“Take Care of All Your Memories For You Cannot Relive Them” ~ Bob Dylan

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Summer 08 Sutcliffe Cousins: Phillip, Eamonn, Brett, Hannah, Alexis, Rebecca, Mallory

“Memory is the primary and fundamental power, without which there could be no other intellectual operation” ~ Samuel Johnson

I cannot write tonight. There is just too much pressing on my mind. I am waiting to hear about my brother-in-law in Germany. He is in the hospital with pneumonia and is on a respirator.

Maybe if I tell you about him that will help. Patrick is my ex’s older brother. He has always been the serious, intellectual one. Patrick was in the R.O.T.C. in college, and then he went into the army after graduation. Patrick was stationed in Germany where he met Helma, the woman he married. After a couple of years, they were transferred back to the states, somewhere in Tennessee.

In the meantime, Paul’s younger sister Ann was engaged to be married in the spring. Patrick and Helma were going to drive to Virginia on President’s Day weekend for a visit and for a fitting of brides maids dresses as Helma and I were both going to be in the wedding. Then the unthinkable happened. Helma fell asleep at the wheel, and Patrick, who had been asleep in the back seat was wedged in the seat when the car stopped. Helma had a broken nose and lost some teeth. Patrick had been deprived of oxygen and had spinal cord damage.

After all of the operations, Patrick was left a paraplegic, but he still retained his mind, his long-term memory, his wit. The army retired Patrick as a full Captain. He was unable to speak, but they worked out a communication system using arm movements and eye blinks and mouth openings and closings. Patrick was quick-tempered and impatient before the accident, and he was just the same after the accident, but never with me.

Whenever I tried to spell with him (which is what we call talking), I would tell him quite plainly that if he started to get all mean with me, I would stop and walk away, which would usually make him laugh, and then he would be patient with me as I tried my best to get things right the first time.

Just to show you how smart he remained, while they still lived here, we used to play games, like Trivial Pursuit, usually men against the women, and it would usually come down to Patrick against me. He loved to kick my ass with history questions, but I could usually get him on literature.

Eventually, he and Helma were able to have two children of their own: Phillip and Hannah. Helma’s sister Kerstin lived here in the states for a while, and she was married, and members of her family would visit, but Helma was always lonely for home, and it was very hard for her. Patrick had a physical therapist who came to the home, and Helma took really good care of him. But finally, they made the decision to move to Germany so that Helma could be closer to her family.

It was hard on everyone, especially on Paul’s mom, but Helma promised to come over every year for a visit, and for a while it was every year, but then the dollar dropped, and then after 9/11, everyone was afraid to fly for a while. They had just started coming back over a few years ago. Patrick had a big 50th birthday party in Germany, and several of his best friends with whom he has stayed in contact flew to Germany to celebrate with him, as did his mother, who hadn’t been to Germany since right after Patrick and Helma were first married.

That he has stayed so healthy for so long is directly tied to Helma’s dedication to keeping him that way. He has had two major health scares. And we have spent our time making visits to VA hospitals, which are incredibly depressing places. But overall, he has been incredibly lucky. They have made trips all over Europe, and when they have been here, Helma has taken Patrick to just about every Revolutionary battleground in the area.

With Helma’s assistance, Patrick has kept up his massive stamp collection, his alphabetized CD and LP collection, including anything ever put out by the Beatles. He reads constantly (books on tape have been a wonderful development for him because before that, it was books by whoever was designated reader). In other words, Because of Helma, Patrick’s hobbies have all been attended to, and his life, although far from normal, has been turned into the closest semblance of normal that it could be.

He has a computer that he can control to write letters to his friends. His children may have had times that they were embarassed by their father, but I think not any more than any teenager is embarassed by a parent. Just ask my sons.

The last time they were here, I noticed how tired Helma looked, and I was actually surprised, because she really takes care of herself. She is a championship swimmer. She coaches swimming. That is her time for herself. She is in very good physical shape, but she really looked thin this time. Not thin as in skinny, but thin as in worn thin. I wrote her an e-mail about it, but she never really responded, which I did not expect that she would. She is just not that way.

She had told me before coming that this time she was not running around to see everyone the way that they usually do. She was just going to take it easy. Normally when they visit, they are on the go from the moment they arrive until the moment that they leave. But this time, she really didn’t go very many places. Even when she went to Busch Gardens, she didn’t close the place the way that she usually did.

I’m waiting until it’s 2 a.m. here so that it will be 8 a.m. there so that I can call. I always forget about the six hour time difference. I’m hoping that the news is good, that they have turned down the ventilator and that the pneumonia is clearing. That’s the news that I am hoping for. After all, Patrick’s grandmother just died last week. I’m not sure how he took the news I don’t know the last time that he saw her. But he does get very emotional.

His mother, my other mother-in-law, is noticeably worsening with her own health problem. Parkinson’s does not respond well to stress. So I’m just hoping that she holds up well for the next few days.

I suppose for someone who said that she didn’t have anything to say tonight, I managed to run on in my usual way.

That’s all for now. More later. Peace.

Grace in Small Things #28

Wicked winds outside today. Not sure what I want to touch on . . .

1. The way that my daughter and I will sometimes say the exact same thing at exactly the same time. It drives Corey crazy.

2. Sea turtles are wonderful creatures that can have really long lives as long as humans don’t interfere.sea-turtle-by-sandra-edwards

3. The Internet. Because of this incredible invention, we now have access to information, people and places 24/7 in newer, faster ways unimagined even a generation ago. Now, we have a whole generation that will have grown up always having the Internet and personal computers in their lives.

4. I like to write with #1 pencils . They are a softer lead, so they write more smoothly. I never use #2 pencils, and at work, I always requested #1’s, and it always got on the nerves of whoever did the supply order. I wasn’t trying to be difficult. It was just a personal preference.

5. I also like to write on graph paper. I’m not sure where or when I picked up this habit, but I really prefer graph paper, and even go so far as to use  grid on the screen whenever I can, like in Microsoft Word (it’s also a good way to keep people off my computer, not that I would do that on purpose, or anything).

That’s today’s list. Yesterday I was wondering if I were doing this right, but as a friend pointed out, if I were putting things on the list that truly brought me some measure of joy, things in which I found some measure of grace, then there was no right or wrong about it. You always say the right thing, Maureen.

The Silence of a Falling Star Lights Up a Purple Sky

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The Silence of a Falling Star Lights Up a Purple Sky

I’ve Never Seen A Night So Long

Emotionally Raw, Tired, and Overwhelmed

I’m really tired tonight, emotionally exhausted. Trying to write my Grace in Small Things list for today was really hard. I took on a hard topic last night, and it’s still with me. Any one of the three stories that I found would have been pretty bad on its own, but to put all three together—I think that it was just too much.

I cannot get out of my head the image of the 93-year-old man who froze to death inside of his house because of a bureaucratic decision. I cannot forget about the two EMT’s who made the decision not to resuscitate a man based on the condition of his house. My god, if they came into my house right now, this very moment, if anyone who worked for social services or the city government came into my home right now they would think that I’m a terrible mother, that my children are deprived, that my house should be condemned, and most certainly, that I am not worth saving.

My house is a complete and total mess. I have cobwebs because I cannot reach them with my ostrich feather duster to clean them. The last time that I tried to do that, I pulled my back. My living room still has two dining room chairs in boxes because my eldest son refuses to take the ornaments off the Christmas tree. It has become a point of downright contention. My youngest son’s room is neat and tidy.

My room is relatively organized, but dusty. The kitchen looks like a disaster, but is wiped down daily with disinfectant spray, and the sink is scrubbed with liquid bleach. Clothes are washed and dried daily. Everyone bathes daily. I personally clean the bathroom on my hands and knees with a cloth and spray disinfectant because I don’t trust my sons to do it right, and Corey has enough to do around here. I can’t walk after I do it, and I have to get in bed and take my muscle relaxers afterwards, but it’s clean.

Regardless, the house still looks terrible because there are things everywhere from where we pulled things out to start the remodeling. Boxes, furniture, all sorts of things in the wrong places. Would that mean that I wouldn’t get the needed attention from an EMT because it wouldn’t look as if I deserved it? Who were these people to make this decision. I am completely flummoxed.

And then there is the story of the two children: Sage and Bear and their father. I have tried all day to put them out of my mind and find that I cannot because there are too many stories of too many children like Sage and Bear. I just came across another story of a 19-year-old and her boyfriend who beat to death her two -year-old daughter for not saying please, but she did manage to keep saying “Mommy I love you” while they beat the very life out of her.

There are too many stories like this for my heart to hold. I do not know how the men and women who work in these professions can do it, can go to their jobs everyday and hear about these children, or on the opposite side, hear about these monsters. I don’t know how social services can try to work with families who are so obviously dysfunctional but the courts say that placement with the biological parents is preferable. I don’t know how the doctors and nurses can look at the shattered bodies who are brought to them in the aftermath of parental and spousal warfare. I don’t know how the EMT’s can go into a house and remove the body of a 93-year-old man who died on a technicality.

Think of all that this man had survived: two world wars, the Great Depression, the Korean War, the Viet Nam War, the Twin Towers, desegregation, women getting the vote, a man landing on the moon, cars, television, and telephones. He saw great inventions and terrible creations of mass destruction. He saw all of the wonderful things that our country celebrated: the end of wars, ticker tape parades, the first step on the moon, the destruction of the Berlin Wall, and he saw all of the evil of the world: Pearl Harbor, Nazi Germany, Waco, 9/11, and all of the rest. And the final helplessness of dying of hypothermia in his own home.

To all of the people who do the hard jobs that I know that I would like to do but cannot, I offer my sincere gratitude. You walk into houses. You look for the lost children. You do not stop until you find the monsters. You live with the monsters, carry them with you, tucked away in you back pockets so that they do not touch the sanctity of your own families, but they are always with you until you can pass them along to the next link in the chain.

And some of you are never able to let go of the monsters, even when they are dead and gone. That is their heinous legacy to those whose lives they have stolen.

Newest Statistic That I Never Needed To Know

So today I learned from one of the Veterans’ websites that everday approximately 18 American war veterans commit suicide; every month, almost 1,000 veterans receiving care from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs attempt suicide (http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2008/05/11/8868).

This startling statistic is news to most Americans because the Bush administration did not want this news to be made public to Americans. It has taken a law case, officially known as Veterans for Common Sense vs. Peake, for this news to reach the American public. This case is a class action lawsuit brought by Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans for United Truth on behalf of 1.7 million veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Under the conditions of the case, the VA had to produce a series of documents.

In one letter from Dr. Ira Katz, former head of the VA’s Mental Health Division, Katz opens his key e-mail with “Shh!” Katz advises a media spokesperson not to tell CBS News that 1,000 veterans receiving care at the VA try to kill themselves every month.

Another shocking number is 287,790—the actual number of American veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who had failed VA disability claims since March 25 2008. Other casualty statistics not normally revealed:  Number of American troops wounded in Iraq: 31,948;  Number of troops “injured” in Iraq”: 10,180; Number of  troops “ill” in Iraq: 28,451.

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Those three number total represent soldiers who are so damaged physically that they have to be evacuated to Germany. By splitting the numbers into three categories, it makes the number of casualties appear to be lower. Or, at least that was the thinking in the Bush administration.
 
Personally, the number manipulation just makes it that more tragic. These numbers are people, not numbers. If the American people were aware of just how many of its warriors were dying not only on foreign soil, but also on American soil, after they have come home, after they have been taken out of combat, if they only knew just how its veterans were waiting years for decisions on their benefits, perhaps they would be less complacent. If only we had seen the flag-draped coffins sooner, perhaps the reality might have moved beyond our periphery sooner.
Perhaps tomorrow will be a better day. More later. Peace.