.  My brother and sister have a huge circle of friends, all of them tied to their church or their spouse’s family.

Thursday morning I walked through the house one last time, taking pictures, trying to stuff memories on the camera along with digital images.  My brother could not walk through the house.  He struggled with just being at it that last morning it was in our family.  Neither of my sisters made it by to say goodbye.

My oldest sister and I were talking before the signing.  She said, “it’s just like mom died all over again.”  I had been thinking the same thing for a day or so.  It wasn’t mom dying, it was the family she raised.  We killed it with the stroke of a pen.  Each of us walked away with a check that represented the final vestiges of all that had kept us together: that old house.

I don’t really know what to say now.  It’s just over.  The anchor is gone.  What do we do now?

April 20, 2009 Posted by | Blather | , , | Leave a comment

Christianity and the death of me…

I am unique.  I do not think like anybody I’ve ever known or learned about.  This is a fact.  It does not matter whether or not you believe me.  You who live in a world of same-kind-of-people find the notion of a unique human unacceptable.  “Don’t be ridiculous,” you say, “humans are humans.”  Not so.  There may be others in this world who think as I but I have yet to find one.  And this uniqueness has been the death of me.

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February 28, 2009 Posted by | Religion | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

All Alone.

It’s been almost a week since mom died. I just don’t know how I feel. Numb, I guess… as expected.

My world is filled with little reminders, very close reminders, of mom’s life with us. There’s food on our shelves and in our freezer and refrigerator, some she bought and some that came from her house. The catfish she loves so much that I bought to fix for her is still waiting for the fryer. There’s little nic-nac’s all over. There’s even a box of medications we’ve not disposed of yet (some of which I really want to know why she was given!). And, of course, there’s that house three miles away from where I sit brimming with Mom Stuff.

I have her rocker/recliner here now. We brought a few other little things from her house, practical items and quaint reminders of her. Other family members took a few things she’d promised to them or that will remind them of her. She didn’t leave much of a will, just a letter that said to sell the house and divide the money. We looked around her house with lumps in our throat reaching for things that we shared with her. It’s just stuff with memories attached. That’s all.

Life is so fleeting, so short, so impermanent. What is eighty six years in the span of the universe? Less than a blink. When it’s over all that is left are memories and stuff. A hundred years from now even the stuff and the memories will be gone. Nobody will remember my mom. Nobody living will have known her. She’ll be an old picture on a wall or maybe just a name on a stone in an old cemetery. Maybe not even that.

What’s it all about? Why are we here? Will we ever know? Are Christians right in believing there’s a “heaven” somewhere with Jesus and open arms waiting for the sacred few? Are Buddhists right, are we cycled through life after life, cranking out Karma, hoping for the enlightenment that will end our cycle and blend us in with the great all knowing? I hope that’s not right either. I’m stuck with not knowing. What lies beyond we don’t know. It doesn’t really matter all that much. Those who remain have only memories and stuff in place of that life we held so precious but never really did right by. What ever kind of place it is, mom is there. We’re not.

There is one part of her “stuff” I didn’t know existed. She wrote a journal. The last notebook she wrote in begins thus:

I was born 8-22 to Rebeca & Emory Self 8 miles from Murfreesboro…

She writes a few pages of her life history and then segues into an account of the days that were passing. I don’t know when she started this volume. We found another notebook, a little older, with more writing, dates and times and simple events. In it mom noted each day, how she felt, and entered the temperature for the day. She kept up. Her days were important. She writes almost exclusively of her kids, we who failed to recognize how important every single day was while she was still here. We spent too much time in our world and not enough in hers.

That final notebook does sound like mom. Here’s her last entry:

August the 12, Tues, the nurse called the doctor. The amb. came after me. I was there 9 days. Bob and Donna came. Vickie and Rusty all came. Bob brought me home the 19. They stayed until the 21. I have cancer. I start the treatment the 4th of Sept. They went home yesterday. I am all alone.

Shortly after she wrote that she was in and out of the hospital, mostly in, until the last time when she was transferred to hospice. We got her home for a day and then she was back at hospice for her remaining few hours.

Even as I know she preferred being alone in her house to being with us in ours I feel a deep sadness as I recognize the depth of loneliness she sometimes felt. I know, too, that even if we’d moved in with her she would have felt that loneliness, that longing for family who left this world long ago, for Dad who was her companion for more than 50 years, for old friends who had passed or were unable to visit any longer because of their health. I know dad felt that loneliness deep within his heart once his only brother died and all his family was gone. Even though his brother was 300 miles away and he rarely got to visit it’s still not the same as him being gone.

The sum of our lives is the people we know and love. Everything else is just “stuff.” As our days pass by and those we’ve cared for disappear into the past we all begin to feel the loneliness so poignantly expressed in mom’s last words: “I am all alone.”

There are those who claim to “feel the presence” of loved ones. They say they can walk through a house, grasp a belonging, sit quietly in the woods, and “sense” someone who has died. Maybe they can. I never could. When dad died I worried about that for the longest. Why can’t I “feel” him here on this land where I live which he loved to wander about on? Why wasn’t his presence felt in the boards and timbers of that cabin I lived in back then, the one he helped build? Why did I never feel him when I visited mom? I never have felt dad nearby.

I can’t sense mom, either. Not walking through that old house she held so dear to her heart and not sitting in the chair she spent so much time in can I “feel” mom with me. Maybe it would help. Or maybe it would just make me more sad. Either way, I really wish I could sense her nearby. I wish.

None of us really know or comprehend where she has gone. We all believe she is not alone and will never be alone. We believe the part that was her, the mom we knew, has become something different, a spirit free from a body riddled with pain. I believe that too even though my concept of the “Undiscovered Country” is not that of my Christian siblings. Though I cannot and most likely never will sense her near me I believe with all my being that she lives and she is not alone. Her final entry, were it penned from over there, would be, “I am with those who have gone before. I am no longer alone.” I’m quite sure it would be that.

We, however, are still here. We’re stuck with memories and stuff. For the rest of our days we’ll live without her blessed smile, her love, all those wonderful looks she always gave us. Each of us will forever grasp at memories and hold her stuff and think, “where did you go, mom?” We’ll look into the void of the unknown with tremendous longing and we’ll say, “we love you mom. We miss you! We are so alone!”

November 20, 2008 Posted by | Blather | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Last Mile

It’s over.

I love you, Momma.

My mom fought a hard fight. She ran that race right down to the wire. She was a strong woman. In the end, though, age and biology overcame her indomitable will to live. She died as we sat close by in the late hours last night.

When we got her back to Hospice she went down even more rapid than she had been. Over night Wednesday I slept on the roll-away while my brother and my sister’s daughter stood by her bedside. From what I heard and was told they had a veritable camp meeting. She sang gospel songs and talked about Jesus.

Towards morning she became so weak she could no longer speak. Through the day she lay twitching and unresponsive as the nurses came and went with medications they hoped might relieve any pain she was in. I spent the day by her side as I promised, telling her I loved her and I was proud of her.

In the evening around eight or so I stood by her, rubbing her neck. She’d pointed to it though it was all she could do to communicate with a wavy hand. Her muscles were tense. All of a sudden she scrunched up, her eyes clenched, she turned a very dark red and shivered. She apparently suffered a stroke or something as I was holding her.

In a few seconds she stopped the incessant twitching she’d been doing. She became rigid, eyes fixed with labored breathing. We called for the nurse who said call the family by her side. I called my wife who had just left for home half an hour before.

For more than two hours her body clung to life though the eyes were vacant. Her breathing stopped and it was over.

I can’t say mom was a perfect mom nor that my childhood was wonderful. What I can say is that my mom loved me, my family, my siblings and their families with an unending and undying love.

Like most kids I didn’t spend enough time with her through the years, all wrapped up in my own life. In the end, though, I was there. I promised I would not leave her side and I didn’t.

When my dad died I was angry at God and at Dad for going so quick. The moment he left us I started a journey that ended the moment my mom took her last breath. Though I miss her very much already I have an understanding of life and death, a strength of purpose, I never had before. I was able to be strong for mom and family because of what I’ve learned from Gautama the Buddha. The answers I found in his words are the foundation upon which I have stood through these past few weeks. With mom’s passing I am firmly on a new path, putting behind the old, setting aside the days of confusion, moving forward.

I want to be the best Buddhist and the best servant of mankind I can possibly be. These weeks with my mother showed me where I can find strength. I learned I can do many things I would not have thought myself capable. I have a strong desire to give the same kind of compassionate service to others as I have given to my mom as Jesus and as Gautama taught us we should.

Yesterday is over. Tomorrow is full of promise. Today I shall be sad, I shall cry, I shall remember and I shall look upon a hundred, a thousand different reminders of the woman who gave me life and say “Thanks, mom.” I shall say goodbye and I will be assured that I have done my duty as a son, given her all my love and provided all I could for her as she ran her last mile, the one we ran together.

November 14, 2008 Posted by | Blather | , , | 3 Comments

Choosing Death

Yesterday I talked with my wife about the question of “assisted suicide” and all that goes with someone deciding to die or for someone deciding FOR someone to die.  Today in a very real way I have to make that decision.

We’re not talking Kavorkian machine here but the decision is the same.

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November 4, 2008 Posted by | Blather | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Agony of Not Knowing…

The doc pretty much confirmed what I had surmised already.  Mom’s digestive system is not going to function.  In all likelihood the cancer that took her kidney has enveloped part of her intestine.  Point of view and treatment options switched today from trying for improvement to getting her comfortable and planning for extended care for as long as she lives.

When my dad died I can’t say how mad I got at God.  In these situations some of the strongest Christians sometimes start a sentence in their mind, “what kind of God would…..”

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November 3, 2008 Posted by | Blather | , , , , , , | 1 Comment