Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics


Five days after the horrific shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon and President Obama’s angry response, the governor of Texas tweeted the following message on his personal Twitter feed:

Abbott after Oregon

Isn’t he cool? Aren’t Texans just total badass? Or is he publicly pandering to his NRA overlords, keeping his A-rating and victim blaming? Let’s take these in order.

Abbott has a long history of currying favor from the gun-rights crowd, even going so far as to say that he would sign any gun right legislation passed by the legislature. I guess that makes him cool. Here is a copy of him on the cover of Texas Monthly. Cool.

Abbott Texas Monthly

Texans are badasses. Unfortunately, that’s not necessarily a good thing. Texas ranks in the middle for gun deaths per capita in America (10.4/100,000) and has seen its share of both horrific mass shootings and accidents involving children over the past year. When taken as a whole, the entire South suffers as some of the highest ranking members of the gun deaths per capita club. In fact, every state south of Virginia ranks higher than the national average (10.4/100,000). I wonder if the old phrase “southern hospitality” shouldn’t be replaced with “southern hostility.”

Gun deaths per 100,000

Abbott routinely tags his tweets with the NRA hashtag. As AG, Abbott played host to the annual NRA paranoia jamboree in Houston. He signed open carry and campus carry into law at a gun range (isn’t he cool?) on the same day as a gunman opened fire on the Dallas Police HQ leading to this ironic juxtaposition on a news website:


So it should come as no surprise that Abbott blames the victims for their injuries and deaths, conveniently ignoring the fact that there were students carrying concealed who chose to wait for the police to intervene rather than embrace the “good guy with a gun” myth.

Abbott and his views will be shown, in time, to be anachronistic and wrong. For now he is just obsequious and endangering his constituents. Keep cashing the checks, Governor.



As I wait for the anger and sadness to give way to acceptance, I’m forcing myself to look for any positives I can find in this situation. The pain of Lisa’s loss is still raw, and I cannot go more than a few minutes without feeling the immediate sting again. And yet it has almost been a month since she left us. Since I know that she would want me to move forward and stop with all the maudlin and lugubrious posts, I’m penning this piece in hopes of sparking some positive thoughts.

I am thankful for the (almost) 26 years we were married. Marriage is not the honeymoon. It is a process of learning to love someone while you both grow and age. Sometimes I was at my worst, and she was at her best. She still loved me. Sometimes she was at her worst, and I was at my best. I still loved her. Sometimes we were both at our worst, but we still loved each other. Again, it is understanding, accepting, and cherishing the quirks in a personality that allows one to love that person at their worst. You also don’t go into a marriage thinking that you can change someone. We all grow as we age. Change is part of life (as I’m learning). The greatest change I experienced after marriage was the knowledge that I was part of a team, a team against any obstacle thrown in our way. I say our way because it is understood that an obstacle thrown in front of one of us was an obstacle thrown in front of us, and we were determined to overcome (or embrace) it. I counted, and until death parted us, we were married for 9,489 days (7 days short of our 26th anniversary). In that time I think I felt every emotion one can experience toward a person, some good, some bad, but all toward the goal of forging ahead against seen and unseen foes. Whether it was an economic crisis, an emotional crisis, an employment crisis, or a medical crisis, we faced it together and won. We didn’t always win the battle against our foe, but we won the war of facing it together and moving forward as a team. That’s love. That’s marriage. That was Lisa and me.

I am thankful for my children. My kids are wondrous. To experience what they have been forced to face over the past seven years, and to do so without complaint and with the ability to succeed personally, academically, and physically is astounding. Consider this recipe: Start with the fact that you are a teenager, complete with all of the insecurities and body changes associated with that time in your life. Add to that the fact that you have been told that your mother had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Add to this mixture the fact that the local doctors don’t have a plan to fight her particular disease. Now blend that with the fact that you will be moving 2,000 miles away to start school in a different part of the country because that is where the hospital with the best opportunity to fight your mother’s disease exists. Don’t forget that you will be leaving all of your friends and everything you’ve ever known.  Combine all of these ingredients in only six weeks (only allowing time to pack up your home to get to this other, strange part of the country so you can begin school on time). Now concentrate on your studies while your mother undergoes chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation, your dog suffers a potentially blinding eye injury, and your friends go on with their lives independent of you. Follow that up with a move back home for your sophomore year. The good news is that you think your mother has beaten her disease. Nine months later, having finished your academic year, you find out that your mother’s disease has returned, and you will be permanently moving back to Texas to be near the hospital and that the metastasis now prevents a cure to her disease and that she will live on chemotherapy for as long as it is effective. Are you still focusing on your studies? Are you looking ahead to college? Can you see past Friday? Time passes, and you’ve done incredibly well in school and now face college. Now you move away from home to school, away from your mother who continues to endure standard chemotherapy and clinical trials and all of their horrific, systemic side effects. You don’t want to leave, but over the course of your first three years in school you pull down a 3.5 GPA in one of the tougher, larger schools in the country. Now the worst happens, your mother dies, and you are expected to continue with your studies in your final year of college. Distracted and disheartened, you continue to excel at school, all with an eye toward graduate school. I’m sorry, but that is a recipe for disaster for many teenagers. And yet my kids continue to flourish in this bizarre reality. And they do so with genuine love and concern for each other and love and concern for me. I couldn’t be prouder.

I am thankful for my family. My father died on November 17th. It has been an incredibly difficult year. Being 2,000 miles away from home is difficult enough. To hear about the pain my father was enduring at the end was awful, and yet, it was nothing compared to what my mother, sister, and brother saw being by his bedside. There’s only so much I could do from this distance. The pain I saw, when I visited, was inhuman. And yet, both my brother and sister, reacting differently (as my children have) brought their considerable talents to bear in aiding both my father and mother. My mother found a strength I didn’t know she had, and my father stayed strong and committed to his faith to the end. Since then, my family has turned their concern and care to my and the kids. Again, it has been an incredibly difficult year. I cherish their show of concern and the love they have shown all of us.

I am thankful for my friends. These past seven years have shown me an extended ring of friends cast as far away as the U.K. and as near as next door. It is truly a testament to Lisa’s personality. I have heard from so many of you that it humbles me. I also know there is an inner circle of Lisa’s confidants that has been charged with staying in touch with me and the kids throughout this healing process. Friends have offered so much to me, but at a time when I am lost and second-guessing myself, it is hard to avail myself of their generosity. Please know it is neither my strength nor a shutting out of good friends that prevents me from asking for help; rather it is my limitation right now of not knowing what I don’t know. Someday I hope to have a better handle on things, and when that day arrives, I am confident that this circle of friends will still be there for the kids and me.

I am thankful for my job. No employer could have been kinder to me throughout this entire process. My chain of command has been nothing but supportive and eager to help. The only time I got into trouble was when I worked too many hours from home, not too few. I never wanted it to seem that I was taking advantage of the situation to get out of some work. Rather, when I did work, it was both a necessary distraction and an opportunity for me to feel that I could exert some control over my spinning life. For that and for their generosity I am extremely grateful. I don’t know where the kids and I will end up after they graduate, but I will make every effort to show my appreciation for everything my employer has done for me by attempting to remain a loyal employee.

I am thankful for my health. The past four months have been extremely difficult. I have worked from home the entire time and sat at my desk at the foot of Lisa’s bed. I have worked and eaten. The yard went to hell late in the spring, and I have not spent any time there to tend to it. In short, I’ve gained some weight being so sedentary and worried. I am now on an austerity program that would make Germany happy. I will begin to take better care of myself as it was one of the main things upon which Lisa insisted. Feeling that I needed to be here for the kids once she was gone (and for a long time after that), I will work to become a smarter eater and take better care of myself.

It still hurts. My stomach is still in knots trying to process the fact that I will never see Lisa again. Every time something happens I want to reach for my phone, to call or text her about it. God, I miss her. After writing this, I am still angry and sad, but I am thankful for the time we had together, for my children, for my family, for my friends, for my job, and for my health.


She had too many clothes

She drove like a madman

She was always running late

She was honest to a fault

She shoved her leg under me while I was sleeping

She drank Diet Coke for breakfast

She never put milk on her cereal

She put too many lights on the Christmas tree

She recited silly campfire songs

She was not perfect


It is the differences that make us interesting

It is the differences that attract us

It is the differences that can repel us

When we accept the differences in another

We call them quirks and learn to live with them

Now that she is gone, it is the quirks I miss the most

I don’t have too many clothes

I don’t drive like a madman

I’m never running late

I believe in the value of a white lie

I miss her leg under me

I now drink Diet Coke for breakfast

But I still put milk on my cereal

I don’t want to put up the Christmas tree

I miss those silly campfire songs

Because she was perfect to me.

Anger and Pain

When I held Lisa, I knew that two inches below my embrace, inside her lung, was a demon bent on her destruction. And now she’s gone. The demon won. Now all I have are pictures that can’t kiss back, photos of her long blond hair I cannot tussle; the dimples in her cheeks are now flat, photo paper and ink. I know this is the nature of all living things: we live, we die; but being three weeks out from that painful night, the shock is still palpable. God, I miss her.

I am still lost; second-guessing my every decision. “Zerrissenheit” still reigns. I have grown to hate nights and weekends. The structure of work provides comfort. But each night and weekend feels like the four walls of the house are closing in on me, and I can’t stand the silence. The television is always on or, and if not, music is filling the void once filled with her laugh. When will I be granted a good night’s sleep? 2:00 a.m. seems to have some subconscious awakening charm on my slumber. After that, the thoughts of the empty place in the bed next to me overwhelm me in the silence and the dark, and sleep eludes me.

Someone told me that I will come to appreciate all of the time we had together and no longer begrudge the time cancer stole. Speaking from experience, I trust this individual, but I’m not sure it won’t come down to my personality and not time to transform this anger. Is it the well-adjusted individual who ultimately finds peace? If so, my keel is not keeping the ship upright. And I do not think I have the personality (or capability for forgiveness) to right the ship.

Elizabeth I, to the Countess of Nottingham said, “God may forgive you, but I never can.” At this point, I cannot forgive God. Of course, we can hide behind the old analogy that we (humans) are not wise enough to see God’s grand blueprint, but right now I cannot help but to think that either there is no God (which is less painful) or there is one, but who is either capricious or lacks the omniscience attributed by humans. If I am wrong, then I will follow Maurice Maeterlinck’s advice when he said, “It is always a mistake not to close one’s eyes, whether to forgive or to look better into oneself.” I will forgive God as I look into myself. But right now the only thing inside me is anger and pain.


Shattered FutureGive sorrow words; the grief that does not speak                                                         Whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break.                                                                              Shakespeare, Macbeth, IV, iii, 209

A very dear friend of mine gave me Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s book Gift from the Sea following my wife’s September 2nd death. It was a wonderful little book and contained a German word that accurately describes my emotional state: “zerrissenheit.” It is described as “torn-to-pieces-hood.”

The thing I am learning about grief is that it does not follow a linear path. One does not travel from one emotion to the next, leaving the first entirely contained in the rearview mirror. Rather, from minute to minute, I can wander from disbelief to acceptance to anger to sadness back to disbelief. This emotional whiplash takes a physical as well as an emotional toll. While I am back at work, my mind is not. This mental “zerrissenheit” manifests itself in a lack of confidence, second-guessing, a lack of focus, and sudden confusion. I was so much more confident when Lisa was here. I check my pockets a dozen times before leaving the house to make sure I have everything I need: keys, wallet, phone, etc.. In a word, I am lost.

And it isn’t that I don’t smile or laugh. I do. But so often I find myself reaching for my phone to text or call Lisa to tell her the joke only to realize that the call will never be completed again. I am having a hard time with the concepts of “never” and “forever.” I know that someday I will be glad for the time we had, but right now I am angry over the time that has been stolen (not to mention the time wasted fighting cancer when we should have been living our lives together). “Never” and “forever” are as daunting to me as the size of the universe is to a child.

It has been two weeks now, and the house is silent. I don’t know what the future holds anymore. We are taught to plan, to prepare as we enter adulthood. I did. This is not what I planned for; this is not the future I wanted. I am alone. My best friend was stolen from me. And while she would tell me to snap out of it and start living my life, this grief-triggered “zerrissenheit” is involuntary. I miss her so much.

No Autopilot When Spiraling In


As we continue our corkscrew toward the ground, we took another turn today. My wife can no longer easily swallow, causing her to cough when taking medications. Because she is so short of breath, she cannot cough up that which she has aspirated and she begins wheezing which results in her vomiting. Because she is not eating, the only thing she vomits is green bile from her stomach. It is a vicious circle as we spiral in.

The kids are convinced now that something will happen the day I drive them back to college. Given how we have tightened the spiral, I’m not sure I disagree.

Looking outward from inside this corkscrew is disorienting. As soon as I am convinced that something has settled, the wings tilt inward still further and we spin that much faster toward the ground. But one can find focus in this spin. When I least expect it and am most ill prepared, the gravity and magnitude of the situation (essentially the finality of it all) clubs me with a mighty blow after which I find myself gasping for breath, crying and floating directionless in the air until the reality of current circumstances force me to see the spinning and rapidly approaching ground through the windscreen.

There is no peace when spiraling in. Life’s obligations and daily tasks still require our attention: the dog needs to be fed and given his meds, the laundry never stops, groceries still need to shopped for, bills still need to be paid, work still needs to be done. However, there is a certain feeling of mechanization about it all. We go through the motions of shopping, eating, dressing, sleeping, as we have all summer, but there is no soul in it. Put your seats in the upright and locked position, return your tray table to its stowed position, tighten your seatbelt tight and low around your waist. The captain has exited the aircraft and will not be returning. Cancer is now piloting the aircraft. Thank you for flying the terminally ill skies.

The insanity of the situation is that all but one of us will survive the inevitable crash. We will survive but in what condition? And as hard as this flight has been, I cannot imagine how we will carry on after we bore into the ground. And it is approaching ever faster and filling my field of view. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I cannot see it clearly, because of the blinding rage and constant tears.

Stage Whiplash


“There is not much sense in suffering, since drugs can be given for pain, itching, and other discomforts. The belief has long died that suffering here on earth will be rewarded in heaven. Suffering has lost its meaning.”                                                                                                                        Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

When Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote this in her groundbreaking 1969 book, On Death and Dying, she was, of course speaking of the patient, the person dying. In the book, she famously describes the “stages” the terminally ill patient goes through: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. The book was not meant to be considered a research study, a point she repeatedly makes. She also emphasizes that these stages may be skipped, occur concurrently or be returned to on the way to Acceptance. And yet we suffer. We all suffer.

As I watch my wife go through this process, I cannot help but realize how similar the process is for the caregiver, the family members, and the survivors. We, too, are passing back, through, over, and around these stages in our effort to understand what is happening to our loved one. My initial Denial and Anger had given way to Bargaining (“this is our new normal, we’ll take as much time as we can get”), when on any given day, I can slip easily into Depression and back to Anger only to wake up the next day after a dream in Denial. No seatbelt or ABS brake can prevent that whiplash.

I cannot imagine a day when I have reached Acceptance because Kübler-Ross also wrote:

 “The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.”

Am I grieving already? Yes. Am I confusing the “stages” and grieving? Perhaps. All I know is that each day (and often times several times within a day) brings a new emotion for which I am unprepared, I thought I had made peace with, or I anticipated would bring me peace, only to find myself confused and lost again. And one of the worst emotions I carry is that I know that while I am suffering the whiplash of these stages, I am not the one dying, I am not the one suffering or actually going through Kübler-Ross’s stages of the terminally ill. As she also wrote, “Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion of death.” Suffering has lost its meaning because we all still suffer.

Aurora Verdict

Remembering the Victims

George Orwell, in Politics and the English Language, wrote that “Political language – and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists – is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” And so it is with the concept of the death penalty, for me. I realize this is a personal issue, not unlike abortion (ironic how much  the two have in common) and elicit powerful emotions on both sides of the debate.

Today, the jury in Colorado could not agree on a penalty for the shooter in the July 20, 2012, Aurora theater shooting which claimed the lives of Jonathon Blunk, age 26; AJ Boik, age 18; Jessie Childress, age 29; Gordon Cowden, age 51; Jessica Ghawi, age 24; John Larimer, age 27; Matt McQuinn, age 27; Micayla Medek, age 23; Veronica Moser-Sullivan, age 6; Alex Sullivan, age 27; Alexander Teves, age 24; and Rebecca Wingo, age 32 and injured another 70 resulting in a default penalty of life in custody without the possibility of parole. The toll might have been significantly higher had his 100 round drum magazine not jammed on his assault rifle or his boobie-trapped apartment detonated as planned.

And yet, with all of that, I still do not feel that the death penalty would have been appropriate. For one thing, it triggers an immediate and almost mandatory appeal. Many of the objections rendered by the defense during the trial were simply for the record in order to reference for the appeal process. The thought of making the families go through another trial is sickening. While time may scab over some of our horrible memories, I do not believe in “closure” and I do not believe these scabbed over wounds can ever heal. The likelihood of an appeal for a penalty of life without parole is significantly reduced.

Furthermore, there is ultimately no “relief” in a lethal injection for the families. There would have been no pain during his execution, no agony, no prehistoric carnal retribution, if that’s what you were looking for. No eye for an eye. The people in the theater suffered, those that died suffered, those that were injured suffered. Those that were uninjured were terrified. No one there will ever be the same. Ever.

In fact, we treat the worst criminals better than we treat the terminally I’ll. The shooter would be given a gentle drug to put him to sleep and then another to stop his heart. As I type this, I am sitting at my desk watching my wife suffer the end effects of breast cancer as it seeks to conquer her lungs, liver, pancreas, abdominal wall, and probably brain. She struggles for each breath and there is nothing she can do about it. Where is her dignity? Where is her justice? Where is her gentle drug cocktail?

No, I do not believe in the death penalty. I believe this jury got the penalty correct. His penalty should match that of the survivors and remaining family members who have to carry on each day without their loved ones or with life-changing injuries or with the PTSD associated with that event three years ago. They too got life without parole. Orwell was right. You cannot make murder respectable.



Yesterday was the world’s first chance to see all of the major GOP candidates for president on the stage (at two different times due to the sheer number of them) respond to puff ball questions from Fox News anchors. It was as far from a debate as The Bachelor is from dating. In fact, it could probably be argued that The Bachelor is closer to an actual debate.

Donald Trump did what he does best, steamroll interviewers and responds in a way to puff himself up. Every other candidate did what typical politicians do: ignore the question and reply with canned responses that poll well but provide no actual insight or solutions.

It seemed to have been sponsored by Facebook (and looked like speed dating sponsored by Facebook), but given the number of candidates and the one minute response time it should have been sponsored by Twitter. The bumper sticker length responses would have fit perfectly into a tweet and the entire “debate” could have been held online, complete with hashtags: #fatpig, #siamesetwins, #obamaclintondoctrine, #God, #defundObamacare, #myparentswerepoor, #I’mmoreconservativethantheothers, etc., etc..

Perhaps the next “debate” will be sponsored by Joel Osteen or the NRA. Wouldn’t that be fun. Except then too, we would be bereft of insight and solutions.

A Vierordt Summer

7617471_sIn 1868, German physician Karl von Vierordt published a book on his experiments into the psychology of time perception. In it included what became known as Vierordt’s Law “a robust phenomenon in time estimation research that has been observed with different time estimation methods.” Essentially, it states that “short” amounts of time tend to be overestimated and “long” amounts of time tend to be underestimated. This has been the basis of our summer. The clock has barely moved while the calendar has flown.

The kids are heading back to college in 20 days. These interminable hours belie the fact that they have been home since mid-May and have known the awful fact that Lisa will no longer be fighting this awful disease. They are terrified to leave her knowing it may be the last time they ever see her. I tell them they must go, they cannot forestall their own futures, they must continue on their own paths. It is the truth. I also know that the routine of school, with friends around them, and classes to occupy their time will distract them from the cruelty the universe is throwing at them 150 miles away.

Sitting here day after day at my desk watching my wife slowly wither away in bed; watching my son and daughter sit with their mother doing the same as me is heartbreaking. No amount of preparation can prepare you for the monotony and sheer terror of watching someone, anyone, much less someone you love, slowly suffocate to death. Cancer is a suicidal disease bent on killing its host at the cost of its own existence. Watching it happen with no more arrows in the quiver is akin to watching Captain Smith walk into the wheelhouse of the Titanic, lock the doors and wait for the ship to sink. With no more options, one seeks the course of action with the most dignity. Don’t get me started on whether there should be better options for better dignity.

Sleep used to be easy. I could roll over, shut off the world and be out in a minute, and wake up in the morning (if not refreshed) ready to go. Now sleep is like a cruel joke. I am exhausted from running all of the errands of the day, worrying about Lisa and the kids and watching a clock that does not move but terrified of a calendar that will not stop because I know that each day that passes brings me closer to a day I know is coming and one I dare not consider. Lisa does not sleep well now. She wakes me because she cannot breathe well. I give her meds and turn up the oxygen concentrator. I rub her back, hoping she will calm down, that her heart rate will return to “normal” and her body will be lulled into a false belief that it is generating enough oxygen to fuel the system. If I’m successful I’m awake. My mind goes to dark places so I read. It usually takes a good hour to flush the dark thoughts in order for me to attempt sleep again. Sometimes this happens two or three times a night. The clock stands still. The calendar whirls.

Vierordt had no idea how easy his experimentation could have been had he simply gone to any intensive care unit at any hospital and found the waiting room and talked to the family members and friends of the terminally I’ll patients. They would have told him how long minutes last and how quickly weeks fly.


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