Friday, November 27, 2020

COVID hits home

So much going on right now, folks, that I hardly know where to start. Two weeks ago, my wife lost her dad. It was not unexpected. He was 92 and his condition had deteriorated for the 30 days before he died — dementia, dehydration, extreme fatigue and a host of other maladies. He was worn out.

The day before he died, as he was about to transition to Hospice, he tested positive for COVID. That’s where the nightmare begins. My wife and her mother had been with him in the immediately preceding days. 

Wife came home from Little Rock to quarantine and I left town, splitting my time between my son in Atlanta and my daughter in Huntsville.

Both Wife and her mother eventually tested positive.

Wife has been mostly asymptomatic but her mother did not fare as well. She began to have trouble breathing and was taken by ambulance to a hospital in Little Rock last Saturday. Last night she passed away.

There is very much I’m not saying here, but let me say this: COVID is real. It expedited the death of my father-in-law and it took the life of my mother-in-law. While my father-in-law was already ill, my mother-in-law was still healthy and vibrant. Now she’s gone.

My wife, on the heels of this illness herself, must now deal with losing both her parents in two weeks’ time.

I’m not blaming anyone. Life’s not easy and I get that.

But for god’s sake is it too much to ask to wear a mask, keep safe distances and fanatically wash your hands? We’re just about to have a vaccine and in the next year, maybe even sooner, life should start returning to some sense of normal.

Surely we can hang on and do our part until that time comes. Can’t we?

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Once more about Election 2020

This will be my final comments here on the 2020 election unless something huge happens between now and January, when Joe Biden is sworn in as president, and I just have to say something.

But I do have a few parting shots, which I'll put in bullet points.

-- Although I don't tell readers of my newspaper column whom I voted for, I'll tell you. I voted for Biden. I was not excited about him as a candidate and I am not excited about his being president-elect. After hearing last night that Pennsylvania had pushed him over the top in the electoral college, I wasn't celebrating. I won't go into all the reasons I decided to vote for him, but I did, and I'm glad I did, and I'm glad he won. I congratulate him and I will pray for him. I think he's a good guy. But I'm not excited.

-- Biden's election was not a mandate (no matter what Nancy Pelosi, understandably giddy at the thought of standing behind one of her own at the State of the Union address, says). It looks like Biden will carry the electoral college in a similar way as Trump in '16. And it look like the popular vote is about the same, percentage wise, as 2016 also. Yes it's a majority, but it's hardly a mandate. And Madam Speaker, it's not like your Democratic brethren tore it with up with House seats, either.

-- I think Biden's first move as president-elect, interrupting the Notre Dame-Clemson game to address the nation, and causing NBC to switch coverage to the USA network, was a poor one. OK maybe I'm kidding, but really, Mr. Prez-Elect, could you not have waited until, say, Monday? Your presidency isn't going anywhere. (I would not have listened even if it had not interrupted the game. Along about Thursday, when I could tell where this thing was heading, I pretty much lost interest).

-- Everyone who voted for Donald Trump is not a fan of Donald Trump, just as I am not a fan of Biden. I am aware there are some ardent disciples who will argue till they're blue in the face that he's the best thing that ever happened to this country and we're in the middle of a big fat conspiracy to keep him from serving a second term. They will say some ridiculously stupid things. Those people are largely crazies and I get that. But most of the folks I know who voted for Trump did so because they agree with a big part of what he did while he was in office. They put a lot of the other stuff aside and decided, of the two candidates, he was the better choice. Make no mistake, I DO NOT agree with them, but I respect their decision. I will not lump them in with the lunatics.

-- Trump's election in 2016 was not a national nightmare, nor the end of life as we know it. His reelection would have been neither of those things either. Likewise Biden's election now. This is still a great country and we will all carry on just fine.

-- Between now and January, Trump will do what Trump will do. He has the right to a recount in some states and if he wants to explore legal options, let him do it. He knows he's leaving office, but he loves the theatrics. The best thing we can do is ignore him.  He has one last chance to show some class and  put the interests of the country above his own, but don't count on it. One way or the other, he'll leave office January 20th, 2021. My prediction is he will eventually throw in the towel, maybe in December, but he will whine and complain, and that will lay the foundation for the rest of his life as a former president.

-- I'm hoping against hope the GOP will retain the majority in the Senate. Apparently it all hinges on two runoffs in Georgia, and can you imagine the amount of cash that will be infused by both parties into the campaigns of those candidates? But a Democratic president, a Democratic House and a Republican Senate will keep some balance and will hopefully prevent way-too-far left or way-too-far right legislation from being pushed through, and might even lead, say it with me, to compromise and bipartisanship. We can hope!



Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Election Day

It's Election Day in the U.S.

Here in Tennessee, we have early voting, which means we can vote for about two weeks leading up to Election Day. I would guess I have not voted on Election Day in 15 years.

While I don't get nearly as emotional over politics as I used to, I still have great interest in the political process and have a sense of excitement today.

Here is my column that ran yesterday:



Sunday, November 1, 2020

Letter from the past

Yesterday's mail brought a handwritten note (one of those relics from the past) from a cousin in Florida with an enclosure.

In his note, my cousin said he had found the enclosed with some old pictures and said "I don't know why in the world I would have this."

It was another note, although typed (my mother typed a lot of letters), from my mother to my dad's sister -- my aunt and my cousin's aunt.

My dad had four sibling -- three brothers and one sister, and this cousin's father is one of those siblings. They are all now deceased.

I know exactly why my cousin ended up with this letter from my mother. That group of siblings and their mother would pass letters around. If one of them wrote one that contained  information that would be of interest or newsworthy to one of the others, or to all,  they would simply mail it to another sibling, and that sibling might continue and mail it to another.  

They were at times a rowdy bunch and would not have been above saying something disparaging about one of the others, so hopefully the letter-forwarding didn't happen in those instances. But I well remember this practice.

So I'm confident that's how my cousin ended up with this. My aunt, the original recipient, certainly wasn't going to make an expensive long distance call to update her brother with news, but she decided she could spring for a stamp (which at the time cost 13 cents) to keep him in the loop.

(They were also a frugal group, so some serious deliberation about this would have occurred in the mind of my aunt).

It was the content of the letter that most interested me. Some background is in order.

In 1975 my father was diagnosed was throat cancer -- cancer on his vocal cords. I was between my junior and senior years in high school. He and my mother traveled from our home in south Arkansas to the M.D. Anderson Cancer Clinic in Houston, where he went through several months of radiation treatment.

Interestingly, one of his brothers (another of the aforementioned siblings), who lived in West Texas, received almost the identical diagnosis at the same time, and stayed in Houston for treatment at the same time. They both got apartments, as I recall, in a complex owned by the clinic for short-term patients to live in, with their wives. Since their treatments were not debilitating, my dad and uncle both got jobs at the apartment complex as maintenance guys.

The ending to this episode was both my dad and uncle went into remission and, after a few months, both went back home and resumed their lives. That's oversimplified, but it's what I remember.

Within a couple of years, my uncle's cancer returned and he had to have a total laryngectomy, in which his voice box was removed. After that he had a permanent trachea and had to learn esophageal speech. I saw him a handful of times after that, and it was fairly remarkable how well he did with it. His new way of speaking resembled his former voice, although it was extremely "breathy" and he had to take numerous small breaths in order to speak. Again, this is oversimplified, but what I remember.

My dad continued having checkups, and in the fall of 1978, his cancer also returned. He was scheduled for a laryngectomy in November. This was during my junior year of college.

That's where the letter from my mother comes in. She tells my aunt in the letter the date of the surgery and when they will be going to Houston. There is no date on the letter, but I'm guessing it was early November, as the surgery was scheduled for Nov. 13th.

She had obviously talked to my aunt on the phone a day or so before writing the letter, as she apologizes "for the way I must have sounded." She goes on to say that she had spent most of the day crying, and had stayed in bed. According to what she told my aunt in the letter, she told my dad he was going to have to let her have a day "to fall apart."  

She went on to say she was OK now. My dad's attitude was great, she said, so she knew she was going to be OK too. He had told my mother he would learn to speak again, and would depend on his brother to help him with that. He planned to keep his business going, she said.

Since I was away at college, I was not involved in the day-to-day of this. I got my information from phone calls and also from letters she would write. I was only an hour's drive away, and I think I went home on a weekend before they went to Houston for the surgery.

What struck me in this letter was my mother telling my aunt how she needed to "fall apart" and spend the day in bed, crying. I can't adequately express to you how unlike my mother this would have been, and how hard this must have been for my father. In my mind, she always represented the height of strength, courage and optimism and I would have been shocked had I known at the time that she had spent a day in bed -- "falling apart," no less. She just wasn't the fall-apart type.

But with the wisdom that only comes from years, I now know this was probably a healthy exercise for her. She didn't know what the future held, and she was scared, so she needed some time to process. She didn't do it for days or weeks, she did it for one day. She then got out of bed and moved on with life. I know her faith sustained her.

When I shared this with Wife, and told her what my mom had done all those years ago, she simply said, "Good for her."

It's as if she knew (through some type of woman's code????) what a spouse, especially a wife, would have needed to do for herself under the circumstances.

"Huh," I replied to my wife, in a wondering manner.

The postscript to this story is the best part. My dad had the surgery as scheduled, and when the surgeon got to his voice box, he discovered he could retain a portion of one vocal cord that was not affected by the cancer. He had only a partial laryngectomy and did not have to learn esophageal speech.  His voice was raspy for the rest of his life, but he could talk naturally and clearly until the day he died, 31 years later.

I am grateful to my cousin for passing along this treasure to me. It warmed my heart and I definitely learned something from it.