Monday, October 19, 2015

More on grief, bereavement, war, bread, randomness

(Some of these photo are unrelated to the words. They're just pictures I took.)
Part of my problem is that I had it so good for so long.
Baked October 2015. Rustic sourdough
with pecans, currants, cinnamon (part of my therapeutic work)
Let us be kind to one another, for most of us are fighting a hard battle. Ian MacLaren
One of the things I taught in hospice training and courses on hospice and palliative care was that each of us goes through the processes of dying, grief, etc. in different ways, at different speeds, in different cycles – and different at different times for the same person. It’s yet another example of the truth of, “It varies.”
Seven months into this bereavement I looked at some of what I’ve written in the past about grief. I haven’t looked before now because I thought it best to experience whatever/however it is, without being influenced by external things, such as my own and other people’s previous thoughts about grief.
1967, a beautiful little town in Vietnam
Overall, I seem to have done a good job writing. So far, I like most the grief and bereavement chapter in my first book (1995). How can I “like” what I’ve written about grief? Mainly I like it because it’s accurate and helpful, at least for me. There are a few things I would change in what I wrote, but overall, pretty good. Grief WORK includes the following “tasks of bereavement” – each and all to be worked through again and again and again and...
  • Telling the “death story” and recounting the story of the illness (It’s not that you want to…)
  • Expressing and accepting the sadness
  • Expressing and accepting guilt, anger, and other feelings perceived as negative
  • Reviewing the relationship with the deceased (the really good part for me, usually)
  • Exploring possibilities in life after the death
  • Understanding common processes and problems in grief
  • Being understood or accepted by others

Baby playing by Carroll Street, 1982
I like that in that chapter I wrote about the potential for grief to “precipitate great personal or spiritual growth.”
I see myself working slowly through all of these tasks, but I’m not seeing much in the way of “growth” LOL. It’s a hopeful thing to see that I’m somewhere along the road in each “task.”
I get to easier places of not so much sadness and I get a little strength and kind of take on the next thing. Like today, writing to Dr. Lichliter (first draft). This was the first time I wrote about that last night.
Phana (age 3 or 4) and me, 1985 or 86
I was in New Mexico to see Jim and Elisabeth a few weeks ago. The day I left, Katy had us over for breakfast (Thank You!). As we left her home, she was talking about attending a ceremony in the next weeks. The last thing I remember her saying was something like “… figuring out what to do with the rest of my life.” Good question!
I’ve baked bread twice in about the past week. The second time was mainly for gifts. Both times I baked rustic sourdough – plain, with cheese, and with pecans, currants, sugar, and cinnamon.
la rue sans joie, civilian bus blown up by VC mine
In the last post I wrote about war. A little bit more now – about places. I was at the DMZ (Deckhouse/Prairie), Dodge City (Thuy Bo), Con Thien (outside the wire, but I’m counting it), Gio Linh, Highway 1 (named by the French, the Street Without Joy), Khe Sanh, Lang Vei (How about that! I have several non-violent stories about being there.), Hue (before the bad time), Quang Tri (before the bad). I also spent a total of about four weeks in the rear at Danang and Phu Bai, also a few weeks at Dong Ha in the semi-rear.
One thing I do is get out every day – usually twice/day. My main places to go are Central
Never too young to start smoking, I guess
Market and Whole Foods. Places with people around. More days than not I spend time with a friend or John (Thank You, Everybody!). Yesterday I went to WF twice – the first time was really good – I ran into someone I think highly of (hospice and mental health social worker from San Francisco). Also a friend from the festival scene, and there was a cute baby who gave me all kinds of smiles and a ~12 year old girl who had such a sweet smile I literally laughed out loud. The second time at WF was also good. I realized today that I could hang out in the cafĂ© area inside or out and read. So I read for about an hour on the patio.
At Hill Fights, 1967 - wounded waiting for medevac
Look at how dirty their shirts are - that's not just sweat
I thought going to church today would be a nice opportunity to connect. The sermon was on the Song of Ruth, which was one of the last things I said to Leslie – wherever you go, I will go… So I connected to the grief, my grief. It was a tough one. At least we didn’t also sing In the Garden or That Old Rugged Cross. I went to Open Ring and spent some time with Dan Foster, so that was wonderful
Things happen, like the Song of Ruth sermon or when I finally started on income tax, couldn’t find everything, and called Social Security re how to get papers related to Leslie and was told to bring our marriage license to the SSA office. Oh. So I’ll be going through things like birth certificates, marriage license, photos, other things from a sweet past life… 
Leslie in Yoeun's apartment on Carroll Street

Photo: Leslie in Yoeun's apartment on Carroll Street. Leslie went places not many people went. People would wait on her, knowing that whatever it was, Leslie would fix it.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Love, grief, war, love

Barbara sent me a letter that began, "You will make it." I printed a copy to carry in my billfold.
David Kemp and Charles Binkley, married, September 2015

I see couples together, a man and woman, a man and a man, a woman and a woman, sometimes with a child, sometimes just a parent and child, and like a prayer, I think something like, “Cherish what you have, love her (or him) with all your heart, give it all you have.” This happens almost every day.
I went today to the first meeting of a grief recovery group. The walking wounded. One man will mark one year tomorrow. “Clara,” he spoke her name softly. Another man just passed two months and I thought, “How can he do it?” Everyone else in the group has been in it longer, so I guess that’s how he’ll do it. It’s so hard. Until this, Vietnam was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. This is much harder.
These things are written over time, so when I say something about “the past few days” I may be writing about days a week or two ago.
Hard times much of the past few days. The thing of writing down three good things each day fell by the wayside as I’ve cycled downward.
Phorn, David, CK. At Grace Cathedral,
David and Charles' wedding
Sometimes patients would tell me their chief complaint was “desperation.” I didn’t really understand that, except that it seemed to occur in the context of depression and I always took it as a serious CC. Now I get it. Desperation. What to do? Where to turn?
Monday I went to the grief center at Wilshire Baptist Church. Had a draining 1.5 hour conversation with Laurie, the director. The next day I talked with Lillie, the woman who facilitates the group I will start in next Tuesday.
(Encourage, it’s a word I want to keep in mind.)
While we were in San Francisco the last time, Jeff talked some about Vietnam. I started thinking about how much combat I was in. Really a lot. Definitions:
Battle = a sustained fight with a lot of people involved, lasting anywhere from hours to days.
Firefight or gunfight = a brief fight involving a few people, that may last a few minutes up to an hour.
1/26 = 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment; likewise 1/9 is 1st Bn, 9th Marine Reg. and so on. A letter in front of these, e.g., C/1/26, designates C Company, 1st Bn...
With Elisabeth and Jim, on the trail, NM
Except for Marine nomenclature, these are my definitions (battle vs. firefight). In each of the following battles and gunfights I was actively shooting and being shot at.
Deckhouse/Prairie, a big one near the DMZ – battalions of NVA regulars, trenches, mortars, rockets, many firefights. On the last day I saw a tanker get his head blown off. He was wearing a commo helmet, and it was like seeing a radio explode. When the fighting was over, I got his .45. I remember when we got back to a firebase the tanks laagered up and we (the infantry) all just kind of fell down asleep in the center of the circle. In the morning I saw the entire 1st weapons squad asleep together – three men, spooned together under a poncho – a week before there had been 12-14 men in 1st squad. For the operation, 36 Marines were killed and 167 wounded (from several units). Deckhouse/Prairie lasted a week or two for my unit, C/1/26.
Sea and sky and land
Dodge City near Hill 55 when that corporal had his ass blown off – he sat up and looked down at what was left of his legs, groaned and died. Battle lasted about an hour.
Dodge City a few months later – 16 KIA, several helicopters shot down, bad action, Zamora killed. His friend went crazy, started screaming, and charged the enemy trench line, so everybody else did too. Lasted about a day.
The Hill Fights/the “First Battle of Khe Sanh” – this was the worst. At the DMZ. I was mostly with 1/9, “The Walking Dead” and also some with 3/3 or 2/3. 168 men killed over about a month. I was in this one at several different points, with some rest time back at the rear near Dong Ha, where the only problem was rockets. I think I can rightfully say this was at least two battles for me. Intense. Lasted weeks.
John and CK, in the Castro
My best guess is at least one every 4-5 days for about seven months and then in the last six months, maybe one or even less/week. But the Hill Fights were in the last months, so I don’t know how to count in those times. All told, I was in at least 50 firefights.
Sniper fire/mines
When we were near Dodge City (Thuy Bo) every bleeding day at least one person was hit by sniper fire or blown away by a bouncing betty or other mine. Every fucking day.

I've been shot at with hand-held automatic weapons, crew-served automatic weapons, mortars, RPGs, big rockets, artillery, and I don't know what else. I've even been strafed by a gunship.
THAT’S A LOT OF ACTION! I don’t seem to be haunted by it, though. It comes up now and then, but not so bad. I don’t remember my dreams. Things might be different if I did. Haha, Jeff’s dreams are enough for me.
Phana and Jeff - we all love a pretty girl, don't we.
Look at how he's looking at her - just as if he was
looking at David.
I’ve been somewhat slouchish for a long time. Toward the last of the time when Leslie was sick, I realized I was becoming actually bent over. I worked to stand up straighter. At some point a few weeks ago I thought to myself, fuck it, bent over is what I am and I quit trying to stand straight. Now I’m working on straighter again.
David and Charles got married a few weeks ago. It was a huge celebration. I realized a few days before the ceremony that it was a transition for me, too – and not the easiest one of my life. Of course, these are days upon days of transitions for me… More on this later. Will post video when it comes out.

A woman was telling me how Leslie helped her years ago and how thankful she was for it. Somewhere in the conversation, I said, “Yes, she helped hundreds of people. The woman said, “No. Thousands.”