My Mother Passed Away The Day Before Yesterday

My mother passed away the day before yesterday. I knew I would eventually experience this day, and well, as I think about it, I am glad I have. If I had not, her son would have went before her and that is a pain no parent should ever have to bear. My surviving dad, in whose living room I now sit and write these words, is repeating the mantra through anguish and tears, “I always wanted to go first, dammit.” He now has to bear the pain of losing a spouse of nearly 60 years. I don’t think he means those words as then it would have been his spouse, lover and life partner now bearing this unparalleled pain. Yet guttural pain is not known for its reasoning skills, nor should it.

My mother passed away the day before yesterday. My dad does not want to be left alone -for even one second- therefore I am now performing my role in the rotating schedule of figure person of strength, courage, support and above all, love. He wants to simultaneously cry, reflect, cry, take care of business, cry, sleep, cry and cry some more. The thought has crossed his children’s minds that he may now want to take his own life to go be with her. He will not be left alone at this time –for even one second.

My mother passed away the day before yesterday. How am I you ask? I was already fearful of my mental and emotional health when one, or both, of my parents passed. Just a few years ago when my mother had a terrible health scare I was paralyzed with anxiety for days. However, I feel very little anxiety at this time. Death is such a powerful force–there is no arguing with it, compromising with it, negotiating with it…death wins. I believe the peace I am currently feeling is due to the absolute fact that death is the ultimate, there-is-nothing-you-can-do-about-so-what’s-the-point? feeling. The strongest emotion is “missing”….meaning dealing with the reality that I now will always miss her.

My mother passed away the day before yesterday. The most beautiful, and quite unexpected, reality of this situation is the powerful presence of love: The love that is holding us all together at this time. The intense love of my life partner, whose inner beauty is only matched by one other person, and she passed away the day before yesterday. The love I see in my children’s eyes for their grandparents, parents, cousins and family members. The love that has been hibernating now for decades has now awoken…the love I have for my siblings. And the love for the man who, along with the woman who passed away the day before yesterday, brought me into this world.

My mother passed away the day before yesterday, so what is next? In many ways, I have no idea. No clue. No hint. And don’t care. Yet I do know I am going to love on my father in a way I have never loved before. I do know love is going to get us through. I do know this rogue, independent man of reason, is not so rogue, independent, or even reasonable. I need the love of family. I need to emotionally vent. I need my children as much as they currently need their father.

My mother passed away the day before yesterday, and I am seeing the love, support and encouragement of both close friends and acquaintances, colleagues and gym buddies and my beloved and precious students both past and present. All of these groups, in particular my students, have no idea of the depth and extreme importance of what their support, love and encouragement means to me. Thank you. Really. Thank you.

My mother passed away the day before yesterday and I now sit on her couch, in her room, in her house. I look at her things, embrace her unique touch and style and steep in the thankfulness of the many precious treasures that woman has brought into my life. One of my fondest memories is a letter she wrote me when I was 14 years-old, at the height of my teen “shit show” powers. The woman who passed away the day before yesterday was not a terribly expressive or tactile person when I was growing up. This letter was I all I needed and went it something like this:

“Dear Jim, I know I do not tell you I love you a lot or give you a lot of hugs, but you must know that every day that I make your breakfast, lunch and dinner; do your laundry or drive you to practice; clean your room or make your bed, is me telling you how much I love you. Please never forget that. I love you.”

 That is all this 14 year-old needed to hear.

My mother passed away the day before yesterday.

Damn.

Why I Love My Partner Rene’

I am not big on the idea of public displays of affection (known in the biz as PDAs). Nor am I too hot on the idea of telling loved ones just how much I love them via social media–when I can just walk in the next room and tell them myself. In fact, my philosophy has long been that those couples who continually post love notes and “lovey dovey” pictures of their significant other on social media are likely the ones struggling the most in their PLLs (personal love lives).

It is as if the posting and public displays will somehow compensate for a struggling connection and perhaps may set the course straight. Or, maybe, we would just like to provide the world with an impression of our relationship that it is ideal when, in reality, it is far from it.  I have known far too many men and women on a personal relational level who I know are struggling greatly in their PLLs…yet one would NEVER know it via their social media. The deeper the struggle comes a commensurate rise in the “lovey dovey,” carefully crafted, impression given in their social media lives.

Ahhh, social media. The king of impression management.

Regardless of the motivation, this is my evolving and working theory in regards to interpersonal communication and technology. Therefore what I am about to write does not fall into this category. Or I do not think it does…at least on a conscious level. What I am about to write is not a description of my loving relationship; rather it is a tribute to the person, my partner, whom I deeply love. It is about her…not me…not us…her and only her.

So why this and why now? Two reasons:

One, I am currently reflective as this month marks the 31st year we have been officially together, 35 years unofficially, and we typically like to honor the other with our thoughts and feelings. Secondly, I would like to go public with my sentiments because we live in a world of divorce, strife and relational hardships…our relationship is a sign that, with creative and outside-the-box problem solving and thinking, long-term love and devotion can indeed exist.

To begin, when I tell people I have a partner named Rene’ they immediately think he is a gay Spanish dude. Far from it, Rene’ is very much a female who is my partner. Why partner? You can read about that here.

Rene’ is a partner in nearly every sense of the word. We partner in parenting, we partner in finance, we partner in domestic duties, we partner in nearly all aspects of our lives. Through mutual support, we even partner in our freedoms.

I have told Rene’ on a number of occasions that her funeral eulogy will be so unfortunate. In a time in which we whitewash and sing the praises of even the most miserly souls when they depart, people will be singing the saintly praises of Rene’ and only I will know that, not only are all the praises going to be true, they will also not go far enough in their exaltation.

She is selfless, deeply caring, deeply passionate, and without question the most loving person I have ever met.  Her life is a devotion to everyone else. When you ask her a “favor” she does not view it as a burden, rather an opportunity to practice who and what she really is…a continual and full-time giver.

Stories? I have far too many accounts that demonstrate the lengths she will go to serve others. If you are reading this and you know her, I am quite certain you do as well. 3am and you need a friend? Rene’s goodness knows no time and place. I guarantee it.

Yet, her hyper-kindness only scratches the surface of her greatness.

She is an impressive professional who owns and operates her own vocal coaching business. Her students will testify to her amazing ability as a professional and vocal coach. Even though her goal is for every student to nurture their inner voice and use it to serve humanity as a whole, this does not mean that many of her students do not go on to professional fame on broadway or television…they do.

She can vocally coach you to be the best singer and performer you can possibly be…you might say she is the self-actualization coach of the vocal world.

In her 40’s she went back to college and earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, not to mention her certificate to teach college reading. I have NEVER met another person with her work ethic…ever…and I know some pretty hard working people.

Personally, she strives to be the best Rene’ she can be. At the age of 50, she took up pole dancing and prances about on the pole like a child on the monkey bars during morning recess. She sings, she dances, and extracts all the youthful exuberance possible out of life. It is of little surprise that many of her closest friends are half her age as her physical years and spirit years are not at all aligned -with the latter being decades younger.

I said this was not about us…and it is not. Certainly I love her with all my heart…though who would not? Loving her is like loving breathing…what is there not to love? It is I who is blessed and showered with her goodness everyday, all day.

Damn did I get lucky. Rene’s is probably the only person on the planet who lets me be completely me…who wants me to be completely me, and if you know me, well, I’m just sayin….

There you have it. Probably my one and only shot at “tributing” the love of my life on social media.

And, hey, if I can find it, I know there is hope for all of us.

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It’s Over…Good. Crafton Hills College Now And Into The Future

Each year our school hosts by far my favorite event of the year—graduation.  Every third or fourth Friday in May we celebrate the day with a breakfast in the morning and a wonderfully, positive, high-charged ceremony in the evening.

Not so much this year. Just wasn’t really feeling it.

Normally we faculty members have to scheme ways to beat the heat and the blinding, terrible glare of the late afternoon sun—so much so that the faculty purchased matching yellow and green sunglasses to sport during the outdoor celebration.

Did not need them this year.

Rather, the entire day was cold, rainy and downright gloomy; in retrospect it was actually the perfect weather conditions for a rather down and downright gloomy school year.

It was just one of those kind of years.

For me personally, the academic year began with teaching for a semester in London. Yes, the experience was overall very much worthwhile, highlighted by the fact my daughter and her man Nathan reside there and I could spend copious amounts of time with them, yet it was quite taxing as well and I am quite confident when I say I will never do it again.  The students were entirely disinterested in studying (as I would be); the program was not particularly well-run, and my experience ended with a trip to the emergency room (you can read more about that here).

Needless to say, when I arrived back in California in early December and drove my convertible home from LAX on a bright, cheery, eighty degree Saturday, even the traffic on the 405 was a welcome sight…ANYTHING but the cloudy, dark and rainy London days, crowded tube rides and masses of humanity—everywhere at all times. Some people just love that stuff…just not my cup of British tea.

It was when I arrived back to teaching in the Spring was that the parade of gloom hit the campus. The semester essentially began with a report by the state accreditation commission placing our campus—and the entire district—on “warning.” Having written a large portion of the accreditation report the year prior, I, particularly, was pretty bummed out. The infractions that placed our campus on warning were relatively minor and, for the most part, very easy fixes.  The general consensus remains that we were placed on warning due to some very problematic issues with the District Office…all issues that have, essentially, nothing to do with our campus. But, hey, it takes a village, right?

What was particularly demoralizing about this was that previously there was a sense of positive, growing optimism on campus. The school was, and is, growing in terms of both students and buildings. We were one of the few colleges in the state selected to offer Bachelor’s degree’s in certain fields. Prior to this “warning,” overall feelings of camaraderie and community were at all time highs.

As a result of this status, the school held a number of additional meetings (meetings I personally was a part of) to determine if we should give our current District Chancellor a vote of no confidence. A number of negative, contentious and overall yucky meetings later, we did.

Then the real tragedies struck. A very popular and well-liked student on campus, Adam, who had just been accepted into UC Berkeley, died in a tragic car accident. Just a couple of days later, a beautiful and intelligent young student, Amanda, was found dead.

The entire campus has been grieving these losses for weeks.

So, the campus community sat in the cold and rain on this Friday evening in May fairly exasperated. Tired. Happy it’s over and certainly ready to move on.

Yet something hit me as I sat in the gloom and the cold rain hit my face. Something that just snuck up on me as if out of nowhere. I just looked around and there it was.

I really love these people.

These people -staff. faculty, students- are my family. I really care about them. Perhaps by collectively mourning together and dealing with negative circumstances, we reached a new level of care and concern for each other that, perhaps, we could not experience in any other way.

I realized Crafton Hills College is not just a job, a paycheck and a place to do what I love. It is home to my family, my friends and the people on this planet I care deeply about.

I am quite certain that we, together, will rise like the Phoenix out of the ashes and become bigger, stronger and tighter than ever.

We carried on with our traditional end of the year faculty and staff party after the graduation. Our President, Dr. Cheryl Marshall, was particularly festive and far more gregarious than usual. It was little wonder why. It was very easy to see the pain and burden she has been carrying these past few months…you can read it on her face as easy as a pop up children’s book.

It was just one of those kinds of years.

Her festive and gregarious spirit screamed one thing: It is over—and it is time to move on.

Yet, now we move on stronger in spirit and community. We cry together, we mourn together, we party together, we dance together and we work together.

And it’s over. It’s goddam fucking over.

Good.

Now it is time to rest and get ready to rise out of these dirty ashes.

Together.

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Things That Go Bump In The Night. Oh. That Was My Head.

Life. FCBEdamned life. Perhaps Forrest Gump’s mom was right, “You never know what you’re gonna get.”

I was scheduled to leave Europe on Monday and head back to Los Angeles after several months abroad. Bittersweet? For sure. As much as I love the conveniences of home and the safety of routine, traveling is a drug and I am an addict (please read my next still unpublished blog…written but not yet posted, coming soon).  Alas, it is a Tuesday evening and I am still here in London.

Missed my flight and all.

On Sunday evening, the evening before my flight home, I went to bed and woke up in a UK Hospital Emergency Room.  I do not remember most of it. The story goes that I woke in the middle of the night, fell right over a coffee table and face planted right eye first into the corner of either the coffee table or radiator (blood spatters are currently being investigated by Dexter). I was staying with my daughter Rosie and her man Nathan when they heard a thud. Thinking I was just getting ready for my early morning flight in a loud (and rude) manner, they thought nothing of it until they looked at the clock and saw it was 2am…4 hours before I was to get up.

They jumped out of bed and saw me leaning against the radiator with blood everywhere, while kneeling in a pool of it. I was out of it…as if I was the recipient of a circa 1995 Mike Tyson blow to the face. I do not remember the paramedics arriving, nor the ambulance ride, nor the emergency doctors examining me. My first recollection was when I felt a needle go through my skin over my right eye, 17 or so stitches to close up a bleeding and gaping wound.

I lay in a hospital room as I begin to come to consciousness.  I recollect the man across from me was screaming in pain. Dejected, sick and hurting people were all around me.  As the morning progressed, I began to make sense of things. As my eyes first opened I saw my daughter Rosie and her man Nathan, gently touching me and loving me, the look of concern on their faces. I looked them squarely in the eye and told them both how much I love them

What you must know is it is not necessary for Rosie and Nathan to see Rosie’s dad in a puddle of blood to come to life and nurture and assist. Since my September 5 arrival in London, they both have been here to serve, assist, love on and just hang out with me. The fact that they were both there for me in my hour (minute?) of need is only symbolic of who they are as people.

Do things happen for a reason? NO ONE can know the answer to that question though I tend to be on the “no” side of that equation.  However, if events do have purpose (after all I have been known to be wrong from time to time) I have a pretty good idea of why this happened -please indulge me on this one.  The last few months are a time in my life when I have come to the stark realization that I am in a major life transition.

I blogged about these things before, yet this week’s events confirm all I have said.

Life is coming full circle. It seems the first third of our lives -or so- we are dependent on others for nearly everything. Of course that changes greatly from the first part of our first third to the last part of our first third….but I think you get the point.  Our second life third is the time when everyone is dependent upon us: Partners, children, aging parents, etc…yet the final third of our life we begin the reverse process: We begin to become reliant on others once again. Like returning from whence we came.

Now, to be fair, I am not quite in the process of my final third -at least I hope not- and many still do depend on me, yet that corner is turning and I see it as clear as day.  On the final night of my 3 month journey of discovery and change while teaching and traveling throughout Europe, I made myself completely vulnerable…literally bleeding out to death…with the only hope of salvation becoming completely dependent on the actions of others.  My blood representing spilled life -my life energy gushing from body- with only the hope of others. When the others are your offspring and her partner, you realize the wagons have turned and here you are.

I hear the inner voice, “Get used to it buddy. And thank FCBE you have the good fortune to have the others in your life.

I now look in the mirror and see a broken -literally- man with a black and red eye, a swollen forehead and a look of defeat -at least physically. Yet if you look deeper you see a man who is changing, knows the change, feels the change, and, yes, even welcomes the change.  I welcome the beauty of a new season and the challenges it shall bring.

Oh, and did I mention I am deeply in love with my daughter and her man? Deeply, and man I mean freaking deeply.

I read a meme on Facebook today that said, “Crying is not a sign of weakness, it is sign that you have been strong far too long.

The last 24 hours I have lived that meme. I have cried. Not due to any physical pain but due to the realization that my love for some people in my life runs deeper than I could ever have known.  Or imagined. Or realized. Wow do I love Rosie and Nathan. Wow do I love my family. Wow do I love my life partner. Perhaps crying is perceived strength leaving the body while the tears make room for the real strength of love and humility.

Sure in life we never know what we’re gonna get, yet I know what I got in my family. And, at this vulnerable moment in my life, nothing else really matters.

I am still in the UK attempting to get clearance from the medical authorities stating it is ok for me to fly.

So I wait…at Rosie and Nathan’s London flat of course. Feeling overwhelmed, in some physical pain, but full of love and gratitude.

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(Afterward: I am now back at home in Santa Clarita both waiting to have my stitches removed and for Rene’ to get back from the UK as she came out to check on me. I look forward to her return on Tuesday. Damn life. You just never know what you’re gonna get. And maybe that is why I love it so much.)

The Lovely Trickles Of Life

There are some major challenges many of us take on in life.  In my experience none has been so daunting as taking on the challenge of parenthood some 26 year ago.  I suppose it would not be quite as daunting for those who care little for wanting to be a present parent who strives for excellence, yet this is not the case for neither Rene’ nor I: We wanted to be as good as we could be…still do.  This is not to say we were excellent parents, it is only to say we tried to be excellent parents, it was important to us –and I suppose our children’s therapists will have the final say about that.

Now, 4 adult children later, we are starting to see trickle in, ever so slowly, the fruits of our labor, the product of our efforts. These trickles generate from a circular and flowing life spring, identified by many a philosophy or religion as karma, cosmic justice, or simply reaping what you sow.

I have heard it said that you can determine  -in the majority of cases- whether a parent was good or bad parent based on whether their adult children like them or not (key word being ADULT as every 13 year old girl on the planet is obliged to hate their parents for a sizable amount of time).  Chances are if your adult children want to either avoid or even do physical damage to you, well, probably not such a good job in the nurturing department. If, on the other hand, your adult children still want to hang with you and even serve you, job well done. And, of course, there are plenty of exceptions to this.

That being said, as I share the following it is in no way presented as a self-aggrandizing means of arrogance or boasting in the parental department -quite the opposite. It is shared with my readers from a man who is not getting any younger, not getting any stronger (though, dammit, I am still gonna try!) and finds himself more dependent on life’s little crutches, be it reading glasses or hand rails, while starkly realizing his dependence upon the assistance of others is only going to increase in the upcoming years.

It comes from a humble and thankful place. It comes from a needy place. It comes from a place where trickles of love, kindness and assurance are not wanted, they are truly needed.

So last night when my daughter Rose, who is “babysitting” me during my nearly 3 month stay in London, observed that it was a ridiculous £4 to do a load of laundry at the local launderette, continued to promptly fling a 10 lb. sack of my sweaty socks and underwear on her back to take on her 30 minute bus ride home, where she could more inexpensively do my laundry herself, well, I felt a trickle of family love and kindness.

When I received the following short and sweet Viber message yesterday from my daughter Tess who is currently studying in New Zealand: Dad, thanks for quizzing me on every book I finished reading when I was little. Short, sweet, and touching -and I felt an oh-so-slight, yet ironically strong, trickle of love and appreciation.

When my son Jordan recently recognized me in a social media update another trickle of assurance was felt: Jimmy is on his way to live abroad in London for a few months and to potentially follow in his sons footsteps by doing some continental hitchhiking afterwards. He gets to step out of his comfort zone and meet a new part of himself, maybe even get to a Rainbow Gathering. At the same time he’s got a cool blog and podcast he has been consistent with updating for well over a year now, something I have been trying to do since the seventh grade.

Of course, I must mention, that the cool blog and podcasts would have never have been possible without his brilliant technological trickles of assistance.

And, of course, when my youngest Stevie says he want to be rich by age 30 and he  will be able to take care of his mom and dad with no worries, even though I will not hold my breath -I still feel the trickle of happiness and love.

These observations are written by a man who is watching his 81 year-old father, hardly able to get out of bed anymore, negotiate his final time on this earth. Observing his growing frailty acts as a mirror for my own life as this may be my fate and destiny as well – should I have the good fortune of many years on this earth.  I consider that perhaps enduring the suffering of growing old is an equitable trade off for a mere few more breaths.

Why? The trickles make it worth it.

My observations are written by a humbled man who is still desperately searching for his own identity in his post parenting days. It is written by a man whose affinity for the good things in life –travel, dance, good food and good wine- does not mask the realities of what awaits each of us in the long haul.

And, in the end, it is the family and friends we all love that hold it all together for us and with us. May I be so fortunate as to feel the trickles for many years to come.

The trickles are far worth the daunting challenge of parenthood.

photoJordan, Rene’, Stevie, my 83 year old Uncle Les, Rosie, her man Nathan, Tessa, and me.