Questions of my Childhood

A friend of mine recently posted something on FB the other day that created quite a buzz on social media. This is his post, complete with typos, which I totally want to correct:

Honestly I HATE the phrase “its Gods will” or “God doesn’t make mistakes” and blah blah. If your God lets cancer hit kids as his will, I will take another God for 200 alex. And your God can gtfo. Your God sucks.

It’s been an interesting discussion. At last count, there were 95 comments, two from me. The obvious question here is, How can a loving God allow something as devastating as cancer destroy the life a child? 

It’s a question we all ask sooner or later. I think the first time I asked it was when Judy Kostelecky got dead from leukemia. I was seventeen when she died. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve asked that question through the years, and to quote the progressive rock group Kansas, the questions of my childhood weave a web of mystery.

Implied in the above question is, What did the child do to deserve that? When we all know of at least one person who more than deserves to be smitten with a double dose of pain and suffering, and that sonuvabitch is still running around without any penalty.

My good friend, Don Nelson, had the most beautiful answer to this mystifying question, God doesn’t want to hang out with assholes any more than we do. Why would He take them? Why wouldn’t He take someone perfect, like my son?

I doubt I would’ve been able to be as gracious as he was if our positions had been switched.

The fairness of life isn’t even a question worth debating. Life isn’t fair. Period. But which is the greater tragedy? A childhood cancer victim, or a mass shooting in a theater, or a nightclub, or a rock concert? Which of those sucks more, and what’s up with God? How can He allow any of those things to happen?

My pastor friends would probably say something like unto these tragedies are tests and challenges of our faith in God, and I’m going to have to agree with that. However, disease and tragedy are hardly recent phenomena. Ever heard of the Black Plague? The Spanish Influenza?  Or the AIDS epidemic? Anyone remember the Trail of Tears? Slavery? The Bataan Death March?

I learned about those things studying History. Seeing how I suck at predicting the future, I try not to forget the past. And I’m positive anyone that was touched by the above events found their faith tested to the breaking point and beyond.

Personally, I’m not outraged by those things, or the fact that God does nothing to prevent them. There are a few things God has done that have left me scratching what’s left of my hair. When the Hebrews first entered what they believed to be their Promised Land, God ordered His Chosen People to kill everyone already living in the area. Every man, woman, child–kill ’em all, I’ll sort them out. Even their animals.

That was totally fuckin’ cold, man.

Another one of topics that was brought to the floor on my friend’s post was free will, and do we, as human beings, actually have free will?

You may not have given this much thought, but a lots of really smart people have pondered this question, going back to ancient Greece. Democritus, Aristotle, Epicurus and Socrates all wrote essays about the subject roughly 1600 years ago. The debate continues today.

You can look up what these guys had to say if you’re interested, but to me, this issue can be reduced to one thing.

Is God really All-knowing, or not. And if so, how does He do that?

* * * *

It’d be nice if I could settle this matter once and for all, but I doubt I’ll be able to pull that off. If I could settle the matter inside of my own head I’d be accomplishing something.

I am certainly not all knowing. As I once said, I don’t even know what I’m thinking half of the time, let alone what’s going on around me. However, there are a lots of highly intuitive people on this planet, and they can see things most ordinary people can’t.

Take, for example, the Psychic Network. Remember that? How did they not foresee that they were going to go bankrupt? Oh, yeah. That’s probably not a very good example, is it…

The idea of an All-knowing God is something I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around. The only way I can conceive this whole all knowing thing being remotely possible is if everything that will ever happen has already been predetermined. Otherwise there are just too many variables at play to possibly know everything that’s ever going to happen.

I would ask the Psychic Network for their input, if they hadn’t gone belly up.

I’ve discussed the concept of free will versus determinism with some of my pastor friends in Arizona. And just so there’s no confusion, they all believe that God is All-knowing, and they also believe in free will. They see no conflict with these two incongruent concepts. And I think they described their argument something like unto this:

Suppose you come to a fork in the road. You have a choice to make, which road to take. That’s free will. However, no matter which way you chose, God will know in advance because He knows all. I said if that were true, then our path has been predetermined, and they said, No, you still get to choose which way you’re going to go. 

Pastors are clearly big on faith, and I have no issue with that. Faith is their profession. But this is also a philosophical question, and not all of my pastor friends have a strong background in Philosophy. And this is the question:

If God knows everything you’re going to do in advance, is anything you do actually your choice? And if nothing you do is actually your choice, how can you have free will? Is free will a reality, or merely an illusion?

Just in cases you were wondering, The Impersonal Life states that free will is an illusion, and God determines all of our choices, even the bad ones.

If God is able to know all things even if everything isn’t predestined, this question, to me, becomes a matter of God’s relationship to Time. In order for God to be the entity that He claims to be, His relationship to Time has to be vastly different than ours. There are only a couple ways this could be possible.

Here on Earth we exist in something we call real time. Time is essentially a river flowing in one direction, and we are carried along on the prevailing current of Time. We live exclusively in the present, and there are no time outs in life. We can’t jump ahead to the future to see what’s going to happen, neither can we jump back to the past to change anything that’s already happened.

Please don’t ask if you can use the Time Machine.

Theoretically, I suppose God could exist outside of the TimeSpace Continuum, but I’m not sure that’s even theoretically possible. In this theoretical scenario, Time would no longer be a flowing river. Time would have to be frozen, more like unto a glacier, and as God traversed up and down the length of frozen Time, he could see past, present and future depending on his perspective. And, as I understand this, because everything is frozen in Time, everything that had happened, is happening right now, and is going to happen in the future would have to be predetermined.

I dislike this hypothesis simply because it makes God appear to be nothing more than a Netflix® viewer with Double Platinum Premium membership able to binge watch everything from the original Big Bang to the current Big Bang Theory, without having to interact with any of it, unless He yells at the TV like my dad used to do.

The other possibility is TimeSpace is part of the essential fabric of God, like blood is to humans. Everything in the universe would then be touched by God, and everything that happens would touch God. Free will could theoretically exist in this framework, and God being the highly intuitive entity that He is, He could possibly discern those events in the flow of Time.

I prefer the second explanation. The struggles and successes we endure and celebrate are somehow more intimately tied to our Creator, not that I see Him as an overly passionate parent. If He were, He might be more inclined to personally intervene to prevent at least some of these seemingly senseless tragedies from happening.

Alas, that doesn’t appear to part of God’s job description. God once had a lots to say about what He did for a living, but that was way back in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, Jesus stated he works, and his Father works, then implied that he and his Father were going to go on an extended vacation, and there’d probably by hell to pay when they got back. Whenever that might be…

At any rate, if that’s true, I’m sure there are going to be a lots more tragedies on the road ahead, and we’ll all be given ample opportunities to scratch our heads and wonder what the hell God is thinking, how can our loving God allow this to continue, and what kind of God is He anyway?

I AM that I AM.

That was God’s enigmatic response to Moses when Moses asked God for His name. The noted American pugilistic philosopher, Popeye the Sailorman said something very similar: I yam what I yam, and that’s all what I yam.

I wonder if God likes spinach…

God is what He is, whatever He is. He’ll do what He wants, whenever He wants, and He’s not going to check with the focus groups or spin doctors first to see how popular His decision is going to be with the general public. As near as I can tell, human opinion has never been part of God’s decision making process.

And the bottom line is this: whether or not free will exists; whether we humans can choose our destinies or not, God’s Will cannot be denied. God’s Purpose is going to trump anything we can conceive every time.

You don’t have to like it, but you have to live with it.

Hmm…  Really not much of a mystery there after all.

The Virgin Mary

1980.

It was the year I was in school studying to become a surgical technician, and it was significant in several ways. It would be the first major step I took toward a career in healthcare.

I was very good at scholastic endeavors, once I got beyond high school, so I was at the top of my class academically. My instructor was a graduate of the St Cloud Hospital School of Nursing, and was the first person to encourage me to go into nursing. She thought I’d make an excellent nurse. I think she even wrote a letter on my behalf to Sister Mary Jude to help me get into school.

Her name was Terri, and she was totally infatuated with me. She mentioned that more than once, and not just to me. She announced it to the entire class. In Terri’s defense, I reminded her of her ex-husband, and while they were no longer married, they remained good friends. She became a very good friend of mine.

1980 was the year I kind of saved my own bro’s life after his spleen ruptured. It was the year my brother, Bruce, was diagnosed with an astrocytoma wrapped around his right optic nerve and and needed brain surgery to remove it.

It was the year I finally got over my break up with my high school sweetheart, five years earlier, and fell victim to the total agony of love once more. And it was the year I got my DWI and ended up going into CD treatment at the St Cloud VA.

A lots of stuffs happened in that twelve month period. Sometimes it seems to me that half of my life occurred in that one year.

* * * *

Her name was Mary Terese Pyka. She was a farmer’s daughter from Royalton, MN. I met her at a wedding reception at the Royalton American Legion, I think. I can’t remember who got married. I may not have even been invited to the wedding. Be that as it may, I walked into the Legion, and saw Mary sitting at a table with a few other girls.

And, yes, I fell in love with her the moment I saw her.

I bought a couple beers, walked over to her table, and asked if she wanted to dance. In between dances, we talked. She was going to St Cloud State University, business major, and was a couple of years younger than me. I had taken several General Education classes at SCSU after I was discharged from the Army, so we had that in common.

Mary was smart and beautiful, two of my favorite qualities in a woman. She was about my height, long blonde hair, eyes as blue as the sky, azure pools a guy like me could get lost in, and a totally hot body.

We drank and danced the night away, and had a really good time. I told her I’d like to see her again, and she gave me her phone number.

I’ve always been rather partial to brunettes, so I was actually kind of surprised that I liked Mary as much as I did. Most, if not all, of the women I dated post-Maureen had dark hair and eyes, much like Maureen. And the more they resembled her, the better I liked them.

Mary didn’t physically resemble Maureen at all. If she resembled any woman I’d previously had a crush on, it was Judy Kostelecky, my seventh grade classmate who got dead way too soon.

* * * *

I was about halfway through with my surgical technician training when I met Mary. I did half of my OR clinicals at the St Cloud Hospital, and the other half at Unity Medical Center in Coon Rapids. I had just moved into an apartment across the street from police department in Coon Rapids with my buddy, Gary Miklos. I think that was the last time we were roommates.

I called Mary a few days after the wedding reception, and we talked for a couple of hours. We talked on the phone a few times, and we really seemed to hit it off. I asked her out. We agreed to meet at the Ground Round in St Cloud. She went to school and worked in St Cloud, so she would already be in town. It was a Wednesday night in early May. I told Gary where I was going, and who I was meeting. He knew who Mary was. She was a sophomore at Royalton High when he was a senior there.

I bought a single long stemmed pink Gerbera daisy, and gave it to Mary when we met in the parking lot. We had a couple of drinks and dinner, and talked and talked. I told her some of my Army stories, and made her laugh a lots.

She told me a lots of stuffs about herself. And one of the things she disclosed was she had never had sex. I just about choked on a handful of peanuts.

“Let me get this straight. You’re twenty-two years old, and you’re still a virgin?”

“Yep. I’ve been saving myself for my husband, and my wedding night.”

“Wow. I didn’t think girls like you existed anymore.”

“Is that a bad thing?”

“No, just a surprising thing. Given my checkered past, I didn’t think I’d ever meet the Virgin Mary in person.”

In the parking lot, I asked if I could kiss her. She smiled, and nodded. She was a very good kisser. In that regard, she reminded me very much of Maureen.

* * * *

I know I fell deeply in love with Mary in a very short amount of time, and she fell equally hard for me. I was the first guy she fell in love with, so everything was new and exciting to her. I was probably ready to give love another chance, but I was surprised by how quickly she broke through all of my defenses. No one had been able to do that since Maureen. We started dating seriously, and spent as much time with each other as we could fit into our schedules.

I drove out to the farm to meet her parents. Her dad loved me. Her mother hated me. I took her to The Ranch to meet my family. My parents loved her. She was a darling young woman.

I sent flowers to the farm, and her workplace. I sent her cutesy romantic cards. We talked on the phone almost every day that didn’t see each other. We talked about our respective days. We talked about getting married. We talked about everything and anything. My phone bill was off the charts.

When we were together, we couldn’t keep our hands off of each other. We kissed for hours. More than once Mary looked me in the eye and said she no longer cared if she was still a virgin when she got married, but I thought her dream was really very sweet, and almost sacred. I actually declined to take advantage of her.

Yeah, I can’t believe it either. I think my affair with Nadina had everything to do with my response. It wasn’t that I wasn’t tempted to pluck that cherry, but by not plucking it when it was so freely offered would hopefully balance the scales a little more in my favor with God, maybe. It’s probably what I thought at the time at any rate.

That only made her love me more. As for me, I couldn’t have loved her more if I had tried. I was happier than I had been in years. I was finally getting my life together. I was doing well in school. I had job offers from both of the hospitals I was training at. And I had a gorgeous girlfriend that was crazy about me.

Life, as I saw it, couldn’t have gotten any better. And if that was true, it could mean only one thing.

* * * *

On Labor Day, Gary and I bought a keg, and had a little party at a park several miles from our apartment. It was a warm, sunny day. We played Frisbee and listened to music. It wasn’t a big party, maybe twelve to fifteen people, and I drank a whole lots of beer in a very short time.

I got a DWI driving back to my apartment in Coon Rapids. I was taken to the police department across the street from my apartment, and booked. My BAL was 0.28, almost three times the legal limit. I knew I was guilty of drinking and driving, so I decided to give my full and complete cooperation to the cop that was processing my violation. I was such a nice guy about the whole thing, the cop actually apologized to me.

“Most of the guys I bust for DWI’s are real dicks, you know, cussing and swearing and lots of lip. But you’ve been really nice about this. I almost feel sorry for busting you.”

“Hey, you were only doing your job. And I clearly deserved it.” I said. And I meant it.

I was given a ticket, and a court date. And because I had been such a decent guy about the whole thing, the cop drove me across the street to my apartment, rather than lock me up. He wished me well as he drove off to serve and protect the community once more.

Believe it or not, that actually happened.

I have no clear recollection of what happened the rest of that day. I’m not sure when I told Mary what happened, but I do know she cried herself to sleep that night. And the next time I saw her she told me I had broken her heart.

“I don’t know, maybe this is what happens when you fall in love.” she said, her eyes full of tears. I had no verbal response, so I held her close and we kissed until we both felt better. But it was only a temporary fix. My DWI was the beginning of the start of the end of our relationship.

* * * *

I made arrangements to check into the St Cloud VA before I ever set foot in the courtroom. I figured it would make me look better to the judge. I was given a $450.00 fine, and 45 days in jail. The jail time was suspended pending my successful completion of a licensed CD treatment program.

I had just successfully completed my surgical technician training, and then checked into treatment at the beginning of October. I would spend roughly the next ninety days at the St Cloud VA.

Mary came to visit me. She was still in love with me, and happy that I was getting the help I needed. However, there was this one little thing. Mary’s mother was very upset that I had entered an alcohol treatment program.

“Would she be happier if I just kept drinking?” I asked. Mary merely shrugged in response.

We talked frequently on the phone, and she visited occasionally, but her visits became less frequent, and she seemed distracted at the beginning of our visits. I attributed it to her being the only woman in a room with, like, fifty former drunk guys, and most of the them couldn’t stop staring at her. She was kind of totally gorgeous.

She came to see me on my birthday. I could tell by the look on her face something was very different this time.

“I have something very difficult to tell you. I started dating another guy.” she said, looking at the floor. “I think my relationship with you will be too complicated for my family.”

“You mean, your mom.”

“Yes.” she said, looking at me. “You’re a really sweet guy, but my family comes first to me. And especially my mom.”

“Man. This totally fucking sucks.” I said. “Just tell me his name isn’t Rick…”

I know I tried to talk her out of breaking up with me. It had taken me five years to give my heart to the extent that I had with her, and I really didn’t want to have it broken again. But Mary wouldn’t be swayed by anything I said, and that was that. I walked Mary out to her car, and kissed her goodbye. I watched her car as drove off, then stood in the parking lot for several minutes, holding the freshly broken pieces of my heart in my hands, thinking I was done with love forever.

It was the last time I ever saw Mary Terese Pyka.

As I was walking back into the hospital, I couldn’t help but think, I totally should have fucked her when I had the chance!!

* * * *

I was discharged from the hospital the following Friday. My counselors wanted to keep me in the hospital longer, in view of the fact that my relationship with Mary had just dissolved, and I had been very open with them about what had happened when my relationship with Maureen had gone south.

Yeah, I was still talking about that in my group therapy sessions, and how much of an impact it had had on my life.

My counselors didn’t think I’d be able to stay sober for an hour if I was discharged. I actually don’t know how I stayed sober as long as I did. In retrospect, I stayed sober to prove to my counselors and Mary’s mom that they were wrong about me.

I called Mary a couple of times after I got out of the hospital, but she had moved on, and asked me not to call her again. I called her mom once. I told myself it was part of my making amends, but mostly I wanted to know why she disliked me as much as she did.

“I just think my daughter could do better than you.” she said, and hung up the phone.

As much as I hated Mary’s mom for hating me, and most likely being the driving force behind her daughter’s decision to break up with me, I had an immense amount of respect for Mary for making the decision she made for the reasons that she did. I wouldn’t have chosen my family over her if our positions had been reversed. In fact, out of all the people I’ve ever known, she’s probably the only person who would’ve done that.

I spent hours staring at the ceiling in my bedroom. I thought about killing myself, but I knew that was something I would never attempt again, no matter how appealing it seemed at the time. My mom would drop into my room occasionally and give me short pep talks. My dad told me to get my head out of my ass and get a job.

Thanks, dad. I know I didn’t think much of your advice at the time, but you were right. You were right about a lots of things I never acknowledged.

I applied for a surgical technician position at St Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, MN. They were hiring, and I needed a change of scenery. I got a call from the hospital saying I wouldn’t be hired because I had just completed treatment for alcoholism. I thought about it for about a week, then filed a discrimination lawsuit against St Mary’s Hospital with the State of Minnesota.

Five years later, shortly after I enrolled in nursing school, my attorney and their team of attorneys would reach an agreement that I agreed to never discuss.

In essence, the hospital didn’t have to admit any wrongdoing when they decided not to hire me after getting treatment for my alcohol problem, and the hospital slipped me several thousand dollars to make me go away.

My attorney advised me to take the deal, and after five years of legal wranglings, I took it, even though I really wanted St Mary’s to have to admit to all kinds of wrongdoing.

* * * *

Of all the women I’ve loved and lost, I have the most questions about Mary. Would I have stayed sober if we had stayed together? I probably never would’ve met Nancy, or her dead husband. And then I never would’ve gone to Wyoming…

Sometimes I wonder, and that’s all. I don’t wish I had a time machine. Given the Law of Equilibrium and Balance that governs time travel, the South would probably end up winning the Battle of Gettysburg if I found a way to stay together with Mary, and I’m not willing to accept that as a fair and equitable trade.

Would her mom have ever changed her mind about me? Would my children with Mary really be as bad as I was in my youth? I think the answer to that has to be Yes! 

Maureen and Mary were the only two women I would’ve been willing to make babies with, and God made sure we didn’t stay together so He wouldn’t have to break His promise and flood the planet once more.

I’m grateful to God for that, as heartbreaking as it was for me.

And there’s this: God might have actually spoken to me if I had fathered any children, but He probably would’ve told me to kill them, like unto He did with Abraham. But unlike Abraham, He wouldn’t have offered me a way out.

That Mother’s Curse. That’s not something even God wants to mess with…

I’ve tried to find Mary on social media. She has a LinkedIn profile, but I’ve never tried to contact her as much as part of me wants to. I tell myself she got fat, and looks totally matronly now, like her mother, wearing those floral gingham dresses. And I think to myself, thank you, Lord, for sparing me from that fate!

I have no idea who she married. I’m sure he’s a decent man, but a better man than me? Yeah, that’s not happening. And in terms of a stellar life partner, I know I couldn’t have done any better than I did with my lovely supermodel wife.

All in all, my life has turned out far better than I expected it would. And I’ve lived far longer than I ever thought I would. I’m retired, and living in paradise. Except for varying degrees of back pain, life couldn’t get much better.

I’ll take the back pain. Maybe that’ll help postpone things going totally all to hell again any time soon…

For Whom the Bell Tolls

If you don’t die to death from SIDS, you’ll probably live long enough to lose someone you love to death. A friend, a sibling, a parent, grandparents, someone. Death is out there, waiting. Sooner or later, it will come calling for us all.

As a nurse, I was exposed to a fair amount of death. People are generally hospitalized because there’s something wrong with them, and sometimes that thing can kill you to death. As a result, people tend to sometimes got dead when they check into the hospital to be treated for whatever ailment they happen to be being treated for.

I couldn’t tell you how many of my former patients got dead during my career. A whole lots. That’s a guess. And as a nurse I can tell you, you get used to death. Some of those deaths were shocking, and saddening. Some of them were not.

But death isn’t always part of the job, and then it’s personal. And those are almost always very saddening.

The first person in my family I remember dying to death was my mother’s dad. My grandfather woke up one summer morning in 1972 complaining of a severe headache. My grandmother gave him a shot of brandy, her cure-all for everything, and then he collapsed to the kitchen floor. He died in the hospital a few hours later of a massive stroke.

His funeral was the first funeral I attended.

Death has taken a lots of my friends and family members over the years. The first of my friends was a girl I knew in the seventh grade. Judy Kostelecky. She was one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. Blonde hair, blue eyes. Yeah, I fell in love with her the moment I saw her. She might be the first girl I fell in love with. She died of leukemia in 1973.

Lou Ann Dougherty was one of my classmates in high school. She died of an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1974. She was one of my high school sweetheart’s best friends. Lou Ann’s death was an enormous collective shock to my entire class.

There was nothing I could’ve done to save any of them, but I might have been able to save Mike Perkins, the clerk of court at my court-martial, if I had believed Roy Bowman when he said he was going to kill Mike to death.

* * * *

Roy was a low-level drug dealer on Fort Sill when I met him, but he wanted to be an higher level drug dealer. I had made a few transactions with Roy in the year or so I that had known him. He sold a little bit of everything, weed, speed, PCP. His weed wasn’t the highest quality, but everything else he sold was top-notch.

Roy dropped in at my room in the barracks a few days before Mike’s murder. Roy was upset, and was venting to me as we got high and drank beer, and was hoping to gain some information from me.

Roy wanted my opinion on who had ratted him out. I’ll never be able to figure out why, but I was the guy a lots of guys talked to when they were trying to figure out certain aspects of their lives. Like I was so well put together or something.

“Roy, what you do is a supply and demand business. And you can supply what a lots of us are demanding. I can’t think of anyone, especially anyone in this barracks, who would rat you out.”

He told me he thought it was Mike, but I can’t remember why. I replied it could just as easily have been anyone else, but it most definitely wasn’t me. And then Roy said something like unto this, “Well, I know this. As soon as I find out who it is, I’m gonna kill that motherfucker!”

I’ve heard a lots of people say that line when they were upset, but the thing is, I doubt any of them would’ve actually killed anyone to death, even if they had the means and the opportunity. It’s something people say, but they rarely ever mean it. So I wasn’t overly concerned by Roy’s statement at the time.

As a matter of fact, I pretty much forgot all about it.

Four days after my court-martial proceedings, Roy  ran into Mike at one of the stripper bars in Lawton, the Play Pen Lounge. One of the fabric free shoe models I dated danced there. The place was a dump, and that’s a generous description of it.

There was a confrontation in the parking lot, and a lots of yelling and cursing and stuff. Roy shoved Mike into his car, and drove about twenty miles outside of town to Rush Lake. He beat Mike to death with his fists and a tire iron, then threw Mike’s body in the lake. Mike’s body was found the following day by a fisherman.

I was a little freaked out by Mike’s murder when I heard about it, but only because he had been murdered, and he was the first person I knew who got dead by being killed to death by another human being. I didn’t put two and two together until Roy was actually arrested.

I remembered my conversation with Roy when one of the guys in the barracks told me Roy had been arrested for murder, and I told him what Roy had said, but I didn’t think he would really kill Mike to death!

“Wow! You’re lucky Roy didn’t kill you, too!” he said. That was an unsettling thought, but in a few months I’d be too busy fucking up my life to give any thought to how Roy had fucked up his life.

* * * *

When I was a surgical technician in Elbow Lake, I worked at Grant County Hospital. It was maybe a thirty bed hospital, and it would close its doors a few years after I left. But while it existed, it provided a valuable service to the people in the community.

It was good for me, too. I had completed my alcohol rehab at the St Cloud VA in December of the previous year, and that was the only lengthy period of sobriety I would have for the next twenty-five years.

One of the people that I became friends with was a lab technician named Nancy. We were about the same age, and we had similar interests. Her parents lived just outside of Little Falls, just like mine. Nancy was married to a guy named Jerry. He was a biker guy and a professional house painter. They bought an old  farm house outside of Elbow Lake, and Jerry was systematically renovating the interior.

I helped him prep a couple of the rooms upstairs. He had a bad knee from a motorcycle accident, and kneeling was difficult for him. I would’ve helped him paint, but Jerry didn’t trust anyone else enough with a brush to accept any help with that.

About a week after he finished his renovations, one of his neighbors needed help erecting an utility pole in the yard of his farm. He wanted better lighting in his driveway, so he bought a telephone pole. All he needed to do was stand it up in his front yard.

Jerry was one of those guys that would do anything for a friend, and he volunteered to help. He held one of the guide ropes while the forty foot post was slowly raised. The operation was going smoothly, and then it wasn’t. A gust of wind caught the beam just right, it shifted and wobbled, then teetered and tottered, and then it fell. Everyone went running for cover, everyone but Jerry.

According to the neighbors, he stood where he was, watching the pole as desended toward him, and did not move. The pole hit him on the top of his head, killing him to death instantly.

* * * *

I was working in the OR that day. There weren’t any surgeries scheduled for that afternoon, so I was doing some random dusting and cleaning, and looking for something to do. I eagerly responded to the call for any available staff at the ambulance dock. When I saw who the passenger in the ambulance was, I had to sit down. The right side of Jerry’s head was unharmed. He looked like he could’ve been sleeping. But the left side of his head was a total fucking mess.

Jerry looked like he’d been beaten to death with a truckload of sledgehammers.

Nancy wasn’t in any shape to drive home, and I wasn’t in any shape to stay at work. My boss gave me the rest of the day off. I took Nancy home and stayed with her until her mother drove up from Little Falls. Then I went to the nearest bar, and ordered a beer. I had been sober for nine months. I didn’t get drunk that night, but I would a few nights later, and many, many times after that.

It was grief and loss and bereavement that brought Nancy and I together. Not exactly the things that are the foundation of most relationships. So, probably not a big surprise that our relationship went down the drain.

We moved to Wyoming, and we somehow managed to stay together for a year and an half. I moved out of our apartment in Lusk at least twice, but decided to give it another try or two before we both finally agreed staying together would be the worst thing we could do.

* * * *

Death can change your life. Ask Mary Todd Lincoln. Ask Lyndon Baines Johnson. And it’s impact is even more severe if you happen to be the person that gots dead.

Death is what it is. It’s a part of life, not an especially fun part, and its effects can be devastating. But life goes on, and it doesn’t stop and wait for you to catch up.

Life doesn’t care about death, no matter how intimately intertwined they might be. Life doesn’t care how torn up you are because of death, or how unready you might feel about getting back into the race.

Life only cares about what’s going to happen next, and that’s all. Life never stops to look back down the path. The vital force that is Life knows only one direction, and it only has one gear.

Forward.

When it comes to death, the only thing that eases the pain is time. And the amount of time required for each person to adjust to the loss caused by death can vary greatly. And for some people, not even time can heal those wounds.

A very good friend of mine just lost her mother, and she is in a world of pain right now. She happens to be a nurse, so she’s not a stranger to death, but it was her mother, and you only have one Mom.

I grieve with my friend, and feel her pain. I lost my mom nine years ago, and I miss her still. I lost my dad six years ago, and I miss him, too.

I’m getting to the point in my life where the generation that preceded mine has mostly passed on. My generation is now on the front line, and death is starting to pick us off, one by one. In another twenty years, most of us will have passed on. My nieces and nephews will become the Old Guard, and if we’re fortunate, they’ll remember us, and speak kindly of us, and maybe shed a tear or two.

And life, will go on.