Random equations in the mathematics of life

Posts tagged ‘the Scientist’

Dividing By Zero

8109384822_0a654b9dd4_bSo 2013 just started, and it’s got me thinking a lot about death.

No, I’m not suicidal.  And no, as occasionally tempting though it may be, I’m not killing anyone else, either.

But death has been around a lot lately, and it’s got me thinking about my own mortality.

My father-in-law has terminal cancer, and just found out that it’s spread throughout his body.  After a lifetime of smoking, drinking, along with a steadfast refusal to eat healthy, we kind of assumed that he would forego any aggressive treatment at this point.  It may buy him a few months, but at what cost to his quality of life?  Last time he was in treatment, he was told in no uncertain terms that if he chose to keep smoking and drinking, that it would kill him.  No ifs, ands, or buts.  He lit up another cigarette, swigged another beer, and flipped a metaphorical bird to anyone to challenged him.

So you can imagine our surprise when we were informed that he’d decided to pursue radiation and chemo.  For what purpose?  Reality may have set in, along with the fear of imminent death, but it’s too little, too late.  The cancer, at this point, has spread too far and been fed too generously.  There is no chance this time, of wiping it out.  The only possibility would be to delay the inevitable for a short time, leaving him sick and possibly unable to care for himself.  The ultimate slap in the face to my mother-in-law, who has spent her entire life caring for others.

His cognitive functioning is now impaired, though, so whether that decision is legally viable or not is certainly up for discussion.  (Not by me, however!)  It should be interesting to see how this plays out, though.

January also brought about the first anniversary of Jedi’s death.  Jedi was a good friend of the Ambassador, and the waves of grief that went through our house radiated for months after.  In the year since the smile of an amazing fifteen year old kid went out, the community has pulled together in little ways.  It makes me wish that the positive ripples could happen without the tragedy to poke the water.

My health issues, for now, are nowhere near debilitating or even serious.  They’re manageable though annoying, and occasionally cause me to change plans on the fly.  But what about later?  What about that eventual time when my own kids will be waiting for phone calls after I see the doctor, wondering what my choices will be and how it’ll affect their own lives?

The Scientist has a phobia of aging/dying, so any conversations about that sort of thing tend to be shut down very fast.  Years ago, in a medical ethics class, we had to draft and sign Power of Attorney and Living Will documents.  He signed them as my executor, but didn’t want to discuss the details.  I let it go, but even now he doesn’t want to hear anything about “when the time comes”.

But the fact is that at some point in our lives, that time does come.  And while no one can know what the future holds, the odds point to me being the one to have more serious health issues first, as I have some impairments now.  What to do?  When I started to explain my feelings on this, some twenty years after my initial foray into it, the conversation was shut down just as fast.  He simply doesn’t want to hear it.

I am a staunch believer in the power of choice.  I support assisted suicide for those who make the conscious, cognitively sound choice to choose when their life will end.  Suicide, when linked to depression, is one of the most painful decisions with horrific ramifications for those left behind.  But when a person’s quality of life and physical wellbeing is failing, and they make a well thought-out choice to take their leave on their own terms, I don’t really see how the trauma would be that much worse.

Death is never an easy topic to discuss.  Whether it’s our own, or that of someone we love, the loss and heartache isn’t something readily faced by most people.  But for me, I would rather not be a burden, be it physically or financially or emotionally, on the people I love.  My choice, my conscious, carefully-considered choice, is to avoid that mess.  Let me clear in this: I am not depressed.  I have no wish to harm myself or take my own life right now, or even any time soon.  I’m talking about several years down the road, when time and a life well lived has taken its toll on my physical body to the point that it breaks down.  When my dignity and my joy of existence falter, it is time for me to bid my loved ones farewell, and check out.

I fully realize that my choices are controversial, to say the least.  Many religions believe that a deity is supposed to choose my time of death for me; that it isn’t my decision, but theirs.  Really?  Well, what if the deity had decided years ago, but some heroic doctor cheated it and saved me?  Isn’t that flouting the decision as well?  I know, I know…the counter to that is that if the deity had truly decided, then the heroic doctor would’ve failed.  But I don’t necessarily buy that.  Modern medicine has extended our lives long past the end of our quality of life.  The almighty doctors can treat a disease to keep our shells intact for a while, but our souls stop being viable longer before.

I choose to be done with my physical shell when my soul is ready to fly away.  As a believer in reincarnation, I figure I’ll be back anyhow, so it isn’t that big a deal.

We treat death as if it is a horrific thing to be avoided and feared at all costs, rather than just the next step in our cycle.  I refuse to do this.  While I have no desire to have lunch with the Grim Reaper any time soon, I also have no desire to sit outside my body as a spirit, just waiting for someone to finally stop trying to scrape together a few more minutes.  When the time comes that I make the decision, I will share it with a few trusted people.  I will gather my friends and family to celebrate my life, and I will convey the love I have for each and every person I value.

But after that, I will peacefully make my way into the next realm.  I will take the hand of those who have gone before, I will kiss the ones I leave behind, and smiling with the joy of a life well-lived, I will go quietly into that good night.

What if A doesn’t imply B?

This weekend, The Scientist and I wandered off through the western part of the state.  He needed to hit a few specific geocaches (Click here.) and Alejandro needed a good workout.

To give an overview of what caching weekends can be like when you’re going for specific ones, this is the deal — we drove around 675 miles in under 40 hours to hit a mere 20 caches.  Yeah, it’s crazy for sure.  But it’s also a lot of driving.  It gives us good one-on-one conversation time, but it is not exactly strenuous.  To balance this, a few hikes are thrown in for waterfalls photos, virtual caches on the top of Mount Mitchell, and other such reasons.  For normal people, these are quick little jaunts (the two we did were each about 1.5 miles total), with terrain over which you need to pay attention, but not excessively so.  But as we all know, I’m not exactly normal.

For me, these hikes were extremely challenging.  I had to go slowly, looking down the whole time to carefully consider each step.  The Scientist was poised to catch me should I slip/trip/fall, and I did all of those.  I beat the snot out of my knee, for which I will pay dearly for the rest of this week, but it was well worth it for the photos I got, and for the sense of pride and accomplishment that I felt doing something “normal” for a change.

That being said, one very abnormal aspect of my attempt at normalcy, is that I hate meeting people along the trails.  Normal people move faster than I do, so I just stop and let them by.  I make a joke about it, smile, and hope it just ends there.  But sometimes people stop to tell me how “brave” I am, or how “inspiring” I am, and how they admire me for doing what I’m doing.  This is so incredibly disconcerting to me, not because they’re being nice, which I appreciate, but because they could not be more wrong about me.

People, I am not brave, I am not noble, and I sure as hell am not worthy of being called an “inspiration” to anyone.  My reasons for doing stuff like hiking up the side of a damn mountain stem from nowhere else but this: I know what is coming down the pike for me, and I am not ready to face it.  I don’t feel like it’s denial, because I do know that it’s inevitable, and I have already started to peruse the “everyday” wheelchairs.  However, I am rebelling against that which will be, to me, a catastrophic loss of my sense of self.  My independence is imperative to my self-concept, and that wheelchair, no matter how cool, threatens it.  And yes, I am well aware of all of the platitudes that remind me that it isn’t who I am, that millions of people use wheelchairs and are independent.  Please don’t waste my time or yours by retyping them.  Because yes, while I can be independent, I will lose even more of what I used to love so much.  I used to go for 10 mile bike rides just because it was a nice day.  I used to hike in the woods for hours to find the right tree in which I would then perch with the book I’d brought.  Playing softball until I was sweaty and grimy and sore was a favorite way to spend a Saturday afternoon.  All of those are slipping away, and I’m just not in a place of acceptance yet.

But in the meantime, I’d rather be honest with myself and others.  I’m not anything you might think on first glance.  I’m just a flawed, occasionally bitter and resentful, stubborn pain in the ass who isn’t ready to give up her life just yet.

A perfect square

We had a phenomenal weekend in NOLA.  I paid dearly for the physical exertion, but that was completely to be expected.  Once I accepted the fact that I would pretty much always be in some level of pain (unless I was drugged to the gills, of course!), things got a lot easier to handle.

My stress level with work has been sky high with new deadlines and the transitional shift in job responsibilities.  Unfortunately, there has been some peripheral stress going on too, compounding everything else.  My heart and soul took a few serious hits, but I was determined not to let them break me, and they haven’t.  I’m still standing up and recovering, and will be for a while.  That’s just the way grieving and healing works: it’s a process, not a light switch, as I have told the kids on occasion.  That said, I wish I had some way to speed it up.  I don’t particularly want to face the emotions, the hurt, and the work it takes to rebuild right now.

For those reasons, this weekend was important to me.  I wanted to spend some time with my friends, to cut loose one night on Bourbon Street, to celebrate the boost in confidence my self-image has found lately, and to spend some one on one time with Alejandro as well.  In short, the whole thing was a raging success on all counts.  If you’re bored and would like to see some of the evidence, it can be found on Flickr, as usual.  The four of us had so much fun, laughing and talking together, exploring the city, seeing some new stuff and some stuff we remembered from prior trips.

I was profoundly grateful to the Silent One, as she has been with me step for step in the latest emotional train wreck.  Without her, this whole process would’ve taken much longer.  She has walked the exact same path that I’m on right now, so she was able to offer by turn, empathy, snark, hugs, tissues, and whatever else I needed at the time.  She is one of those people in my life who remains, without fail, one of my closest friends.  If I had a wish for all the good people in this world, it would be to have a friend like her.  In the twelve or so years that we’ve been friends, we’ve never snarked at or fought with each other.  She could call me right now and say, “I need you here” and I would be packing a bag before I hung up the phone.  The cool thing is that I know without a doubt that if I called her with the same plea, she would do the same.

We did our first shot together on Saturday night to the list of things we decided to toast.  The most important part of it?  “To second chances, icy roads, butter, and Ted Williams.”  That, above all, says everything there is to say about my life right now.

Already planning for next year’s return trip…anyone who wants to join us is welcome!

On a mobius strip

I kinda feel like the ant, walking on August and Johann’s famous toy.  There’s really no beginning or ending to my world, and I’m never really sure when I’m “done,” or even if there is such a thing as being “done.”  My job contributes to this, as even when we send one test cycle to print, we are already in the midst of processing the previous one’s data and starting to create the upcoming one.  Many moms feel like this as well, when faced with piles of neatly folded, clean laundry, only to turn and find a child with a stained shirt in hand.  Same goes for cabinets full of clean dishes, with a dirty plate slipped onto the counter.

I’ve felt what could almost be described as a sense of panic at this realization, the dawning of the idea that it might truly never end.  When you have kids, you sign on to care for them for 20ish years, and that’s totally cool with me.  No matter what mistakes I’ve made, or decisions I’ve regretted, that is one that I have never second-guessed.  If I had to do my life over again, I would change a lot of it.  But that?  No way.  If I knew that making certain choices would get me my kids again, I’d jump in with both feet.  It never bothered me to be in the midst of that chaos and stress, because I knew it was finite.  At first, they’re totally dependent on you; you do literally everything.  As they grow, the balance slowly shifts until they not only can care for themselves, but want to care for themselves.  So on the path to their independence, I find myself walking nearly parallel to them as I reach for my own.  As they leap into the adventures of their own desires, I will get that same chance.  After going from my parents’ house to college, to marriage, my life will finally be my own.

Or will it?  My mother’s health is declining, and there’s already enough guilt flying around to pave a highway.  Having been dragged kicking and screaming through parochial school and the shackles of Catholicism, being selfish was beaten out of me at an early age, to the point that I started to see my own health slip before dealing with my own needs.  I’ve gotten better at resolving that particular character flaw, but the guilt weighs heavily.  My mother’s increasing dependence on her children wavers between genuine need and carefully crafted manipulation.  (Interesting that while being selfish was a mortal sin for us, my parents were experts in the art of their own gratification.)  Unfortunately, my sister bears the brunt of this, as she is the favored child and the oldest, not to mention being a nurse.  My mother has little use for me unless there is a purpose for it, and then I’m her best buddy.  But my sister is the one called at all hours of the day and night for everything from  something bleeding to she can’t find her reading glasses.  I have scratched and clawed my way to where I can back away a little, and prioritize my own family first, but my sister hasn’t.  I feel for her, in that her stress level is sky high all the time, but it frustrates me to see her neglecting vital aspects of her life simply because she is ruled by my mother’s intricately woven, guilt-ridden remarks.

So now I wonder what will happen at the point when I reach my own familial finish line.  As I triumphantly reach to embrace my freedom, is it going to be yanked back like Charlie Brown’s football?  And to what extent will I allow that to happen?  No way to tell, of course.  Who knows what will transpire between now and then?  But it does weigh on my mind sometimes.  The idea that I would be trapped here, stuck indefinitely in a life I resent, makes it all the  harder to trudge through the days.  I know there are those, much better humans than I could ever aspire to be, who would relish the intrinsic spiritual value of fulfilling that familial duty.  I’m just not there, and after the way things have been in my past, I don’t myself ever even coming close.

I suppose, to a point, I also worry about the Scientist and me.  There are days when I’m pretty sure he will choose to remain here when I move to the islands.  His own father’s health is failing, and I’m not sure how self-sufficient his mom would be if he dies.  Plus, he is incredibly sensitive to the heat, much preferring the cooler temperatures that my islands don’t experience.  On the flip side, what if he does decide to fly the coop?  Do we sentence ourselves and each other to a life of celibacy, without romantic entanglements?  At this point in life, I am totally fine with it on my side, but I worry about what it does to him.  The last thing I want to do is deny him happiness, but sometimes I feel like he’s trapped in his own version of this never-ending conundrum.  He wants the happily-ever-after with me, and that isn’t going to happen. Not like it does in the fairy-tales.  I feel like I will wind up hurting him no matter what, whether we stay together or not.  Times like these, I wish I could see the future to know what path would be best.

As I can’t, I suppose for now, I will try to keep my balance as best I can, as I walk the never ending spiral.

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