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Friday, December 26, 2014

A joyful Christmas despite myself

Here I am, the day after Christmas 2014.  And I'm only writing this because a lot of people were praying for me yesterday, that I might get through this holiday.

Grief is hard enough already.  It's especially heartbreaking when it comes so close to the holiday season and you see that empty chair at the table.  It's not something that I haven't experienced already.  Mom passed away three days after Christmas three years ago, and because of that there was already a shadow cast over Christmas and New Year's.  On my 26th birthday we buried my grandmother: something that I'm always reminded of on that day of the year.

This year has been more excruciating than anything I was prepared for.  Because it's so fresh.  Because it's only now sinking in that Dad is gone and is not coming back, no matter how many times I keep expecting him to come through that door every morning, or whenever I see his truck parked at home and find myself thinking that he's inside playing with our dog.

For the several days and maybe a week and a half before Christmas, I was doing pretty well.  Our theatre guild was in the midst of its production of It's A Wonderful Life: The Musical and being around so many people - people who I have worked with before and people who I only now have had the pleasure of making friendships with - was a pick-me-up that I sorely needed more than I'd realized.  And then the show ended this past Sunday and just like that the joy began leaving me.

Let me be more succinct: I knew what was coming and I did not want to have to go through it.  But Christmas was coming, and I had to bear it.  I'm not the only one going through this either: two very dear friends and their family are also going through this holiday season without their mother, a wonderful woman who passed away a month before Dad did.

Tuesday was hell.  Christmas Eve I was assaulted with a lot of thoughts that I cried to God to please take away.  Thoughts about Dad.  Thoughts about being alone, not in the "no friendships" way.  It has been my dream to be a husband and a father for so very long and only now have I been able to reach a state of mind that could let me have that... but I've missed a decade and a half of life because of mental illness and having that happiness seems further away than ever.

It has been a hard thing to be without Dad in other ways too, because he really was supporting me as I wrote my book.  I lost a lot of dependable work this past spring because of an extended bout of severe depression - enough to keep me from writing a word for a major project - and I've been struggling ever since to make up for it.  For now, let's just say that I'm scraping by.  But in a very weird way, I'm thankful for where I am at the moment.  It has re-taught me about the things that do matter most in life.  I am realizing more than before that for all of my circumstance right now, that I am better off than a lot of people who suffer from mental illness.  I may not be where I want to be, but God is providing for me and I'm not having to go hungry.  It is teaching me to rely on God more than I ever have before, and I am thankful for that.

I had no idea that poverty could be so much fun!

(Okay, forget I said that.  It's NOT exactly "poverty".  A tremendous lack of previous resources perhaps, yes... but I'm eating and get to stay warm at night and have a roof over my head: something that too many people in this world can't get to say that they have.)

All of those regrets and more came upon me on Christmas Eve and I desperately wanted to flee them.  I took my medication early that night and tried to go to sleep.  It only lasted until 1 in the morning, at which point I took MORE medication and tried to let it work.  By 8 it was clear that nothing had worked.  Only breakfast at my aunt and uncle's place at 9 brought direly-welcomed respite from the sadness and despair.  I got to have a little Christmas after all.  In fact, it was a Christmas that will go down as one of the most memorable of my life.

Then I came home and took even more medicine and crawled into bed and curled up in the fetal position and waited for the day to end.

I don't know what made me wake up at 4 in the afternoon.  Maybe it was Tammy - my dog - scratching at the door to go out for "relief".  I took her out and when I came back the urge to talk to someone... to anyone... overwhelmed me.

I went on Facebook and asked people to please hold me up in prayer right then, because I was needing it.  And then I spent the next three and a half hours on the phone talking to some especially close friends.

And after that, I came away feeling the most uplifted, encouraged and spiritually renewed than I have been since well before Dad died.

One friend, someone who is as close to me as a sister, told me something that I hadn't thought of: that Dad and Mom were having their first Christmas together in three years.  And that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus and that now Mom and Dad get to celebrate Christmas in the presence of Christ Himself.  She also told me something else: that Heaven really is closer to us than we realize.  We just can't see it with eyes on this earthly shore.  But our loved ones are there, they really are.  Which is funny, because a second friend shared that same thought with me just as many weeks ago.

During a conversation with another friend, he shared an essay with me, about grief during Christmas time, and a reminder that though we may grief, our grief is not that of this world.  Still another friend reminded me that I am unbelievably blessed with friends and family... and friends who are close as any family can be.  As Clarence Oddbody told George Bailey: a person with friends is far richer than anything that money can provide on this earth.

That's something too.  I had found myself asking God to please show me that my life did have purpose and meaning, that despite how things have gone that I might have a wonderful life.  I had secretly hoped for some direct message from Him.  In the end God didn't send a "second class angel" at all.  He sent people who are so very dear and precious to my heart, and in their own way they each helped to convey the precisely right message that I needed to hear.

Yesterday evening I ended up feeling joy and contentment and peace that I had not thought possible.  I felt cheered-up enough to spent the rest of the night comforted by the peace of God, that surpasses all understanding.

I even felt cheered-up enough to do something that earlier in the day I did not have any interest in at all: watching this year's Doctor Who Christmas special.  I'm glad that I did.  "Last Christmas" was like John Carpenter's The Thing meets Inception meets Miracle on 34th Street with a little dash of Alien.  Solid entertainment courtesy of the Doctor Who franchise.  I needed that too.

I let the rest of the night go on as I let the feeling of Christmas joy wash over me, and linger past midnight.  Then I went to bed, but not before thanking God for bringing me through the grief and letting me have joy on this holiday: joy that I hadn't ever expected and will remember for the rest of my life.

Let me put it this way: this Christmas was a Christmas of miracles for me.  I couldn't have gotten through it without the prayers of a lot of amazing people.  And I could not have come through it without God providing friendships and family who lifted me up exactly as I needed for them to do.  There have been a lot of instances this past month and more that I have seen timing happen in ways that can only be described as perfect.  Some of those involved loss.  This time, it was timing that led to me gaining something.  Something that aroused a greater faith in God than I had been prepared for.  That it came just in time for Christmas was the proverbial cherry on top.

Dad would want me to have been happy this holiday, even without his presence at the breakfast table yesterday morning.  He would want me to go on with my life, and to be happy and to keep finding happiness.  My friends encouraged me to know that there is still plenty of time to have the happiness that I have dreamed of having for so long... and I believe them.  One of these years, in the not too distant future, I hope that will be me sharing photos on Facebook of my children having Christmas morning.  I long to see Christmas through their eyes, just as Dad saw it through those of my sister and I.

This, was a far better Christmas than I was ready to be blessed with.  I don't think that would have been possible without some of the despair and depression that I went through on the way to it.  Maybe that is God's timing too: that I might have a lot of sadness before I could appreciate the joy.

I like to believe so.

This was one of the best Christmases that I've ever had.  I don't know how those in years to come will compare, but this Christmas is forever going to be part of me that I will take with me always.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I must go.  There is a handsomely-endowed gift card for Barnes & Noble in my possession that is screaming to be put to good use this afternoon :-)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

It's a very Dalek Christmas!

Okay, that's it.  I give up.  I didn't know how having a Christmas this year was going to be at all possible.  In light of everything that's happened in the past nearly two months, yuletide joy was something that seemed way past feasibility.  Although, I haven't begrudged anyone from having that.  Just feels like I'm on the outside looking in this year, is all.

But then before tonight's performance of It's A Wonderful Life: The Musical two young ladies who I've been working backstage with surprised me with a little something.  And as I told Joy and Makia, this has to be the sweetest thing that has happened to me since Lord knows when.

Look!  Dalek action figures from Doctor Who!

Joy and Makia spotted these in a nearby store and... well, words cannot possibly convey how touched I am to be given these by two such wonderful people.  As you can see that's the classic Dalek seen in "Genesis of the Daleks" from 1975 during the Tom Baker era.  Along with one of the utterly insane variants witnessed two years ago in "Asylum of the Daleks" from the midst of Matt Smith's reign as the Doctor.

I can't help but feel some Christmas cheer now.  It's A Wonderful Life is a story about how every life has meaning.  Your own life too.  Even if you can't see on your own how it could be.  In the end George Bailey discovered that he had riches that he never imagined, and right now - in the midst of where life has led me these past few months - being given these Dalek figures by two friends I've made through this production has let me feel much like George Bailey.

Incidentally, these are the very first anything of the Daleks that I've ever owned.  I've been a fan of them for almost as long as I've been watching Doctor Who (more than thirty years now) but for whatever reason I've never had any to call my own.  They now have a very special place of honor: on my "motivational table" on my computer desk, sitting next to the monitor.  It has things on it that I sometimes look at while I'm writing my book.  Already on it are Emmet and Wyldstyle minifigs from The LEGO Movie, and three expansion packs for the Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures game (which will remain unopened and unplayed-with until my work on the book is finished).  Two Daleks in the fore of it all is going to be the cherry on top, 'cuz hey: it's tough getting more motivational than having two Daleks aiming their guns at you, right?

Thanks again to Joy and Makia for giving me a lot to smile about this holiday season :-)

Friday, December 19, 2014

Currently going through a bout of depression...

Actually, it's a rapid-cycling episode that's been going on for the past two days.  I woke up yesterday morning, remembered that Dad was gone, went into sadness that suddenly plummeted into clinical depression (something that lacks any emotion whatsoever) and then got catapulted into a bout of mania where the sadness returned, got escalated beyond my ready grasp of things, and threw me into a somewhat paranoid state of mind.

This has been going on and off for the past 36 hours now.

So I'm looking forward to working backstage during tonight's performance of Theatre Guild of Rockingham County's production of It's A Wonderful Life: The Musical.  Three more performances this weekend: tonight, tomorrow night also at 7:30 and then Sunday afternoon at 2:30.  Being involved in something like community theatre helps immensely, whether I'm on-stage or behind the scenes.  That's a really special group of people I get to collaborate with and it means a lot to have so much depending on me and on each other.

Speaking of the theatre guild, I'm planning on auditioning for a few more shows coming up.  It'll be the first time in four years that I would be on the stage.  One certain show has a particular role that I've got my eyes on bigtime, and everyone I've told it to have said: "Chris, that role fits you perfectly."  Let's just say that this character has issues and I've got issues and figure it out from there :-)

Okay well, in addition to the theatre the past few weeks (I don't know what's gonna happen when the production ends on Sunday, it's been so much fun!) there's been Tammy the Pup.  And I haven't posted nearly enough photos of her lately so here she is, my little girl...

I was lucky to catch her in one of her calmer moments :-)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Classic SESAME STREET: Bert and Ernie's "The Gift of the Magi"

Good googeley moogely... it's been ages since I posted any Sesame Street clips!!  I think maybe at least two years, maybe longer than that.  How in the world did I overlook such timeless material?  Shame on me!

Time to make up for it.  And boy howdy, do I get to make up for it...

I was waaaay young when this aired but I vividly remember it.  It was part of a Sesame Street Christmas special from... I think it was 1980?  The other part of it that's still in my head is Big Bird sitting on top of the apartment building waiting for Santa, and wondering how in the world would the big guy get into those tiny little chimneys.

But this is the real highlight of the show: Bert and Ernie in an adaptation of O. Henry's classic holiday tale "The Gift of the Magi", as only Bert and Ernie can.  And poignantly, it also features Mr. Hooper.  Played by Will Lee, who sadly passed away later on in 1982 and subsequently became the subject of a very moving episode where Big Bird tries to come to grips with Hooper's death.

So here it is: Bert and Ernie and Mr. Hooper, reminding us that the beauty of Christmas is not in the getting, but in the giving.  I present to you, dear readers, with a most wonderful take on "The Gift of the Magi":

Friday, December 12, 2014

The book: Moving ahead...

It was three weeks ago today that Dad passed away.  I'm still in a great state of grief, more than that even, about it.  There's a real shock that comes with seeing someone so close to you suddenly leaving you like that.  But I still believe that there was something of God's hand in how things played out.  If the circumstances had been slightly different in any of a thousand different ways, my family would not have had those sixteen days to be with him.  In the end, if God had to take him after so long a bountiful, fulfilling and loving life, it came about in what I can only call the best of all possible outcomes.

That said, I still grieve.  There is no small measure of confusion about certain matters.  And I would be remiss if I did not mention that there have been a number of times during these past three weeks that clinical depression has hit and coincided with that profound sadness.  I was going to visit a church this past Sunday morning but couldn't muster myself to get out of bed, much less be aroused to shave and shower.  That did eventually come, but by then it was too late to attend a service.

I don't think these things are really avoidable.  They're part of the process, and it can't be rushed through.  I don't think God intended them to be rushed through.  This is pain, and it cannot be averted.  But it will pass, and I know that Dad would want me to move on with my life and take everything good that he gave me with me along the journey.

It hasn't happened yet, not enough that I can really do it, but I'm coming to a place where I can begin work again on the book.  Maybe next week it will happen.  I haven't written anything serious for it since a few days before Halloween, five days before Dad had his stroke.  He had told me to take a break for awhile.  Here it is more than a month and a half later and the only thing I've done in the intervening period is re-write the prologue in a different tense and compose one very brief "interlude" meant for between the chapters.  And I did those mostly to get my mind off of things, for however brief a time I had.

Next week, I'm going to start tackling this again.  I'm pretty sure of it.

Like I said, this is a process and it can't be hurried through for my own sake.  But I do see the signs of healing.  The sessions with my counselor have become weekly, and in them I see markers along the way.  I have been learning some Christmas songs during my dulcimer lessons.  Last week I was asked to help backstage with the local theatre guild's production of It's A Wonderful Life: The Musical.  Tonight is opening night, and it has been a good thing for me to be around such a great bunch of people and working with them to pull off such an amazing production.  It has been a good thing for me to be around people in general, rather than cooped-up with nothing but my dog and the depression.  Okay, Tammy has been a great presence in my life during all this time and she's definitely someone who has shown me an amazing amount of love and understanding but, well... it helps to hear a real human voice too, ya understand...

This isn't going to be much of a Christmas season for me.  I think that's okay.  I was becoming too burned-out on Christmas becoming so over-commercialized anyway.  The previous six weeks have left my entire family exhausted, truth be told.  We are going to have a small get-together on Christmas morning and I will be watching the Doctor Who Christmas special that night and that will be it.  No giving gifts and I ask to not be given any.  All I ask of my friends and family is to hold each other close and thank God for being in each others' lives and be grateful for having things better than any of us could possibly deserve.  I won't be celebrating Christmas, for the most part.  And right now, that's fine.

This is a process.  Like life itself.  It hurts to go through this right now, but I am trusting God that this will be something that in the end will make me a stronger person.  I see it already.  And I believe that eventually I will see that this period of my life will have been not only for my own benefit, but for that of those close to me and for the sake of things like the book.

Speaking of which: my book now has a new title.

The idea for it hit me during the past few days, I think maybe Tuesday morning.  At first I thought it was too... I dunno... small, perhaps?  But the more I thought about it the more I realized that there is not only power in its brevity, but that it encapsulates a tremendous deal about the nature of bipolar disorder.  It also reflects a passage from the Bible that was invoked during Dad's funeral service: something pertaining to the nature of his handiwork.

I think it's the perfect title.  And I think Dad would like it too.

Dad wouldn't want me to linger in grief.  He would want me to move forward.  To "always think positive" as he was fond of saying often.  I still have hopes of marrying and having children, maybe someday I will get to see many a Christmas through their eyes.  If I can finish writing this book, perhaps there will be more.  My bipolar is becoming more manageable, I can see it held at bay by the medications and the counseling more than ever.

Dad got to see that, before he left us.  I like to believe that even if he didn't see it happen, that he knew that I would be okay.  That he got to see me come to the place where God has been leading me toward for all of this time.

And now it's time to honor him by living my life to its fullest as it's never been possible to do before.

Starting with finishing writing my book.

You voted Republican last month? Why?

I'm going to say something right now, and I don't care if it offends ANY body.  If it happens to offend you, good: maybe you NEED offending to open your eyes...

There is NO difference at all between the Democrat and Republican parties and anyone who puts the SLIGHTEST amount of trust in one party or the other... and I'm going to single out those who support the Republican party especially... are worse than fools and idiots.

For the past few days I've watched the Republicans, AKA the party that was just elected to "fix things" in the House and Senate, PISS AWAY their alleged ideals and principles by caving-in to Obama and everything he's demanded, especially in the way of the "amnesty" for the ILLEGAL aliens who have BROKEN THE LAW and are STILL breaking the law in being here.

The elections last month mean NOTHING.  Think I'm wrong?  Watch the incoming class of freshman representatives: by and large they already support John Boehner: by far the most useless Speaker of the House in American history.  He has foiled efforts to reign-in the government at every turn.  In a sane country there would have been a vote of no-confidence in this a$$hole's "leadership".  And now the "conservative" leaders of the Republican party have given their alleged enemy Obama all the money he needs to fund shamnesty.  Boehner and his fellow "Republicans" have done NOTHING to end Obamacare.  And they never will.

To those of you who voted for the Republican party last month and seriously, seriously thought you were doing something to change the country for the better: what ARE you smoking?

You aren't doing a damn thing to turn around America by still voting for the Republican party.  Or for the Democrat party.  Or for ANY party.  We are in this mess because too many people... and yes some of YOU reading this... haven't engaged the brains that GOD Himself gave you and trusted you to use.  You thought that you could let a party of all things think for you... and this is where it has brought us.

You thought that voting Republican was your "Christian duty"?!  People who are that way are worse than useless.  De-friend me on Facebook if that honks you off too much.  I'm dealing with realities, not illusions.  There is no escaping from realities.

The reality is, too many of us have put faith in a thing of man, and not put a faith in God.  And then claimed that they are serving God by supporting something so corrupt as temporal politics.

Tonight I saw the "conservative" Republicans let this nation slide even further into turmoil and decay.  All that they care about is their position, is their power.  The elections last month mean nothing now and they will mean even less a few months from now.

This country is run by idiots who really think that they're doing something meaningful by throwing their trust and faith behind political parties who do nothing but sell out the American people at every step of the way.

God help us.

In so many words: we have been BETRAYED.  And we will consistently be betrayed, by those who are supposedly appointed to serve us.  By those who ASKED to serve us in the first place.

If THAT doesn't piss you off more than all of what I've written above, then you have significant issues as an American citizen.

Yeah, stop visiting this blog if you like.  Deem me your enemy if you wish.  I would rather that you not. But I also happen to appreciate more the company of those who refuse attempting to exist without the responsibilities of conscience.

And unfortunately, it seems there are too damn few of us left.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Memorial video for Dad

On the night after Dad's passing, Anita (my sister), my aunt and uncle and I went through a ton of old photographs to use in the video that the funeral home would put together for the tribute that would play during visitation on the following night. Wilkerson Funeral did a very solid job in doing so and I wanted to share it on my blog.

I don't want to say which one, but there is one photo in here that seriously broke my heart to include. It was Dad's favorite photograph. It hung on the wall of his knife shop. Heck, it was the knife shop, the heart and soul of it. We knew we wanted it in the video, but it honestly hurt me to take it down on the morning before the visitation that night. It was like taking out the last lingering vestige of Dad's presence from his beloved shop.

Sometime soon, I'm going to have that photo framed and place it back where it belongs.