Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What if?

It was 13 years ago today that I got the unexpected phone call that my father had died.

The way I heard it, he and his wife went out to Friendly's for lunch, Dad had a big steak, and when they left and got into the car to drive home, Dad suffered a heart attack.

I live 3000 miles away so I didn't hear about it all until he had passed. He was 80 years old, and we had just celebrated that date in November. His birthday was actually Dec. 10, but ,because of New Hampshire winters, my stepmother decided to have his party early in order to avoid travel challenges. I'm so glad she did.

I'm so glad my Dad lived to be a good, long age.
I'm glad he did not have to go into a nursing home (not that I would have allowed that!) and suffer.
His spirit was so free, even though he walked with a walker after several debilitating strokes.
And I'm so glad that he accepted Jesus as his Savior years before, because now I know without a doubt that he's waiting there for me, to help me over.

A friend of mine passed away last Sunday from a brain tumor. Curly was an extraordinary man, like my Dad was. He was a strong family man, he lived a life of respect and honor, and he was incredibly gifted at songwriting and singing and playing the guitar. He took one of my poems and put amazing music to it, and then, together, we won an award for that collarboration.

I have a card I picked up to send to Curly's wife, and I chose it because of the unique and original thought expressed on the front of the card. In honor of Curly and my Dad today, I'm going to type it here:

What if the brilliant,
twinkling stars
that bring the dark night sky to life
are windows looking out of heaven?

and at the very moment
when we're wishing on those stars,
hoping that the loved ones we have lost are happy,
safe, and free...

maybe they are looking
at those same stars from the other side,
making the same wish for us...
sending us all their love.
Sharon Valleau

Though they did not know each other "down here," in my mind Dad and Curly are together now, strumming guitars, Dad listening to Curly and loving his deep, rich voice, his poetry in his lyrics. Every once in a while, they have to put the instruments down and go welcome one of their friends and family into Heaven. It's the way things are done up there, I've heard.

Welcome home, thou good and faithful servant.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Christmas Guitar

I grew up many years living alone in the little house on Bog Road with just my Dad. My parents divorced when I was 8, and eventually, my older sister moved into Mom's house, while I stayed with Dad. This created a close relationship between Dad and I that was a treasure to me.

Dad played guitar. He had an old, F-hole guitar of some kind. I used to know the brand but I have forgotten it. He sang and played songs like "Hey, Mr. Banjo," and "The Wabash Cannonball." Dad loved listening to down-home music, and his cousins often got together and jammed on guitars, stand-up bass, fiddle, accordion and banjo.

I wanted a guitar almost as much as I dreamed for a horse growing up. But we were poor, and getting a guitar seemed much more likely than getting a horse. Dad promised me that I'd get a horse, "when his ship came in." But we lived quite a long ways from the ocean.

With parents living in different houses about 30 minutes apart, I usually spent the weekends with my Mom and her husband and their kids. Dad would drive me up there and let me off on Friday night and then pick me up on Sunday. All weekend, I'd pray for there to be a horse out in the little shed when I got home.

Though I really didn't understand the Gospel, I had faith even then, and I knew God could make a horse appear out there if He wanted to. If I asked hard enough. So, as soon as we drove into the driveway, away I'd run out to the shed to see if there was a horse tied up in there for me.

There never was, but that is another story, of how I got a job at 15 and bought my first horse, a 3 year-old, wild Buckskin gelding named Buckshot, with my saved paychecks from waitressing.

One Christmas rolled around and Dad knew I wanted a guitar. That must have seemed a much more achievable gift to him than a horse.

I was up at my mother's house and on Christmas, after lunch, the phone rang. Mom said it was Dad...for me.

I took the phone and Dad said, "Do you know what this is?"

And he strummed a chord down the strings of a guitar.

I said, "No...what is it?"

"It's your guitar," he said, his sly smile evident in his voice.

"Come get me now!!!" I demanded.

He did, and as we drove again into the driveway, I piled out of the old Hudson and ran into the house. We never locked the doors in those days so there was no reason to stop and get the old skeleton key out from under the garage eaves and unlock the door.

I opened the door and looked behind it, at the Christmas tree. No guitar or large, wrapped, guitar-shaped box! So, I ran from the living room into my bedroom, but no guitar.

"Where is it?" I shouted to Dad, who'd come into the house behind me. Our little house, he built it in 1947, one room at a time. It was very tiny, but full of our love.

He laughed out loud and said, "Right here, silly!"

I went back into the living room and there it was, lying on the couch. A brand new Silvertone guitar he'd bought for $20 at Sears. That was one-third of his paycheck. He'd tuned it all up for me, had probably played with it all weekend!

It was a black guitar with a sunburst design, a reddish-golden glow that burst out from around the sound hole. And it was the best thing I ever saw.

Over the next few days, he taught me the three chords in the key of G.

I didn't have a guitar case, but I had the cardboard box the instrument had come in, and it had fold-out, cardboard handles. When summer came, I would pedal my bike the 4 miles or so up to my best-friend, Barb's house, somehow hanging onto those cardboard handles and riding up a very steep hill past the granite First Congregational Church, up Hutchins Street.

Barb and I would spend whole days pretending we were the Beatles and now I had the guitar to add to the authenticity of our imagination. Over and over, along with our other friend, Gretchen, we'd sing "She Loves You, Yah, Yah, Yah," and "I Want to Hold Your Haaannnnd!"

Years later, I sold that guitar to my brother, Larry. I wish I still had it.

Many years after that, after moving out West, getting married and working on ranches, I picked up music again, playing guitar and mandolin and banjo. My Dad got to see some of that, and just now, while writing this, I am remembering a wonderful spiritual connection between my Dad, his guitar and me. And God.

It was in the 1980's, I was in my 30's. I had several years before (in 1978) learned about Jesus, the reason He came to earth to be born in a manger. Once I understood God's perfect plan of salvation, I accepted Him into my life, I dedicated my life to Jesus, and became what the Bible calls, "saved."

I always tried to tell my Dad about Jesus. It was important to me that he be in heaven with me. And I do believe that only by Jesus are we allowed to enter Heaven's gates and God's presence.

I believe that because that is what the Bible states very clearly. But he had never really listened or had a heart open to it.

Back in NH to visit my Dad and Mom (in separate houses!), one night I was sitting on my Dad's bed, and I picked up his old, F-hole guitar. It was in tune, like it always was. I quietly strummed and sang, "Amazing Grace."

"Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound...that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now I'm found...was blind but now I see."

Dad came in and asked me, "Can you tell me what that song means?"

Dad was about 70 then. I'd told him many, many times the way to salvation through belief in Jesus in the previous 7 or 8 years. I was jaded. I didn't see then that a mighty spiritual moment was about to happen.

I put the guitar down gently on the frayed, chemise bedspread, and led the way for my Dad to follow me into his tiny living room. I sat on the same couch that had lovingly cradled my first guitar back when I was a kid. And I told him what I call the "Reader's Digest" version of salvation.

I told him that sin stood between us and God. That God can only be surrounded by good and that only good can enter heaven, or commune with God. But humans (us) are not without sin. All of us sin and "come short of the glory of God."

So, God had to create a way for us, His children, to be saved, to come to Him. He sent His Son, Jesus, on Christmas morn, to be born in that manger. The child fulfilled all the prophecies in the ancient scriptures. He came to be "The Way, the Truth and the Life." Jesus grew up to say those words, and added, "No man cometh to the Father but by me."

I told Dad that the Bible shows us that we need to believe with all of our hearts in Jesus. That He is real, that He is God, that He came to save mankind. That baby that is so cute on Christmas cards had to be born in order to die a bloody, ravaged death, the death we deserve because of our sin. Jesus did that so we can be forgiven of our sins and can then have our place with God in Heaven, at His throne.

I asked Dad point-blank, "Have you ever done that, Dad? Have you ever given your heart wholly to Jesus?"

He said (I will always remember these words precisely!), "Who, me? No, I haven't."

I then asked him simply, "Would you like me to help you do that now?"

And he whispered, "I'm ready for it."

This wise, wonderful father of mine, the man I loved like life itself, who gave so much to me and for me, who sacrificed to raise me, who gave me unconditional love no matter what bad deed I might do...this bald, bespectacled man knelt down with me in his living room and we held hands, and as I prayed the "sinner's prayer," he repeated after me.

That night, Jesus came to live in my Dad's heart. He forgave Dad of all his sins, even the times he knew to do good and didn't do it. He performed a work in Dad's heart. And gave me assurance that when it's time for me to go, my dear Dad is right there waiting for me "on the other side."

What a glorious thing to know!

So it is that the Christmas guitar ties in with the real story of Christmas. That God used that connection He'd made between Dad and I, and even used the same house that I grew up in, though our spiritual experience together happened at least 30 years after the gift of the guitar.

Jesus was born for us. He died for us.
Jesus lived for us. He became the sacrifice for our misdeeds.
His life is the key to the door that opens to God.
There is only one Key, and it is not hidden under the eaves somewhere.
The Key is right out in the open, easy to find and accessible for everyone.

Merry Christmas, all of my dear friends.

Days of Apathy

I have decided...

I don't care.

I don't care anymore what a neurosurgeon thinks. I've seen six now, and they all come up with something different. Some brush me off as a pain in the backside, i.e. "I've never seen anyone like you, with your complaints, after a Jefferson Fracture."

The first neurosurgeon, the one I saw when I was brought into the ER 5.5 years ago, said later on, "You've healed straight and fine. Your neck is straight and fine."

The second neurosurgeon told me, "You're lucky to be alive. Get off the internet and get on with your life."

The third neurosurgeon found that my neck (C1) is still broken, is non-union. He told me that all my ligaments must have ripped and been broken when I broke my neck. He told me he could help me. One surgery and three years later, he told me there was nothing he could do for me, without having done a single thing to my skull base/upper C spine.

The fourth neurosurgeon was the one who yelled at me and told me that he'd never seen a patient come back to him after suffering a Jefferson Fracture and have the complaints that I have. He told me he wouldn't do anything for me and wouldn't take someone like me as a patient because he had never seen anyone like me.

The fifth neurosurgeon talked to me for 20 minutes, told me he would not take care of me if I had a surgery out of state and needed emergent help, and called up the referring doctor (the hematologist who sent me to him) and complained to him about sending me there and wasting his time.

The sixth neurosurgeon is the one I am seeing now. He's probably a good guy. He might have some good observations. But I'm past caring.

I got a copy of the report he sent my primary after seeing me. I read it, saw things he got wrong, saw new things, like the fact that in my NY imaging, he had not seen any slippage in the joints between C1 and C2 when I held my head in flexion during the xray. But, then he did see some slippage in the xrays he had done, in the same position, last month after I saw him for the first time.

This would explain a lot, when I think of how I already have been diagnosed with spinal stenosis in that area (narrowing inside the spine where the cord runs), and if a bone (C1) is slipping forward when I bend my chin toward my chest (look down), I can "see" how that narrows the area for the cord even more and likely compresses the cord. But then...neurosurgeon #3 said I had no brainstem compression from the C1.

Oh, I forgot Neurosurgeon #3a, as he operated on me with NSG #3, and he was the one who diagnosed me with having also suffered dislocation of the occipital condyles and said I had "a chiari, but not Chiari Malformation." I understood what he meant. This NSG is actually #7, then. And he has seen thousands of cases of Chiari. He is one of the leading experts on Chiari in the world. If he said I have "low lying tonsils of the cerebellum" ie "a chiari," then I believe him.

NSG #6 doesn't like NSGs #3 and #3a (aka #7), so he wrote out a special paragraph in the report saying I do not have Chiari Malformation, which I already knew. But NSG#6 didn't let me speak too much to explain such things to him. I didn't have a chance to tell him I have dural ectasias in the lumbar area, too. I mean, I told him, but he talked over the top of me, so I know he didn't hear it.


All of this suddenly has tired me out, and I've become apathetic about it. I don't care. I've stopped hoping for a surgery to fix me. I'm at a place where it is what it is.

This attitude might all be temporary, but that's how I've been feeling lately.

And it's quite a freeing sensation. To not put so much hope into a man (NSG). To not have any expectations.

Maybe it's about time. But it's bittersweet...saying goodbye to hope.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Keeping one foot in front of the other...and me and Sarah Palin.

One day progresses into the next, but the seasons outside my window show me that time is moving along regardless of my own perceptions. The rusty-colored leaves of the oaks are mostly gone and I love the opening up of the view from the front of our house. Now, I can see the hills, clad is shades of blue and green and gray, a couple of miles across the valley from us. These are called The Horse Heaven Hills, and at night, I can now enjoy the twinkling lights from the homes there, while before twilight, the westward-facing windows of those same homes reflect the brilliance of each orange or rosy-hued sunset.

Our neighbor just brought us a cord of firewood. We like supporting our neighbors in their labors of supplementing their own disability incomes. We know how much hard work it takes to go up into the mountains and cut and gather blocks of wood, split it up, bring it home and sell it, all to earn a meager amount for the amount of work involved. We did it for many years.

Medically, tomorrow is the appointment for my SPECT scan and the new lumbar MRI. However, I'm waiting for the authorization of these tests from my workers comp insurance company. If this is not forthcoming today, I will cancel the trip to Portland for tomorrow, reschedule perhaps for next week. God has a plan. I am actually looking forward to the SPECT scan with hopes it will reveal some things that no one else has been able to see.

I've been mostly staying in the house. I "think" about stepping outside, at least for some fresh air or to check on what my husband has going in his shop, but the thought of the walking and how it affects me keeps me inside. It's been a mixed-bag of weather, sunny for a few hours in the afternoons, most mornings start off cold, frosty, some fog, and some high clouds. Our weather is greatly affected by the ebb and flow of wind and water off the nearby, mighty Columbia.

On Saturday, we did drive to our shopping town over in Oregon, and I realised that was my first time out in a week.

My appetite is noticeably lessening, to me, actually a good thing. I need to lose weight and not doing much, it's hard to lose even an ounce. But with my swallowing issues now, the thought of food stuck in my throat for hours keeps me from wanting to eat much. I think I've lost a little.

Lastly, I've been reading Sarah Palin's new book, "Going Rogue."

I've always been a fan of this strong woman who had an obvious heart for serving our country. Yet, with her book, I've kept an instinctive, open mind. I didn't want to read it like a fan letter to herself. I didn't want to hear whining about treatment behind the scenes of the VP campaigns. I wanted to see the "stuff" she was made of.

She writes, obviously, without a co-author. In the first half of her book, her writing seems simplistic, colloquial and down-home. With folksy statements including phrases like "we kicked butt" and "we beat feet down to the courthouse," I wasn't sure how she would come across to the rest of the country. I mean, I love that type of talking, I talk that way too. But...I was expecting something that I thought was more academic from a person I voted for and expect to follow in the future.

I grew to love her talking style which was reflected in her writing. It "fit" me like a glove. Yet, I was also impressed when, halfway through the book, as Sarah began to write about her Governorship in Alaska, there wasn't any more of that folksy kind of communication. Subtly, Sarah got down to the business of what governing is about, serving the constituents, making things better even when tough choices must be made.

Reading her way of dealing with corrupt government and "Big Oil" has been inspiring and informative. I came away from the read with a huge respect for this woman and her family. And I consider the reported 9 or 10 investigators who have been hired to go over the facts in her book with the fine-tooth-comb. I know they want to earn their wages and come up with fabrications and fairy tales within her pages, but the book has been out a few weeks now and no one has come forth yet with any such allegations. I mean, she names names in this book in a way I, as an author, never would do. I admire her!

What they have been through, the judgments that have befallen Sarah Palin that would never have been put upon others, it all adds up to a good read. She is not whining in any sense of the word. Like me, she grew up working with men, and there is little compassion for whiners in that environment. She's just stating the facts, briefly, and then moving on.

I can understand now why she wanted to write this book, to tell "her side" of it all. I'm glad she has. I thought I liked her before. After reading this great book, I'm one of her biggest fans. One thing I've noted: during the VP campaign and even now, she doesn't have a chance to come across as intelligent as she truly is. She is not someone who really talks in sound bites. She needs time to explain her position, which I've learned from the read is basically that of Ronald Reagan, a political view she's held since high school.

I also have wondered if the interviewers, even those conservative ones, had read her book before interviewing her. There are so many fascinating questions I'd have asked her if I had the chance! The main thing is, this is a brilliant woman with good, common sense born of being raised on the Last Frontier and working at the physically-demanding jobs of Bristol Bay fishing, gutting fish at cannery plants, waitressing, putting herself through college earning her tuition herself. Her life has been one of hard knocks and she is a first-class survivor,handling each scenario with grace and aplomb.

One other thing: she has achieved and served in several ways I simply was not aware of and was not brought out in the VP campaign. For example, she held the office of President of the Alaska Mayors association when she was Wasilla mayor. And she also worked for the Governor of Alaska, before her terms in that office, as a liason with the big oil companies. This takes a tough and battle-hardened person of any gender, to stand up among these big moneyed corporations. After the assumption of the Governor's office, she caused changes throughout Alaska by causing more oil development and also initiating a watershed project of bringing natural gas to the lower 48.

Anyway....I'll get down off my soapbox now. Whether she runs for president some day or not, her book is definitely eye-opening.