Eulogy or Vivian

Sliceof1life's Blog


My sister, Vivian, was born January 15, 1956. By all accounts, her arrival was remarkable and a story that is often told among family members. Vivian was the first child of our parents, and when it was time for her to make her entrance into the world, she did so on her own terms. Mom was in the labor room of the hospital, and she frantically called the nurse, telling her that her baby was coming, and she needed to be taken to delivery. The nurse, experienced in the realities of birth and first-time mothers, gently but firmly told our mother that she had many hours to go before her baby would make an appearance. A few minutes later, Mom called the nurse again and told her not to bother with the delivery room because the baby was here, and she lifted up her blanket and there was Vivian…

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Eulogy for Vivian

My sister, Vivian, was born January 15, 1956. By all accounts, her arrival was remarkable and a story that is often told among family members. Vivian was the first child of our parents, and when it was time for her to make her entrance into the world, she did so on her own terms. Mom was in the labor room of the hospital, and she frantically called the nurse, telling her that her baby was coming, and she needed to be taken to delivery. The nurse, experienced in the realities of birth and first-time mothers, gently but firmly told our mother that she had many hours to go before her baby would make an appearance. A few minutes later, Mom called the nurse again and told her not to bother with the delivery room because the baby was here, and she lifted up her blanket and there was Vivian, kicking her heels and squirming with uncommon energy. Needless to say, things got exciting for a few minutes, and my parents welcomed their daughter into their lives with pride and happiness.

Vivian was an extraordinary baby. She was, by all accounts, a strikingly beautiful baby, and an uncommonly beautiful little child. She had enormous hazel eyes and thick raven hair. She was smart and creative, and uncommonly strong. One of the things that Vivy loved to do as a little toddler was to pull herself up using just her fingertips and hang on the edges of countertops and checkout stands so she could see what was happening.

As a little girl, she was always eager to take on the role of the big sister. I remember very vividly the time I learned an important lesson about reading, and I am certain her intervention set my misconceptions about letters and words right in a way the kept me from struggling later on. You see, for some reason, I did not understand that each time a word appeared in a story, it would be the same word. I agonizingly sounded out every word I tried to read, and it was not very effective. I remember trying to read a story to my youngest sister, Anita, and I just kept getting stuck on e-l-e-p-h-a-n-t. I kept going to Viv and asking her what that troublesome word was. Finally, she got very exasperated with me and told me that the word was elephant and it would always be elephant and if I asked her again she would punch me hard. Viv was always very strong, and I didn’t want to get punched by her, and so I asked her if all the words stayed the same word every time, and she shook me a little and told me “YES!” It opened a whole world up to me. I didn’t have to sound out every word that I read. I began to read well and when I became a teacher, I always remembered that maybe a child didn’t know something that was obvious and I never forgot that sometimes you don’t have to struggle to read…of course I never threatened to punch my students, but the threat worked on me.

I would like to say that Viv was a happy child and that her beauty and intelligence blossomed over the years and that she never knew any strife, but that would not be true. My sister suffered through her childhood with a sense of unease and loneliness. She was chubby and introspective, and was teased by her peers, and regrettably, by her sisters as well. As she grew, she would reach out to us, and often we did not reach back. She did have some close friends, and some of them have been lifelong friends. Still, it was always harder for her to reach goals and sometimes her life would take her down paths that were dark and difficult. She married a terrible man, and lived in harsh places at times. She did not always do things that were healthy for her, and she struggled.

She did, however, have elements in her life that were precious and that she reveled in. After the death of her first husband, she met and married the love of her life, Don Leonard, and they made an agreeable life together. Together they faced the ups and downs of life, and she has loved him dearly for many years. He has been her partner, her lover, her friend, and her motivation for hanging on through the debilitating illness that has ravaged her body over the past few years. Through it all, she has maintained the attitude that her life was good, and it was worth fighting for.

When I think about Viv, the thing that strikes me the most is the genuine-ness of her, and the depth of every feeling desire she experienced. I could always tell that she loved her experiences. When she took a bite of food, she savored it. When she laughed, it was from a deep place of joy. When she read a book she lived it. When she embraced you, she felt it in her heart and soul.

During her last years, she suffered a severe form of a pulmonary artery disease that affected the eventual loss of her legs. After her first surgery, Pat and I went to the hospital to see her. We live in Polk County, and it was a long drive to come to Kansas City, and it had been a while since we had seen her. When she first caught a glimpse of us, she shouted joyfully, “My sisters! These are my sisters!” Her happiness was truthful and from that deep place. I knew that whatever pettiness or old insults that we had heaped upon her were gone from her, and she was just simply happy to see us. It was a blessing. Several months later, when it was evident that she would lose the other leg, we came back up to see her, and she was very sick; so sick in fact that at first she didn’t know us. When we told her who we were, again, her joy was a true and glorious thing. “My sisters!” she shouted, “My sisters are here!”
Now her long struggles are over. In my mind’s eye, I picture her whole, unafraid, healthy, at peace. I picture her celebrating her freedom from pain with our loved ones that have gone before her: our grandmothers, our dear father, our sister, Anita. I imagine that one day, when it is my time to draw my last breath, I will hear her calling out to me, “Sister! Here is my sister!” Until that day, I pray and trust that she will rest in the arms of our Lord, and that she is happy and at peace, at last.

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I have been thinking about courage lately. The Encarta Dictionary says this:
“Courage (noun) is the quality of being brave; the ability to face danger, uncertainty, or pain without being overcome by fear or being deflected from a chosen course of action.”


I have known quite a few people in my life that I consider to be very courageous, though while they were doing very brave things they were terribly afraid. I guess the caveat is they didn’t become overwhelmed by fear, though sometimes the repercussions of being afraid never left them. There is an utterly ridiculous quote that I hear often enough to make me clench my teeth and try very hard to stay polite that goes like this, “That which doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger.” (Friedrick Nietzsche, 1844-1859) This is patently untrue, and it gives too much glory to enduring harsh events. I have known too many people that have survived terrible ordeals, and it has left them broken, not stronger. They may not have been overcome by their fear while their trial was happening, but their lives are altered in ways that are hard to understand. They are not stronger. They are broken.

I am thinking, in particular, about soldiers that are returning from war. They come back in a variety of mental and physical states. Some are exultant, some are resolved to get past what has happened to them, and some are diminished and devastated. According to figures put out by the Pentagon earlier this year, 349 young soldiers committed suicide in 2012. Even though some received help, even though some had family support, and even though some had many wonderful people and things going for them, the war still killed something vital in them that couldn’t be revived.

Now, I am going to admit something very personal. I have seriously considered suicide as an option for myself. Several years ago I was completely blind, and diabetes had taken almost all my will to live. I was in constant pain, I could not move without hurting, and my thoughts were like scattered confetti that was left in the gutter after a sodden parade. The doctor said I only had a few weeks to live if the medicines I had started didn’t take effect. I was tired of the fight. I put my pitiful affairs in order and I planned out how I would end my life. My daughter, who is perceptive and lovely, ascertained what I was doing and she angrily confronted me. She told me that if I killed myself, she would hate me for the rest of her life. For some reason, that mattered enough to me that couldn’t go through with it, and I decided to fight for a little while longer. Finally, the medicines started helping. I have gone through numerous surgeries and procedures on my eyes, and I am recovering slowly. It is very hard, but I want to live.

I tell you this to give weight to what I am going to say about soldiers that choose to end their lives. We all have something that is worth fighting for. We all have something that supersedes our sorrow; there is something to help us through our fear. For me, it was an inability to hurt my children. I love them more than my freedom from pain. I was lucky because I recognize this and I know my love for them inspires me. Young soldiers don’t always have that kind of love in their lives and sometimes they hide how much they are hurting. How do we know what motivator can save them? How can we tell if someone will need to be saved from his or her dark hour?

I have a very simple idea that might help someone. I think we need to only send soldiers to war in foreign lands that are internally driven by either the need for adventure or the desire to protect the Constitution and end oppression. Those who indicate that they are motivated by the desire to protect their families and communities should only be expected to protect their families and communities. My father was a brave man would stand his ground against anyone who besmirched his family, but he was not a soldier. He stayed where he was needed…at home. My grandfather was a soldier, and he went to war proudly, and he was dutiful and proud. He never treated his family very well, but he was a good soldier. Both men were brave in their own rights and both served their country in profound ways: one by fighting in a war, and the other by living an admirable life. The thing that is important to us makes us stronger. Faith, family, patriotism, love, humanity, compassion, laughter, security…all these things are capable of making us stronger. To have just survived is not enough.

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The Smoldering Look

Occasionally I find myself wanting to write about something that is, well, just plain silly. Today I want to write about something that is baseless and will show no evidence of great thought or depth of feeling. Today I want to write about “the Smoldering Look.”

Now, I have to admit that I am no expert on the Smoldering Look, and I usually interpret it as a rude, angry, challenging glare. I don’t think I am the only woman on this planet that thinks this way. In fact, in the Disney movie “Tangled,” the hero of the story gets his head bashed regularly with a cast iron skillet for attempting to give a Smoldering Look to Rapunzel. Since most comedy is based in the human experience, I would have to guess that more than one man has faced rapid and complete rejection for attempting to make headway with a woman with a smoldering look.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am all for the committed couple having intensity between them, but the Smoldering Looks is problematic as far as I am concerned. You see, I tend to be a fighter, not a lover, and I have purposefully avoided relationships during the time I have been raising my children, so I am out of practice, and not that great at catching romantic signals in the first place. It is a wonder to me that I have dated at all, and the fact I managed to actually get married, even for short span of time, still baffles me. I will admit that I am a much better mother, friend, sister, daughter, and colleague than I am a girlfriend. I think I gave marriage a heroic effort, but it was difficult and just left me fairly certain that marriage isn’t for me, though there is a tiny part of me that still believes in happily ever after.

I guess I am thinking about this because I think a fellow at church has attempted to give me a Smoldering Look, and it didn’t go well. This attractive man has gradually, over several weeks, been sitting closer and closer to where I sit. For a few weeks he sat two seats away from me and attempted to gaze deeply in my eyes whenever the opportunity presented itself. I think it was his version of the Smoldering Look, and when he managed to make eye contact with me, I found myself glaring balefully at him, eyes narrowed and mouth clamped in a hard gritting line. I guess I am a little bit like a Macaque monkey, in that I had to stop myself from attacking after eye contact. To me, the look was just too challenging and rude in its boldness. Why not a friendly smile? Why not an extended hand and a kind word? We were in church, and it wasn’t the time or place for such things.

I think the thing that bothers me the most about the Smoldering Look is the assumption of desire and that that is the place to begin a relationship. Maybe for some desire is the place to begin, but that is not true for me. I have spent too much time coping with difficult situations and standing alone in my own personal storms to give myself away because of a fleeting interest. I don’t want to cut to the chase, and that is what using desire as the springboard for a relationship is doing. It is taking away the cautionary steps, the journey, the building of memories and companionship, the deep stuff. It takes it all away and there you are, at the end of something that hasn’t started. For me, there are better ways to show interest.

Well, I glowered at this poor man so thoroughly that I haven’t seen him at church for a while, though he may be coming and sitting far away. Maybe he meant nothing at all with his glaring eyes and I am overreacting. I can be a bit of a nut sometimes. It isn’t that I don’t want passionate looks and deep meaningful connections; I just want the journey to begin before someone tries to devour me with his eyes. Smile, pass the time of day, put me at ease. I am a fighter, not a lover, but still I can love.

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The Colorado Shootings

It is hard to imagine that the world still spins, that in the wild places the animals survive and that in the places where there are many people that we are all still moving through the day as we always do. Does it seem strange that we all still move through our days, perhaps shaking our heads, but still we move? How can all that is happening continue to happen without us all stopping and thinking for a few minutes?

I am not just talking about the tragedy in Colorado, but the atrocities in Syria, and the inequities and violence that plague us all. I am talking about the seven hundred metric tons of trash plucked from the ocean that didn’t make a dent in the vast polluted span of ocean; I am talking about the searing drought and stifling heat that is draining the life out of the land that surrounds me. How can it not just make the world stop and sit for a while and grieve?

I imagine the world still spins, and life still moves because life is too powerful to be stopped by tragedy. Hearts still beat, babies are born, creatures search for food to nourish their babies. The pulse of life is strong. It rains somewhere, somewhere there is a bountiful crop growing, somewhere a tragedy is averted. It continues to move because there is still love in the world, there is still hope, there is still bravery and mercy. Somewhere a husband and wife embrace, a mother nurtures her child, someone receives mercy, and someone is facing a challenge with bravery and dignity.

When I think about it, the world hasn’t stopped for vicious wars, or feral politics. It hasn’t stopped because of injustice or cowardice. It will take evil’s everything to stamp out all beauty, all life, all meaning. There is still a steady flame of faith that burns. There is still love, there is still beauty. These good things are in abundance and are plentiful. They are tough and full of powerful, vibrant life. I believe it is a God-thing, and that He still reins, even when it seems He is absent. Evil has done its best, but we are still here. Life is still abundant. There is still hope.

It is time to heal. It is time to reach out and embrace those we know and those that we know need to be embraced. It is time to help if we can and certainly pray, even if one doesn’t know how. God will hear. Life is good.

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An Alternative to Obamacare

I guess I could rant for pages and pages about the terrors of the world, and I would be saying nothing new, and I have no solutions for the world’s problems. I do have a small idea, though, and I think it could help someone, somewhere. I am gong to put it out there, and see if anyone else has a thought about how viable of an idea it might be. I have an idea about the current healthcare battle that rages through the media reports and clashes through opinions like crashing cymbals. It is a simple idea, and I have been thinking about it for quite sometime. Maybe my solution is too simple, but that is where the discussion is helpful.

I propose that a registry be set up for the uninsured and the underinsured and those that have a benevolent heart pay for their insurance. Now hear me out. There are over three hundred million people in the United States, and out of that three hundred million, there are around fifty million that are uninsured. That is roughly 16% of the population of the United States. (I would imagine that is not including illegal immigrants, but that is a discussion for another day.) If those that have the means could pick up the tab for those that need to be insured, it would mean the government can look to other issues and use those monies for other things.

I have no idea what it would take to administer such a registry nor do I understand the legalities of the undertaking. I do think that if individuals and large corporations would voluntarily pick up the tab for uninsured individuals and families, that most everyone could be covered fairly easily. Of course, the person or group that picks up the tab could choose the type of individual they want to pay for. If anyone cries foul over that, well it is a voluntary thing, and a good gesture is a good gesture. So, if a fitness and wellness company wanted to only insure those that are fit and healthy, that would be their prerogative. If the payor wanted to only insure for a period of time that would also be okay. The registry’s task would be to help match individuals up with the right groups or individuals that are willing to help them.

There are about seven billion people on this planet, and my small idea is only going to help a very small fraction of those that are in dire need of a solution for a problem. But, each person that is helped is creating a possible solution for another person to be helped. Whatever the motivation for taking this problem out of the hands of the government, be it political, financial, moral, or a matter of faith, it is still a part of a solution that could bring about more solutions. Isn’t it worth thinking about?

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A Son Goes to Work

When my son was sixteen he was diagnosed with a form of schizophrenia called schizo-atypical personality disorder. This disorder is usually a precursor to schizo-affective disorder and can lead to full blown schizophrenia. A full schizophrenic break typically happens post-adolescence and in a person’s early twenties, and if treated properly, it can be managed. If not properly managed it is heartbreaking and terrible for the victim of schizophrenia and for his or her family.

Now, in my son’s case, he was diagnosed with a personality disorder and though it was very hard to deal with, it is probably the most treatable form of schizophrenia. If the victim of the disease is motivated and has enough support, it is possible for the patient to recover and never have another episode. Usually, once a person’s brain has finished developing at around twenty-four years of age, and the personality disorder is well-managed, he or she will have a life that is full and mentally well. It is possible for the patient to be free. Freedom. A precious thing.

When my son was sick, it was a harsh and ferocious experience for everyone in this family. Before I was forced to hospitalize him, he refused to bathe or talk civilly to anyone. He rarely slept and he filled his days with the stoic silence of a prisoner of war, which is what he thought he was. He believed he was an alien, held against his will and that soon he would morph into his true state and join the intergalactic battle that raged across the galaxies. I did not want to admit he was so sick, and I would rage at him to snap out of it, and the bogey-man image of being locked in a psych ward was one of my deepest fears for him. It was a deep fear for me as well because I didn’t know how I could manage the fearsome reality of a mentally ill son.

After I finally hospitalized him, and he came out of the treatment facility, medicated and still very ill, the real frustrations began. First off, I discovered that there is a huge difference in psychiatrists and I don’t believe I encountered a single one in my area that really gave a rat’s patootie for the well-being of my son. The doctor in the treatment center never spoke to me even once. I never saw him and I never had any insights from him. The psychiatrist that saw him after his release gave him pills, lots of pills. The same can be said about the therapists that I tried to connect with to help my boy get better. Schizo-atypical adolescents are not east to treat and most had no idea about how to proceed. I was stymied by poor insurance and the lack of information.

I had several things that put hope in me and helped enormously through the process of Ben’s healing, and if I hadn’t had these wonderful things in my life, I don’t know where we would be today. First and foremost is the reality of our faith in God. Let me state clearly something that is very true, and some of you may be shocked to read this. I have had well-meaning people that share my faith that had the gall to tell me that Ben’s illness was a result of sin and that the evidence of that is that reading Scripture and prayer changed the outcome of his illness. Personally, I think practicing our faith is going to help with everything and my son’s improvement is evidence of God’s mercy, not the removal of sin from his life. Mental illness is not the result of a demon’s possession of a person, it is mental illness. I am not going to expound on this, but the depth of misconceptions about mental illness is shocking to me. These poorly informed opinions are not going to shake my faith, but I will shake my head. Thankfully, most of the people in my faith community were understanding and helpful. Without my faith and the faith I share with my children, I doubt we would have made much progress.

Another thing I had going for me in my quest to help my son is that he has an extraordinary, loving sister. She was a psychology major, and she relentlessly researched my son’s condition, and even though we couldn’t find a therapist, we discovered where to look for help. She fed my fiery desire to help my son, and I became relentless in seeking out information and using the things that I thought were the most helpful. I asked questions and my daughter asked questions, and we began to understand my son’s condition. She was a loving support for me, and a sister that insisted that Ben stay the course. She wouldn’t give up on him, no matter what.

I have to give credit to the community of family, friends, and educators that participated in Ben’s life. In particular, Ben had a counselor at the local high school that was truly amazing. When I enrolled Ben in the school at the beginning of his senior year, she arranged a staffing with all of his teachers that made a huge difference in his year. She facilitated him being socialized and guided him through very difficult transitions. She was amazing, and he graduated from high school in good standing, largely due to her efforts. She inspired others to care for my son, and he had a terrific year. He was still a long way form healthy, but he made great strides because of her extraordinary efforts on his behalf.

Finally, I have to give credit to my son. Personality disorders can be overcome if the person with the disorder can muster the courage and will honestly delve into his or her life and thinking, and to do the hard work it requires to heal. At first it was baby steps:

• Go into the store and use this money to buy milk. Don’t run away.
• Shake hands with people at church. When the music is loud, don’t run out to the car and lock yourself in.
• When the squiggle monsters come into your room, come and get me.
• Don’t invent new ways to walk while we are in the store.
• Take a shower.
• Eat dinner with the family.
• Graduate from high school.
• Reduce your medications

Then the steps got bigger:
• Learn to drive.
• Your mother is very ill, help her.
• Your mother is blind, guide her.
• Take care of the house while your mother gets better.
• Stop taking all of your medications because you no longer need them.

And then my son began to take giant steps:
• Go to college.
• Get on the Dean’s List.
• Search for work to help out at home.

Today my son went to work. It is his first day at his first real job. He is twenty-one. It has been quite the journey. The goal is for him to be autonomous, and he is very near that goal. Today he opened his first checking account, he took me to run errands, he helped me make decisions. It seems the only thing that he still struggles with is going to get his hair cut, and for some reason, he still wants me there when he gets that done. I can foresee a day when he won’t want me there for that, but for now, I am happy to go with him.

There was a time when I thought I would have to take care of him for the rest of my life, and that he would spend most of his days in an institution, but God has other plans for my boy it seems. It seems he will work and go to school; he will tend to the details of his life with mastery and clarity. He will love and laugh and sing in his beautiful voice. He is everything I have ever wanted in a son, and if I need to go to the barber shop with him for a while longer, I will.

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