A Ghost Story

The following is an abridged version of my 07/11/2016 WordPress post…

Many decades ago, across the breakfast table, my mom handed me a section from our local newspaper… all neatly folded to “frame” an obituary. Said she, “I think he was a college buddy of yours.”

As surreal as it all was, there I was reading the two paragraph, final chapter to my 27-year-young friend’s all too short life. While on a photo shoot assignment up in Canada he had suffered a heart attack. How tough this sadness was to reconcile with my fond, happy memories of our classroom / recording studio days. Though I had wanted to attend his funereal in NYC, my thin wallet meant I’d be paying my respects from afar.

Well… six months passed and, in the days leading up to Halloween, no less, I found myself browsing through a record store’s bins, near mall closing time. So engrossed in reading album liner notes was I, that a familiar, cheerful voice saying, “Hi Tom” had startled me back to the real world… or maybe to the not-so-real-world?

There could be no denying who I had just heard, YET, my logic dictated this could not possibly be happening. Cautiously glancing upward and slowly turning leftward there, right before my very eyes, stood my dead friend! I blurted, “This can’t be! You’re… you’re no longer alive!”

I even entertained the possibility that I had just joined him “on the other side”. Yet, where was that out of body, floating sensation… that brilliant, white light at the end of the long, dark tunnel… so typically reported by many a Near Death Experience (NDE) returnee?

My downward glance readily confirmed my still firmly grounded feet. There were no paramedics trying to jump start my sprawled out on the carpet, lifeless body. No tunnel vision, either. Even the ambient lighting had never exceeded the above, fluorescent fixtures. I could sense the puzzled, still startled look, frozen on my own face.

My friend almost seemed to be reveling in how he was spooking me out. He could not even begin to contain his wide grin and chuckling. Oh, how typical this had been of his brand of humor. And, on this occasion, he still had his peerless sense of comedic timing down pat.

Eventually, he relented and filled in the missing details of his death. Indeed, there had been a heart attack… BUT… the person who’d actually suffered it was the thief who’d stolen his wallet. Since New York driver’s licenses of that era were issued sans photos, the Canadian authorities had only a minimal physical description… so generic it could’ve easily described tens of thousands of men. Additionally, the discovery of their error had occurred too late to “kill” his death notice.

As we parted company that evening, it had been our warm, 98.6º, firm handshake, which, ultimately, had proven that no ghostly apparitions were we!

As I drove home… alternately glancing between the the nearly deserted road ahead and crescent moon breaking through the clouds on the western horizon… I still felt haunted by the lingering aftereffects of my “NDE.”

As for my friend’s “NDE”? In a sense, he got to trick his way out of death and enjoy the treat of reading his own obituary, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Erudite Man’s Yawn

 

My father died on the operating table on this very day, 1988, yet existed for another six weeks.

Sad story short, he had been in denial of Cancer’s warning signs and waited too long. His surgeon had no sooner begun his procedure when he realized his patient was beyond help. Dad had further complicated matters by intentionally leaving blank his pre-op, advanced directives form. So, that categorized him as Full Code. That meant each and every time a medical crisis arose, he expected his doctors and nurses to engage in hospital heroics… at all costs.

We, his family, had also felt duty bound to honor his (by default) directive. Factoring in our false hopes for a miracle and…

Dad was doomed to lead a worthless, ventilator dependent, pharmacological false life. The final chapter of his life could’ve been titled: My In-Limbo Full Code HELL. Even worse, the ventilator tube did not permit him to speak… not even whisper. Hell, he couldn’t have told us “Enough is Enough”  even had he wanted to.

Albeit briefly, my father did muster a rally. The ventilator now removed, we had hoped to talk to him but… the interaction of the regimen of painkiller drugs and/or his cancer metastasizing to his brain had prevented him from forming any intelligible words. About the only sound that sounded even remotely human was his yawn.

The erudite, college educated educator, who could lecture on higher
Math and all of the Sciences had now been reduced to a mere yawn.

Our hoped and prayed for miracle never came. My father’s indecision, eventually, became my mother’s decision and, within mere hours of her freeing her husband from his Full Code Prison, he took his final breath.

My message…

Don’t ever let this happen to any of your loved ones. Don’t ever let this happen to you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 March 24ths for the Virtual MemoryBook

 

Sixteen years ago, March 24th fell on a Monday… the day my nearly 90-year-old mother fell and fractured her femur… the final, full 24 hour day she lived in her home of 42 years.

Within mere minutes of my summoning an ambulance, we both could hear the approaching siren’s Doppler shift… the increase in volume. Once parked out front, the flashing red lights began casting their surreal, subdivision-wide strobe effect.

The EMTs did what they do best… rapidly evaluated and prepped their patient. As the midnight hour neared, they wheeled Mom out on a gurney, I locked up, started up my backed into the garage car, idled the engine in the lower driveway and awaited to join them on our ride to the local, nearby hospital. Even at normal highway speeds, our ETA would be five minutes, tops. At the stroke of midnight, we were on our way.

Since I knew sirens could easily, overly stress out my mother, I had requested they not use them unless the situation became a life or death matter. I was so relieved that her condition permitted them to heed my heads up.

Long sigh… within a week of successful surgery to repair her fractured leg, pneumonia had set in. Her advanced years and one year earlier heart attack all conspired to make her chances for rallying slim to none.

Mom’s ambulance ride, eventually, turned out to be a one way trip. Her Earthly Home left behind, the sequence of her rapidly changing forwarding addresses had become… Nursing Home… Funeral Home… Eternal Home.

This past Sunday, the 24th, from my own perspective, I could not help but dwell upon Mom’s final 24 hours in her home… the home I wound up inheriting. By early evening, I had wound up falling asleep on the living room sofa. But… oddly enough… with this day’s final five minutes rapidly ticking down… I had awoken… instantly cognizant of that timing’s significance. I threw open the front door and made my exit into the still of the night…standing on the dimly street lit porch… my eyes panning the entire neighborhood… my mind time tripping to that not so distant past.

At the stroke of midnight… just as I was about to turn to go back inside… I could hardly believe my own eyes. An ambulance was driving on by… traveling along the very same highway… in the same southerly direction… at the posted speed limit… no flashing reds… no siren…

And while there would’ve been no reason to be following them in my car this time… I did follow them with my eyes. And once they were no longer in sight… my gaze averted upwards… to the heavens…

 

 

 

A Mother’s Day To Remember!

 

My Mom and Dad had lived out their first 35 years residing in northern Minnesota… Iron Range country. Following their nuptials in the waning days of August 1948, their honeymoon route to their Michigan destination had spanned approximately 1288km (800mi). However, their long drive wasn’t entirely romantic, it involved an economically time sensitive issue, too. You see, at their journey’s end, the public school bells would soon be ringing… and a newly opened, teaching position already awaited Dad.

Both of my folks had wound up waving good-bye to parents, siblings, dear friends and old haunts. I do believe Dad had made the emotional adjustment far easier… or perhaps he had just been too overworked and under-appreciated by his new superintendent / boss to notice the social vacuum? As for Mom? Basing my observations upon my own first hand experiences, I can wholeheartedly attest to the fact that the mindlessness and drudgery associated with domestic duties usually leaves one far too many opportunities to ruminate and regret.

The sad situation… was (still is) how… from time immemorial… society has devalued teachers. Even when, prior to her first pregnancy, Mom had briefly taught in the same school system as her husband, their combined incomes still meant too little money to pay for what they deemed to be life’s “luxuries”. For example, they simply could not justify the cost of attending far away, family reunions. Hell, they even considered placing a long distance phone call to be living high off the hog. That fully explains why Mom and her family got in the habit of mailing letters to each other at least twice per month… with postage being only 4 cents it was the best way of staying in touch.

Sadder yet… is how such lifelong, monetary woes do tend to chronically persist… even in death. My folks’ need to economize had established a whole new meaning to the wedding vow, “till death do us part”. My Mom and Dad wound up interred in two separate, many miles apart, Minnesota family plots.

The saddest part of all… Since my three decades long retail “career” (sales / management) never had drawn the big bucks… at present… I, too, have experienced, first hand, the need for a barebones, belt tightening budget. To e.g. this further…

It’s now been 30 years since Dad passed on and 15 years since Mom died. And throughout this entire time, I’ve yet to justify taking on the added expense of traveling to pay my gravesite respects.

Of course, I’ve tried to be philosophical about it all. My consolation? Well…

The the light years immensity of our intergalactic universe, in comparison to the insignificance of that interstate distance of 1288km, will likely go unnoticed whenever I’m paying my respects to my folks from afar. To add a bit more spin, should not such remembrances prioritize the warm, qualitative feelings over the cold, quantitative statistics?

And… speaking of qualitative…

Because the very first Mother’s Day following my Mom’s passing on had occurred on Sunday, May 11, 2003, I was feeling strongly motivated on Friday, May 11, 2018 to pay my long distance respects. So, I opted to extend my morning constitutional… to power walk towards the very finest parkland my lifelong hometown has to offer… and I kid you not… it’s located right next-door to the cemetery.

For the benefit of those who are unfamiliar with my past posts, to give you some sense of the splendor of this nature reserve, let me offer up this brief illustrative passage as it appeared in my April 18, 2016 blog, titled: A Sliver of Sunlight…

Though my words won’t do it full justice… we’re talking about 50 acres of rolling terrain, wetlands, nature trails and the calming “white noise” generated by a long winding river. This is the home turf for a diverse ecosystem of flora and fauna… this serenity beckoning all free spirits to… wander beneath towering pines, elms, oaks and maples… traipse through fields of clover… behold a vast variety of wild flowers and groundskeeper planted perennials… hear the buzz of bees… the honks of geese and quacks of ducks… the birdcalls of sparrows, robins and countless other feathered species… eyewitness the occasional visiting deer, foxes and waddling woodchucks.

While some of you might call me spiritual… others could easily dismiss me as delusional. But, as far as I’m concerned, this park is akin to a mystical land where, on several occasions, I’ve experienced some of life’s “Oh Wow” moments.

I even interpret such events to have been my late Mother’s way of communing with me. It’s not just that these events DO occur, it’s how they all require such perfect astronomical and meteorological alignment and timing. These phenomena cannot possibly be mere happenstance. Allow me to relate my most recent experience…

My arrival had occurred twenty minutes into this past Friday’s sixth hour. Since the overnight overcast skies had persisted into the dawn, with no dew on the ground, I had found the conditions favorable for wandering throughout the park-grounds. Shortly before 7 a.m., just as I sat down on my favorite bench and had begun communing with Mom… just as I was facing northward and overlooking the river’s small waterfall… out of the corner of my left eye, all the sudden, I had noticed the pervasive, dismal, grey funk suddenly lightening and brightening up. I glanced westward and upward at precisely the right moment to behold a few stray sunbeams… notice how they had penetrated a very slender break in the cloud deck and woven just enough of their gleaming light to illuminate the treetops… just the treetops. And then?

Within sixty seconds of this light show’s onset, it had ended. Pivoting to quickly face the eastern skies, the thick grey clouded curtains had already closed, which confirmed no encore would be forthcoming. But… at the risk of repeating myself I now remind…

Should not such remembrances prioritize the warm, qualitative feelings over the cold, quantitative statistics?

And, I certainly could feel the warmth of my Mom’s love, everlasting, interwoven within those sunbeams. Most assuredly, this had been a Mother’s Day to remember!

 

 

Guest Blogger: My Late Father, George

 

On this day, 29 years ago, my father died at dawn. For 37 years, he had been the consummate educator… delivering his Chemistry, Physics, Biology and Mathematics lectures to two generations of teenage students residing in Minnesota and Michigan.

As a sophomore and junior I had answered, “Here” during each of Dad’s Monday – Friday morning role calls… as a senior I had been his lab assistant. Of course, I had also benefited from his home schooling, which encompassed life’s lessons.

As most of us know, historically, public school teachers have been underpaid and under-appreciated. So, to supplement his meager income, Dad expanded his lecture circuit… his byline appearing beneath our weekly, local newspaper’s front page column: “The Science Corner”.

Had Dad been born a bit later and lived longer than his 75 years, I’m positive he’d now be an enthusiastic blogger… perhaps even setting up his “lectern” right here @WordPress. I know he’d be thrilled by the prospects of his wisdom and wit spreading outward… at the speed of light… to all four corners of the Earth.

Keeping all the above in mind and with my saved and cherished, time-yellowed, brittle, actual hard copy newspaper propped up before me, I’ve decided to transcribe one of Dad’s lectures. And since 23 of my 46 chromosomes are my father’s… in a sense… 5 of my 10 fingers are his as I… no strike that… as we both… type it out.

I cannot think of a more fitting way to honor my father this day… than to afford him a bit of Internet immortality… resurrect his thoughts… restore his “voice”…  allow him to mind-meld with countless other minds, anew.

 

The Science Corner

DATELINE Thursday, July 2, 1953

 

The age old question – which was first, the chicken or the egg – has been used as a debate-ender, a counter dilemma, and even as a joke. If one discounts the dissertations of the debaters and philosophers and the quips of the comedians and truly strives for a scientific answer, then both the meaning and answer become crystal clear.

All living things, both plants and animals, are made up of tiny bits of protoplasm (living matter which looks very much like raw eggwhite). These bits of protoplasm are called cells. In animals, including the chicken, there are skin cells, muscle cells, bone cells, sperm cells and egg cells – to name just a few. All of the types of cells mentioned above except sperm and egg cells are ordinary body cells and are called somatic cells. The sperm and egg cells (collectively called germ cells) differ from the somatic cells in that the former are used to perpetuate life.

When a sperm cell unites with an egg cell, fertilization takes place. All cells, including new somatic cells and new sperm or egg cells, originate from the fertilized egg cell through processes of division and differentiation. In keeping with these principles, both the new chicken (somatic cells) and all of the eggs (germ cells) that the new chicken will ever lay come from the same egg. To put it still another way, the fertilized egg produces both the body cells which will make up the new chicken and all of the new eggs which the new chicken will lay during its lifetime.

The answer, then, to the original question is: the egg must have been first, because it came necessarily from the previous egg and not from the new chicken.

This concept, first enunciated by the German biologist – August Weismann, is known as the continuity of germplasm theory. According to this concept, the germ cells are immortal if reproduction takes place.

Next Week: Why Does Smoke Rise in a Chimney?

 

 

The “I” of Life’s Storm

 

Preface: For the past twelve years, I’ve called four social network communities home… have befriended countless bloggers who’ve frequently expressed their dissatisfaction with life… two of them at the point of wanting to end their own lives. In both instances, we, their friends/followers, had hopefully, permanently, comment box counseled them into changing their minds; persuaded them to choose life. Even so, I’ve oft wondered about the (not so) strong silent types, who’ve never blogged their cries for help.

If you are someone who is suicidal, know that help is always available. Crisis Center telephone numbers, worldwide, can be accessed by CLICKING HERE.

I’m also presenting the following, hopefully helpful, “real feel” fiction. Written in the more gender neutral, first person singular, this might facilitate everyone seeing life through my protagonist’s eyes?

Of course it’d be far too easy to misconstrue the “I” word to be referring to me, so let me emphasize that it’s my main character who is suicidal. That said…

Let our (your?) story begin…

Part One

Preface: My warmest wishes and welcome to all on this brand new day. I’ve committed my story to this word document in the weeks leading up to my demise. So sorry my tripping down memory lane must start off on a rocky road but trust me, there’ll be several unexpected detours before story’s end. That said…

Throughout most of my life, I was assaulted in various ways. Childhood’s playground bullies mercilessly, verbally punched me out. Adolescent skin problems “punched” me in the face. Adulthood’s workplace time clocks punched me out, too, by enslaving me; emotionally shackling me to non-union, non-living wage, life sucking, dead end jobs; my labors being absolutely alien to my more creative talents.

Not the best way to get into a “I love life”, “let’s party hearty” mood, eh?

Indeed, each post-workday “happy hour” involved crying in my beer. Misery loves company they say? Don’t count on it! In fact, many a time I drank alone; sometimes to excess. Although I had escaped alcoholism, chronic depression did set in. Eventually, a suicidal death seemed to be the perfect gift for the person who, at first glance, seemed to have nothing.

It had been on the day just prior to what might’ve been my last day on Earth, when I got the opportunity to take a second glance. It had been my own mother, who had, unknowingly, come to my rescue.

On that pleasantly sunny, summery, late August afternoon, she had phoned me; asked me to stop by the old homestead to help my father complete some much needed, routine household maintenance. Needless to say, I’d do anything to help my folks. And I’d be totally competent, too, since my handyman dad had successfully taught me all he knew.

Fortunately, it had taken several hours to complete these mundane tasks, for it was while we chatted, at times even reminisced, where something far more meaningful had occurred; my realization that I could never abandon my aged and ailing folks. Suicide averted postponed.

However, it was many years after my folks had passed away when I began to suspect that helping them had been my only purpose in life; discovered that my having been selfless to a fault was at fault; had played a significant role in creating my self-destructive state of mind.

You see, while being their caregiver, I had neglected to take care of myself; had let life’s parade truly pass me by. Family, friends and old co-worker contacts were long gone. Worst of all, I hadn’t paid enough attention to a potential soul mate; thereby squandering my last chance for love, marriage and parenthood?

Topping my list of worsts, this time around, there could be no eleventh hour communing with my parents to snap me out of my deep blue funk. Or could there?

Part Two

On yet another pleasantly sunny, summery, late August afternoon, I found myself, once more, plotting my own death. However, it was while tying up many of life’s loose ends (in particular, loading up the recycling bin for the very last time), when I just happened to pick up a still unread, three-month-old newspaper. Despite the fine layer of dust, a front-page story headline instantly grabbed my attention.

The reportage focused on a suicidal person who had had an “exit Earth” MO eerily similar to mine; that troubled soul winding up a paraplegic who retained just enough awareness to realize the old reality had been far better than that new, bedridden alternate reality.

Stunningly, that story had not ended there. That newspaper had a very specific dateline; none other than the anniversary of my late mother’s birth! In jaw dropping disbelief I realized that, once again, my mom, even in death, had, somehow, found a way to save my life.

Knowing I always did my best thinking while traipsing through wilderness settings, in the weeks ahead, I set forth on many sunrise, Sunday nature walks. With autumn rapidly approaching, I eventually revisited my favorite park; where a recent springtime windstorm had toppled a centuries old oak tree.

While seated on a nearby bench, listening to the white noise of a babbling stream and the off in the distance church bells ringing, I marveled at the persistence of life. In barely two Earthly seasons, this once mighty, towering oak’s still viable root system had transformed that massive stump into a densely leaved shrub. If a mindless tree wanted to live why shouldn’t I?

Turned out someone else shared similar feelings.

Part Three

“That oak just won’t give up,” the approaching, cheerful sounding voice first stated and then asked, “OK if I join you?” Looking up, I replied with my smile and vertical nod. We quickly exchanged introductions and other pleasantries; eventually conversing as if we’d been lifelong friends.

Was it just my imagination or was love at first sight, maybe even love eternal, in the air? Were my feelings mutual or destined to be unrequited; nothing but wishful thinking? Well, it didn’t take long to find out. One year later, with that surviving oak’s lush foliage providing Mother Nature’s backdrop, we were exchanging our out-of-doors “I dos.”

Within that short span of time, my spouse’s circle of friends had become my own; two of them proving to be valuable literary contacts; folks who could and did transform my ages old writing career fantasy into my new reality. Indeed, this freelancer’s essays were getting published, regularly, in a slew of e-mags and in print periodicals.

Before we celebrated our third wedding anniversary we had, twice, become parents. What a joy it has been to eyewitness our own combined, microscopic DNA manifesting itself in macroscopic ways; allowing us to observe all the developmental stages of our children’s lives; their imaginative, carefree, pre-school playtime; their scholastic and extracurricular successes; their career triumphs; their seeking and finding soul mates, falling in love, marrying and starting families of their own.

On yet another pleasantly sunny, summery, late August afternoon (now decades later), I realized how the thinning calendar was analogous to autumn rapidly closing in on my own life.

Part Four

While gazing out our bedroom window, with the sun sinking beneath the horizon, I considered how we all start out restricted to the confines of the womb and our eventual cribs; how (if all is well) our first baby steps, in time, become steady enough to take us wherever we choose to go. Naturally, life’s circle inevitably winds up closing in on itself. First we’re limited to sticking around in our hometowns. Next we stop venturing past our neighborhoods and yards. Towards the end we become shut-ins rarely leaving our hospital / hospice guard railed beds; those, which so closely resemble our days of yore barred cribs. At the very end our remains/cremains wind up in our tombs. As for our souls? Well, what we believe or choose not to believe is left up to each individual.

And, indeed, with old age asserting itself, my final days were now closing in. Just as with newborns, my sleeping hours were beginning to far outnumber my wakeful moments. At that juncture I could no longer be seated at my computer keyboard. I’d have little choice but to merely envision how my final moments of life would be playing out.

I did ask my spouse to read my story after I had died; to comment on, and edit these final paragraphs wherever necessary; i.e., to tell you all how close my predictions (which now follow) were to the actual occurrences.

Spouse’s Commentary: In all honesty, I did read my beloved’s fine essay well in advance. It was my heartfelt intent to ensure my spouse’s final moments would meet (perhaps even exceed) as many expectations as possible. True it’d be impossible for any mere mortal to confirm every element but, my being a spiritual person, I harbor no doubts. That having been said, let’s continue.

Concluding Part Five

Just as my physician had surmised, with only the minimal administration of meds, my natural death’s final moments were now playing out as an eyes-wide-open, relatively pain-free, peaceable cessation of life; where my loving spouse, children, grandchildren, relatives, friends, colleagues and other well-wishers had all assembled to see me off. We fondly reminisced and even managed to crack a few jokes.

Indeed, from my having so selflessly “been there to the very end” for both of my parents, all of that good karma had now come back to me; more than a thousandfold.

As a stray tear of joy streamed down my nine decades, wrinkled cheek, I could taste its saltiness on my lips. With a sense of awe, I gazed upon the vast sea of familiar faces; both earthbound and those who now awaited to welcome me in the great beyond. As my spouse leaned in for our “till we meet again” farewell embrace and kiss; our last exchanged dialogue involved the three best words two deeply caring souls have ever expressed to each other:

“I Love You!”

While inhaling Earth’s sweet oxygen for the very last time, I could feel my facial muscles forming my wide grin. I did experience one final, unexpected sensation; my shudder of horror as exhaled my very last words:

“Oh, the truly marvelous, joyous life I had, twice, nearly thrown away!”

 

 

Crisis Center telephone numbers, worldwide, can be found by CLICKING HERE.