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INTRUSIONS 17 Sep. 2016 PDF  | Print |  E-mail


17 Sep. 2016

Dear Friends and Patriots,


          Did you miss last week’s note?  Did you notice there was none? If not, perhaps there’s no real point in you reading this one.  Maybe there’s no real point in reading it anyway.


          I didn’t forget you.  That’s not something I can do.  You’re out there, and I feel your presence.  But, I was unable to commit any mental energy to the task.  I was dealing with intruders.  Those intruders occupied my thoughts to the point I was unable fix on a worthy subject to discuss.


          Last Friday I began the day with thoughts of “The Cough.”  It was the hot topic of the moment, so why not?  My thoughts about “The Cough” and implications of it had taken my mind to the place I wanted to go.  Yet, I held off and didn’t write the first word.  I suppose it’s a good thing.  After all, on Sunday “The Cough” morphed into “The Fall” and then quickly morphed again to “The Pneumonia.”  There was a very sad, but real aspect to it that the screaming, scrambling mainstream media didn’t touch on.  In the hubbub to get the evolving story of declining health something very, very important was left in the dust.  Remember, “The Fall” and “The Pneumonia” kicked coverage of 9/11 history and events pretty much to the curb.  Yes, there was still lots of pre-programmed TV coverage, yet those who ply the trade of endless political pontification quickly dropped their 9/11 musings.  The whole “cough-fall-pneumonia” sequence and its supposed political implications had wrapped itself around those folks like a hungry python.


          I wasn’t part of that Madding Crowd.  There were other things on my mind.  Early on Friday I received an e-mail from Nancy Stone.  Nancy is the wife of Earl Stone.  The e-mail said Earl was getting morphine every couple of hours for pain and his hospice caregivers had ordered oxygen to help him breathe.  I resisted the urge to leave my desk and go to Mobile and be near.  Instead, I forwarded Nancy’s e-mail home to Irene with the note, “This is not good.  We need to go.”  Irene responded that she’d had a bad night and hardly slept.  I knew she wouldn’t be able to go anywhere that day, so I replied that she should rest up; that we’d go when she could on Saturday.  I sent a note to that effect to Nancy, telling her I couldn’t say when on Saturday we’d be by, but that we would definitely be along.  Life’s intruders; there were several at work.  I thought it best to take them on one at a time. 


          I always referred to Earl as my closest relative.  In the geographic sense, that was always the truth.  I think I do have kinfolk who live closer to me than Earl, but I don’t know them.  To me, that made Earl was my closest relative.  All the rest were scattered across the country.  But Earl was nearby, just over a bit, in Mobile.  That made him closest. In the genealogical sense our connection was far up the family tree.  Earl’s great-great-great-great-grandfather, Jeremiah Stone, was the next younger brother to my own great-great-great-great-grandfather, William H. Stone.  For me, and for Earl, that was close kinship.  It was good.


          Earl had been in failing health since before I met him.  I didn’t realize it at first, but it didn’t take long for me to see the signs.  They were slight at first; he’d have difficulty finding a right word to say or couldn’t remember the name of someone we’d talked about just the week before.  Initially I thought nothing of it.  Earl was in his mid-80s.  He’d told me he stopped working at his career as a golf course architect because he just could no longer do what he wanted.  That told me his skills had diminished, but not that it was anything other than the normal age-related decline.  He seemed to be pretty vigorous in most respects.  He and Nancy went to the gym at U. of South Alabama during Nancy’s lunchtime and exercised.  Earl still drove when he needed to go somewhere.  But, he did stay home most of the time.  He seemed intrigued by family discussions and current events.  He could tell story after story about his times in Bahrain and his special times as an Electrician’s Mate aboard an LST during WWII.  Earl was of that Greatest Generation.  In many ways, he was typical of it.  But, one day something occurred that made me realize Earl had something wrong that wasn’t just his expected decline.  I asked Nancy about it directly and she told me of the doctor’s diagnosis.  Earl was slipping away.


          Doctors’ diagnoses are not something I bet a lot of money on.  Life isn’t something they’re very adept at predicting.  They might be pretty good at telling you your vital signs and predicting the obvious problems you might have if you don’t take the right medication, exercise, eat right, etc.  But, when it comes to predicting the course of degeneration they’re not so great.  A doctor might tell a patient they have only five years left to live, then wait ten before admitting to the same patient they really don’t have a clue.  Life is not very predictable.  Death is only predictable once the actual process begins.  I knew Earl was in decline, but no one could possibly know the angle of that downward glide slope.  It might be gentle and allow Earl to live on for many, many years with small losses of function and memory accruing here and there along the way.  Or, he could have declined dramatically and been gone the next week.  One thing I knew for certain, though.  The “best” Earl was the one I encountered at our first meeting and I was never to see that Earl again.  His life trajectory was increasingly downward.  My hope for Earl and Nancy had been for a gentle decline.


          Earl left us on Saturday, September 10.  He went in relative peace with Nancy by his bedside.  I was not.   Irene and I were in our car, on the way over.  That’s something I’ll have to live with.  I couldn’t manage my life well enough to be with either of my parents when they left, and on Saturday I wasn’t there for Earl.  Life had intruded upon me.  Death intruded for Earl.


          For a long while my greater concern had been for Nancy.  When Earl’s decline reached a certain point it was obvious he needed constant care.  I discussed it with Nancy several times.  I’m certain it was difficult for her to end a career she loved, and it was even more difficult for her to admit Earl’s needs were greater than her ability to provide.  Care-giving sucks the life right out of a person.  The sooner one admits to their own inabilities, the easier the whole undertaking is. It’s a time to heed the advice of friends and family.  Many care-givers don’t, to their own detriment.  Nancy got it figured out.  She’ll be okay, once she becomes accustomed to her new reality.


          Yesterday friends and family said their goodbyes to Earl.  It wasn’t a huge send off.  In many, many ways Earl deserved much more.  But, that’s how it often is when a person has outlived most of his best friends and those of his generation in the family.  Those who live the longest often have the smallest of funerals.  The huge, standing room only services; those are for the young, those denied a full life.  It’s one of life’s metaphors – those who give the most often get the least in the end, while those who have only begun to give seem to be granted the greatest reward.   It’s just how things seem, though.  The truth is that life rewards us as we live, each according to our own merit.  It rewards no end.  That’s God’s province, not ours.


          Earl’s send off was not without unneeded drama.  His older brother, Bill, had made the trek to Mobile from his home in central Florida.  Bill is 100 now.  On Friday night, as he was readying for bed, something terrible happened.  Bill broke a hip.  Instead of attending his dear brother’s funeral Bill was, and still is, in the hospital. The family was obviously in double pain at the funeral.  For any senior to break a hip is very bad.  For a 100-year old?  “Bad” is a grossly inadequate word.  Life intruded, yet again. 


          I learned on Wednesday of another cousin’s death.  This time it was a cousin I never met.  His name was Charles Wilson Reynolds.  He was a lawyer in Little Rock.  He and I had corresponded several times over the years.  We shared a great-great-grandfather from my mother’s Walker clan.  He went on Saturday, the same day as Earl, after his own prolonged decline.  Another intrusion.  Life does seem full of them.


          The whole cough, fall, pneumonia thing wasn’t important to me at all these past two weeks.  That “saga” didn’t intrude into my life.  It wasn’t worth my time.  Family intrusions, though, they matter.  They have to be dealt with.  I can only hope for a period of stability going forward, where my outward focus can return. 


          Perhaps this rumination will be of use to you. 


In Liberty,