Grief is the Space Between Memories Known and Unknown

“Now would be a good time to have end-of-life discussions with Donna,” the Hospice Rabbi said. “What does she want for her funeral? What are her regrets? Did she find joy in her life?”

Joy? I failed her. All I could do was think of that.

I hesitated for a day. Then next afternoon, alone in the room with Donna, I looked at her in the bed and said, “Donna, perhaps you want to talk about your funeral.”

She looked over at me and said, “Don’t be a maudlin pussy.” Then she rolled onto her side and fell asleep.

I smiled. That was the woman I married 28 years ago, life and death on her terms, her way, take no prisoners, with no doubt about what was needed. She was not dead yet.

This occurred about a week to ten days prior to Donna’s death. Yet my grief was an orchard in full bloom and thriving finding nourishment from the memories of our life together. It took seed when she was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer two plus years earlier. After she died it sunk it roots deep and remains part of me. Many may see my grief as a failure to launch away from the pain. You know that entire finding closure meme which is denial said pretty. I will not deny my grief nor Donna.

There is more to grief. Let me defend grief, specifically defend my grief and hopefully your grief. Grief is life’s artesian aquifer. It flows from within, bored out of the loss of a loved one.It is part love and light. It holds promise to satisfyingly quench our loss. To sustain us.

Grief should not be seen as a proper place or an improper place. It is the space between memories of the past and hope for the future. Those are distant points on a compass that intersects within us. At times where it overlaps may be a soft and subtle or hard and painful. No matter it creates a newness within us offering a fresh look that what was, what is, and what may be. If choose not shy from it or ignore it can open up new memories and new understanding.

I have written about grief and will continue to. Grief has its own narrative arc and begins as thumping numbing recognizing that what once is is now was. It moves with us and becomes dullness. We need to take grief and partner with it, in a sense embrace its strength and aching to create new.

Maine Public has a piece by Patty Wight. ‘If It’s All About You, There’s No Reward:’ Coping with Grief by Helping Others

She relates the story of Floyd Hastings and the death of his wife. How Hastings like many of us who face the loss of a loved one sought to give back to those who helped us care for our loved one. I remembered the chemo lab nurses and hospice staff for years following Donna’s death. I have posted about Donna and podcast on grief and how I’ve managed it well and not so well. I am volunteering. All of this as a way to pay forward what I’ve learned.

That is what we do but more to my premiss, our grief is a light within us to guide us to a better understanding of what was, is, and will be. Below are some links to my podcasts on the topic and posts. But stay tuned more to come.

Podcast 39: The Organic Nature of Grief. An Observer Effect

Podcast 37: The Insipid Nature of Grief, The Horse Latitudes

Post: Domesticating the Feral Nature of Grief

Post: Inside Out a Compendium of Loss and Grief


Pretzels: Life’s Twists & Turns A Bronx Tail

Time moves forward and we as humans move with time. Time and our lives get twisted as we move though life. Whether it’s paddling forward with the current to find a shoreline where we stop to explore. Or being carried downstream passing the point where familiar become unfamiliar. That is the polynomial equation of life: time, age, and reflection.

These past few years being carried by events surrounding me. Not powerless to changes as much as listless and supine. Donna became ill, passed away, my business and work became nonexistent. Meaning and purpose that were once part of life became abstract thoughts and longings for a time that was. This is aging. Many have written about aging especially the site Time Goes By. His thoughts and reflections on this and other aging topics are well considered and highly reflective. Yet there are moments or small events that buoy one to feel, all is not lost as we approach out expiration date.

Bronx Baking Company is one of these moments for me. I want to 1. Reflect on this company and its owner who I personally know and relate it to me then and now. 2. Give a shoutout to a fabulous company and product.

Alexis is the founder and owner of Bronx Baking. I met her through the space I was renting a desk at during Donna’s illness and death. When we first met she was mulling over the idea of a Bakery. I was struck by her drive and brains. And her Bronx attitude. She takes no shit. Kind of fits into my reference point for women.

Alexis was born and raised in the Bronx on Arthur Ave. She has an enthusiasm verging on aggressive for the Bronx. So the location was set for her. Next came the product, real German style pretzels. Alexis set out to find recipes, talk to German Bakers, test, sample, and do it all over until they were perfect. And then she started baking. At first small. Then in a shared space. And now her own space. When she opened her own space she bought equipment, cleaned the space, set it up, and tested production. To her getting here feels like forever and feels like failure delayed. For me watching it is so fast and just another step to proving your meaning and purpose. All the while she was selling product to new customers. Improving the recipe. Solving delivery problems. Snaking a grease trap. Managing account receivable. Tweeting, Instagraming, Facebooking, and more. Metaphorically those pretzels are made with sweat and tears. Metaphorically, ok. A delicious pretzel.

I could go on. There is really nothing unique here for anyone that started and ran a small business. Big deal. Or not. Consider the fact that in the US about 3% to 4% of Americans start a business. Failure is part and parcel of owning a small business as is working your ass off, having debt, and loosing sleep every night. As I said, an average day nothing special for a business owner.

I watched Alexis. I helped her with some marketing. I tried to be a cheerleader. All the while in my mind I kept thinking I was there once. My friends were there once. This is so inspiring to see and know that what we did in old timey days still feels the same. The damn the torpedo and full fucking steam ahead let’s do this lives in the Bronx, in her pretzels, and in Alexis. It lives in those that create an app or drive for Lyft. It lives in those who want to find a way to thrive and not submit. And there my friends is the importance of this. My life’s meaning and purpose may be on the wane either from external issues or from my own being stuck in this emotional amber of life. Watching Alexis and Bronx Baking and in a small way being part of it and it is thrilling. I relieve what once was. I get motivated to do this and that. I am learning new things. Being in the presence of my past is keeping me centered on the present. Helping Alexis and Bronx Baking helps me. And she gives me a pretzel once in a while.

Why Bronx Baking?

Bronx Baking sells some serious real German style pretzels and pretzel bread. They are sold locally in NYC at bars and restaurants. Where great beer is made. Alexis offers them retail (here). Do yourself a favor, you like beer? A pretzel is a must have side dish. Get some for yourself and see. You can thank me later.
This month the food court Eataly is featuring Bronx Baking products. You can find Bronx Baking on Instagram Bxbakingco, Twitter @BxBakingCo Facebook and Pinterest.

Welcome Back

It has been nearly a year since my last blog entry. I’d love to say I’ve been busy. Not so sure, at some point (age related) life becomes glacial in serving up burnt offerings. It becomes less of what is placed in front of you and more about, what you harvest, gather, uncover, and find. God helps those who help themselves and you got to help yourself prior to your expiration date. It’s been a year of sorting this out. Rest assured I am not all that self actualized. More on that later.

Here is the new site with all the old blog posts, podcasts, photos, etc. When Donna was going through chemotherapy and I was a part time gig worker and a full time caregiver. I moth balled my business. The web site I had was now in my responsibility to maintain and keep alive. Donna may be dying but I was not. At least not outwardly.

I went to Square Space and built (cobbled) a new site. That new site is now previous site. It was fine. It was mine. It was where I leaned to do new shit. Since it was on Square and my ISP is I had to have someone create a DNS and MX set up so my email and etc. would work. I also needed a bunch of network work arounds. I was clueless how it worked. But it worked. It kept busy posting and podcasting. All the while I cared for Donna and then gave into grief.

Sometime mid 2016 my hero and all around amazing social media/SEO Baby Mozart (aka Shaun) kept telling me Square is okay but for SEO and all that a web site can do it is not readily available nor robust enough on Square. Baby Mozart said in no uncertain terms go WordPress. Host it on your ISP. So mid 2016 to 1st Q 2017 that is what Shaun did and I breathlessly watched as if I was a spectator at a BMX competition.

Shaun ported my old site to the new WP build. Got the DB built, added plugins, and so on. All magic to me. He found my podcast plugin blubrry, I ported over my podcasts. Just to note blubrry was so helpful and professional. Big recommend here.

Now it’s October. Ready to go. Not so fast. I was technologically bound up like an opioid users’ bowel. I feared if I did this switch from Square to WP at Pair I was going to break the Internet. Not a joke. I made about eight calls to Pair tech support, cried to Shaun, and lit a shit load of candles and sage sticks.

Well I did it. The Internet didn’t break. Shaun held my hand. Videos are teaching me about WP. Still learning.

Is there a lesson here? I am sure, but it verges on whinny and maudlin. There is a take away or two: 1. Look closely before jumping in. 2. Break shit you can always fix it. 3. Those in tech support have the patience of saints.

The Barbs and Cortege of Memories


Red scarf reading the menu

February 14th 2016 is Valentines Day for all of us. For Donna it would have been her 64th trip around the Sun. This annual sojourn of circling the Sun ended in 2011. Yet her ashes and memories continue to race through my personal solar system. “All we are is what we leave behind.” I am left behind, your memory is not.

The memories (not just memory) of Donna, our time together, what we had, and what we didn’t have arebits of flesh and fur snagged on barbed wire. At other times these memories are the interstitial pastures between the fences containing peace and comfort.

I smile remembering our Honeymoon in Greece. A warm Mediterranean afternoon napping in a cheap room on a beach listening to the buzz of Vespa’s outside, except there was no doppler effect. With a start we realized no Vespa. It was a huge bee in the room racing around. Simultaneously we made the same shocked oh my face, latter named Bee Face. It was similar to Edvard Munch painting The Scream.

The Scream or Bee Face
The Scream by Edvard Munch








The bit of skin hanging on the barbed wire is knowing that is forever gone and never to be repeated. The pastoral moment is knowing it happened and smiling.

Lobsters, oh how you loved to have a lobster while we vacationed or for your birthday at the Palm. I would crack the claws for you. The smile and the yum on face was pure joy to see and hold in my memories.

When in Maine Eat Lobsters
Donna loved her lobster dinners

Did I offer you enough lobsters during your 59 trips around the Sun?






Naming pets was your speciality. The key in your mind was looking at the face and naming the pet accordingly. Nina was the perfect name for this face. I wonder if we had children how long you would wait to name them because all newborns are ugly.

Nina One Year Old
She was on our Christmas Card her first year with us.








[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]


i carry your heart with me(i carry it in

my heart)i am never without it(anywhere

i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done

by only me is your doing,my darling)

i fear

no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want

no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)

and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant

and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud

and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows

higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)

and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

7Cups is Less About Shiny Tech. It’s More About Solving Human Needs.


Last night, late for an old guy, I listened to an online video/Twitter chat hosted by #spsm (Suicide Prevention Social Media). The kind @docforeman invites me to these which flatters me to no end considering my mollusk like IQ. The topic was a new platform offering ‘anonymous and confidential online text chat with trained listeners, online therapists and counselors’. It’s called 7cups. @GlenMoriarty1 the founder of 7cups was the presenter.

The #spsm weekly chats are smart and address important topics outside my professional wheelhouse but I join and find them interesting and thoughtful. They are tres funny too if that counts. Last night with Glen Moriarty of 7cups was pure genius and riveting. So much so I had to get my ass out of bed and plug the laptop into the 27” screen so I could watch the chat, the video, and use Safari.

Everyone on the chat are Ph.D, MD’s or social workers who are passionate about #spsm and helping others. And they are a critical bunch questioning how the mental healthcare system works. They know the emperor some days is naked. First go to the 7cups site and check it out. I won’t get into my TL:DR mode. You back?

The chat and what 7cups is doing is brilliant on a human level and that is my point here. The talk last night focused on the technology and how amazingly this was funded and now has 800k people a month participating. Totally amazing platform story. There is more. This platform meets a basic human need we all try and find via social media. Humans need to talk to share to help especially when we are struggling. Just go back and read my posts on grief and loss and mourning. Not many read themor listen which I do to help others and to plumb the depths of my grief. All six of you who read my blog 20% got something from them. In a very small way I met the above conditions of human need via social media. 7cups is this on steroids and it is not the technology in my mind driving it. Reverse that, lede with the human need to help, talk, share, and listen 7cups has greased that need like a strippers pole to make it work better through technology. And I will add that Dr. Google, social media, etc. patient engagement is a robust extension of our lives. Here is short piece on that.

I’ve written and hocked about adult learning being at the core of both business and human needs. “Learning is the process of reflecting on experiences that produces insights useful in solving future problems (Slotnick, 1999)” And I will add, solving current problems.

Adults learn when they seek solutions to problems. New information discovered during problem solving creates experiences that upon reflection fosters new knowledge for that adult. That knowledge is incorporated in their consciousness. Learning changes consciousness. The most powerful effect we can have on patients (and each other) is to aid in learning.

Learning opens our minds to accept new information. When we incorporate new information through reflection we expand our compendium of knowledge. Our consciousness changes with new knowledge/experience and we apply it to create new experiences, change behavior, or make decisions. This is a problem-centric solution. It’s the bedrock of communications and marketing.

This effect is greater in a social situation. When we learn with someone else or in a group we learn better. Each learner comes to the same problem with different solutions and understanding. Each learner adds something to the solution of the problem at hand for other learners. Social media is a learning. It is a tactic NOT a strategy. The strategy is about identifying problems and helping adults solve them make them learners. Social media is a tactic to drive learning and knowledge not create it.

Lev Vygotsky identified “zone of proximal development.”  If a person is engaged in self-directed learning, they’ll get a certain amount out of what they do.  If, however, they learn with another person of the same level of sophistication, they’ll learn more.  Hank Slotnick, Ph.D. says, “the pooled ignorance is less than the sum of the individual ignorance’s.”

Most decisions we make as adults especially in healthcare revolve around solving problems for a family member or ourselves. Buying decisions and products we use or want to learn more about are based on our need to learn. Adult learning is a way to improve those decisions. And it is powerful in helping each other if we identify the problems others need to solve. AND a place to do it (i.e. 7cups)

And as I noted, 7cups is doing the above in spades. I immediately jumped on the idea of this as a place for those of us who recently lost a loved one to go and find a place to share your grief or help others share there grief to in fact achieve a zone of proximal development. Yes there are platforms like Widowed Village where you can chat and meet others in the same place. I have been there and used it but it never really grabbed me or me them it was more like joining a party already in progress. 7cups strikes me as a place/platform where you step into your own personalize party ether to help or find help which is key to us bipeds we love interaction.

Already TL:DR. Peace Out

Airman Lost Airman Found: Creating a Memory


A strange set of circumstances happened last month. I received a box of photos and documents that were passed from Donna’s estranged brother to his girlfriend following his death in 2006. (Her brothers lawyer wrote to Donna and said in his will Jack noted that you are my sister but I am not giving you anything.) True story.

The girl friend passed away this year and her friend was cleaning the house and found a box of photos and documents. There were photos of Donna, her mother, and various family members including her uncle Oscar Leibowitz. Donna’s mothers brother. Surprisingly the box even contained her grandparents naturalization papers and documents.

Oscar from what I recall was the favorite son of the family and the apple of Donna’s mothers eye. You know the oldest son of an immigrant Jewish family. Most of the photos of Oscar were from his days in the service and his time at Army Air Corp training and in England during WWII. September 1946 Donna’s mom received a letter from the Army Air Force in response to a letter she wrote, which I don’t have a copy of. The letter from the Army Air Force gave details of his death. “Lietuenant Leibowitz was killed in action March 22,1944 while flying his B-17 over Pfahlhausen from antiaircraft fire. He was interred in a cemetery at Oldenburg.”

Notification of Death during combat mission.

Army Air Force notice of Lieutenant Leibowitz’s death while on a missionBelow are some additional letters and notices about his death and service.









He was awarded Purple Heart.

Letter of sympathy
In August of 1944 Senator Mead sent a letter of condolence to Oscar’s father








The Purple Heart was not his only medal. In September of 1943 he was awarded for “exceptionally meritorious achievement and participating in five separate bomber combat missions over enemy occupied Europe.

Fighting and Flying in WWII
Oscar completed five separate bomber combat missions






Becoming a Army Air Force Pilot
In October of 1942 the family received a letter from the Army Air Forces Training Center announcing that Oscar has been selected for training as a Pilot in the Army Air Forced.

In October of 1942 the family received a letter from the Army Air Forces Training Center announcing that Oscar has been selected for training as a Pilot in the Army Air Forced.

Those are some of the military files and government letters regarding this airman’s serving in the Army Air Corp and his death. There are also communications regarding returning his remains from Germany to the US for burial. That process took until 1949 before his remains were returned to the US and buried in Long Island. Yet there is much more here that offers a rich mosaic of this one airman, a son, a brother, and uncle. There were letters he wrote home and many photos. Below are some of the examples of his life while in service to the US.

These letters are fascinating insight into what it is like to be a soldier and keeping the family up to date. He requests his birth certificate so he can apply to pilot training. Another is about not getting furlough. There is one where he describes his first cross country flight of 300 miles. Just letters home but a window into the man and the moment. CLICK ON THE LETTER BELOW TO SCROLL THROUGH THEM.

Here is a gallery of photos that show training in the US and being stationed in England and Europe. CLICK ON THE PHOTO BELOW TO SCROLL THROUGH THEM.


Originally when I received these items I just wanted to grab the photos of Donna and any documents that were specific to her and toss the rest. As I looked through them I found a family history all but forgotten in a box stuck in a basement in Berkeley. This deserved more.

The kindness of a stranger to find Donna’s address and write at first set me back. Donna and her brother had a history that was fraught with pain and anger. I was angry. Going through this box and seeing not what is lost and forgotten but what is found deserved to be remembered in some small measure. The immediacy of our digital world today and the movement to what is next, new, hot, and liked somehow belittles the rich tapestry of small narrative moments in time.

This is a memory that lives for now, as it has in a time past. There are moments when memories sting. Today these memories sing.

I was able to find two references to Oscar here and here.

Domesticating The Feral Nature of Grief


Sun Magazine had interview that struck a resonant chord with my writings on loss and grief. “The Geography of Sorrow” the interview is with Francis Weller a psychotherapist specializing in grief and sorrow. Below is one of many thoughts and ideas Weller shared on grief and one that summarizes my journey. And what my hope is a the same journey that others facing can learn as well.

“The Irish philosopher John O’Donohue had a concept he called the “reverence of approach.” He said, “When we approach [things] with reverence, great things decide to approach us.” What if, instead of trying to outmaneuver grief, we came to it with reverence? Grief is not a passive state you’re “getting through.” You must find a way to engage it, to sit with it, to mull it over.”

I have said that early on I was counseled by a dear friend not to ignore or hide from my grief but to embrace it and learn from it. To ‘engage’ with it. I have and will continue to. Yet I wonder if I am doing the real work or achieving the outcome of finding the joy in sorrow?

Weller discusses how grief has been for all of man’s time on earth a communal event to be shared with others in our communities and villages and tribes. That has changed, we now carry our grief in isolation defined in the word closure. People want us to find closure to our pain. I believe closure is indifference. Closure suffocates our reflection and growth. Our friends and family reminding us to move on to find a new place and being.

On the surface that is a goal to find that goal not holding the grief inside because it hardens to an unbearable sorrow and sadness. Weller points to transforming that grief into something of value for the community. I will add, making it something of value for yourself for your being and person.

The crux of Weller’s argument is a quote from Poet Kahlil Gibran, “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” In our grief we can find not a way out of grief as much as find the message it holds for us, for our loss and that is the conflict that joy resides within grief.

We try to skip the hurt and find the happiness. To create a short cut to heaven without the hell. That is what Weller says about grief. We try or are forced to skip the hard work to embrace it and find that joy within. When going though hell don’t stop. This reminded me of something I read about Stephen Colbert saying, how he learned the value of failure, to learn from failure to later get it ‘perfectly right’. Failure is a bit harsh when considering grief and sorrow but we all know how when we fail, we feel lost and hurt. That is what our grief feels like, I am lost. It feels as if I’ve failed at life. I let Donna die which is hard when I see and read those survivor stories why couldn’t I’ve made that a story for her? Each post each reflection I learn and understand more. Or as told Allura told her daughter Kara Zor-El “There is no correct path in life. You will loose you way many times”

In Weller’s mind he looks at grief as something to be revered, something we should not run from but embrace. I like his thought that grief is not a passive state to travel though. It is to be embraced and learn from. Grief and loss teaches us about life and love. If we allow it to. Yet being allowed to in our current world where we are walled off and have lost the rituals and rite of passage is difficult. There are no villages and communities to aid us in our grief and sorrow. We do not have the village well to go to to cry out and share where the healing of time and place occurs. I am not denying the support of family and friends but consider the read “The Lonely Death of George Bell” and how many of us at a certain age are living alone.

I thought about this idea of the village who help us with our sorrow and grief. I thought about those who I was and am blessed to have around me who supported me, fed me, gave me comfort, and care. Yet I held to the company line, I am doing well. I remained stoic but, ever vigilant to the turmoil within in me. I was engaging with the grief and sorrow with writing and podcasting. I was reading and reflecting. That is how we learn through reflection on our experiences and the experiences of others. I thought that was part of my engagement with my grief. I read Olivia Laning’s “The Future of Loneliness” in The Guardian.

Laing wrote about how social media and the Internet was hailed as a new communal place. The well in the center of town. That was my belief. My writing and posting to Facebook and Twitter and all was to create those communal rituals of grief and sorrow. Laing’s article was not that at all. It was a discussion of how behind the screen we remain invisible. A place where we can filter our avatar in such a way as to project a perfection of who we are or want to be. The Internet through social media has become a place for shaming and scapegoating. She ends the article with this about film maker Oliver Laric:

“My own understanding of loneliness relied on a belief in solid, separate selves that he saw as hopelessly outmoded. In his worldview, everyone was perpetually slipping into each other, passing through ceaseless cycles of transformation; no longer separate, but interspersed. Perhaps he was right. We aren’t as solid as we once thought. We are embodied but we are also networks, living on inside machines and in other people’s heads; memories and data streams. We are being watched and we do not have control. We long for contact and it makes us afraid. But as long as we are still capable of feeling and expressing vulnerability, intimacy stands a chance.”

Is the reality of my writing and sharing my grief online not achieving the rite of passage the rituals of grief have afforded us for centuries? Am I still lost without any control nourishing myself on emotional scraps? Was I secretly afraid of crying out as I hide behind the screen cultivating my avatar of grief? Is the feral nature of grief and the work I am doing failing to achieve the revered nature of my engagement with it? I will continue to do the work.

Affective Filters On. Affective Filters Off. Loss and Grief

Have you had a conversation with someone and there is a random idea in the middle of the discussion and BANG a blinding cosmic insight? Me neither but, I am attuned to thoughts and ideas that offers perspective and insight on my grief. Those ideas become my directional road map. Much less cosmic but deeply telling and evocative. Filters off and finding ‘your better self being born from grief’.

I was having a chat with Nico a composer at Red vs. Blue, Composer at Rooster Teeth and Founder at Trocadero. I met him through my gaming Sherpa Mig while at PAX. I had written Nico about how I am discovering not just gaming but the rich vein of textured music within games, similar to movie sound tracks  where music accelerates the emotional content of film and dialogue. The same happens in gaming. Music drives tactile feedback, motor cortex, memory from previous gaming moments and more. In Destiny when the creepy shit is coming and I am going to be swarmed the Hive the music makes me shudder. A deep discussion about music is beyond my pay grade or IQ. It is enough to note, I discovered gaming music, it exists, and it can stand alone. Music in gaming does all that music is suppose to do to our brains. Case in point, Nico shared a YouTube Video Halo-Openng Suite. He said it sounded similar to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. I knew neither and listened. Barber’s Adagio is amazing. It was played at Albert Einstein’s funeral. And the Halo Opening Suite was perfect.

We were chatting back and forth. Me Mr. Tin Ear with a talented brilliant composer. My default with luminaries such as Nico, they are humoring me. I mentioned something I heard, music discovery occurs when we are young. For most of us once we hit 35 we are locked into what we know and don’t actively seek to discover new. We may find new music within what we know. Experiencing something truly new and outside our base of music is not in the mix. Discovery is lost as we age. If we consider the fact that adults will learn when they are seeking solutions to problems then we must accept that our music or our lives being problem free means we are not driven to discover (aka learn) when we are in a comfortable place. Barber’s Adagio Strings is playing now, totally new to me and just so powerful. New and outside what I would ever find. There was no problem to solve or was there?

Nico said this:

I think the reason why people do things like meditation / running / walking / adrenaline activities / drugs / booze is to erode the filters

Loss seems to melt them away as well, unfortunately

Because extreme joy doesn’t seem to do that, at least not for me.

Filters. Filters. FILTERS! Were my filters turned off when Donna died, when she was diagnosed, during my caregiving, and beyond. Is that why I can hear my avatar of grief speak to me when I read or hear a random idea from Nico and others? Was my loss, not a loss? Or am I looking for solutions to the emotional and psychic problems? 

If you’ve reading these posts and podcasts I have tested and examined the depth of my life before, during, and after Donna’s illness and death. Prior to her diagnosis my unexamined life was limited to the day to day. There was work, there was home, there were the dog(s), there was each day with the components of living. I accepted and surrendered to the day. It was what life was, daily chores. Not to be harsh on myself I did want to learn and understand but, it was about my work and how we (Donna and I) could find a balance when facing those daily ‘things’ life threw at you. My filters were in place to aid me in or living life as I/we knew it. Filters are what we have to view the world when all is good. It was good, not perfect there was no need to discover/learn. I surrendered to comfort and ease. No heavy lifting. 

When Donna was told in January of 2009 she had Stage IV cancer and only six months to live I threw myself into getting situated so I could be a caretaker. So I could do what I could. I never considered her death or life after her. But during that time till her death in August of 2011 my filters were there, to a point. Or better said they changed. They filtered the boring day to day into a textured street fight of survival and support. No longer was the day filled with the usual. The filters were in place, different but still there. I think this points to a change that was occurring, the erosion of my filters. And the journey to find understanding, meaning, purpose, and learning.

When Donna died the most important advice I received was not to deny my grief or my loss but dive into it in order to understand and embrace it. It was that exercise in loss and grief that eroded more of my filters. Or continued too. The day to day life prior to diagnosis and during caregiving was fading. Though I will add I was grieving from January 2009 because I knew this would not have a happy ending. After her death and the search for understanding I had to look at myself and my days. Looking back the filters were still in place. I did not actively remove them. They faded over time with what I wrote and considered about this life altering event. I could not find the understanding and insight through filters because I would be placing what I was learning behind a scrim. I would be repeating on a loop what we did while it was no longer we but me. The harder you examine and the more you hurt the less the filters interfere or obscure and keep you to the past. The past and what was becomes what is. Of course this may just be observers effect here. I think I am doing the hard work when in reality I am just glossing over my life. I guess that is part and parcel of no filters, a harsh self view.

Where am I today? The loss of these filters has driven me to a more textured and nuanced view of what was, what is, what I had, and didn’t have. I think that sans filters l’ve come to do, to realize, to discover new things. That did not happen over night. It has been a process of building a new understanding and reflecting on my life past. Part of learning and changing our consciousness is to discover something new and to decide if you want to add it to historical experiences and create new or improve current knowledge. I still struggle to find right side up each day and to get back to some place and space where I feel self-worth. Loss is loss. It is about what is gone and will never to return. My sadness has dissipated and the grief has animated my life through it’s wisdom. 

Would I want to go back? To have a life with my filters in place? Yes I’d go back in a heart beat. All that I have and am trying to do now is seems vapid in comparison, my life is only me and do I really deserve any of it? Seriously do I? There are no regrets in this post filter world of mine. Regrets are for chumps and regrets perpetuate the sadness. Would I want to change what happened? Yes. What would be amazing is to take this new knowledge and understanding and go back in time (sounds like a cheap ass movie) and apply it. The harder play is to build new. To find meaning and purpose and self-worth while the filters are gone and actively examining everything. Missing filters are an opportunity. Donna would say “There is a reason they call it history, it happen then.”

What I can say is that my sadness is lifting. The grief is continuing but my grief is opening the world. I am fighting to find a place. I am seeking to discover new. The visit to PAX and gaming, especially Destiny, has exposed me to new and in a way hides me from the work of finding meaning and purpose. These are small steps in rebuilding a life without Donna. Her death threw me into a world of hurt. Her death opened my eyes. Her death was tragic. Her death maintains me in life. Her death is my death. 

The future does not reside in the past. We carry the past to imbibe today. 

9|11: Fourteen Years Ago and Four Blocks Away

September 11, 2001 comes and we return, to memories, and moments forever carved in our souls. That day does not fade nor do the edges smooth over. It is as vivid and shocking today as it was in 2001.

A picture is worth a 1,000 words and memories in equal numbers. Below are some photos I took on that day and the following days. Looking at them evokes every minute of that day and beyond and being four blocks away. Donna and I stayed. We did not leave. We were not going to let them drive us from our home nor my business. The Wall Street Journal did a story about three business located here and on the other side of red zone. 

There was a Krispy Kreme on the ground floor of the North Tower, Donna said to me that all the donuts became halo’s for those who died. In November I worked a couple of nights at the Red Cross Center near the pile. I can still see the smoldering debris as I walked to the Center in the darkness. 

Death, Grief, Gaming, and Oliver Sacks

My grief avatar is on the move again. Then again this just may just be observer effect. I’ve noted here here here and here that the grief is changing and morphing into new forms. Or better said I am seeing it differently. My avatar is always speaking to me through what I’ve read and infrequently what I’ve done. Another way to look at the grief, it’s a floater in my eye. Always there darting about reminding me, yet moving just out of reach or repair. This week I returned from PAX Prime where I never thought I would ever have gone. My first impression of PAX is here. At PAX, I was sherpa’d around by a friend who is/was my IT guy for my business help me for over 18 years. I knew he was a gamer but, I never realized how well respected and connected he is. I’ve worked in healthcare with physician, luminaries. They never took me under their wing and showed me around or introduced me. There is something about an honorarium. My gaming sherpa is a luminary who give his time and friendship. And in doing that gave me a different view into myself. 

That same week as PAX Oliver Sacks passed away and my grief avatar spoke up. I was reading through the NY Times obit and stories and I stumbled on the “The Joy of Old Age. (No Kidding).” The title and quick scan spoke to me because the premiss is pretty clear. Sacks turned 80 and he wants to do more to learn experience, and grow. Sounds like a plan. 

Allow me to share a bit about me and PAX. I am gobsmacked wide eyed and giddy feeling like I was twelve again on Christmas Day. And that is in no way a reference to the booths, the cosplay, or videos. It includes the people in the Destiny Community I am met through my sherpa and people at Bungie who made Bungie. The 80,000 attendees. My half a brain is spinning at the magic of it all. The Sacks Ode to Old Age seemed well timed. Perhaps my avatar of grief was changing again and taking me with her.

How did I get to PAX? By plane. No, there is a bit of a back story. About four/five years ago I got a PS3 to watch Netflix and BluRay. My IT aka sherpa told me that it’s a great gaming platform. Well I was at Stage 1 of the Eight Stages of Gaming ‘I have no time for gaming I have a business to run and wife to care for. Games are for teens’. Well after Donna’s passing I took a look at the games. Listening to John Siacusa @Siracusa who besides writing the detailed long and amazing reviews of Apple’s Mac OS he is a gamer. He kept speaking about the game Journey and Zelda. My IT sherpa said I should get demos from the Sony Store to try and see if I like it. Now I was at Stage 3 Curious. Doing it alone without coaching was frustrating and I would fade in and out for months. No sense of success or control or fun. When you think about it, I could not go to the school cafeteria and talk about games and controller moves nor have friends over to play with after school. Part of that is my isolation following Donna’s death. The other part is that everyone had jobs, family, and activities. Finally, there is a sense of embarrassment at my ineptitude. June of 2014 Baby Mozart came over with his copy of Borderlands for the PS3. Baby Mozart is a recent 20 something friend who consults on social media, SEO, web traffic, gaming, etc. And he is genius. He loaded Borderlands handed me the controller and told me to play while texting, saying X or O, left bumper etc. And then went home. Well for a month I played both Borderlands and Journey. I finished Journey and was still stumbling around Borderlands. At that time the sherpa was posting about this new game Destiny from a company called Bungie. He was raving about the game. I watched some videos. When it launched I downloaded and played or tried to play. Here is my initial reflection of PAX et. al. 

While at PAX I thought about The Joy of Old Age I thought about how learning to play games becoming involved with the gaming community, specifically Destiny, was something that would help me find my balance to motivate my avatar of grief and myself. I’ve been back for less than a week and began to think about this post and reread the Sacks article. How things change.

Sacks opens by saying that that life feels like it is going to begin at 80. He ends the piece with “I do not think of old age as an ever grimmer time that one must somehow endure and make the best of, but as a time of leisure and freedom, freed from the factitious urgencies of earlier days, free to explore whatever I wish, and to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together.”

A pretty positive and hopeful position to take and one that I thought would be of value to me. Between the beginning and the end Sacks speaks about all that he’s accomplished and that he still regrets the time that he wasted. He wants to complete his life. He hopes to “be granted the liberty to continue to love and work, the two most important things, Freud insisted, in life”. And at 80 he has the long view on life not only his own but others. 

I am at sixes and sevens over the Sacks article. On the one side it speaks to my desire to find meaning and purpose again. To continue to love and work. Gaming, PAX, and the amazing community I witnessed in Seattle was hope and focus. On the other side is this only a surrogate marker for my life. I am not a brilliant neurologist and writer. I have experience some wonderful moments in life. There is no great body of work to carry me forward. When I had my business the phone rang and emails arrived in direct correlation to checks I wrote. I cannot consider that that history can carry me today. 

I am a bit of an idiot savant drinking my own kool-aid with a blind drive to do new and try. The harsh light of the sunrise (aka grief) illuminates is going nowhere fast. As much as I want to make it work I have to face the reality, I no longer have that ability to motivate and achieve. Perhaps I always lacked that and never noticed. Add to that meeting the principles and employees at Bungie who radiate the love of their product and the building of something they believe with full on passion. Or the wild abandon of gamers who cherished their living avatars and games. This witnessed passion ignited me for a moment but, exposed the dark corners of life. I saw what was once, is gone. That is what grief and loss does, dilates your self image and awareness. 

Donna is gone. She is not coming back. I miss her. Simple. That does not mean I pine to have her back or I anguish to return to that life with her. My grief animates me to do more, to try. I know enough to accept what can’t be and understand that what I seek is the same meaning and purpose from the past, sans Donna. I fear I have not sunk the pilings of life deep enough. The construction of a dock on those pilings wobbles. I will move forward with this vapid writing. I will engage in the gaming world clumsy as ever. Gaming does create new neural pathways. I will continue to look for meaning and purpose. As Sacks notes ‘bind the thoughts and feeling of a lifetime together’. Create new. That is the purpose of leaning to create new and when we learn we change our conscious. I hold the option that one day I get to say meh. Donna will never come back but I can join her. It is my free will and choice. For now I will be the loyal Guardian, The Hunter in Destiny leveling up. I will continue recording the musings and movement of my grief avatar. That is as much meaning and purpose as I can muster. 

Bird On A Wire Leonard Cohen

Like a bird on a wire

Like a drunk in a midnight choir

I have tried in my way to be free