Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Month: November, 2015

Twenty-Eight That Never Was


Twenty-eight that never was

A life cut short in America because

A monster got his hands on a gun

No one stopped to wonder why

The troubled man needed to buy

One thousand rounds of ammunition


They gathered together for the midnight show

A happy crowd but no one could know

The monster was there because he’d been shunned

Twelve lives were lost

Countless families were tossed

Into the realm of the perpetually stunned


The monster had planned and carefully mapped

His apartment to be boobytrapped

But the neighbor did not open the door

Thankfully, his gun jammed

An unforeseen hole in his plan

In an effort to kill many more


Now the monster’s in prison

And some make it their mission

To fight for the legacies of those lost

Grief knows no sense of time

We go through life in pantomime

Knowing a gun culture’s true cost


Beautiful Jessi will never get older

That green shawl wrapped around her shoulder

We celebrate her birthday alone this November

She was smart, she was clever

She is lost to us forever

But this is how we choose to remember:


Thanks to Sandy and Caren and so many others

Too many brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers

Please know the we’ve only started to begin

Jessi’s message is clear

And the people will eventually hear

That in the end, love will win


Happy birthday, Jessi

My Shifting Memory


‘Tis in my memory lock’d,

And you yourself shall keep the key of it.

Shakespeare, Hamlet, I, iii, 85

In an episode of The West Wing, Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman experiences a breakthrough in his repressed, post-traumatic stress disordered memory when he realizes that the sound of music reminds him of sirens following his being shot during an assassination attempt on the president. Pleased with himself, but wary of any ongoing associations, he asks his therapist why he shouldn’t be worried. The therapist, while packing up his belongings at the end of the long session, replies simply, “Because we get better.”

This scene reminds me that while time goes on, if we’re lucky and listening, we understand ourselves a little better each day. So it is with my grief and the grief of my children following my wife’s (and their mother’s) death 80 days ago. We seem to have undergone, while no one was looking, a transition in grieving. We have all felt it and didn’t know why we were being buffeted by our loss differently than before. No longer are we, exclusively, thinking of the night Lisa died or the days and weeks leading up to that day. Rather, because of daily life, we see the future and are having a similarly difficult time grappling with the concepts of never seeing Lisa again and that lasting forever. “Never” and “forever” dominate our thoughts now.

I don’t know where any of this falls on the great wheel of grieving, and I don’t care. I find the entire Elizabeth Kübler-Ross paradigm, as presented in popular culture, flawed. I do not see it as a linear progression, while acknowledging it was never intended to be. However, society seems to think that you go cleanly from one phase to the next on your way to eventual acceptance and a return to “normal.” Instead, I find that through each step of grieving, as we did in our various phases of Lisa’s illness, we establish a new normal each day. Some days string along neatly with the previous while others strike us as different. However, each day presents us with what we consider to be normal. We get up, we shower, we go to work or school. When we repeat this structure enough, it becomes our “normal.” When our thoughts focus on a specific concept of grieving, that too becomes our “normal.” And so, we each seem to have transitioned to the difficult process of understanding and accepting “never” and “forever.” That is not to say that we cannot, at a moment’s notice recall the last night or last few days, but the details are becoming fuzzy around the edges. No longer can I recall the names of all of the medications on which Lisa was dependent at the end. I can recall their color but not their names.

This transition to a new normal also carries with it significant guilt. If I can no longer recall the names of the medications, which were so important to her comfort and survival, doesn’t that, by extension, mean that I am slowly forgetting Lisa? When details fade, it portends an overall and irrational fear that all will fade. When I think of Lisa now, the first thing I think of is not her death or even her illness, but her smile and her laugh. This reordering of thought worries all of us. The mind is an amazing thing, and we carry memories in our mind the way we think we recollect the actual event having unfolded. And what was critically important to me might not have been important to either of the kids, while something so critical to them might have escaped me and faded in my mind before it settled into theirs. This is another form of guilt. How can I not find the important events in my children’s lives important enough to remember?

Memories are ethereal and, ultimately, shapeable. Just as witnesses to an accident fail to make reliable reporters, so too, I find, that our memories morph into something we can easily recall. And each time we recall that memory we recall the memory shaped in our mind, no longer the actual event. Over time, the recollection of the actual event fades, and we can only recall our individually shaped memory. Perhaps that is why I can no longer recall all of the medications. My memory is being reshaped. I would like to think that Lisa has had a hand in reshaping my memory. Over time, perhaps, she will reshape my memory to no longer feel the horrible pain of her loss. It is locked in my memory, and she has the key.

Simplicity Fatigue


There must be a term to describe simplicity fatigue, that feeling you get when your Uncle Know-it-all posts something on Facebook or Twitter which stuns you into open-mouthed disbelief at their lack of a fundamental understanding of a situation or their simplistic, childlike solution to the problem. Fatigue occurs after seeing “solutions” like this posted repeatedly by simplistic, linear-thinking people. Let us face facts. The problems facing our state, country and world are not simple. There are no more low-hanging fruit. To assume that there is a simple solution to a complex situation should invite derision. The mind-numbingly simplistic solutions I hear to these complex issues make me shake my head and fear for my children’s future. I’m not saying I have the solution, but I know enough to look beyond the basic. Politicians, who, with access to intelligence and reporting should know better, play to the simple-minded in the public for support of dangerous, short-sighted solutions.

Gun violence prevention is not an easy problem to solve. ISIS is not an easy development to understand. Neither is Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, or Israel. Or race relations, curing cancer, or parsing different religions. But to assume that there is a simple solution to all of the myriad complications within a given issue is feeble minded at best and dangerous at worst. The inability of most of the public to see more than one chess move ahead is frightening. I would worry about these people moving more than one Twister move ahead without causing bodily injury to themselves. Some of them should wear helmets.

But there is a fatigue that builds up over time reading comments to news articles online or in some cases the news article itself, never mind trying to follow the logic some display on Facebook, Twitter or some other social media. In some cases, they would be hysterically funny if they weren’t so deadly serious. And I’m not talking about grammar. That’s a discussion for an entirely different day. I’m talking about the rabid, linear “thinker” who cannot possibly understand the nuances of a given situation enough to rationally attempt to apply Occam’s razor.

Perhaps it is the fact that I’m still grieving the loss of my wife and father. Perhaps it is the downcast mindset I wake with each day because of this. But the social media fatigue I feel right now because of these linear thinking people makes me want to walk away from the computer, turn off the television and go read a book. And then I think of my children. If I walk away, who will fight for them? If I take a step back from any activism I engage in, are there those who will take up the slack? If decisions are made by those who show up, what right do I have to abstain and then complain? I need a way to regroup, recharge, and replenish in order to keep engaged. Perhaps turning away from it all for a while is the solution. I just hope there are enough like-minded people to carry on without me for a while.



In light of the terrible attacks in Paris, Beirut, Syria, Iraq, and the 88 who are killed with a gun in America every day, I am reminded of the quote from Carl Sagan regarding our pale, blue dot:

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

Wrestling the Unseeable

When Lisa was suffering the horrific, barbaric, debilitating effects of chemotherapy, first via standard treatments and then later clinical trials, there was nothing I could do to alleviate her pain. I was constantly chasing the speeding eight ball trying to understand the side effects of her treatment, knowing all the while that I was helpless to mitigate them. The best I could do was to be with her. In seven years of treatment, I never missed an appointment or treatment with her. I was where I needed to be, by her side, as her husband and her friend. In truth, it was all I could do for her. Unfortunately, we wrestled the unseeable and lost.

Now she’s gone forever, and I’m still helpless to alleviate anyone’s pain or suffering. This time, it is my children who suffer as they try to come to terms with losing their mother. It is as if Lisa’s cancer continues to punish my family. The bad dreams at night and the painful realizations in the light of day are both beyond my ability to ease. I’m tired of losing to cancer. All I can offer them is loving words, long distance hugs, and a virtual shoulder.

At the party we held in Lisa’s honor after she died, the kids and I each gave short speeches. Cameron stated in his that, while Lisa had died, cancer had not beaten her, she had taken the bastard with her. Unfortunately, I think he overstated it a bit because he, his sister and I are still suffering from cancer’s destructive forces, this time in the form of grief. I continue to wrestle the unseeable and lose.

Thanksgiving (or Fortunate Enough to Hurt)

45604227_mIf you’re lucky, once in a lifetime a love comes along that shakes you to the very center of your being. If you are lucky enough to have been afflicted with such a love, you must acknowledge that one result will be that time will speed up. There is a phenomenon known as Vierordt’s Law, which states that short-term time is overestimated and long-term time is underestimated. In short, days seem to last incredibly long and years fly by. This can be best summed up in an example. When the kids were first born, everyone we met told us to enjoy these times because time would quickly pass. At the time, all I wanted was one good night’s sleep. That was 21 years ago, and I finally understand what those wise people meant.

Now I suffer from another phenomenon, hiraeth, which is a Welsh word meaning “homesickness for a place you can never return to.” It is when you lose that special person that these two phenomena fuse in a pain we simply call grief. Time has slipped away, and we cannot go back to that happier, simpler time. It is simplistic to suggest that one has a choice to appreciate the time spent with that great love or to begrudge the time stolen by disease. To choose the former is to ignore the heart-wrenching hiraeth felt by the loss. To select the latter is to ignore the joy of a lifetime spent in Vierordt’s miasma. Rather, it is reasonable to expect to experience both options (often within the same day). To acknowledge both the joys spent with a great love and the pain of their loss is the price of having such a great love. To easily overcome such a loss indicates that the love was not as interwoven into your soul as you thought. To find the loss debilitating at times means a genuine, deep love and an equally devastating loss.

And so, today I must give thanks for both the time I had and the pain I feel now because I now know I cannot have had one without the other without preceding her in death.

There was a time when I was alone and happy to be so. At least I thought I was happy. What I was was lonely and determined that I didn’t need anybody. High school friends were off doing things I was not comfortable doing (drinking, drugs) and I was unwilling to give up that kind of self-control.

Now I find that I am lonely and determined that I do need people. However, after spending a lifetime eschewing friendship as an unnecessary protuberance of my streamlined and happy life, I find myself without friends when I need them most. I have many acquaintances, genuine and sincere, but no friends. It is my own doing and based on the platform that I had married my best friend so any more friends would be superfluous. Besides, I was not bright enough or socially sophisticated enough to handle more than one friend. Now she is gone, and I am both alone and lonely, left to my thoughts and memories. I miss her so much. And I acknowledge that I must suffer this great pain because I have such wonderful thoughts and memories.

To all of my acquaintances, I wish you a happy Thanksgiving and hope you appreciate, most importantly, your family and friends. Thanksgiving is a day to appreciate those who have given you so much, especially love.

Cold Heartless Steel

Minding my own business

Sitting here in the dark

I hear the children playing

I feel so exposed at times like these

The light goes on in the bedroom

I can see the shadows of the children’s steps

They pull the draw open

Their eyes widen as they look at me

The older one picks me up

I can tell I am heavier than he thought

I am afraid of what I might do.

Why was I left alone with the children?

Where are their parents?

Don’t point me like that, I’m saying. Run!

“Don’t worry,” the older one tells his sister

My familiar roar explodes in the room

I am racing the small girl as we both fall to the floor

Screams follow

Life spreads out into the carpet

Lives are altered and ended

Don’t blame me

I had to pass through an adult’s hands to end up here

I did what I was made to do


I Hate This Life


The bell strikes one. We take no note of time                                                             But from its loss.                                                                                                                                 – Edward Young, Night Thoughts. Night I, l. 55, 1742.

I hate this life. In fact, it is “life” only in name. I continue to inhale and exhale and my heart continues to beat, but I really only exist. The day begins with my alarm at 4 am. I open my eyes to the empty space in bed where Lisa used to sleep. I get ready for work and feed Delbow, whose pancreatitis and pneumonia are being treated but for whom I can do nothing. I leave for work at 5 am and listen to a book on the way. At work, I am either busy or try to stay busy until 3 pm when I drive home listening to the same book. I open the door and greet Delbow, giving him a cookie. I change and sit in the living room. It is 4:30. And time stops.

I prepare everything for the next morning. I ready Delbow’s medications. I feed him. I feed myself. It is all mechanical, devoid of interest. The house is no longer a home. It sits unused. The gardens are overgrown and weedy. All of Lisa’s belongings still reside where she left them. Her glasses. Her purse. Her walker stands folded in the laundry room. I watch television because it passes the time. It too is lifeless. Hours of “How It’s Made” on the Science channel. After an interminable amount of time, I look up. It is 7:30. Is it too early to go to bed? To escape this mental prison? I go to bed deciding to read a book. My mind is incapable of concentrating these days and I gloss over a page of text before realizing I have absorbed nothing of the story. I put the book down. I cannot sleep yet. I turn the television back on. There is a Modern Family repeat on. I’ve seen it twelve times before. I anticipate the lines of the show, wishing I could  sleep. Finally, after a marathon of Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory reruns, I turn off the television and shut off the light. My mind races and thinks of all things Lisa. I cry. At some point, I fall asleep.

Oh, I know what Lisa would say. First, she would give me a Cher to Nicholas Cage in Moonstruck slap and tell me to snap out of it.Then she would tell me that I need to live because I can and she cannot. She would tell me that I have to stay healthy, physically and mentally, for the kids. That they are relying on me and taking coping cues from me.  I don’t want sympathy. I don’t want a shoulder upon which to cry. I want Lisa. Everything will get easier with time, they say. Time. I have time! I have too much time and not enough answers. I understand all of these things in my head, but my heart is broken and empty, grieving for what it cannot have.

At 3 am the phone rings. It is Samantha. She has had a bad dream about Lisa and wants to talk it out. I am grateful for her call. She relates the details of the dream and I cry too. How can I not? It is heartbreaking. I tell her I hate this life and she says she understands. We talk about her art and try to change the subject. Eventually, she says she feels better and apologizes for calling. I tell her I’m glad she called and she says she can go back to sleep. I say I love you, she says she loves me, and she hangs up. It is 3:40. I lay there replaying the conversation until the alarm goes off at 4 when I look over at the empty space where Lisa used to sleep. Rinse. Wash. Repeat.



Time steps on wounds and walks past victories, pausing for neither pain nor happiness. It is two months tonight since Lisa died. The world keeps spinning, day surrenders to night and night back to the day. The clock whirls forward, and the calendar continues to shred. In two weeks, it will have been a year since my father died. Where has the time gone? On the best of days, I am uncomfortably numb, and on the worst an open sore. When will it stop?

I talk to people, and they suggest I be happy for the time we had and not angry for the time stolen. I know these people are genuinely trying to help, but I cannot get past cancer’s thievery. I am grateful for the time we had, most of it. Some of it was horrible, some of it a nightmare of pain and suffering. But most of it was terrific and provided me with (I guess) a lifetime’s worth of good memories. Charles Baudelaire wrote, “I have more memories than if I were a thousand years old.” How fortunate for him. I have half a lifetime’s worth of memories that must last a thousand years.

My daughter wrote the piece below. It is insight into her pain and loss. May she find peace in writing, may we all find it.


I’m so tired of fighting. Fighting with myself and fighting with others. Fighting my situation. Stories have conflictual perspectives. Person vs self, person vs person, person vs nature, and person vs society. I feel like a part of all these conflicts right now. I’m angry and frustrated with myself all the time. I’m arguing with everyone- with Tristan, with Graydon, Cam- I disagree with classmates, God and I aren’t on speaking terms, to say the least. And I feel like most people have forgotten what I’m going through. I’m tired of it all.

The thing with grief is that it’s never ending. It’s like a homesickness for a place that no longer exists. I can no longer return to her hugs. To her voice calling me “punk”. To her smile. Her scent combined with “passion” perfume and Coast soap. I can never return to her laugh, her soft skin, her sparkling eyes. There will never be a time when I can go back. I am told I must go on, that I must live for her, and for me. But I don’t want to go on. I want to go back. I want to hug her again. I miss the feeling of her skin. I miss the feeling of her arms and her hands. I miss walking up to her, leaning my head on her shoulder, and saying, “Hi” or “I love you” just because.

I went home a weekend or so ago. I wanted to go home, see Dad, and spend some time with him, hopefully make him feel less lonely for a few days. But I honestly didn’t want to go home. I didn’t want to sit on the couch, in the middle, because Dad sits on the left, and Mom on the right, her feet up on the edge of the coffee table, just watching TV. I didn’t want to walk into her bedroom and see her lonely glasses on the bedside table. I didn’t want to see the bathroom she fell in near the end when I didn’t catch her.

I didn’t want to think about how she tried to comfort me after it happened, telling me it wasn’t my fault she fell. Telling me it was ok, and not to cry. Telling me that this kind of thing was bound to happen sooner or later. She was bleeding from her hands where the textured wall had cut her. Bruised on her bum where she fell on the small metal trash can. I can’t think about that day without wanting to scream, sob, and rip my hair out. It was my fault. But it wasn’t my fault, I couldn’t get past the walker blocking the door. But it was my fault, why hadn’t I moved it so I could be closer. It wasn’t my fault, and I know that. But it was, and always will be, and I know that too.

I didn’t want to go to my room. Where I’d go when we were fighting, where I would sit on my bed, and fume. I didn’t want to close the door and wait for her to open it so we could make up. I didn’t want to go in the kitchen or the garden. I want to leave this house as a relic in my mind- nothing to be touched again by any but her. But I also never want to leave because I will never again live somewhere I can picture hearing her footsteps. I don’t want to leave the room she died in; me, sitting on the couch, when Dad called our attention- “Guys,” and then silently as we gathered around. Then waiting, then waiting, then…

But I also never want to be in that room again.

I’m keeping it together in school. I can go on autopilot and joke with people and listen attentively to their petty problems, and laugh when I need to. I can focus on lectures, and participate in complex discussions in class. I can talk all day about Freud and Tocqueville and oil painting.

But then I go home and I’m alone. And I get thinking. And I can’t stand it. And wherever she is, I desperately want to be too. I’m lonely and my brain is moving too fast. And then it’s 1:30 in the morning or night, and it’s one of those terrible moments when your Mom is dead, your best friend gone, and everyone has forgotten how much everything hurts.

Everything is spinning and I’m juggling and juggling, but I’m starting to drop some things.