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Jeremy and I

I got up early this morning to study for the final in a course I’m taking in Indigenous Religion and Ecology. Unfortunately, the coffee hadn’t kicked in and I fell down a rabbit hole and cleaned up my personal email instead. I apparently stopped doing so on May 29, 2020 – the day my son Jeremy died. Life seemed to take a different path after that day.

I wrote about the grief and the loss for a few weeks after he died. My public blog became my personal journal in the hope it would be cathartic for me and somewhat hopeful that it would shorten, or at least make bearable, the grief process. It didn’t. It simply became easier to write about Opal’s Farm and passing on quotes I came across that meant something to me than to speak of the pain of grief.

So, I’ve been silent the last few weeks unless it’s about Opal’s Farm. Spring planting has taken up most of my time. It’s hard to stay on top of all the great things happening at the farm – and there are some fantastic things happening there this Spring. I’m grateful for all of it. I wish I had more hours in the day so I could tell you all about it, but I don’t so I do the best I can business-wise.

When it came to writing anything else I found myself relying on the old “writer’s block” excuse -and that’s just what it was – an excuse. The reality is grief has reared its ugly head and clouded my thinking for some time now. It started around Christmas – that’s my deceased son’s birthday – and hasn’t let up.

I told my wife that I may need to finally see a grief therapist. This was becoming somewhat debilitating, but I didn’t want to spend a hundred dollars an hour for someone to tell me grief and loss sucks. I get it.

I also get that people don’t want to hear about my loss anymore whatever their reason may be.

Grief is incredibly isolating. People who haven’t lost a child don’t get it. They may have the best of intentions, or they may think it’s time (it’s been a year-and-a-half) to just “get over it” and move on. I understand. I’m ashamed to admit it but I’ve treated others the same way. Not because I want to but because of the discomfort, and often fear, I feel being around grief. We all do it…

This morning I read once again all the emails and articles written about Jeremy after his passing. He was loved by many. Although his talent as an artist lives on through his body of work, I find myself wondering if at best, he’s thought of from time, and at worst, if he’s been forgotten – everyone’s moved on. COVID robbed us of the celebration of life he wanted should he pass. We honored one of his requests at the small family homegoing we had for him – we had honey buns but couldn’t have a taco truck. I’m still waiting on that one.

Several years ago, Jeremy and I were headed out to a remodeling job we were doing. I miss our time in the truck together – the conversations, the laughter – although I must admit that working with Jeremy was rarely easy. We’re both pretty set in our ways! Still, we had a lot to laugh about. He told me that we should write a book together. I asked him why he thought that. His reply still haunts me today – “We could write about you and me. It’d be so crazy no one would believe it. We’d make the non-fiction bestseller’s list.” I can’t argue with that…

Jeremy 2019

There were several things that Jeremy wanted from me that I just never got around to while he was here. Some of them I’ve done, some I haven’t yet. He always wanted me to find my birth parents. He loved my adopted parents, especially my dad, but he always wondered about who were really were – where and who did we come from. I found that out last year when I met my birth mother – his grandmother – and learned so much of our family history. When I go to Kentucky in May I’ll be taking some of his ashes to lay at the family cemetery on the family farm we will be having our reunion at. My brother’s sons look so much like Adrian and Jeremy. Part of Jeremy belongs there too.

I’ve also begun the book he always wanted. I realized that Jeremy had a private persona and a public one as an artist. While most people know Jeremy the artist, few know Jeremy the man. It’s time for a broader (and crazier) picture of he and I both.

I’ll keep you posted on the progress and maybe post a chapter here and there. I don’t know if it will be a bestseller. In fact, I don’t even know if you’ll read it. I do know that what will happen will happen and maybe his loss and the pain I feel will mean something to me and the healing will begin…

This song plays almost everyday on my streaming station. It has become my song for Jeremy.
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Not Today…

Today was supposed to be the big day for my wife, Margaret. She’s dealt with severe, chronic pain in her neck and her back for quite some time. Her long awaited surgery to relieve some of the pain was supposed to take place today, but COVID reared its ugly head and has put it off once again. We got the call late last night that her pre-surgery COVID test had come back positive, and the surgery would have to be rescheduled.

This was a devasting blow to us both. The surgery was scheduled in September of last year – that’s how long it took to schedule a surgical suite. COVID pushed many “elective” surgeries off schedule – just because it isn’t life threatening means it’s elective. “Elective” loses its meaning when it comes to living in constant pain and drastically limited mobility. There’s no telling how long this will take to reschedule.

We had both prepared ourselves emotionally and physically for this surgery. All the pre-op steps were followed and now plans are again on hold. Any time we’re talking about an 8-10-hour surgery there’s some degree of emotional preparedness. It’s scary and stressful even though the hoped-for results are beneficial. All Margaret could do was cry when the call came last night.

We are mightily disappointed, but our faith has made this somewhat easier to bear. God’s timing is always perfect. We know that, but it doesn’t take away the frustration and stress the situation creates. The sad thing about all of this is that Margaret and I are fully vaccinated and boosted. I’ve tested a couple of times in the few weeks leading up to the 1st just in case. We’ve been extremely careful to wear masks and maintain social distancing. Unfortunately, we live in a place where very few people follow the CDC safety protocols maintaining that it’s their “right” to be inconsiderate of others.

I suppose that’s why I feel so angry right now – so much of the death and misery of COVID could have been prevented. Margaret could be on her way back to pain relief if simple measures could’ve been taken by us all. Vaccination, masking, and social distancing should never have been a “rights” issue. It should have never been a political issue. It should have always been a public health problem addressed by scientific fact and more than anything else, should have been a cooperative effort by our community to save lives and save us from the tyranny of the pandemic. Knowing this could have been prevented but there are those who think it’s their “right” to be selfish fools and refuse common sense and care for others infuriates me – especially when they choose to wear the moniker of Christian.

“Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of status no matter what. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and the died a selfless, obedient death – and the worst kind of death at that – a crucifixion.” Phillipians 2.5-8 (The Message)

What you do today doesn’t only affect you…

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Don’t Be an A-hole

It’s cold in my office today. I left the bar up on the patio door and Sadie, our lovable, sweet dog, decided something was important enough to warrant exterior investigation. She’s incredibly bright. She can open the door if she bends her paw just right. Unfortunately, she hasn’t figured out how to close it. The door was open this morning. The overnight low was twenty-one degrees. The coffee is appreciated more than ever…

I figured I’d warm up the fingers by writing an update on what’s happening at the Joel household I finally received my COVID test results back and they were negative. I figured they would be but it’s possible to be asymptomatic and still pass it on to others. My wife is having major surgery on February 1st, so I’ve been extra careful to avoid bringing COVID home. It took almost five months to get an open surgical room. COVID would put it off again and we definitely don’t want that.

My work is not just the food. It’s ultimately about unity between all people regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual preference, gender identity, and abilities. So, I’ve weighed heavily on writing something that’s divisive. The whole of our culture is divided right now. The last thing everyone needs is another divisive rant. Sometimes loving others requires saying what needs to be heard. Even Jesus got pissed-off about the moneychangers in the Temple.

I’d like to think I’m accepting (albeit begrudgingly at times) of everyone, but that would be a lie. Lately, even begrudgingly doesn’t work anymore. Case in point: Margaret and I have had all our COVID vaccinations, I always wear a mask, and maintain social distance when I do have to go into a store (usually Home Depot – it’s been my toy store for years…). We try to do all the things recommended by doctors and epidemiologists to stop the spread of COVID – for both ourselves and others in particular.

Last night I had to go in to pick up a dinner order that we’d ordered for carry-out. It wasn’t ready and I had to wait. An unmasked gentleman (and I use the term loosely) came up behind me – right behind me mind you – I’m not sure there was even two feet between us. He was close enough to feel his breath on my shoulders. I moved over to the corner to put some space between us. When he finished ordering he also moved into the corner, crowding me again.

I’m irritated when anyone gets in my personal space even in pre-pandemic times, but even more so now. I moved again and he moved closer to speak with his son. I moved once again. So did he. That’s when I could take no more. I looked at him and said, “Sir, you need to back off”.

He looked surprised. I continued, “I need you to maintain some social distance please. My wife is having surgery and I can’t risk taking anything home”.  Everyone was looking at me. Two of the folks that had masks on and nodded approval (two people in a room full of employees and diners). His son murmured “what a dick” and they took a couple of steps back – not six feet though. My food was ready so I got out of there as quickly as I could.

My wife was watching National Geographic documentary called “The First Wave” when I got home. It’s about the first months of pandemic when New York City was the epicenter for COVID. It followed doctors and patients through overwhelmed hospitals during the first wave. We ate dinner and I continued to watch (even though I had a ton of work to do). I became both saddened and angry to watch the death rate soar while healthcare providers shared the emotions that come with helplessness and over-work. Their valiant efforts could not overcome the effects of the disease and they watched friends and patients die and the grief of loved ones who couldn’t even say goodbye. I wept at the loss and frustration.

Sadness quickly turned to anger when I thought of that yahoo at the restaurant. Two years after “The First Wave” we’re still fighting COVID because so many refuse to mask, get vaccinated, or maintain social distance – all the things that would have slowed the pandemic, saved lives, and made of everyone safer – and their refusal is based on their “right” not to do so. Right-wing politicians in many states, like our Governor “COVID” Abbott, have made mask or vaccination mandates illegal. Playing to the Republican-Trump base is more important than saving lives…

This isn’t about politics, our “rights” or “the mark of the beast” people. It’s about having some concern for the common good, for all our friends and neighbors. It’s about not being an ass-hole and “thinking of others more highly than yourself (I read that in a book somewhere). I don’t like wearing a mask, but I do – not even so much for me but for others. I don’t like having to stand back from friends that I normally hug when I see them. If I’m honest, I’m a sissy when it comes to shots. I hate them, but guess what? I’ve had ALL my vaccinations – COVID and everything else as well. Follow the science people and exercise some common courtesy…

Facts no longer change minds and there is little communication, real communication, going on between those on either side of the issue (unless yelling at each other is considered communication. Common courtesy is not that common anymore. The one hope I have is that there are many others choosing to do the right thing – the courteous, wise, and selfless thing. That’s personal choice that’s good for everyone. Remember, don’t be an a-hole

Photo by Yaroslav Danylchenko on Pexels.com

A side note: The new Omnicron variant is far more infectious although early data shows it may not be as deadly – at least for the vaccinated. Many doctors are now saying it’s not if you catch the virus, it’s when.

Consequences, Grief, History, News, Spiritual Deserts, Thoughts From the Porch

The Same Old Same Old

I don’t watch the news as much as I used to. That’s a big step for a news junkie. I don’t want to bury my head in the sand, mind you. It’s just watching history repeat itself over and over again gets old. COVID restrictions ease and ICU beds fill once again. A black man is murdered by the police and the streets fill with protesters. Everyone says they’ll reform the police and studies are done (anther way of saying nothing happens). Then another black man is murdered by police. The cycle starts again…

The last few days it’s been the news out of Afghanistan. Two pictures keep coming to mind. One was taken when I was in High School in 1975. The other taken last weekend. The buildings have changed, the helicopters may be different, but they remain the same picture. One is the fall of Saigon. The other is the fall of Kabul. Both represent fear, wasted lives, and wars that never end…

My heart is sad. I lost friends and family some fifty years ago in Vietnam. I lost friends in Afghanistan. Both were wasted under the guise of patriotism and “America’s interests”. I’m not sure what either means. Nothing has changed. It’s back to business as usual. I wonder if we’ll ever learn. It’s just the same old, same old…

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Murals and Toads…

It’s been busy the last few days. Spring planting is in full swing at the farm. New areas are being plowed and tilled making for a full acre expansion to Opal’s Farm. Meetings, continuing education classes, and discussion groups have filled my evening schedule. It’s all good stuff, mind you, but then the rain came…

Work is great therapy, but eventually the rain comes. It slows me down long enough for my mind to wander into places I’d rather not visit. Unfortunately, I must. It’s part of the grieving process. I only mention it because I got a text today that Jeremy’s mural at Manana Land will be taken down at the first of April. It’s to be replaced by one of Deborah Peoples, a local candidate for Mayor, to encourage folks to vote. A worthy replacement most times – getting out the vote, even in local elections, is a great endeavor – but not so much right now. I simply don’t want to let go.

Jay Wilkinson’s mural of Jeremy at Hop Fusion Brewery is the one I spend the most time visiting. Jay was Jeremy’s long-time friend and art partner. It means more to me a Jay wasted no time in getting the mural done. It was an incredible effort by someone who knew Jeremy well and painted as such. Still, I drive by the one at Manana Land on the way home some days and wave hello to my son. I won’t be able to do that much longer.

I didn’t want to hear that right now. I’ve been a ball of feelings the last couple of weeks. I’m not even sure how to label them as they change so rapidly. Grief is like that. I’d love to define them and to put them into words, but everything seems to fall short – shallow and meaningless.

The other day I was out at the farm. Roman, our Volunteer Coordinator was out there with me. He tilled one last row before he headed on to other obligations. I stayed behind to seed the newly turned soil. About halfway down the row I saw a toad that had been hit on the shoulder (do frogs have shoulders?) and was bleeding. I took him to the side of the bed and put him in a cool shady spot to rest. When it occurred to me that it might be a fatal wound I began to sob uncontrollably – over a dying toad.

It seemed like it the weeping would never end. What was wrong with me? “It’s a damn frog Greg! Get over it. It’s part of farming, right? He didn’t mean to hurt it. It was an accident.”

I don’t when it happened but suddenly, I realized that the tears weren’t only for some old frog. They were for my son. They were for the folks in line at the food bank up the street. They were for all the broken people in a broken world that no one sees nor tries to help.

They were for George Floyd, for Breonna Taylor, for Armaud Aubery, for Tamir Rice, and the list goes on and on and on.

They were for the 500,000 plus people that have died from COVID and the over 81,000 people that died from overdoses in the wear prior to May 2020. The tears were over the families of those lost – the fathers and mothers that lie awake at night, tears rolling down their cheeks, asking God why – why their child, their parent, their brother, or sister.

They were for Sandy Hook, for Columbine, for Parkland and all the schools, places of worship, or public spaces where mass shootings have taken so many.

All of that because of a bleeding Texas Toad…

Sometimes I simply need to let go, to cry it out, and even question the God, the Abba, who loves me more than I can possibly imagine. Why’d you let it get this way? Why, why, why? “My God, why have you forsaken us?

My sobbing eased and the tears began to slow. I slowly gathered myself together and resumed planting. The smell of freshly turned soil filled the air around me. The sun felt a little brighter and warmer. I remembered the days Jeremy came out and worked with me. God, I miss that, but at least I have that memory. My grandkids will soon be out here more when school is out and I get to see Jeremy in them.

My sadness and anger had passed. God didn’t make or let any of this happen. We did. Perhaps that’s where the anger comes from. I’m not doubting God as much as I’m doubting myself and doubting people. People let us all down at some point. That’s what all humans do. No one’s perfect, right?

Then I remember all the people I’ve met along the way that work diligently, often with little or no reward, to make our community a better place. I have faith God will set all things right one day. I dream of the promised “new heaven and new Earth”, but what’s my part today? God can create universes. I’m sure He could straighten this earthly mess out right away, but He invites me to be a part of the solution. He reminds me that we can do this so just do it…

We must use our lives to make the world a better place to live, not just to acquire things. That is what we are put on the earth for. Solitude with God repairs the damage done by the fret and noise and clamour of the world.”

– Dolores Huerta

I looked back on saw that everything had been planted before the forecasted rain for the next day. I felt strong, no longer defeated, and hopeful. My tears washed away the frustration and grief that had been building up inside. Now I had a little more clarity. Vision returned. All of this because of an old toad…

I walked back to where I had laid the toad. He wasn’t there but I could see a place where he’d burrowed into the planting bed. Maybe it wasn’t a fatal wound after all. He may end up scarred like me, but we’d both be out there doing out part at the farm. That’s all we can do…

Photo by Lucas van Oort on Unsplash