Monday, November 16, 2009

Bad Times

I’m not doing well.

Believe me, that’s a sentence I hoped never to write. However, I’ve no choice, unless I wish to kick the truth aside.

Not doing well. That’s why it has been so long since my last entry in this blog. I now spend almost all my time in bed, so tired I can hardly walk, weak, uninterested in any food other than chocolate ice cream.

I want to write. Not just this blog. I have a novel to rewrite and, of more importance, my memoir. I try to write. But I can’t really. My memory is fouled by chemotherapy. Not just my memory of dates and names but my memory of spelling, of dates, of real happenings in my life.
As bad as I feel, as skinny as I am thanks to chemo, there’s still hope that I’ll get past the treatments and have a year or so to feel better and write and maybe head up to Virginia or someplace with Lynne. I hope that happens.

Now, though, I need to stop writing. I’m too tired.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Times Seem to be Changing

I’m embarrassed. Almost a full month ago, I said my plan was to write this blog more often, even if it meant writing shorter blog-entries.

I haven’t.

I guess I should not have said anything.

The problem is that I’ve been feeling terrible for the past few weeks. It’s all been due to the cancer and the chemo. My weight fell down to about 115 pounds and I’ve been exhausted all day, every day. I’ve had no appetite and some transient pain. As a consequence, I’ve had no real desire to write. Anything.

My typical day started about 5:20 when I woke, had coffee, took pills, shaved and dressed then went to a 7 a.m. A.A. meeting that ends at 8. Typically, I drove home (about a mile) and almost immediately hopped into bed so I could fall asleep. Most of the days I’ve been spending in bed, sleeping or reading. I usually got up at about 5 p.m., ate something for dinner, then watched T.V. with Lynne until about 8:30 when I went to bed.

The last two days have been different. I’ve had no chemo in about three weeks. Instead, I started taking chemo pills yesterday. I’ve felt pretty good. For two days. Yesterday, I was able to have breakfast with Mark Ford, a true friend. The eggs were good but Mark looked sad every time he looked at me. Still, the most recent days have been the best I’ve had in months. God willing, I may be able to start writing again.

I hope so.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


I’ve decided to change my approach to this blog. My new plan is to write shorter entries when I’m able.

In the past few months, as my cancer has grown stronger and I’ve grown significantly weaker, I’ve written less and less. Now my hope is that I’ll be able to write brief entries much more often.


Yesterday was Wednesday, Lynne’s birthday. As a rule, we’ve celebrated her birthdays in large ways. There have been lots of gifts, some classy flowers, and dinner in some restaurant she enjoys.

Not this year. She ordered her birthday presents online, with my blessing. And we weren’t able – as we always do – to have an evening meal at a restaurant. Instead, she cooked spaghetti.

I ordered her some flowers which were delivered late in the day. She loved the flowers and a letter I wrote on the computer telling her how important she is to me and how wonderful our life together has been.

I have a terrible feeling that this is the last of her birthdays we’ll share. I don’t like that but I figured it was going to happen this year or next.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

My Oldest Son

Roughly 28 years ago, on a Summer morning, I kissed my sons Dylan and Eamon good bye as they slept in their little beds in a home I shared with the woman who was my second wife. They didn’t wake and that was fine with me. I was, I knew, on my way to the county sheriff’s office, jail, and eventually prison. I also knew my wife – Cathy – would divorce me and do what she could to make sure that she and my sons would never have to be part of my life again.

I kissed the two kids goodbye and almost ran a mile or so from our house to a bar on a big highway passing through New Port Richey, a joint only a half-mile or so from the county sheriff’s office. I didn’t have a great deal of money but I did have enough to get drunk and that’s exactly what I wanted.

For the next three hours, I sat in the bar drinking vodka and grapefruit juice, my favorite early morning kicker. I smoked and joked and listened to the juke box and tried to pick up an old Cuban woman and drank and drank and drank. Finally, I ran out of money. I sat there for a moment wishing I had the guts to kill myself and then, knowing I had no real choice to do anything different, I left the bar and walked to the sheriff’s office.

I was drunk enough that I stumbled and fell in the parking area outside the office. Some officer knelt over me, thinking I might have been hurt, and then saw to it that I was immediately locked in a holding cell. From there, after three days of terrible withdrawal, I was shipped to the county jail in Dade City and, eventually, the state prison system. All because of little crimes I committed when I was drunk.

What crimes?

How about this? I forged five checks for a total of $30…all cashed at a bar where I spent a lot of time drinking. Anyway, this cost me a five-year sentence – that worked out to right at two-and-a-half behind bars.

Anyway. I figured for years, many years, that I’d never see my sons again. Cathy divorced me and I didn’t blame her. I still wasn’t much of a prize. She moved west to a place I don’t know and lived in a way I have no reason to understand. Once, though, one time after my time in prison, I was able to meet Dylan and Eamon again. It wasn’t much of a visit. Just two hours with two little boys who really had no reason to give a damn. That was a long time ago.

Then, about four years ago, things started to change. Eamon, my younger son, wanted to know me. We met and spent time together. He got married and since then I’ve grown to know his wife and, now, their little son, my grandson, the cutest kid ever born.
We see each other when we can. We love each other and we say it. I love his wife, Jennifer, and their baby boy, Ayden. But I haven’t seen Dylan, my first child, even once, for one moment, in a string of more than 20 years.

A couple of years ago we began sending rare e-mails. Eventually, he called and we spoke briefly. We grew slowly closer, not real close, but closer.

Sunday, I got to see him, his wife and his beautiful daughter, Chloe. My ex-wife Cathy was there too, along with her husband and Eamon's wife and child. This wasn't really expected. We were together for an afternoon. We talked a bit and had a couple of pictures taken. Before he left, I got to embrace him. I told him I love him and he didn’t answer but that’s okay. At least I saw him and talked with him and held him. I was with my first son. After all these years. Isn’t that something?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Bad News

The last time I contributed to this blog, I felt pretty good. I was convinced I’d be able to start writing regularly, creating needed chapters for my two in-the-works books and writing pages I want to leave for my grandson and granddaughter.

Too bad. I can barely write at all.

For about 35 years before I grew sick, I spent basically every day writing. After a history as a newspaper reporter and editor and a long time as a magazine editor, I found an opportunity to write at home. I worked mornings creating marketing copy for one of the nation’s champion direct mail companies. Every afternoon, after a rest, I’d turn my full attention to working on one of the non-fiction books I found attractive. I’ve written without anything like breaks longer than just a few days. I produced thousands of words of direct marketing copy ever day along with at least one thousand words for whatever book I was working on.

No more.

This blog copy has already taken four days. I’m not going to give up. I try to work on my books. I plan to add to my blog at least every two weeks. Wish me luck.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Back to Work

I feel okay today.

Now, there’s a statement I honestly feared I’d never make again. But I do. Feel good, or at least pretty good.

Just two days ago, I honestly thought I would never feel worse. I was tired, shaky, nauseous, breathless and too weak to walk…the way I’d pretty much felt for the last couple of months, only worse. I figured it went with the territory.

My wife drove me to the VA for my regularly scheduled chemotherapy session.
It didn’t work out. As soon as a nurse took my vital signs, I was hurried to the ER. My blood pressure was 70/42. That’s low.

I’m not going to go into the diagnosis except to say that low blood pressure was partly a result of the cardio surgery I had a couple of weeks ago and partly caused by the fact that I was taking medicine that had been prescribed a year ago to lower my blood pressure. I wasn’t drinking enough liquids.

Anyway, I spent the day in the ER, on my back on a stretcher-bed with an IV something stuck in my chemotherapy port. By the late afternoon, I felt pretty good, able to walk. Yesterday was good and so is today.

Over the last few weeks – since my mother died – I’ve not been able to write much of anything. Oh, a lot of that inability stemmed from my physical condition but a lot of it was a reaction to my mom’s death. It just seemed that I couldn’t get my thoughts off my mother, largely because I hadn’t been able to visit her before her passing.

Stretched out in the hospital two days ago, though, I had something of a breakthrough. I realized, that my mother would be appreciative of my sadness, appreciative that I missed her and was going to keep missing her. She would have been enraged, though, if I allowed that perfectly natural sorrow to stand between myself and the writing I still want to do before my own death. "Stop it!" she’d say. "Get back to the computer. Show me you loved me by writing a good book."

My mother was proud of me. I know that. She was happy and proud and thankful that I’d fought my way from a terribly sick and sad and drunken life to a decent life. A life that included her and also includes a wife and my grown up children and my grandchildren. A life that includes some success as an author. A life filled with friends I’ve made since I took my last drink. But she wants me to finish the writing I started two years ago because she knows that’s what will make this period of my life make some kind of sense.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Mom, Again

It’s been a while since I wrote anything at all. I was sicker than usual for a time and ultimately had to undergo vascular surgery at the VA hospital in Miami. I was – and still am – so weak I can barely walk.

Not long after the surgery, my mother died.

I wasn’t surprised. She was 92 years old. She’d been ill and weak. I do wish I’d not been sick so I could have made my way up to Clearwater on Florida’s West Coast to see her one more time before she slipped away. But it didn’t work out that way.

My brother Patrick told me about her death. She told him, he said, she was ready to go. His daughter, Maura, told me my mother had said the same thing. My mother said she was tired. She said she wanted to be with my father who died about a decade ago. "No more," she said. Then she stopped eating and stopped taking her meds.

I can understand. I really can.

It’s easy for me to imagine my mom on her deathbed, quiet, unmoving, her eyes closed. For a time after her death, that’s the way I thought of her. Then I stopped. Now, when I think of her, I remember the last time I saw her, a couple of months ago. We sat at the table in her family room, talking about politics and my work and laughing a lot. She told stories about family in Ireland and friends in Chicago.

The last night I was with her, ready to drive home very early in the morning, we embraced. She kissed my cheek and I kissed hers. We told each other to be safe. "I love you, Mom," I said. She said the same to me. When we pulled apart, I could see her eyes were wet with tears. She smiled and nodded her head. I knew what she was saying with that smile and nod. That’s what I’ll remember.