Loss and Life

I lost my wife, Jenny, four months ago, on August 31st, 2016. Her heart failed. It was the worst thing to ever happen to me in my life, and these last four months have been the hardest I’ve ever had to endure.

Jenny was a “dializor” – a term she preferred to “dialysis patient.” She initially went on dialysis at 17 years old. She had a transplant when she was 32 which lasted ten years before the very drugs that prevented rejection destroyed her kidney, finally. She received the kidney on October 1st, 1994, and thereafter October 1 was her “rebirth-day.” It was a joyous day until 2005, when her kidney failed, and then it became a sad day as another year went by on dialysis. She was on the transplant list, but she was virtually impossible to match. So, she stayed on dialysis and persevered through setbacks, health issues, low blood pressure, mysterious infections and fevers, and pain. Her last year was difficult, and she finally gave up hope. And then she died.

This is an extremely abridged version of Jenny’s life, her struggle, and her fantastic resilient spirit, but for the purpose of this post, that’s what happened. Jenny and I were together for thirty years, eight months exactly. When she died, my life was over.

I knew that Jenny would pass before me. I never expected that it would be as devastating as it was and is. When you marry someone, you become in many ways one person. Jenny and I had a common life. We grew up together. We shared everything. We had passions that we shared, which no one else understood. We named our dog “C. K. Dexter Haven” because Jenny loved how Jimmy Stewart called that out in the movie “Philadelphia Story.” “C. K. Dexter Haaaaaven!” She loved the idea of having a small regal Sheltie have a such a long name. And, I’ll be damned, but the name suits C. K. Dexter Haven to a tee. Jenny and I loved that, and we totally understood it since we loved that movie, and I can tell you I was genuinely surprised that apparently no one else got the joke. C. K. Dexter Haven (there is no short-hand here. His name is C. K. Dexter Haven) was Jenny’s last birthday present. Thank God I got her that puppy.

When you have that kind of relationship, you die when your partner dies. I used to think  that it was over dramatization when the husband went crazy when his wife died, like in “Gone with the Wind” when Scarlett’s father goes crazy when his wife died. Now that it has happened to me, I get it. I heard of couples dying within days or weeks of each other. Will and Ariel Durant died within two weeks of each other. Just last week, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds died within a day of each other. People can die of a broken heart. I get that. Your life is over. You have to choose to live after something like this. It is not like you died. You did die, in that your life as it was is done. There is no going back. It is over. And in order to go on, you have to choose to go on, and figure out what the hell you are going to do. And whether or not you want to.

I am blessed with a son, so no matter what else happened, my job is to help him. He needs to grow up, and he needs support and love because his life as it was is over too, at twelve years old. I cannot change that, but I can help him.

There are a lot of things in life that allow “do-overs.” In the movie “City Slickers,” the frighteningly young men were in the throes of their respective mid-life crises where  they needed a “do-over.” When you lose your spouse, there is no “do-over.” It’s cussing over. Death is cussing final. Everything you should have said, you cannot say. Everything you should have done, you cannot do. There’s no reset button. You can’t “respawn.”

I’m in the middle of this. It’s been four months, so this is new. All I know is that I cannot rush the mourning. I cannot rush my son’s mourning. It is involuntary and primal this process. One of the things that has helped me is that while Jenny’s and my life was unique, what is not unique is that I lost my wife. Every successful marriage will go through this. One partner will live. One will die. It is, therefore, a fundamental part of the human experience. And I never knew it. It never even dawned on me until I lived it that this devastating thing is common. I feel that this grief is part of my DNA, that I am riding a wave of grief and mourning that shifts and morphs and moves around exposing all sides to the pain. I was with Jenny for 30 years. Given my family’s genes, I will probably live more than 30 years longer. My future life without Jenny is likely to be longer than my life with Jenny, and that that slays me. This process is like a rebirth. I have a new life. Whether I like it or not. So I think that this primal mourning prepares you for it, or it kills you.

We adopted our son at birth, and we were with the birth mother before and during labor. That, too, was a primal experience. I was getting sympathy pains. I always thought they were a myth. But no, they surprised the hell out of me. When my son was born, the flood of love that surged in me for this little baby boy was oceanic. I had no idea. There was no choice here. He was my son. He was from that moment on my guts. My sinew. My soul. I did not decide this: it was automatic.

The process of loss for my wife is similar, except it is primally enduring the pain of my past sliding behind me instead of the intense joy of creating a new future. They both seem like they are encoded in my DNA.

What do you do with this? What can you take from it? The movies treat widowhood as a transitory phase until you get your next spouse. Look at “Love Actually:” Liam Neeson gets Claudia Schiffer at the end and all is good. Or look at “Sleepless in Seattle:” Tom Hanks gets Meg Ryan and all is good. Both movies capture well the pain of widowhood, but I am not so sure of the solution. It is not so easy to move on from the love of your life.

The only thing I know at this point is that I had this beautiful life, and now it is different. It has awakened me to how ephemeral life is – not just the breathing part, but the contextual part. My life is different every day. Life changes every day. Each day is its own creation. And some people will be joining with you, and some people will be leaving. We blend our minutes and hours into days, and our days into weeks, months, and years. But each moment is discrete and unique. Some things just ooze along with minimal change, and sometimes things break suddenly, and the whole damn thing is now a new thing.

So, I decided that one thing I am going to do this year, is to be here now. Be present. Appreciate what is. Focus on the good. Embrace the bad. Alan Watts talks of life being like music. You don’t rush to the end; rather, you enjoy it as it happens. That is true. But what is more true is that life is like a playlist. One song ends, another begins. Musicians play in one, then they leave, and new musicians come in. And then, I guess, finally, you pack up your harmonica and toddle off yourself.

I know from experience that no matter what is said about death and dying, it’s not going to become real until it happens. There is no preparation. So what I can say is, if you live, surprising things will happen. Be ready to experience them, and to learn.

 

 

Trump: Use Couriers

“It’s very important, if you have something really important, write it out and have it delivered by courier, the old fashioned way because I’ll tell you what, no computer is safe.”

Donald J. Trump

“Dimitri… look, Dimitri… Dimitri, the carrier pigeon is… look, it’s on its way, alright? Just hold off on the bombers… I mean for now, ok?… Well, I can’t tell you over the phone! Someone might be listening!”

Riff on Dr. Strangelove. Imaginary call between the President and the Russian Premier Dimitri.

I don’t know what to say about this. Using couriers to send communications because “no computer is safe” is asinine. Shall I spell out why?

Any computer leaks that happen in the current age are due to sloppiness rather than an inherent risk of computing. The DNC emails were hackable because of weak processes, for example, not because any old schmo with a computer can open emails like a can of peaches. Messages can be encrypted with technology that renders them virtually impossible to crack.

Regardless of crack-ability, consider the process. Let us compare the methods of sending an important message from the President to the Senate Leader, for example.

Method A: An encrypted message exchange using an internal computer network disconnected from the Internet, in which the message is encrypted in transit with the highest level of encryption. I don’t know if this is really how an electronic message would travel from President to Senate Leader, but it certainly is doable. The president or his aide types up a message, sends it, it is encrypted in transit, decrypted on receipt, and the senate leader reads it.

In method A, a bad actor will have to have physical access to the computers. Unless he is looking over the shoulder of the sender or recipient, all he is going to get is an encrypted message – which is virtually unbreakable.

If we modify method A a bit and allow the message to be sent across the internet via something like a super-encrypted Instant Message server, then the bad actor may get the encrypted message, and again, it is virtually unbreakable. To avoid Podesta-style breaks, we apply a two-factor authentication that requires a password and the code of a physical code key. That one thing would have stopped the Podesta-leaked emails.

Method B: The president or his aide types up a message and hands it to a courier. The courier is mugged on the way to the recipient, and the message is now in the hands of the bad actor. Of course, the message could have been encrypted and then printed, but that would require… a computer. Unless you use easily-cracked platens “the old fashioned way.”

We have been using encoded electronic messages at least since World War II. There is no other way to look at this than that Trump is clueless. There is no defense of this.

Welcome 2017!

I’ve been joking that we entered into an alternate universe the day Lemmy Kilmister died at the end of 2015. How else can we explain 2016? It seems like every week – hell, sometimes every day – some core part of our collective soul was ripped out with the announcement of yet another brilliant person departing this orb too soon, or our hearts were broken by the deaths of innocents in Nice and Orlando and Chicago and Aleppo and Istanbul, and the too many other places around the globe. I am happy to see 2016 slide into the past.

And yet, this new year is a strange one. I am fretful of 2017 simply because Donald Trump will be sworn in as President of the United States on January 20th, and all signs lead to a bumpy ride. Trump is a volatile man, and I know many of his supporters believe his take on the world and disbelieve the “main stream” media and “career politicians.” I find it astounding that Trump and the Trumpists believe Russia and Vladamir Putin over all our own loyal United States intelligence agencies, for example.

On the other hand, I know America is great, that our imperfect system nonetheless is a robust system, and that this Republic of ours is greater than any one man, and can withstand any attempts to derail it. We are not Germany in the 1930s. We are not Italy in the 1920s. We are not Russia in the 1910s. America was founded on the concepts of Liberty, and Liberty is such a part of our DNA that freedom is a given. No one anywhere on the political spectrum is even considering repealing the Bill of Rights or changing our constitution.

The election of Trump was a monumental event. A lot will happen this coming year on the political front. Some of those things can be monumentally bad, but the optimist in me thinks we’ll avoid full-on disasters. There is a limit to what a GOP congress will do, and while Trump is volatile, he is not suicidal. Odd that I have to say this, but Trump’s desire to bask in a wonderful legacy is probably enough to keep him from pressing the button.

The Left and the Right are both invigorated. The Left (and certain “Never Trump” folks like me) never really took Trump seriously and were resigned to a Clinton presidency. However, Trump made chumps of all the experts and was elected, and as a result the Left has been shocked into action. On the Right, Trumpists are ecstatic that their guy won. They are crying “Mandate!” and are getting their plans in place. Right now, I can envision the groundskeepers laying down new chalk lines, trimming the field, and brushing off the mound in the 2017 political arena, with the teams in their locker rooms getting ready for the contest. This new vigor can only mean good things, ultimately. And so I am optimistic for 2017. I believe we will not only survive the Trump presidency, I believe that we will be stronger for it… eventually.

Happy New Year!