A Taste of Honey – Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, Dad music. Not many people knew Dad’s history in music, and his love of horns. He played a bugle in high school, but his secret ambition was to play the trumpet.
This blog is about me and my Father…his life & our family, plus his legacy in dealings of the trusteeship, plus tidbits of knowledge acquired on the way to healing my life.
Our parent’s decision for inheritance was to create a Living Trust. A Living Trust is a difficult and confusing onset of taskings, no matter how prepared you are for it, when it comes…and some things, particularly burial decisions, can go into the extreme, depending on the emotional control of each aspect and how it comes to relate to those involved by immediate influence.
A living trust is more like a corporation legally, so the complexities can be quite overwhelming as you begin the journey, for not only do you deal with your own emotional misgivings, losing someone you love, but the emotions, subsequent actions, and behaviors of other bereaved siblings, can prove difficult at times.
Creation Comes From Adversity
This endeavor began in the adversity of a massive life-changing incident, and just as many others who have experienced such an immediate and swift major crisis in life; I was suddenly plunged into new, very unfamiliar, and scary territory. Although I had a sort of preparedness for (at my Father’s insistence, usually at unannounced and inopportune times for me, but right for him) over a decade; however, once the circumstances actually occurred, I became quite brain-numbed. *Sigh!*
Trusteeship. Plunging into an Abyss of the Unknown
Being a good son, I immediately tried to assume Dad’s role after he left, attempting to fill the gigantic hole which was created in our family. My mind would not stop churning at night, even though I was thoroughly exhausted. In hindsight, I realize I had ignored my own needs – making poor choices to deal with my own needs and comforts, especially during a mortality situation. To ignore personal needs for any task, is setting the motions to plant mines for yourself in misgivings of a very personal nature. There are plenty of consequences which come with death of a loved one which need not be complicated by personal issues as well.
Beginning Assimilation and Transformation
My sisters and I embarked on a vigil of preparation when Dad entered the Hospital, preparing for whatever the outcome might become. Hopeful, yet unsure, the inevitable probability of his inter-dimensional transmission to the further regions of existence, became clearer each day, from circumstances he had actually set in motion himself, we later learned. His declining health worsened the longer he stayed in the hospital, and that brought added concern. Dad began to share that it was time for him to leave, adding harried emotional turmoil into our situation, so as I scrambled and ran in place trying to anticipate what-ifs, finally the doctor delivered the diagnosis, darkened by his own emotions at losing a friend.
According to NOLO: It's an honor to be chosen as a successor trustee of a loved one's trust -- the person in charge of wrapping up the trust after the death of the person who created it. The person who chose you, considered you trustworthy and responsible, someone who pays attention to detail and gets along with others...
In discussion with my sisters, we felt a lot of Dad’s feelings about health and resistance to getting treatment, were based on the angst he had towards Hospitals and Doctors ever since his back was broken, and the treatments he received during that time of the early sixties. Dad always said hospitals would do him in if he ever got stuck in one, and things were not looking good for him at the onset. True to his mark, Dad made modern medical history before passing on, just as he had done before. Dad was the first person in the United States to receive a successful arterial bypass below the knee, a major milestone!
Dad always lived by his own set of rules...his rights, values and morality were geared to the best way of suiting all who were involved. Dad patterned life by the Lone Ranger, his childhood hero, and carried those principles of truth, honesty, integrity and pride in America, all of his life.
Punch and Judy, the Playful Banter
When Dad learned he’d developed diabetes, naturally he told Mom. Mom, par for the course, worried over Dad’s health. An avid reader, Mom investigated diabetes thoroughly, speaking with nurse and doctor friends from years of working in a hospital, then she communicated her findings to Dad. They discussed everything under the sun, both highly intelligent and well read. The Television Show, Jeopardy, was a daily participation in our house as I grew up and continued so all their years. Mom was an astounding brainiac home participant, scoring the highest points on almost any subject. She read incredibly fast and regularly finished two or three books in an evening on just about any subject. She loved to learn, so did Dad, and they instilled that habit into all three of us children.
Although Dad loved her loving attention, he secretly felt angst at Mom’s behavior. Dad did not like to make waves, so, knowing she was acting in love, he began a playful banter. It’s a game played in many marriages. He’d say:
“Damn it, if I keel over tomorrow, it will be from my own choices, not some crap the doctor said. I will live my life by my decisions, and if it so happens that I do die from my decisions, it’ll be after living exactly how I wanted to do, and if it also happens to come by my own hand, at least it won’t be cuz of some god-dam doctor telling me how to live!”
Responsible for a lot of misunderstandings in marriages, the playful banter game can be a lot of fun… or can a field of hidden landmines. Mom’s desire to help Dad with diabetes worked fine… until it found that invisible, hidden barrier in Dad’s emotional sensitivities.
Boundary Reefs Within our Tides
You know the barrier I am writing about… that harbor of uncertain, unexplained, touchiness… from some long forgotten incident, perhaps as a child, or during developmental years in childhood. Each of us is a different vessel, and contained deep within the psyche in each of us… a boundary exists to certain things, oftentimes by unknown, unseen and unrealized edges… unconscious streams and seams of boundary… that when bumped… even if ever so slightly… causes raw emotion to emerge. The volume of our sensitivity, is seems to adjust by severity to whatever lesson was provided to us.
So a minuscule rift began… and developed… silently. As Mom began to educate Dad on her findings on diabetes, diet choices, exercise, do’s and do nots which she learned, the simmering began. At first, open discussion occurred in which they both related to each other what they learned. Then, one day, Dad started to feel “mothered” and resentment emerged, so created a role to play in dealing with the issue. That role of a cantankerous old man, resounded first into a mocking ‘tirade’ whenever Mom delivered her “learnings” on him; then, over the years, became snips. Unconsciously Mom joined the snipping club too. One of my sisters pointed this out to them and though it took years of work, they both finally broke the habit and destroyed the mold they’d briefly fallen into, as quickly as it had began, once again discussing without snippets of tension. Yay!
Dad’s vexed feelings concerning hospitals and medicine in general, found origin during late 1962 after sustaining major life trauma by way of a broken back. Twenty-eight years young, the intensity of the accident literally crushed three lumbar vertebra. Ten weeks of a full body cast wore thin the skin on each of his shoulders, plus the sides of his hips. A tortuous journey of staring at the ceiling, only able to lay, except for therapy sessions, until finally healed enough to go home from the hospital.
Early on, Dad was told he may never walk again. Several weeks later, in order to determine the extent of damage, the doctor stopped pain medications. The only method used during those days, was to stop medications cold turkey, no matter the dosage of morphine in use. Soon Dad’s legs were on fire, raw nerves screaming in agony! The doctors and nurses were overjoyed at this horrendous event, because it meant wonderful news – that his nerve damage was minimal enough to bring high hopes for recovery! They measured sensitivity at different places, unfortunately, extending the hours of agony for Dad, yet it was the only way known for treatment during those days. Dad’s pain told doctors his nerves had healed, except a few places far too damaged in the accident to respond. Medicine has changed so much since those days! Thank God!
Suffering the Penance of Rx Drug Withdraw
Back then, they didn’t taper you off pain medications like they do today, or provide alternate medications which help soften the blow to the body. When determined to be time to test healing, morphine drips were abruptly stopped. Dad was an extraordinary man for what he endured, yet never forgot those days. Even during the accident, he remained totally conscious of every movement from being lowered 200 foot from his perch on the high power, goat-head tower, down to the ground and the ambulance ride to the hospital, until being put under for surgery.
Nowadays it seems so very cruel and barbaric. Dad suffered for three miserably, long, wicked days in outrageous, pain-enhancing, treacherous, withdrawal — seventy-two tortuous hours (more or less) of fiery, raw nerve irritation, uncontrollable retching and dry vomiting, followed by sessions moving between delirium, hallucination and reality… “watching stuff climb down the walls,” as he described… all the while, also trying not to breathe, much less move, pain so fresh and intense. Later he referred to it as living in the Twilight Zone of real life!
Because of those experiences, Dad stayed as far away from medication as a person could get, despite whatever the pain was in a situation. He’d not take medications other than aspirin even after subsequent surgeries, nor see a doctor unless it was an absolute emergency, and then only after much coaxing by us family members.
Dance of Magic Feet
As kids, we used to joke about his ability to ignore pain until one day when he came home from work injured. He had taken a second job during the evenings, driving forklift for the prune harvest. Evidently, while speaking to another driver, the forklift had ran over one of his big toes as the driver left. Even then, Dad wouldn’t take any pain medications except aspirin! It took Mom three days of working on Dad before he’d even go in for X-rays and see the doctor!
Wednesday was Dad’s usual heavy day at work because the big newspaper rolls would arrive at the newspaper where he was a pressman. Starting at 4 am, the day lasted straight -through until about 6 pm, breaks and meals taken on the run. He’d medicate after work with a few beers at the Palomino Room before heading home, helping to relax his spasming back muscles and aggravated nerves. Almost on the clock, he’d fall asleep about 6:30 or 7:00 pm, then his nerves would start to fire off, his legs jumping from his feet and ankles… resembling like he was purposely dancing in place. They’d get so rambunctious, they’d wake him in time for dinner. Us kids never understood what caused this until we were much older, accepting it as a part of normal life, not knowing it was an indication of pain.
Perhaps Dad’s story will help another to bear their burden, even when it seems too great to tolerate. Dad always taught us that the strongest faith we have is buried deep within ourselves. It raised to the surface only when needed; this thing called survival. No matter whatever the circumstances are in life, you either endure it… or you die… so there basically is no real choice. We will suffer anything to live and survive, pushing vastly beyond the limits we believe.
Father Knows Best
Dad was a quiet, powerful, and resourceful man. Gifted with quick wit, uncanny common sense, and an ability to find humor in almost any circumstance; when Dad spoke, people listened. His unique sense of humor brought laughter to many people over the years and eased tensions quickly when needed to calm a situation. After he died, I discovered my feet weren’t quite as big as his, figuratively and literally. Dad’s feet were a little narrower than mine, a “B” width, size 13 1/2, whereas I am a “D” width, size 12 1/2. I’ve never fit into his shoes, ever since I got into high school. As father to my own children, sure, I learned some of the mysteries of fatherhood… yet Dad’ shoes were for the entire family, and were the next layer above me and mine.
No matter how many people make up the family, someone takes responsibility and assumes role as the head of it when needed. Dads keep it all going, so angst, disappointment and misgivings fall on him; or to his replacement, when the times comes. Not an easy task, the instruction book is more of a learn as you go situation, than one you can sit down to a book for guidance. Books are helpful, yet never give you all you need.
I’d never attempt to parent my sisters, yet as Trustee, I do bear the responsibility for keeping the ball rolling for the family. Trusteeship makes it all legally binding. Oh, I did try to fill even that gap for a time with my sisters, yet it never worked quite the same as for Dad.
Good Morning Mr. Phelps. Your mission is to infiltrate head of household, or family, and assume the head role. Should you decide to accept your mission, it will begin immediately. As always, should you or any of your IM force be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions. This tape will self-destruct in 5 seconds. Good luck, Jim.
Shadows Cast of Bereavement
For the first couple of months I cared for family stuff and personal sibling grievances as best I could. Learning these unfamiliar territory of duties as trustee, brought such an immense feeling of insecurity inside, I began to combat it, stuffing things down inside, and pushing myself to learn as much as I could, as fast as possible. A lot of unnecessary, self-imposed pressure also inserted into my life, but I tend to give that gift to myself in my perfectionistic ways. It’s like if I make an impossible deadline, some magic will happen so I “can git ‘er” done somehow. I’ve found it to work for creating artwork, adding a deadline for a piece I am creating, yet this situation simply would not work that-a-way. I think maybe it was the emotional investment which caused so much interference, yet I don’t really know. And, because I didn’t want to make any mistakes, especially with financial commitments, that slowed the learning curve a lot.
Taming the Beast – Shadowplays and Authenticism
A living trust will is different beast than a regular will; as named trustee all decisions become your responsibility; alone. With a living will, you are responsible legally for everything, quite literally, because a living will trust is a legal entity, very similar to a corporation…and unfortunately, my main adviser (Dad) was now totally incommunicado! Listen well to your elders, grasshopper, and ask even the dumbest of questions. If you learn from it, nothing you ask is stupid. And answers will come from some very surprising sources at times, so keep an open mind — that one aspect helps the educational process immensely!
Even Houdini couldn't find a "conjurer" that could bring his Mother's communication to him, devoting much, much, time and effort towards doing so. Plus, he was exceedingly rich!
Exploring the Depths of Insomniac Musings
So eventually I wore down, exhausted from all of the pressure — and fell into a trap of my own making — ignoring my own needs to grieve, the accumulated stress of each of my sister’s grief on top of my own stuffed feelings, and learning their individual dealing processes, added to by my disabilities, and, to top it all, the bouts of insomnia I’ve had since I was a kid — I simply could not turn off my brain! It was constantly seeking solutions or anticipating problems. I had to deal though, and soon, for regardless of how we avoid life, it will eventually overtake us, for all things come to their own conclusion in time… and being able to choose the time, means an awful lot in terms of taking the easier path, or fighting an immensely rocky terrain loaded with perils and obstructions.
Avoidance of emotions by repression is like a volcano building pressure inside, deep underneath the exterior, the spirit becomes uneasy and wanders into all areas of life. Dreams, so based in our emotions, reveals that which we resist seeing and dealing with openly...eventually our subconscious will force action.
WHAM! It all hit me with the complete emotional impact, as hard as if a brick was launched into my face… waking abruptly from a vivid dream which brought everything immediately to sharp-edged focus… leaving me shaking, shuddering and literally gagging on my own phlegm. In this alternate reality (because it did not feel like a dream at all) Dad was walking towards me, having pulled up and just gotten out of his little blue, Toyota DeLux; it’s characteristic rust spots and weather-faded body, so like a part of him for years, they’d driven together forever it seemed.
“Only one engine change!” he’d boast to anyone making comment about his little blue truck. It was the most dependable vehicle of any, I’ve ever known throughout my entire life. Other than the short time when the old engine went ka-put, and required change to a newer, imported engine with 50,000 miles on it from Japan, the little had seldom even had minor difficulty. Plus, Dad claimed his little truck was custom made to fit his body just perfectly.
Immediately obvious to me, was that no cane occupied his hand (a near ten-year constant companion), and he looked unusually spry and energetic --- a full 20 years younger than normal! A wry smile brightened his face and with upraised eyebrows, he greeted me typically with one of his smirky quips, "Look what the world brought out into the open air!" Walking up the steps by where I had been sitting to get a little sun, he lightly slapped my knee, laughing his "sneaky" low tone, snakey laugh, "Heh, heh, heh," before walking on past me, while opening the front screen. Halfway through the door I heard him bellow, "Honey I'm home!" before disappearing from view...forever.
Suddenly, I was completely aware I was awake, I was within a dream and tears were streaming down, dampening my face! Suddenly, I realized he was really gone! I’d never see either Dad or Mom again! Only then, did I realize I’d never actually grieved for Mom; she dying three years prior. So, well into the fourth month after he died, I finally wept.
My Sea-Legs Finally Come Back to Me
It totally wrecked me. I had to take a full week off of everything, whether I wanted to or not. Barely talking to anyone, even my sweet, understanding, patient partner, I was at odds to myself. Although she wanted to help, there was nothing anyone could do. The crust had broken and emotions spewed forth onto everything that resembled my life. I avoided everyone, totally out of control and a wreck.
The “Mr. Spock” side of my personality was leaking badly, and suddenly unbridled, gutterly, intense, raw emotion erupted out of my person. Not only could I not handle anyone witnessing it, I couldn’t handle anyone being around me while dealing with it, no matter how I tried.
Such a massive learning experience this has been, and still is, on so many levels. My Dad did an excellent preparation for his exit… and although some little things have cropped up unexpectedly, the most difficult item left to face is now, for now it is time to sell the old Victorian home, the place where we grew up, and where my parents lived for 45 years of their lives. It is time to pass her on, so some other family can enjoy her wonders, warmth and eccentric personality. She’s been a great friend to the family and saw us through almost all of our lives!