See Ya, 2011

For me, 2011 was definitely a year of ups and downs. Probably for many of you, too, but we’re talking about me here. It’s my blog, isn’t it?

The big change in my life last year was the loss of two family members: I lost a brother to a brain aneurism at the end of March, and cancer claimed my mother’s life in October. She had been fighting it  for several years, but once my brother passed, the fight went out of her. Children should never go before their parents.

She got to the point where she needed 24/7 care, so we all (the five remaining siblings) made the decision to put her in a “retirement community”. The last time I had a real conversation with her was the night she was transferred from the hospital.

(I haven’t mentioned that I currently live in eastern Pennsylvania, while the rest of the family lives in Northeast Ohio, save for one sister who lives in Northern California.)

On October 20, she fell and broke her hip. Because of her frail state, the medicos decided that any surgical procedure to fix her hip would probably kill her, so they just pumped her with morphine to keep her comfortable. The following Saturday, I drove out, my sister flew in. As these things are wont to happen, she knew all the kids were nearby, so she passed quietly in her sleep the morning of October 23.

There was a bit of silver lining to these dark clouds (other than the obvious one that my brother and mother were no longer suffering) in that their services brought together family members (my brother’s children from two marriages) that we hadn’t seen in 15 or so years. We still keep in touch, and one of my nephews is going to work with my California sister on some genealogical research concerning the family.

I also had my usual share of medical problems during the last twelve-month, including gall-badder removal surgery, and several steroid injections to treat various shoulder and leg ailments. On the plus side, I had no real serious health issues. I’m still in pretty decent shape for an old man.

Which reminds me: I hit the big 6-0 in 2011. No big deal. As Groucho said, “Anybody can get old. All you have to do is live long enough”. But I don’t feel old, damn it. Except in the mornings after my MMA training.

Another milestone was my 17-year-old son getting his driver’s license. Passed the test first try and all that. However, his new independence came at a price: I hardly see him any more. On alternate Fridays we used to go out to dinner at various places around the area; now he prefers hanging out with his friends. I don’t blame him; I was the same way.

That’s the gist of my 2011. Not everything, of course, but you don’t have the time, and I don’t have the energy.

Here’s hoping we all have a better 2012. “Here’s a toast to the future, A toast to the past, And a toast to our friends, far and near. May the future be pleasant; The past a bright dream; May our friends remain faithful and dear.”

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Unfinished Business, Part 2

Nieces and Nephews

Another procrastinated followup from a March post.

The final verdict on the cause of my brother’s passing was, as far as I can determine, a brain aneurysm.

The service was held at my mother’s house, since her frail health prevents her from leaving. My brother’s death broke her heart, of course, and she remained heavily sedated from just before she learned the news until after the service.

My youngest sister had flown in from California, and his ex-wives and two sets of children attended.

It was the first time I’d seen them in years. His first wife and two sons came in from Connecticut, where Terry had lived for several years. I hadn’t seen the boys, Ryan and Eric, for probably 15 years, and their mother for 20.  It was quite a shock seeing them after all that time, of course. Little skinny Ryan now towers over me, and is all dreaded and tatted, and trying to carve out a niche for himself in the world of hip-hop under the name Madecipha. His second full-length is dropping soon. His younger brother Eric had some tough times (growing up without a father can do that to you), but seems to have a good head on his shoulders.

It had also been several years since I’d seen his daughters, Morgan and Rachel. They and their mother Teresa still live in the Akron area, but had still lost touch with the Bond side of the family. Both appear to be well-adjusted young ladies.

The service itself was a bit depressing, and not just because it was a funeral service. The conducting pastor was recruited for the job by Terry’s second ex-, Teresa. He had never met Terry, but was doing it for Teresa and the girls. He started out by reading the obit notice from the Akron Beacon Journal, then followed with the basic request that anyone who wanted to say some kind words or share a memory about the deceased to please do so.

Nobody came forward.

It threw the pastor off his stride. He didn’t quite know what to do, so he nervously told a few anecdotes abut his kids and implored us all to find God in some way, if not through religion, then through our own efforts…something along those lines. He was obviously making it up as he went along, since his plan of family and friends doing all the talking fell through.

The service was, obviously, pretty short.

After eating  the obligatory service brunch, everyone spread out, the kids going to my sister’s house to hang out with my nephew Greg, the adults going to their respective homes – I was staying with my youngest brother, so I went back there to grab a nap before collecting Cameron from Mel’s house and visiting some friends.

Determined to keep the family spirit alive, I set up a private Facebook group, where we all are exchanging messages (although as time goes on, the messages are fewer and fewer). I went back to Akron on Mother’s Day (it was the first time we were all together for Mother’s Day in many years), and Morgan and Rachel came to my sister’s and hung out for a bit. Cameron and I are headed out there this weekend for Morgan’s graduation party. Ryan, who’s interested in MMA, is headed to Philly next month to attend a match; we’re supposed to meet up and spend some time together.

So although there was a loss, there was also a gain. Hopefully the reunion will be long-lasting.

He Ain’t Heavy

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For the last, I don’t know…say, 30 years or so, we wanted little or nothing to do with him. Some blamed the Army, because he didn’t come back from Germany in the same shape he got there. But that’s too easy; he had problems before he went in. That might be the reason he joined anyway.

An alcoholic. A barely functioning one, going through relationships and marriages, jobs, cars (wrecked and repossessed), hospitals and rehab and halfway houses, 12- and more step plans. But there was always something crossing the path of his success: a bottle of vodka. He couldn’t resist, and eventually stopped pretending to try.

After years of making excuses for him, of putting up with phone calls at three in the morning outlining outlandish plans of all of us jumping on a plane to Vegas and cleaning up with his surefire method of beating the house, of listening to rambling sales pitches for gold coins and Amway and pyramid schemes that would make us all rich, of trying to find him places to live, we – his brothers and sisters, and to an extent (at our insistence) his mother – kicked him out of our world.  No more invitations to family functions; he was conspicuously absent at my niece’s wedding, which he probably didn’t even know occurred. I live out of town and don’t get back often. I can’t venture to guess when we had our last conversation. When I spoke to our other brothers and sisters, I never asked about him. They never ventured any information.

Today I happened to think back on younger days, back when we were close. We were only two years apart. When our parents divorced, he and I chose to go with my father, me because I thought it would be an adventure, he because he worshiped the ground our father walked on. For quite a few years it was us against the world, every time we moved to a new town, started a new school, we looked out for each other.

Something else I happened to remember today: he seemed to have problems with headaches for a long, long time. I recall that even when he was a preteen, he was getting tested for this and tested for that as various doctors tried to find the cause of these vicious, painful headaches. Who knows? Maybe that’s why he turned to vodka. Nothing else could ease the pain.

Late last night he visited a friend, and they started drinking. According to the friend, he started getting one of his headaches, which got worse and worse, until he was literally in tears. He began banging his head violently against the wall, as he’d done in the past. Eventually, he collapsed.

His friend rushed him to the hospital, where he was pronounced brain dead. The doctors, as far as I know, aren’t sure whether the blood in his brain was caused by the violence he inflicted on his head, or if a stroke was perhaps the cause for this particular head pain.

It doesn’t matter now.

Family members in the area were notified and all rushed to the hospital. He was on a ventilator. The doctors told them that there was nothing they could do. At approximately 3:30 this afternoon, according to wishes in his Living Will, the plug was pulled.

At 6:05 this evening, March 28, 2011, just two hours ago as I write this, my brother died. He was 57 years old.

Rest In Peace, Bro.