Tag Archives: death

Girl Scout Cookies

10 Jan

I am getting ready to go for my second round of chemotherapy. I am dreading it and I know I have to have it. The first round was far more difficult and miserable than I had anticipated. I have to say this is the hardest thing I have ever done, and it makes sense to me why the nurse at the end of the first chemo treatment ended the seven hour session with: “Thank you for coming in and doing this–you did it!.”  As you all know, I named the tumor Pat, short for Patriarchy (we need to kill Pat), and the port in my chest is named Mueller. After the seven hours of chemo, there is one more chemical that is slow release through a pump via Mueller. I have named the pump Nancy Pelosi to help Mueller kill Pat. During the five days of being horribly sick with nausea (and a whole host of other side effects), I have a lot of time for reflection and sadly, sometimes I fear I start to spiral down into a very dark space that does not help me kill Pat. This reflection was spurred on by my wanting to order Girl Scout Cookies.

I love the Do-si-dos and Robert and I both love the thin mints. I told Robert to ask our neighbors to order some Girl Scout Cookies for us. Internally, I did a nose dive into an abyss of fear. My strange and irrational brain went to: “Wait, what if I die and Robert gets stuck with all of the Do-si-dos cookies? He is allergic to peanut butter. Is it irresponsible of me to order the cookies?”

Having cancer really sucks. For me, I constantly worry and I know I have to figure out a different way to navigate this journey. I have started to try some guided meditation. For those reading and have also gone through a similar journey, what are ways you found helpful in coping with the trauma and the everyday perseverating–am I burdening and fatiguing my support network?

My ask is this: support the Girl Scouts, and if people have advice from lived experience, please do share.

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Death Is Not All That It’s Cracked Up To Be

2 Feb

Judging from the title of the article, one might guess I am going to reflect and write about what feels like the death of a nation — the death of the United States. It certainly feels as though we are witnessing the demise of a nation– I thought we were so much better than this — I thought we were a nation that was working to eradicate racism, homophobia, misogyny, and hate. While there maybe some overlap, I am actually writing, reflecting, and processing my own death.

I need to record this because I am still processing all of what happened and I am afraid the current political climate of the United States has hurt, delayed, and undermined my ability to recover. At the same time, I have never experienced such unconditional love and caring: a love that has carried me through all of this, a love that makes me cry even while writing this. I have learned and witnessed how human beings step up or sadly step back during a health crisis. Fortunately for me, the number of people who have stepped up with such enormous love is too many for me to list. The people in my family of origin who have stepped back and have been completely absent has hurt me in such a profound way, I hardly have words to share or express the hurt, so I shall focus on the love I am able to bask in instead.

Yes, I have been quite busy in the past four months. I was diagnosed with cancer in September and then had cancer surgery in November. By December, I was recovering from cancer and finally reached a space of reflection of “I’m grateful the surgery went well. I don’t want to do the chemo. I hope the cancer does not come back.” Quite unfortunately, on Wednesday, December 20 at around 5:30 in the morning, I had the first of two massive heart attacks. The night before I had enormous pain through out my right leg but thought nothing of it. Now I suspect, it was the blood clots that moved from my leg into my lungs and caused the heart attacks.

My husband Robert found me on the bathroom floor. According to the paramedics and an amazing and wonderful team of doctors at OHSU in Portland, this was the first time I was dead. I know was resuscitated at some point because I heard a man’s voice ask my husband: “Was he like that or did you throw a bucket of water on him?” I honestly remember thinking what a stupid question. Yes, as is typical protocol, my husband threw a bucket of water on me when he thought, “Hmm, Michael seems to have had a heart attack. I shall throw a bucket of water on him and see if that does the trick.”  The next thing I heard was a man’s voice saying: “Okay, he has turned blue.” Honestly, I really did think to myself, “Well, that can’t be good.”

At this point, I truly thought this is it and I’m going to die. All I could think of was that I needed for my husband Robert to know and to hear how much I loved him. I needed for my last words to be, “I love you very much, Robert.” Thankfully, he heard me. I remember maybe all of 10 seconds in the ambulance and apparently my heart stopped again. In the short ride to OHSU hospital on Pill Hill, apparently they were able to resuscitate me again. Rather sadly, as I was told by the doctors and nurses, my heart stopped yet again before reaching the hospital. The rest is what was reported to me by the amazing medical team at OHSU.

Apparently, I was dead for 30 minutes. The team and the social worker told my husband Robert that I continued to have no heartbeat and continued to be unresponsive. They intubated me at some point. They were going to try a machine that basically does CPR, which they did for 30 minutes. During this whole process, unfortunately, six of my ribs were broken and my sternum was broken. Yes, I will just say an emphatic OUCH! As a side note: we just received the bill for just the emergency room and the bill is for $72,000 — yes, almost as much as my first home cost in Atlanta. Now reader, I ask you this: Does it not seem like I need to ask for a rebate for the 30 minutes I was dead? Why should I pay for services if I was dead? Or, can they at least pro-rate the amount owed?

Being Dead: I must admit that I have always been one of those people that was quite skeptical when hearing stories from various people or reading stories about people’s experiences when they were dead and before coming back to life. Now I have my own narrative about dying and coming back to life. I know it to be true and I can only ask that you make of it what you will.  I do know that I was dead. I was processing it while it happened. My exact thoughts, if one wants to call them thoughts, were: “Well, that did not work out.” I know I left my body and I remember knowing, well I am dead. I also remember I did not seem to have a name, nor did I have a body. Strangely, I felt very safe with no anxiety, no fear, and no worry. I was quite at peace. Yes, I did see the proverbial “white light.” I would not have described it as a Heavenly light, but it was quite intense and it was all I could see. The light did seem to have a center and I remember walking towards the center of the light despite the fact that I did not have a body. Once I reached the center of the light, I knew intuitively that I had two options. I could go to the right or go to the left. At this point, I could sense Robert to the left. I did not hear him saying anything, nor could I see him but I knew his name and the sensation was so strong, I knew I needed to go to the left towards Robert. The next thing I remember was that I was in the ICU.

One of the gifts I received from coming back to life was the ability to witness human beings doing their jobs in ways that for me seemed magical, and I reflected and shared with all of the people who were amazing how magical they are. For example, the first nurse I remember in the ICU was named Anna. She was so lovely and sensitive with me. Anna and everyone I encountered in the hospital remarked how lucky I was and how absolutely amazing it was that I was actually alive. At some point, Anna was on the phone and I heard her say: “No, no, he is here. I am here with him right now. I am talking to him.” Anna shared with me that the paramedics who came to my home to try and save me had called the hospital to offer that they did the best they could do and they were sorry. When she told me this, I remember saying please thank them for me! Later, Anna shared with me they thought I was dead, as I was dead when they dropped me off at the hospital.

Another person who made such a huge difference was Dr. Kathy Wonderly — how appropriately named, as she is a true wonder. Dr. Wonderly came in and asked if she could sit on my bed with me and rubbed my legs and echoed (this seems to have been the chorus in a Greek play, as everyone human being I encountered in the hospital kept saying) how lucky I was to be alive. She then touched my hand and asked if there was anything she could do to to be helpful. I cracked a political joke and she laughed and said she would do her best. I have to underscore the power of touch here. Dr. Wonderly’s empathic ability to touch my legs and touch my hand had a profound impact on me. I am certain it helped me heal and made me feel safe.

My friends Janet and Sara were also with me every day in the hospital and would hold my hand (honestly, I think Janet was also searching me for spare change, for I have seen her search through my cupboards and steal my good china) which also helped me heal. I also have to share that my colon surgeon Dr. Herzig is nothing less than a gift to the world. He made a special visit to say hi to me and offer his well wishes and his sadness about the heart attacks. As an aside, I typically do not like surgeons. However, Dr. Herzig made me fall in love shortly after my cancer surgery. He came to check on me the day after he performed the surgery and asked if I was okay and if I needed anything. I replied that I was actually quite upset with him and said: “Dr. Herzig, I am really quite upset with you. I came in for a face lift, eye lift, and neck lift, and it is clear that you focused all of your energy on my stomach.” To which he immediately replied: “No, that’s right. We are just working our way up.” How many surgeons do you know that are that witty? I was so exceedingly lucky to experience so many people who just do their jobs everyday but they are quite remarkable and so exceedingly compassionate, at least that was my experience.

Love Fest: When I was finally discharged and was allowed to return home, it was clear that I was not allowed to be alone and would need a great deal of care. Robert had already taken so much time off for my cancer stay and heart attacks stay at the hospital, he could not take any more time off. Family of origin not only did not bother to call me, there was no way they were going to offer to come and help Robert and me. Sadly, my birth dad, whom I shall refer to as the sperm donor, for that is as generous as I can be toward him, was completely absent when he found out I had cancer. His absence continued when my baby brother let him know about the two heart attacks. Strangely, his girlfriend, who is quite lovely, called almost every day to check on me and on Robert. She also made apologies for the sperm donor’s horrific behavior. (The sperm donor had his feelings hurt two years ago when I called to wish him a happy thanks giving and my in-laws called in while I was on the phone. I explained that I had to take the call so that I could talk to my in-laws. The sperm donor went into a rage and said how dare I take their call, for they are not my blood and he is my blood. One should note that the sperm donor had no contact with me for decades. He was a very physically abusive man to me and to my mom when I was a little boy.) I explained to his girlfriend that if he could not set aside his narcissistic injury when his son was dealing with cancer and two heart attacks, I have no use for his abusive self. She just kept apologizing. I honestly feel quite bad for her, as it must be awful to see the true character or lack of character of your partner in life.

Enough bad energy, I have been able to also witness how people step up during a crisis and show up no matter what and are available with love, patience, food, books, and just sitting with me. All my friends in Portland have been amazing gifts and I am forever in their debt. All my friends that flew in from all over the country to help take care of me, I am forever in their debt. I am able to truly live and walk in gratitude.  I am also in awe of my husband Robert. I have a life partner who not only saved my life twice, but has been so supportive all while trying to deal with his own trauma around the past four months.

Healing: While trying to heal and with extraordinary physical limitations, I knew I had to stop listening and watching the news. Trump and the GOP represent all that is the worst of humanity and the daily assaults from these sociopaths was too much. The racism, the misogyny, the homophobia it was too much for me, to the point I wondered if perhaps I should not have come back to life. One particular assault by Trump and supported by the GOP was the Religious Freedom Act: that health care workers could deny LGBT/queer people like me services based on their religious beliefs. I am so grateful I live in Oregon and that this act has not passed yet. Thus I had to do something else and try as best I could to stop exposing myself to Fascist America.

Because reading has been hard while on pain meds, what I found extraordinarily healing was I watched Netflix’ seasons one and two of The Crown at least 30 times. I love Claire Foy. I also watched Netflix’ Latinx reboot of One Day at a Time season one at least 30 times. I am in love with Justina Machado and Isabella Gomez.  I have to say that I am now watching season two of the Latinx One Day at a Time and it gives me hope! Season two, for me, is what the United States can really be. We can be a country that works to tap into shared humanity, a country that works to encourage and support all people, that we can be a country that can lead the movement for social justice — to expand civil liberties. We can resist hate; we can resist fascism.

Finally, I will conclude with a simple thank you to all of the human beings who have touched my life for the better. When I die, and I will, I want there to be people who will reflect and say I touched their lives for the better — that I helped to make the world a better place for all human beings. I now challenge all of us to work to be our best selves, to be engaged in making the world a better place and to not engage in hate, or talk of building walls, or justifying “there were some good Nazis.” We can do so much better than this. Let us work in community to make some huge changes in 2018. I implore you to vote during the midterm elections in November of 2018! I also need to share how grateful I am to my husband Robert! This song from Emile Sandé is for Robert.

With great love and affection,

Michael

Inviting Joy…

21 Dec

JoyI have been working on this particular post for the past few months. 2015 has not been an easy year for me.  Since August 4th, I have lost four very dear friends. Our dear friend Jim passed away on August 4th from liver cancer, leaving a hole in our hearts. A week after Jim passed away my friend Ross, whom I was friends with for 20 years, died of pancreatic cancer. Naomi passed away yesterday and I will miss her terribly. Another significant loss was on December 3 when Beth died of liver cancer. Beth and I had been friends for over 30 years. She was my college girl friend. She would have been 52 yesterday. At times, it is all I can do just to get up in the morning. Throughout the day, it feels as though I have been punched in the stomach. Sadly, it also puts me back in touch with the loss of Bonnie, who was like my twin sister. This much loss is so unsettling that I am working exceedingly hard at staving off depression.

I have been watching and observing friends of mine and my husband and am in awe of their resiliency. These observations have led me to question how do I — how do we all —  invite and make space for joy. For me, this is a task that at times escapes me and seems to grow increasingly difficult.

Being aware of the embarrassing pustule on humanity known as the current Republican party (GOP) only adds to my sense of loss — the loss of common decency in our discourse.  It is exceedingly easy for me to give way to a misanthropic abyss when I think about how the discourse from EVERY Republican presidential candidate participates in and perpetuates racism, homophobia, misogyny, classism, and all of the intersections therein. Let us not forget, this is not just the nefarious Donald Trump, since every candidate believes as Trump does. They may not be quite as vociferous, but they share the same racist, homophobic and misogynistic beliefs. Sadly, even those Republicans who condemn the horrific rhetoric by these presidential hopefuls, still maintain that they will still support the Republican nominee. Yes, even while Paul Ryan slams Trump for  his racist, even Nazi like approach to this race, Ryan will still vote for him. This is more than just a little nonplussing.

So how do you, how do I invite hope, not just hope but how do I invite joy? Here I will share things that actually do bring me joy and I invite all of you readers, how do you invite joy? I want to learn from all of you!

Being in my classrooms teaching MSW students brings me great joy, such joy that I don’t have language to fully articulate how giddy I feel when I watch these students and how they reflect and leverage their privilege for equity. I am in awe of these people and they bring me joy and give me hope.

Spending time with my friends’ children next door brings me joy. Hank (who is only six years old) who grabs onto me and most insistently tells me stories brings me joy. Spending time with my amazing colleagues and friends as we are vulnerable with each other and support one another brings me great joy. Spending time with my husband as we talk, listen, drink wine, and support one another, and watch RuPaul’s Drag Race brings me joy!

My failing seems to be how do I hold on to all of this? How can I keep in contact with all of this joy and sustain my gratitude?

How do all of you do it?

Difficult to Mourn: Rev. Fred Phelps Dead at 84

20 Mar

fred-phelpsI just learned that the infamous leader of the Westboro Baptist Church, Rev. Fred Phelps Sr., died yesterday.  Phelps, who will be best remembered for his legacy of hate, such as: “Thank God for dead soldiers,” and “Thank God for 9/11,” because all of those deaths were “God’s punishment” for American immorality and tolerance of homosexuality and abortion.  Those of us in the LGBTQ community and our allies would usually hear his name and cringe, thanks to all of the damage he has done to our community.

Typically, Phelps and his family could be seen holding huge signs that read: “God Hates Fags.”  Phelps’ picketing of the late Matthew Shepard‘s funeral catapulted him and his organization into the national spotlight.

While I will forever hold a space of sadness for all the lives he hurt, I have to say that I am holding a space of sadness for Phelps.  What an awful legacy he leaves — a legacy that now he has no chance of doing any repair.  He will always be remembered as a man of hate — a reputation he worked hard to earn.

I can only hope as we reflect on his passing, that we also reflect on what it means to preach such vitriol.  My experience has been that people who have the most difficulty with LGBTQ folk, are usually battling their own internalized homophobia.

Call to action: I also hope that with Phelps passing we look at institutional and structural power that works to target and disenfranchise LGBTQ people.  How do we make a difference and make the lives of LGBTQ people easier? How do we enlist our allies to help us pressure those in power to create policies that create equity and equality?

I suspect there will not be many mourners of Phelps; that is quite sad.  Sad because he leaves only a legacy of hate. I invite everyone to reflect: What do you want your legacy to be?

Update: March 25, 2014:

Nathan Phelps, son of the late Fred Phelps, released a rather compassionate statement regarding the passing of his father. I have included a particularly poignant excerpt from his statement:

The lessons of my father were not unique to him, nor will this be the last we hear of his words, which are echoed from pulpits as close as other churches in Topeka, Kansas, where WBC headquarters remain, and as far away as Uganda. Let’s end the support of hateful and divisive teachings describing the LGBT community as “less than,” “sinful,” or “abnormal.” Embrace the LGBT community as our equals, our true brothers and sisters, by promoting equal rights for everyone, without exception. My father was a man of action, and I implore us all to embrace that small portion of his faulty legacy by doing the same.

It is nice to see that some type of repair work is being done by Nathan.

Higher Ground: Syria and Violence

2 Sep

SyriaI initially had a Labor Day story prepared, but scrapped it because the impending attack on Syria is sticking in my craw. I’m happy to share last year’s Labor Day story if you would rather read that.

I heard President Obama’s speech imploring congress to give the green light to attack Syria and I was left feeling forlorn and felt somewhat betrayed. I thought President Obama was going to be the President who would find a way to remove the United States from wars, yet we are still in Afghanistan. (“Never fight a land war in Asia” — thank you Princess Bride.) I thought this was the president who learned from history about the spoils of war — the great profit machine.

The President repeated the phrase “national security” in his speech, a verbal tic that was disturbingly Bush-y. Those words ring hollow when lives are at stake and no credible evidence shows any real risk to our country. Am I missing something? Can anyone tell me where this threat lies?

Of course I believe we need to offer some way to interrupt the violence and the people being killed via chemical warfare.  But do we have no other options aside from more violence, which has no guarantee of changing the overall system in place in Syria?  As with Iraq and Afghanistan, we know many civilian lives were lost. Are we still comfortable to simply call it “collateral damage?”

Have we asked the people of Syria if they want  help and how they envision what that help might look like?  Have explored the myriad options of what an intervention might look like, aside from violence?

Let us also look at the soldiers that will be sent and the disproportionate number of soldiers of color and lower socioeconomic status who will be fighting. When we lose these lives we also alter our political landscape — we continue to silence an already marginalized and disenfranchised population. Do we learn nothing from history?

People keep on learnin’
Soldiers keep on warrin’
World keep on turnin’
Cause it won’t be too long
Powers keep on lyin’
While your people keep on dyin’
World keep on turnin’
Cause it won’t be too long
I’m so darn glad he let me try it again
Cause my last time on earth I lived a whole world of sin
I’m so glad that I know more than I knew then
Gonna keep on tryin’
Till I reach the highest ground
Teachers keep on teachin’
Preachers keep on preachin’
World keep on turnin’
Cause it won’t be too long
Oh no
Lovers keep on lovin’
Believers keep on believin’
Sleepers just stop sleepin’
Cause it won’t be too long

You can hear Stevie Wonder perform this song  here.  I want to believe that people “keep on learnin'”and that we will stop warring, but there is little evidence of that thus far.  I would also add that when voices like John McCain and John Boehner are supporting an attack on Syria, it would seem prudent and wise to alter one’s plan of attack.

Black History Month 2013: Bonnie Sanders

19 Feb

Michael & Bonnie June 2008This particular tribute is especially difficult for me to write and I only hope I can do Bonnie justice.  Bonnie and I were friends for nearly a quarter of a century.  She would have been 61 years old today, but sadly we lost her all too soon.  Bonnie was born and raised in Akron, Ohio.  She lived the last part of her life in Atlanta, Georgia. Just by the way Bonnie lived her life, she was an exemplar of social justice.

Although she could present a gruff exterior — and we all know she did not suffer fools lightly — she had a heart that embraced all marginalized voices. From the nine turtles she saved and adopted, the many dogs and cats she rescued, to standing in solidarity with the LGBT community and with the aging community, her dedication to civil rights and women’s rights was unparalleled.  Bonnie walked in every AIDS Walk Atlanta since the very beginning. Bonnie’s voice will be sorely missed.

Bonnie was the boss of all of us and inspired everyone to be their best person, although I have to admit she did have a devilish way of making me act out.  Although she was chronologically older than I, she referred to me as her Granny.  Probably because I would just hold her hand, fix meals for her, and fuss at her if she did not go in for her mammogram.  To be honest, she also called me Granny because I can’t stay up past 9:00.

Our traditional New Year’s Eve extravaganza would usually start at 4 and Bonnie, Joanie,  and I would be asleep by 8:00.  Our friends who knew us well knew you had to leave by 8:00 because we would be asleep.  I did wake up at midnight and would wake up Bonnie and Joanie for a quick toast to the New Year and then back to sleep.

I was in my early 20s when I met Bonnie and was immediately in love with her — with her contagious laugh, her irreverent sense of humor.  Over the years we built a life together and have a shared history.  Bonnie knew I was gay before I did, as she was wont to remind me of often.  Bonnie is one of the reasons why I married my wonderful husband, for Robert had to get her approval.

The pain of losing someone so close is at times unbearable; there are times throughout the day that I feel as if I’m choking, or I break into tears.  Other times something funny will happen and my immediate reaction is to want to call Bonnie.  Right now it feels as though a huge part of myself has been ripped out and I cannot retrieve it.  I desperately try to just be grateful Bonnie was a part of my life for so long.  I know she lives forever in our collective laughter and acting out.

A heart is not judged by how much it loves, but by how much it is loved by others; it is obvious how Bonnie’s heart embraced the world and I am all the better for just having been connected to her.  Her light and wonder were contagious and should be shared!

For those that knew Bonnie, please, I invite you to share a funny story that shines as an example of how witty and irreverent she was.

I love you, Bonnie.

Love,

Granny

America’s Trigger Happy Traumas

14 Jan

880-from-my-cold-dead-handsToday marks the one month anniversary of  the tragic shootings in Newtown, CT, America seems poised to look at gun violence with fresh eyes. Vice President Biden is preparing to release a set of proposals from a panel he has led to discuss the issue this week. Gabby Giffords has founded a new organization to take a fair and balanced look at what weapons are reasonable and how they should be regulated. Media attention and statements from members of Congress seem focused on solutions rather than distracted by the insane posturing of the NRA. Perhaps, this time there is hope.

Or maybe not. The mere whisper of gun reform has the pry-it-out-of-my-cold-dead-hands crowd gnashing their teeth and rushing to the stores. Gun sales began to spike when President Obama was re-elected. Racists, home-grown terrorists, and conspiracy mongers — not at all a mutually exclusive list — took that as enough of a sign that their ability to fire off insane amounts of ammo in minutes might be curtailed. Sadly the deaths of 20 school children caused no reflection, just more fear.

Gun stores across the country have shut down online vending due to low inventory. Prices on high-capactiy magazines and semi-automatic rifles have more than tripled. Background checks for weapons purchases are up nearly 60% over a year ago. The arms race (predominantly white folk) is on, and the losers will be more innocent victims. Slate magazine is tracking gun deaths since Sandy Hook. Even with the necessarily incomplete information, over 800 people have been killed by guns — nearly 30 a day. Most of those deaths were caused by legally purchased guns. And yet there are those who maintain we have no problem and that military-style weapons belong in our homes and schools.

Perhaps the poster child for this mania is James Yeager, CEO of Tactical Response, a gun advocacy and training company in Tennessee. In a viral video, Yeager fretted about the government taking away his weapons, saying

I’m not going to let anyone take my guns. If it goes one inch further, I’m going to start killing people.

Yeah right, Yeager really needs to have a gun! Still think there is not a problem here? When asked to clarify his statements in an interview, Yeager maintained that he would open fire on anyone who entered his home if he thought they wanted his guns. Fortunately, the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security revoked his handgun carry permit, citing “material likelihood of risk of harm to the public.” Unfortunately, that just gives the NRA another martyr to the cause as paranoia and gun mania sweep the land.

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