Archive for March, 2014

Reinventing Myself, Part Four

March 29, 2014

At age 74, you have a right to expect that the major changes of your life are behind you. The struggles and doubt and pain of finding out who you are, that’s for youngsters. The responsibility of caring for a family, of picking up sons when they fall and applying such guidance as they’ll accept, that goes away as they grow up and leave home. If you’re lucky, you’ll then get to resume building a relationship with the person who helped you along the way.

I did. She’s been wonderful, strong when I wasn’t, nurturing when I was awkward, steady when I wavered. Our relationship is almost fifty years in duration now, and for almost forty-nine of those years we’ve been married.

That’s not common nowadays; bonding is incomplete, I think. Those who change life partners periodically, always searching never quite finding, cannot know what I mean. They’ll never wake up and know without questioning that the life partner of all those years is there, the same as she’s been for almost half a century. I hope she also knows that about me, that I’ll be there. I suspect she does.

But my restless spirit isn’t quiet, not even now.

Life as a senior citizen isn’t idyllic. Change comes, and not all of it is good.

A number of years ago our youngest son began manifesting symptoms of a disease. We didn’t know. So many little things, the evidence became much more significant as time went on. An initial matter; Kevin was delivered early. My wife began developing an incompatibility reaction and the pregnancy was medically terminated. Kevin was jaundiced, but after a blood exchange began growing. Then there was a bout of hepatitis, but it went away after treatment. More serious symptoms appeared later in life. But by then we had moved to New Mexico to be closer to our children and young grandchildren. Kevin had been living with his brother but now there was to be another baby and the room was needed. Kevin moved in with us.

He’d worked at various jobs, eventually with his older brother as a construction laborer. But that soon ended; Kevin’s balance was going. He couldn’t climb ladders. Later he manifested myoclonic jerks, and in time these became more severe. A physician prescribed Depakote, a heavy dose. The jerks subsided but the disease worsened. One day Kevin was sent home from his job at Solo Cup, unable to return unless cleared to do so fby a doctor. That didn’t happen. Instead, based on the doctor’s evaluation, Kevin was medically retired. We realized that something very serious was going on. The usual tales say that it takes numerous attempts before Social Security disability is approved. Kevin’s sailed through on the first try. By then Kevin was getting around the house on a walker. After a fall that injured his knee, he went into a wheelchair during the day. He never went back to the walker even after the bruised knee healed. By 2012, Kevin needed assistance getting in and out of bed. Fortunately I was available, even if not very strong. But I was strong enough. I’d retired several years before from teaching. I had the time to help. We endured together.

And that’s how I came to reinvent myself for a final time. Kevin needed me to be available but didn’t require constant care. I decided to try writing fiction during the time Kevin didn’t need my help. It wasn’t much of a stretch. I’d already begun writing short essays. At age 70 I decided to join Mensa, more as a lark than for any other purpose. I found nothing to interest me in the US online group, but the international group was better. I became a member and administrator for the International Mensa Forum. I noticed something when I commented on the Forum. Most members wrote short responses, about the length of a paragraph at most. I wrote mini-essays, some of them on the order of 1000 words. And the members took the writing seriously. They didn’t peer askance and dismiss the maunderings of an old man, they read and responded.

I collected some of the mini-essays and posted them to a blog, this one. And in May of 2013 I began writing fiction. Between the occasional call to assist Kevin, I wrote. I escaped from pain and disappointment by writing; I still do.

It’s now the end of March, 2014. During the past 11 months I’ve written more than 400 000 words. I caught the bug. I doubt there’s a cure for the writing disease. If so, I don’t want it.

My first efforts weren’t very good. Practice helps. I’ve gotten much better and found an editor during this past year. Others have helped too. Through practice and from suggestions, I learned to write.

Two weeks ago Kevin’s disease finally won. By then it was expected, even welcomed. We grieve as we must, but life goes on.

Two days later my first book, heavily rewritten, was posted on Amazon for sale. The sequel followed shortly. The Wizards Trilogy is beginning to sell, slowly but steadily. I’ve found a few fans already. I got fan letters while learning to write from a number of countries, not only the US and Canada but also from Britain and Europe, even from Australia and New Zealand. The Darwin’s World Series is in final edit before posting. Each of the two books in this series runs to more than 100 000 words. They’ll be on Amazon as soon as the editing is finished. And the next two books in Wizards and Darwin’s are underway.

From soldier to teacher, from caregiver to novelist, such is my final reinvention.

At least, so far!

 

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Kevin

March 28, 2014

We’re planting a tree in Kevin’s memory. Soon we’ll meet as a family for a final duty to our son and brother and uncle. I won’t be able to talk at the time, I’m aware of what grief does to me. But I can write, and so I put together on paper the things I won’t be able to say. Someone may read the words or I’ll just pass out copies. But this is my farewell.

Kevin:

Kevin didn’t ask for much. He was much more patient than I would have been during those final years.

But this place was his home during that time, and this yard was the view he saw when he looked out of his window. It’s appropriate that we plant a tree here that will bloom in spring as a remembrance of Kevin.

Shortly after he went into the nursing facility he asked me, “Dad, can you take me home?”

I had to say no. It broke my heart. I still can’t think of it without breaking down.

I think what Kevin was really asking was if I could halt the progression of the disease, take him back to the time a few days before when he could still get out of bed and into the wheelchair with my help. But I couldn’t. I think Kevin understood then that he wouldn’t be going home again.

And day by day, the disease progressed. Kevin became weaker, but even as he began to slip away he always welcomed us and had a good word for the people he met. His brothers came to visit him with their families, as did some of his friends. He was happy to see them, to know he hadn’t been forgotten.

Friday afternoon he began to weaken. For the first time, he didn’t recognize us when we went to visit him Saturday morning. Just after noon on March 16th, Kevin’s body followed the person we loved into death.

And finally I was able to bring him home.

Today we met as a family to spread his ashes around the tree we planted in his memory. They’ll be here forever, near the redbud tree outside the window that was his viewport on the world during those last few years.

He won’t be forgotten.

Welcome home, Kevin.

Pomperipossa in Monismania.

March 23, 2014

Pomperipossa in Monismania..

Loss

March 17, 2014

I’ve been the primary caretaker for a disabled adult son. That task ended yesterday. The illness took him from me and now I’ve got to get through the raw pain.

I’ll get through it the same way I got through his long, cruel illness. I’ll write. Only in writing have I found an escape. In the past year I began writing fiction; until that time I wrote this blog and a number of short essays for friends on Facebook.

I woke up this morning at 4am, after the sleeping pills wore off. Since then, I’ve written introductory chapters to the next two novels. Television, even reading, are too superficial. My thoughts drift away to Kevin. But that doesn’t happen when I write. For you who suffer, I offer my own experience. Try it. It works. Write, share your thoughts and your emotions. And sometimes, share your tears as well.

So I’ll dedicate this short essay to my wonderful son who fought hard until the end, never blaming others for the unhappiness the disease brought him.

Kevin Knapp, born in May of 1970, taken from us in March of 2014. Rest in peace, beloved son.