Commentary on current events and other topics that you did not ask for.
Monday, June 17, 2013
A new blog, This Crowded Skin, showed up on the list of referring URLs today. I checked it out and see that the writer is a woman from a location in British Columbia that does not appear on Google maps or Mapquest (her profile does say "almost the middle of nowhere").
A quick skim of recent posts finds her in the early stages of learning violin. She also kindly lists this humble blog on her side bar for which I am very grateful. If I were a more technically accomplished blogger, I would do the same.
For the past week or so I've been processing my own reactions to my friend Mel's death. As one of his caretakers, I could not help but see myself in that same position. I felt guilty even thinking of myself and mostly put those thoughts aside in favor of my immediate tasks of caring for Mel. But the image of my own death wasn't very far below the surface, especially now, after the fact. If I live as long as Mel, something similar will happen to me in the next two decades. And there's no guarantee I will live that long. Maybe I'll last longer. Regardless of the timing, my number will come up and I will make the transition from life to death, just like everyone
I can't hope for a better death than Mel's. Despite three previous cancers and the infirmities of age, he lived a long, full life. At age 82 he went from from diagnosis to dead in under two months. During most of that time he was alert, aware, out and about and with friends and family. He had his moments of frustration and anger but they were few and he never lost his sense of humor although his physical activity became increasingly more limited. His real decline came in his last two weeks and even then he was able to get out a bit. Maggie and I joined him and two of his long-time friends for dinner six days before he died. His final collapse took place over four days. Mel was never without company in those days and was with his daughter and Maggie in his last moments.
Mel's death is my first hands on experience with death. I've always been conscious of death and have experienced my share over the years but Mel is the first person I have cared for in death. It's perhaps the most intimate experience I've had with another person outside of sex. It was hard and emotionally draining. work. Definitely frightening. I found it difficult to see my old friend so helpless and was ever afraid that I would add further to the indignities of his helplessness.
Despite all my fear and sadness, caring for Mel is one of the most positive things I have done in life. I can't think of a greater gift than caring for a dying person. I was not the only caregiver and hardly the most involved. Mel's family was there and had wonderful assistance from hospice care. All of us were simply trying to make a difficult passage more comfortable. I am honored to have had the opportunity.
I posted this video earlier this year but after loosing three friends in a 10 week period, it bears repeating.
My friend Mel Swartz died this morning just after midnight. We knew this day was coming but today was much sooner than we expected. Mel died at home over the past four days. His son and daughter cared for him with hospice assistance. Maggie and I helped out. It is a humbling experience.
Mel was a man of many talents. He was a story-teller, pioneering lawyer in Phoenix, author, powder man on a blasting team, wild fire fighter and prospector, to name a few. In the face of cancer and other adversities in his later years, Mel never lost his sense of humor or optimism.
Most of all he was a good friend. A man whose life enriched mine.
Unsolicited Opinion entered blogtopia on this day in 2004. No one asked, of course. But that was--and still is--the point I did not have to wait for anyone to ask or give me permission to publish. All I had to do was think, write and post. It's been that way for nine years and will keep on as long as I have something to say.
Content may vary.
Thank you to all who have read, commented, linked and otherwise contributed to this humble blog.
The idyllic trajectory of long-term prosperity that was emblematic of America in the 50's and 60's, a place where you could earn a decent living, raise a family and retire with some security and dignity, has been at risk for decades. That's no secret to anyone who pays attention to economic and public policy. Still, the idea has persisted. But a quote in a Washington Post article about a company ending its fixed pension plan for employees shows me how little is expected any more.
ILM employees are taking the pension fund’s demise in stride. “To
be honest, I am surprised that the plan was not frozen a while back,”
said Traci Barber, 42, a service center manager who has been with ILM
nearly 13 years. “I was surprised when I took this job that it even
offered a pension plan.”
In the end, even pensions are no absolute guarantee. But a well-managed, properly funded pension system is more of a guarantee than millions of us managing small individual retirement savings (assuming we have any at all) in an array of financial instruments, all replete with fees to enrich the bankers.
T.S. Eliot called April "the cruelest month". April 2013 certainly lived up to that reputation for me and even came with a follow-up kick in early May. I previously wrote about the death of my co-worker April 1. Turns out that was only the first death notice.
Not long after my co-worker died, my friend Mel was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that had metastasized to his lung. His prognosis is six to 12 months. Mel is almost 83 and beat several cancers in his 60's so he is pretty mellow about his fate. He calls himself lucky. I am lucky to have known him for the past nine years. He's been good company and, as a retired attorney, a valuable and sometimes iconoclastic legal resource. Had I not met Mel, I may not have ended up in Olympia. His son's connection to this town that brought me here. Maggie and I are taking the opportunity to enjoy his company while we can.
That was April.
May began with another death. Ken Schwilk's died May 8. Ken is a fellow Veteran For Peace, a charter member of the Rachel Corrie VFP Chapter 109 here in Olympia and Camera 1 on the studio crew for the chapter's cable access television program, "The Veterans Hour". Ken served in Vietnam in the late 60's. Here in Olympia he has been a consistent and vocal advocate for peace. I am honored to have served with Ken as a veteran for peace.
Ken's death was sudden; most of us learned of a possible cancer diagnosis only in late April. I saw him mid-March and can't say that I noticed anything at all. Maggie thought less color maybe. He performed in an annual musical production in February. And now he is gone at 68.
Aside from Vietnam and VFP, Ken and I had the shared experience of living in Charlottesville and Richmond, Virginia. As a regional manager his territory covered the southern portions of Piedmont Virginia where I grew up. We both knew the routes and landscape of that region.