Thursday, June 29, 2006

Remembering Tim

Today would be my brother Tim's 45th birthday. He was born June 29, 1961... he died September 23, 1998, from liver failure. This picture of him and Jasmine was taken Thanksgiving Day 1994. We didn't always get along, as I guess is typical of any set of siblings, but I loved him dearly, and the last 2 years of his life were a very precious, special time for us -- and for all of my family.

I don't know why so often we don't say and do the things that are important... and then all of a sudden it's too late. Late summer 1998, Tim was very sick, and he told me he didn't have much time left. In fact, the last 9 months of his life, it was a roller coaster of infections, good times, semi-good times, and near-death experiences. When he told me he had about 2 weeks left, I didn't believe him... but he was right... almost exactly to the day.

One weekend, Tim was particularly sick, and I went to help my mom care for him and my dad. He was in bed, puking his guts out, and very, very weak. A couple of hours later, he had me driving him to the hospital to help his nurse friend, Bonnie, figure out some cardiac gizmo for a presentation she was to make the next day. The NEXT day, he was at the hospital for x-rays to find a kidney stone the size of a 22 bullet, lodged in one of the tubes from his kidneys to the bladder, with no likelihood of passing it, and no way to dislodge it in his condition -- very painful. I knew I had to act quickly to set a few things straight.

Knowing I could never make it through a one-on-one conversation to tell Tim my thoughts and feelings, I took the cowardly way out and wrote him a letter. We sat in the car outside my sister's house, and I handed him the letter. I sat as he read it, tears streaming down his face, an occasional chuckle escaping his body. He folded the letter, hugged me, and tucked it into his pocket. It was in his dresser drawer when he died.

I wish I had been able to tell Tim how much I loved him sooner. But I'm glad I did tell him. And... he must have understood, because about a year after he died, I found a Valentine he had sent me his last Valentine's Day... it showed a big bear on the front, arms wide open, and on the inside, it said, "Consider yourself hugged." Later, another nurse friend of his, upon receiving a desperately needed donation of telephones for Hospice from us, told me that "Tim always said you could fix anything, and I believe it."

Tell those you love how you feel about them. If you can't do it, just tell them something you love about them. Remind them of a fun time you shared -- a good memory. Or do something nice for them. In my letter, I promised Tim that I would do what I could to help make our little corner of the world more tolerant others... especially those who are "different" in some way, or maybe just not like people think they should be. I hope I'm keeping that promise... I'm surely trying. I think Tim would like it if I shared some of my letter here. Maybe it will be a start toward bringing people together.

Dear Tim,

You may think that writing this down is taking a chicken's way out, but if I try to tell you, I'll just start bawling, and I won't get through half the things I want to say to you, so you'll just have to accept this as my way of saying what I need to say.

I don't really even know where to start, so let me start this way -- I love you. I've always loved you. My very first memory of us is before you were born. I know I was only 4, but I remember saying my prayers at night, and praying for a baby brother - REALLY! And I remember hovering over you when you were a baby. Momma says I hovered over you a lot, and worried about you. Then, remember when you cut your toe off? I found it, remember? I screamed and ran around the kitchen like a crazy person, and then Martha Raye took it to the hospital, but it was "dead" and they couldn't re-attach it (or so they said.)

I have a couple of things I really, deeply regret from childhood -- one was letting you take the rap for breaking off that damn magnolia tree, when Suzanne and I did it, and then you got the whipping. And the other was that Christmas tape we made you about your bicycle. I am still so sorry, to this day. I know you have forgiven me, but I never have forgiven myself. And I also remember Mammaw whipping you one time with a yard-stick, and I threw a fit and tried to stop her, and she threatened to whip me, too, so I gave up. I wish I had tried harder.

You know, you were pretty mean when you were little. I can remember you tackling me in the front yard, and really hurting me, and Daddy standing in the doorway and saying, "Just hit him back!" And I couldn't do it. And I remember once Momma told me to hit your or bite you back or something, and I remember looking at her with tears rolling down my face and saying, "I can't!" I may have been mean to you in other ways, but I could never physically hurt you like that.

Do you remember when Greg and I got married, and we weren't telling where we were going on our honeymoon, and you kept pestering us and singing, "I know where you're going -- you're going to the IQ Zoo in Hot Springs!" And I was so aggravated, because you were right! You were my pesky little brother, then, but I still loved you.

After I married, and we moved back here, and you used to come help me in my classroom, and just come over and visit me, and you were working at the hospital, you were my hero. I thought you could heal anybody! You have always been the best nurse. And when you stopped and revived that man on the courtsquare, and Dr. Poff sang your praises, I was so proud. (I think you were about 15 then.)

You know, there have been times I have been so mad at you -- like on that trip we all took to California. It wasn't really that I was mad at YOU, per se, as much as I was mad at what you were doing. I NEVER stopped loving YOU -- I just didn't love some of your actions and activities. And you have to admit, there were times when you lived in California, when nobody "back here" could relate to you. But we always loved you, even then.

I'm so glad you came home. I dreaded it at first -- and it was rough those first few weeks. But you know what? We've gotten to know each other better these last 2 years. We've gotten to see each other as real people. I have seen, once again, what a great nurse you are, and how much people love you. You epitomize the word "friend", and you are so rich in friends, Tim. I was always jealous of you and Suzanne because you always made friends so easily, and you were always willing to take risks --okay, maybe a few too many risks! -- and experience life much more than I was. But I also was sad that you didn't "rein in" a little and capitalize more on your potential and have some of the things that I thought would make you happy, like a nice home, maybe a family, or at least a lifetime companion, and a successful career. Please don't think I'm criticizing you or putting down John or what you have had. But when we were building the house, you said that you were "jealous" because you could have built our house 3 or 4 times in your lifetime if you hadn't squandered your income, and that's what I mean. You deserved better than you've had.

I just want you to know that I have always loved you, and I have always admired your personality, your confidence, your ability to meet and "win over" people and to face adversity. Greg and I have been so impressed with your coolness and calm in these crises with Dad, and how you have just jumped in and handled them. I remember how you handled the situation with Mom when I was living at home and you were still in high school and she passed out at the dinner table -- remember? You just took charge, and held it together. I knew then how well you'd do in the ER and in the CCU. Most people don't have that kind of reserve.

On the other hand, like I told you yesterday, there's so much I DON'T know about you. Like even little things like your favorite color or what kind of music you enjoy. I know these aren't especially important, but I feel like somehow there are a lot of little things I've missed about my only brother. Was I just not paying attention? I hope that's not it. I know there are a lot of things I DO know about you -- your love of plants and growing things; how much you love those you love -- Carmen, your family, your friends; how you' ve always liked to fish; how much you love shows like Dharma and Greg and Cybil; and how much fun it's been to be able to share gossip and things with you like a best girlfriend. You've always entertained, and that's what makes you so special.

I have one other thing to tell you. Last fall, when I took you to St. Vincent's for your work-up, and we went in that office on the Oncology floor, and you very matter-of-factly announced to those nurses that you were HIV, I felt like you had hit the desk with a sledge hammer. That one nurse in particular, changed her whole demeanor, and I was sitting on the couch boiling, because I felt she treated you like you had leprosy or something. She didn't see you as a real person, as someone who was just like the rest of us, only with a virus --albeit a potentially deadly one -- just like chicken pox or mono, or any number of other diseases. Had you said, "I have leukemia," she would have treated you totally differently, I'm sure. But as I sat there fuming, I watched you matter-of-factly answer all of her questions -- sometimes with a medical depth that amazed both of those women. And I thought, "this is going to be a long week for him -- how can I possibly leave him here with these people who don't care about him and wish he'd go away." But when you pulled out those "Smarties" and said, "Candy anyone?" with a wide grin, and I watched that second nurse's whole body sort of relax and she smiled, I knew you'd be fine. I knew in a matter of hours, you'd have charmed the entire floor, and you'd probably be back down in that office, helping those girls write up reports, talking about a soap opera, or just sharing some more candy. And I knew that in 4 or so days when you left, they'd love you and be sorry to see you leave. I hope I was right. If not, it was definitely their loss, and they are on the wrong floor and in the wrong business. So many people are so afraid of what they don't know and understand (and so ignorant of HIV, homosexuality, etc.), and it is one of the things I hope I can help to correct. I promise you, as soon as I can, I'm going to get involved in AIDS awareness somehow (maybe become a RAIN volunteer) and maybe someday I can even volunteer for Hospice. Maybe we can learn from the way you have been treated by some people, and we can make this little corner of the world more aware and tolerant.

I know time is running out, and there are so many things for us to say and do, and so many people who want to share this time with you, and you probably are torn between wanting to be with us and wanting it to all be over. So I hope you will carry this one thought with you on your journey into the next, and greater, adventure. I love you, more than you will ever know. I will carry you in my heart forever. I will NEVER, EVER forget you. I promise you I will try my best to carry on for you, to be there for Jasmine and Momma and Daddy and Suzanne and Mammaw for the both of us, and I will try to find time to breathe deeply and enjoy my life and "chill" a little, and to "be cool!" (hehehe) I know if you are watching over me, I will make it, and everything will be just fine.

When it's time to go, I want you to go in peace, knowing how much you are loved, how much you have touched us all, and that you have left a mark on this place that will never fade.


Friday, June 23, 2006

Have You Seen My Mother?!

This is my mother, Arline Chandler, with her dog Spot, and her husband, Lee Smith. They are now in Fairbanks, Alaska. This photo was taken on May 27 as they entered the Alaskan Highway. Here's what Mom had to say about that: "Tonight, we're at Dawson Creek, British Columbia, mile zero of the Alaskan Highway. The park is Northern Lights. We drove from Edmonton today--drove all day in the rain, but right now, it's beautiful. This happened in Edmonton--rain all day, then beautiful evenings, but rain again in the night. Of course, it's after 8:00 and it looks like about 4:00 at home."

Now, in Fairbanks, they are having the engine replaced on their motorhome. I'll let Mom tell you what happened...

June 14-- "We are in Beaver Creek, only 20 miles from the U.S. border—and we’re having problems with the motorhome. We drove over the roughest stretch of highway yet yesterday--even worse after I e-mailed you from Kluane Wilderness Lodge--and our hitch on the motorhome came loose, damaging the tow bar. We stopped at a place and had the hitch welded permanently to the coach, but this morning Lee says the tow bar is too damaged to pull the Jeep, so I’ll have to drive on into Tok—about 135 miles. We also have a problem with the radiator and we’re leaking oil. We’re trying to get to Fairbanks to a Cummins dealer, but we’ll have to find some kind of help in Tok. The road between Haines Junction and Beaver Creek was some of the most difficult to build initially. Especially within the last 80 miles into Beaver Creek. The area has permafrost and the road heaves every winter with the freezing and thawing. It was like riding a roller coaster. Don't worry about us--these things are typical, especially when traveling to Alaska--and we'll take care of them. We're in no danger of damaging the motorhome as long as we keep pouring in oil and water -- not in the same place!!

They ended up limping into Fairbanks, 200 miles away, and on June 16, she wrote - "Well, this has not been our best day! We did not have good news about the motorhome. The turbo charger had disintegrated and thrown debris into the engine, so we have to have a new engine. Certainly not something we had expected! It has to be air-shipped from Memphis and will take at least four—maybe five—days. Then we don’t know how long to install it. Maybe only a couple of days. We are parked at this shop and will be here for the duration—without any power or water. We’ll have to hunt some place to take showers. We’ve done this before in the desert, so it will be OK. So will the repairs. We’ll just have to live through it. I’m thankful that the engine did not give up when we were out in the wilderness. We would have had to have been towed. So at least, we’re where we can get help."

The engine has arrived, and it will take a few days to replace it, so next week, the clan will be moving from the motorhome in the dealership parking lot to a Fairbanks bed and breakfast. They continue to sight-see in the area and take tours. Here's their latest agenda:

June 23 - "We also booked a flight to the Arctic Ocean next Thursday. It will be a day trip to a tiny village called Barrow. Lee felt his trip is not complete if he doesn't cross the Arctic Circle--and of course, going all the way to the Arctic Ocean is even better. We could have driven across the Arctic Circle, but not to the Ocean. And the road is rough gravel. Spot has been booked into a kennel for one day and one night, although we won't be gone overnight. We're also going to have to leave our motorhome when they start work, probably on Monday. So we found a bed and breakfast that will take us and Spot--actually, the bed and breakfasts here are cheaper than the motels or hotels--although nothing is cheap! We hope we'll only have to stay three nights."

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Goodbye, Uncle Ray...

It's been awhile since I've made a post, because we've been just a little busy around here. Greg's Uncle Ray Fritsch died in Galesburg, Illinois, on June 6. Uncle Ray was one of our favorites... he visited often until just a few years ago, and being the coach and friend to kids that he was, we reveled in his stories, his jokes, tricks, antics, and general good nature. He and Aunt Lova (who is a sister to Greg's mother), were RVers, so we had an added "connection," and they were avid supporters of Workamper News through the years. They owned a membership at Cloud Nine Resort in Missouri, where Uncle Ray loved to spend hour upon hour fishing.

Greg drove his mother to Illinois on Sunday, June 11, for the memorial service that was held on June 12. True to Uncle Ray's giving nature, he donated his body to science studies at the University of Iowa. Greg said that the memorial and the visitation preceding were packed with former students and friends of Uncle Ray's, and story after story regaled about his 33-year coaching stint at the same junior high school in Galesburg. Even if you didn't know Uncle Ray, you might enjoy reading this story that ran in the local paper in Galesburg about him...

While "up North," Greg and his mother also visited his mother's other sister, Erma, who is in a nursing facility in Cedar Rapids. He relayed story after story about the girls' childhood, all the uncle's experiences in the war, and what's new and what's not in Galesburg and Cedar Rapids. They returned home on Wednesday, June 14.

I was unable to make the trip because my Mam-ma Polly had another mini-stroke on the 7th, which resulted in several days of trips to the ER, the general physician, and even a neurologist for a nerve conduction test. His diagnosis was... stroke. I just wasn't comfortable traveling a day away with her so precarious. Miraculously, she seems fully recovered this week, and is back to her "old self." This makes 3 really significant mini-strokes I can pinpoint since Christmas, which is not unusual for someone "93½" -- as she likes to point out -- but I do see them happening more frequently, which can't be good.

Otherwise, things are good here. Sales on eBay have actually been better lately, although I don't have anything listed right now. We had cool temperatures for a few days early last week, and good rain today, so the summer is not THAT bad -- YET!

Greg and I watched an Alfred Hitchcock movie tonight -- Frenzy -- if you haven't seen it, rent it. I gave Greg a set of 14 of Hitchcock's best movies on DVD for his birthday, and this was one of them. It was made in 1972, and is quite risqué for that era -- mild by today's standards, maybe, but pretty racy for 1972! See for yourself!