16 October 2016

Remembering the good

How does a person, any person deal with grief? Can everything be placed in an organized folder in our mind and dealt with in a day? Or a week? Or a month? No one has an answer and no one can give an accurate way to deal with grief.

I recently lost a brother and while we weren’t close, it still has affected me. Memories of the past, which are few and fantasies of what could have been.

I do believe in the old saying of never speaking ill of the dead. I have no need to do that. Read my books or past thoughts from previous writings and you will know everything that has happened.

After 40 years and now one death, it is time to remember some good things. Not to belittle Mike’s contributions to my life but with our age difference we really didn’t share many good times together.

Mike served America in the Vietnam War. I was 10 years old while he was there. I don’t remember letters he wrote or what I may have written to him. I do remember when he had a leave and decided to visit Australia, instead of returning home. I never really thought about it to just now but even then we did our best to stay away from home.

Anyway, while there he found that prices were really cheap and he mailed home – piece by piece – a state of the art stereo. I remember my dad setting it up and I played with it. That’s right, a valuable stereo and I was playing with it. I remember making recordings with his reel to reel recorder. Roughly six months later, when Mike’s tour of duty was over and he returned home… he saw first hand how much I enjoyed playing with his stereo. He never shamed me or made me feel guilty about playing with this valuable piece of machinery.

Within a week, he brought home some wood and plywood and made a beautiful cabinet for it all and he let me help, as much as I could anyway. I did get to stain quite a bit of it.

Mike was home for just about a year when I asked him if he would be my confirmation sponsor. As I knelt at the altar and the priest came in front of me, I could feel Mike place his hand on my shoulder. I was so proud to have him as my sponsor. He was a war hero… at least in my eyes… and here he was saying he would guide me in the ways of the church.

After Mike settled back in and went back to being a citizen with a full-time job, he invited me to go on a fishing trip with some of his work colleagues. It was deep sea fishing and though I didn’t catch anything it was a trip that opened my eyes. It was a father-son gathering. Mike didn’t have any children, yet there was enough of an age difference that for the first time I saw that we weren’t your typical brother relationship. And in reality, for most of my childhood, Mike was more of a dad to me than a brother.

And at times he even spoiled me. When he returned from Vietnam, he had brought home three boomerangs that he purchased in Australia. They were gorgeous. Hand carved, with art work engraved in them. Being a kid, I begged and begged to have one. And Mike eventually gave me one… which as a kid, I never really appreciated. I promptly took it outside and began playing with it, watching it fall to the asphalt on the empty parking lots where I tried to perfect the art of throwing it, until finally it just shattered into pieces.

Mike flew on helicopters while in Vietnam and got to meet many celebrities doing USO shows. He once sent me home a flyer for an upcoming show featuring a half dozen baseball players. He got everyone of the players to autograph it. Two of the players I remember till this day – Tug McGraw and Denny McClain. It was a very valuable piece of Americana – which as a kid I never truly appreciated. Looking back at it now, it is quite an honour to think that while flying in a helicopter, in what were very stressful times, he thought of me.

How truly sad, that as brothers, all of us, we were never mature enough to realize that what happened wasn’t my fault, or his fault, or anyone of our faults. Our parents were alcoholics, whose destructive behaviours affected us for the majority of our lives.

I wonder how many people have died filled with shame and guilt for things which they had no power over? As alcoholics, my mom was out of control, my dad was out of control, and they were in control of me. And while, my brothers were able to physically escape, I do believe my parents were in control of them as well…

The end of a fantasy

When I decided to move to England, I realized that I finally was burying a dream that I had for over 30 years. That dream was for my family, my brothers and myself, to be reunited. I thought about it for quite awhile and I came to the conclusion that reunification was never going to happen.

All of us had spent our entire lives in America and nothing to date has brought us together… so why did I have a dream that we could some day become a close family? This was the ultimate delusional fantasy of mine.

I spent over 20 years living in Nebraska and I had brothers travel through the state and relatively close to where I lived, yet they couldn’t find the time to stop in for a visit. In fact, during a phone call that took place over a decade ago, my one brother even said that, “We didn’t have the time.” So my time is worth less… so I am worth less… I am worthless.

These are the feelings I have had with my brothers for a majority of my life. Sadly, this defined most of my life. My self-destructive behaviours. My anti-social habits from alcohol and drugs which brought me comfort for many years until finally it too couldn’t bury the pain within.

So, I packed my bags and moved to England. I left behind a daughter, a couple of step-kids, four grandchildren, numerous friends and little else. I didn’t feel any guilt or homesickness when it came to leaving my brothers, their wives, and their children. The fact is, I didn’t know any of them.

Out of my three brothers, I could say I was close to one. I use the word “close” very loosely. I have met his two daughters. Once when they were 5 to 7 years old and then when they were in their 20s. This “close” brother I had seen twice in the last 30 years.

It only took eight months of me living in England to see that this dream died forever. My oldest brother, Mike, passed away at the age of 69. It did bother me… it did affect me… but not to the point where my life stopped.

What hurt the most was that I had no idea who my brother was. I had no idea what kind of husband he was or what kind of dad was he to his two sons? With that said, I really don’t need to know the answer. I wasn’t a part of his life for over 30 years why try and act like it was something different?

I did have one final e-mail from him shortly before I left America. I never opened it… that is… until he was dead. It amazed me. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t responding like my older brother, instead he spoke like a person who understood where I came from and he even apologized for not doing anything to help me as a child. To help me get away from the terror that was our parents.

I didn’t even feel any guilt for not opening that e-mail sooner. Those last eight months of Mike’s life, he probably wondered what I thought of that note and why I never answered it. To me, it worked out exactly the way our Higher Powers wanted it to. I spent most of my life, chasing my brothers waiting for some kind of recognition. Mike spent his last eight month’s waiting for a reply that never came.

I believe Mike was in a part of his life where he wanted to make amends, to rebuild bridges, and maybe somehow my dream became his as well. While reunification between myself and my three brothers will never take place in this lifetime, there is still hope for the next life.

I didn’t go to the funeral… I could of went. I flown across the pond enough to know that I could have been there the day before the funeral and pay my final respects… but why? Again, we had no life together when he was alive, so I’m not going to pretend it was all good just because he died.

Without my presence, reunification couldn’t even take place during death… and I feel really good and at peace with that. The 26th of October 1980, will live forever in our family history. It was the last time all four of us brothers were together at the same time. The reason? My dad’s funeral. Just two months short of 36 years, that Mike, Ray, Rich, and Dave walked together.

RIP Mike

20 September 2016

I Want A Job

Oh… a chance
another chance for a job
start the process
all done on-line
no person to person exchange
all that matters is what the computer shows

warehouse job?
mention… inventory, packing, picking
security job?
mention… keyholder, grounds, patrolling
type in the correct words
or the next step is nil

company approves… onward
exams come alive on the screen
need the answers now
follow the bosses rules or customer satisfaction?
tests reveal everything they need to know
final answers posted… press “enter”

stare at the screen… waiting… waiting…
“passed”… a deep sigh
and the wait begins
a couple of days go by
an e-mail arrives… interview set
the end is in sight

the day arrives… talk to three people
the future is in their hands
already so much work…
yet… no promises
a trial period… work for an hour
finally… all done

is there a job?
a future with the company?
anxiously waiting
yes… or… no
will I be the new cleaner?

19 September 2016

Celebrating Life... real life

September. A month that holds new beginnings and life for me. On the 3rd, I’ll celebrate one year of wedded bliss, in my new home – England. On the 4th, I’ll give thanks as I will celebrate 22 years of continued sobriety and on the 15th I’ll celebrate the gift of life as it will be two years since I had open heart surgery.

After reading what I just wrote, I sit here shaking my head in disbelief and in awe. I have been blessed with an amazing sobriety. It hasn’t always been perfect or picturesque but where I am today I realize that nothing would have happened without the “hiccups” along the way.

In twenty two years I have had two divorces. Whose fault was it? It doesn’t matter anymore, what matters is that I took that leap of faith and started a new life with absolutely no plan for the future.

When I got sober I was living in Seward, Nebraska and had a pretty good job and the security that came with it, yet I packed up and moved a 100 miles away and started life again. For the next 19 years, I called Beatrice, Nebraska home and went to new heights in sobriety and my work life. I was given so many responsibilities and used each one to further my career.

I had a simple life. The last six years in Beatrice, I lived in a small apartment, once again learning how to be a bachelor. I got out of debt and started travelling. No small journals. Big Ones. Across that little pond to the east that we call The Atlantic Ocean. I went to England. And after one visit I knew that somehow, some way, England would eventually be my home.

Not only do I love the country but I also fell in love with a certain person from that country. This gorgeous lady became my wife in 2015. While we live in England, we got married in Nebraska, so both of our birth countries will be forever a part of our lives.

When I got sober, I was scared, alone, and looking at spending some serious time in jail for actions that any
sober person would. Nowhere in my wildest dreams did I picture myself as an author. Nowhere in my wildest dreams did I see myself as the creator of two musical CD’s.

I never thought of life as being “alone.” In reality, I was scared to be alone. Yet, I learned how to do that the last six years I lived in Nebraska and I learned to enjoy and love my own company.

When I landed in Beatrice, Nebraska, I thought that this was it. As in, my final home, my final job. I was content to just live life in a manner that for me was a slow death.

So, once again, I threw caution to the wind and took that leap of faith and landed in England. And so far, that leap of faith has been wonderful.

The point is that sobriety has its fears and uncertainties, yet if I didn’t take a leap of faith and believe in my Higher Power, I probably would have ended up drunk again. I may have been able to stay sober without a Higher Power, yet I wouldn’t have enjoyed anything that life brought me.

I know I wouldn’t have written books, without a Higher Power. I know I wouldn’t have created musical CD’s without a Higher Power. I know I would have never ventured to England without a Higher Power.

And I doubt I would have survived my heart surgery without a Higher Power.

22 August 2016

Brexit and Independence Day

The Fourth of July is Independence Day in America. The day that America declared freedom from the United Kingdom. Two weeks shy of being 240 years later the United Kingdom began their own Independence Day! 23 June 2016, The United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union and go it on their own.

Some people panicked after the final vote came in and the people decided to leave the Union. Some wanted to have another vote, saying that “only” 72% of the people voted. That to me, was a very large turnout, when in America, they get excited if there is a 50% turnout. They moaned about not having 60% of the people agreeing to leave. Why that percent? I have no idea. The final vote was 52% to 48%.

Anyway, watching it all unfold makes me wonder how similar was America’s independence. I’m sure many wanted to remain part of Britain, if for no other reason than the comfort of it.

America wanted independence because they had no representation. They had no voice in the rules and the government that ruled them. Britain had representation, yet the people in charge of them weren’t elected, the final say came from bureaucrats, who had no personal say in the lives of their “servants” - British people as well as other people from all the European countries.

While America’s independence came about from war… the United Kingdom’s independence came about through a pen or pencil and a piece of paper. A civilized revolution where the commoners defeated the elite.

From the first day I arrived here I heard on the news and listened to many people talk about the choices. To leave or to remain. The people who wanted to leave were fed up with so many things. Stagnant wages and a loss of sovereignty as well as freedom of movement from any European country. The people who wanted to remain looked at the earnings of stocks and big business.

While both campaigns had solid points to make, as an outsider, I could see and hear that the leave campaign had the determination to make sure they got to the polling station on the 23rd of June. The remain campaign wanted to stay but if they didn’t make it on time to vote than “oh well, everything will be alright.”

After the final vote, the prime minister resigned and the leader of the opposition was put in the middle of his own party’s civil war.

By the end of the year, England will be well on their way to once again having total control over their lives and they will have two new leaders guiding them on this journey.

I love politics and this has been a blast to watch and learn from. Not just how European politics work but also how the democracy of a nation is challenged and when all is said and done, it survives.

At this time of the year and being an American it is difficult not to make comparisons and by doing so I have a better understanding for the founders of America and the many sleepless nights I’m sure they endured.

16 July 2016

Learning a new home

Well, I am closing in on a half a year of living in England. I still feel like a child learning things for the first time. Everything is in full bloom. The trees are alive and well, at least the ones that are on the highways. For some strange reason, trees in many towns are chopped. They reach a certain height, maybe 20 feet and then the branches are cut off. When it first happens it looks like a whole street had some kind of explosion or fire. Just trunks remain. Eventually, little suckers will sprout out of the sides of the bare tree and it will slowly come back to life, yet the tree will no longer reach for the sky. I find it kind of sad, not only are the trees stripped, but homes lose the shade they provided. Trees that were once homes to many types of birds now sit empty.

Speaking of shade, I have now experienced what it is like to live in similar conditions to the land of the midnight sun. England doesn’t have 24 hour a day sun but it has more than I have ever witnessed. It started about the middle of May and will last until the summer equinox on the 20th of June. By 3:30 in the morning, it is starting to get light out. By 4:30, the sun is up and nature is wide awake. On work days, I usually get up about 5:45. Now, I struggle to stay asleep past 5 AM. And at nights? On work nights, I try to hit the sack by 9 PM – well the sun is up past 10 PM. My body don’t know if it is coming or going. My wife came up with a great idea. She mentioned it about a month ago, before all this happened, so I never really thought about it, but now that it is going on, I gave her idea some more thought.

It is to have a second layer of curtains on our bedroom window. Well, not actually a curtain, but something to help make the room darker. So, along with our thick dark brown curtains, we made a temporary curtain out of a heavy blanket. Now, in the morning our room is pitch black. So much so, that last night I stubbed my toe! So, now I’m asking myself what is the less of two evils – waking up at 4 in the morning and not getting back to sleep, or stumbling around in the dark, trying not to bang into things? I think I’ll try and master my stumbling routine!

And one final thought – speaking about work. Last week, I was working with a young man, he was in his late 20s – early 30s. We were having odd conversations while we worked and when we went to break, I went to get a drink and something to snack on, while he went the other way to have a cigarette. Well, after my final break, I went back to work and saw a crowd of people and just outside an ambulance.

This young lad was laid out on the ground. I found out later he had a seizure. Anyway, he ended up going to the hospital and we all found out later he was fine. He came back to work to let everyone know he was OK. The thing that I thought about though was the cost. As an American, whenever we went to see a doctor or go to the hospital, we worried about the cost.

This guy, would have had extra costs with the ambulance and an emergency room visit. Yet, in England? He won’t see a bill, nor will he ever be charged for the services he received that day. It is an amazing system, one which I wish America would adopt. Yes, it has its problems, yet no one has ever gone bankrupt in England over healthcare costs…

15 July 2016

What A Wonderful World

Step Eight of the Adult Children of Alcoholics Group says that we made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
There comes a sense of total freedom when a list is made of the wrongs we have done.  It makes it "real" to see it on a piece of paper.  This list also comes with fear.  It is time to accept responsibility for our actions, it is something we have never done.  Growing up in an addictive dysfunctional home is not a place to nurture positive human behaviours.

With Step Eight, we symbolically strip every layer of dirt that has become us and we can look in the mirror and find acceptance for who we are.

What a Wonderful World

Skies of blue… trees of green
I hear Louie singing… what a wonderful world
people at peace… no games
no stories… no lies… no backstabbing

Imagine this world…
As John sung… living for today
where heaven is earth
and hatred doesn’t exist

Alcohol and drugs aren’t needed
after all it is a pain free life
a world of bare footed people
letting mud slide between their toes

shame doesn’t exist…
we are all children of God
shyness left when clothes disappeared
finally we saw all the beauty… of nature and each other

Katrina was walking on sunshine
and we knew we were all fine
love conquered hate… faith destroyed fear
holding hands… what a wonderful world