Tending “two gardens” has reinvigorated and sustained my life

The grief to new love trilogy-Part I.

Readers of this blog followed my grief journey from last September to May of this year when I took a summer break. One of the first and most significant posts was the entry which argued my good friend Ian Punnett’s perspective that “you cannot do grief wrong.” That advice, delivered the night of the wake for my dear wife Jean Fannin McGuire, guided my emotional journey and my writing about grief.

And the journey indeed felt special to my circumstances. For the first six or seven weeks I could not have told you what my emotions were. I have used the word kaleidoscopic to describe them. I rewrote the last chapter of  Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance during that time. As I look back at those words it is obvious I wrote them in a frenzied fog. Most of the sentiments were right on, but I lacked serious perspective. Seven weeks after Jean’s death a family wedding sent me into a profound downward spiral of grief which lasted for a couple of months. It was horrible.

I have written before that I found grief exhausting. It was also incredibly lonely. Four things began my  recovery from what felt like the depths of grief.

The first may strike you as weird, but I had a conversation with Jean as I drove to work. I told her I was going to do two big things I feared she wouldn’t approve. I offered her a deal that if she came back I wouldn’t do those things. She didn’t return. That may sound like a silly exercise, but it was incredibly important in my grief process. It helped me realize that no matter how much I cried, Jean was gone from my life and I was on my own. That forced me to move ahead.

The second thing that pushed my grief to a new stage was my realization that I had not been very nice to people while I was grieving. I was just angry at everybody. When I found myself grunting at students I knew I had to stop feeling sorry for myself.

The third key force in working through the depths of grief was my grief counselor, Jenny Diaz. As I wrote in this blog, she strongly urged me to repeatedly watch a video of Jean’s life that reduced me to sobs. She advised me to watch it until I could celebrate it rather than sob. To this moment, I remember vividly the first time I felt incredible joy just marveling at Jean’s smile. I have tried to celebrate Jean ever since.

There was a fourth factor in moving past grief but I never wrote about it. I have felt free to talk about my own journey but I have been reluctant to talk about the journeys of those close to me. About three months after Jean’s a death, a friend from the Star Tribune in the mid-80s, Candace Hadley, contacted me and offered grief help. Her husband died two-and-a-half years before Jean did. I had worked with Candace and we were good friends. Candace and I had been out of touch for the best part of 25 years when we first talked about grief on a Monday night in late September. The conversation lasted 55 minutes. I know, I checked my phone. It was more than obvious that our friendship had survived the years.

As weeks passed and we talked for long periods on the phone, the bond grew stronger but I was still grieving. I thought about Jean’s death constantly and yet I could clearly see a new relationship was beginning. The tension between two powerful new forces in my life–grief and new affections– left me confused and anxious. I made the decision that even though a wonderful relationship was developing with Candace I could not proceed while I was still in the throes of grief.

Fortunately, I discussed it with my grief counselor Jenny before I ended it. I worried whether I could grieve Jean and love Candace at the same time. Jenny was convinced Candace and I had something important. Jenny shared with me the metaphor that has sustained me for many months and will forever sustain me. She said, “You need to tend two gardens, the garden of grief over Jean’s death and the garden of your new life with Candace.”

That precious metaphor released me to grieve Jean at the same time I was falling in love with Candace. With Candace’s understanding and patience I was able to process my grief and build a new life and a new love at the same time.

My two gardens are incredibly important to me and they’re flourishing. As my Facebook followers know, this summer my family and I had a touching, sad memorial for the first anniversary of Jean’s death. Facebook followers also know that a few weeks later I proposed to Candace and we will marry Sept. 12.

NEXT: Part II of the Grief to new love trilogy: the qualities of a late in life relationship.

The illness played a more important role in grief than I understood

As the difficult overwhelming pain of grief turns into a sustainable and tolerable melancholy, perspective increases. I have replayed all aspects of my wife’s illness and death and one of my great discoveries is that my wife Jean’s actual illness started the grieving process and took a far greater toll than I realized.

Only distance and observation of the struggles of other people who have grieved, and are grieving, have allowed me to appreciate that I started grieving months before my wife Jean’s death in June of 2014.

I wish now that I would have recognized the fears and tumult I experienced as Jean struggled with countless blood transfusions and long-shot medical treatments were really a part of its own kind of grief.

It it now clear to me that the powerlessness, guilt and total frustration I felt was indeed grief. And, I was even more unequipped to deal with that grief than I was with the grief brought on by Jean’s death.

Not too long ago a friend told me his wife was chronically ill. It was as if a spear lanced my heart. I actually started to cry because I suddenly remembered that’s when my life and perspective changed. When we found Jean had cancer I was frightened, but when we were told she was chronically ill my world started to slide into an abyss. In retrospect, I can clearly see that is when I started to grieve. Somehow I was rocked by that observation more than I was by the cancer diagnosis.

Within six months of that observation Jean died. I know that some people live several years with that chronic designation with the same sad result. My heart bleeds for them.

I write this not to frighten, but to gently suggest that those people dealing with a seriously ill spouse may be fighting grief without appreciating it and should consider finding someone to talk to about it.

I have written about the immense value of a grief counselor as I dealt with Jean’s passing.  In hindsight, I would now advise someone dealing with a chronically ill spouse, where death is a possible outcome, to also seek counseling.

I belief it would have made me wiser, a better husband and far more peaceful.

Tim J McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance

“Happiness” wants to be my friend and some people actually fall for it

I received this email on Sunday.

My name is Miss Happiness, I read your profile today in (facebook) and it was very good for
me. i feel you are the only one, I am interested to be a friend
first.please contact me

Now that note, of course, spurred several bawdy jokes with friends about Miss Happiness and one of my more erudite friends took serious issue with the peculiar brand of “Happiness” grammar. I suppose I should have been relieved that Happiness wants to take it slow.

After the shenanigans I became pretty melancholy as I thought about the many men who will answer a shameful con like that one. I started to feel bad for the men who are so lonely and so desperate they would look past all the red flags and make contact with Happiness, an act that would inevitably lead to Miss Sadness, if you will.

There is another painful fact about this scam, and I am not reluctant to label it what it is, a pure unadulterated scam. You see I actually believe Miss Happiness or a sophisticated algorithm did, in fact, read my Facebook page. And, I would bet the ranch and all the cattle, I know what part of my profile triggered that email.

About four months ago when I was in the depth of my grief over the death of my wife, Jean, I changed my relationship status to widower. I remember well I was particularly sad that day and I was trying to come to grips with the hard reality that now I was alone. I changed the status on a bit of a whim, almost as an experiment in grief to see what it felt like to say and write the word widower.

Since I made that change I get four or five “bimbo” friend requests or emails a month. I am convinced the computer bad guys are trolling Facebook profiles to search for lonely widowers who might bite on any scam that includes a pretty, sexy woman. Thankfully I am savvy enough to know that those alluring pictures were probably sent by some clown named Bruce with several ugly tattoos. But what about those men who don’t know that.

There may be no limit to how much they get victimized by “Happiness” and her merry brand of internet scammers. And, that really ticks me off.

Facebook and Twitter are great. I love social media, but vulnerable people need to be vigilant and realize that not everybody is going to be sympathetic to your grief. Some jerks want to exploit it.

Tim J McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance

The mystery of Jason–5 and 35 at the same time

One of the main themes of my book Some People Even Take Them Home,” A Disabled Dad, A Down syndrome Son and Our Journey to Acceptance is that my Down syndrome son, Jason, is five years-old and 35 at the same time.

Sometimes he is a scared, befuddled and overwhelmed child and at other times Jason is a man of the world with wise insight largely fueled by television and movies. When he visited Arizona along with his siblings over Christmas the five-year-old was on full display.

Within minutes of arriving, Jason arranged the five stuffed toys he brought from his group home in single file on his bed against the wall. He does so unabashedly but please do not call the toys dolls or toys. That insults the 35 year-old Jason who maintains a self image of an adult.

The adult Jason expects the privileges of an adult, but is absolutely stunned when you are unhappy that he has mixed his clean underwear with dirty underwear. A five-year-old just can’t see why such niceties matter.

On his trip his siblings got a delicious look at Jason’s self image. As we discussed the book somebody brought up the far-fetched notion of a movie about the book. When Jason’s younger brother, Jeff, asked who Jason wanted to play him in the movie, Jason never paused. “The Rock,” he declared with no hint of irony.

The Rock, or Dwayne Johnson, is a muscled wrestler and actor who was once a defensive tackle in football. The similarity between Jason and The Rock go no further than the fact they are both males. That does not faze Jason in the least because a five-year-old wants what a five-year-old wants.

Logic and realism come to us as we grow older, as we mature and as we gradually come top grips with what we are and what we are not. Jason has never been able to make that journey. He is sweetly funny about his state, but his lack of recognition is bitterly disappointing and frustrating too.

That is the debilitating reality of a cognitive disability.

“Some People Even Take Them Home” is now ready for a proper introduction

There have been some electronic stumbles out of the self-publishing gate but the Amazon paperback and electronic versions of “Some People Even Take Them Home:” A Disabled Dad, A Down syndrome Son and Our Journey to Acceptance are now available. Other electronic versions such as iBooks will come online in the next week or two. If you want the paperback copy in your bookstores you will probably have to ask for it.

The book has been a long time in preparation, like 20 years. I first started putting together thoughts and notes in the early 90’s. I revisited it every few years until I got serious in the spring of 2013 when I took a sabbatical from my professor position at The Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University. Rewrites, bouts with agents, prospective publishers and the decision to self-publish in today’s chaotic book atmosphere have brought us to today. The book will have to explain itself but I have had several questions about the title.

Astute observers will note the title is in quotes: “Some People Even Take Them Home.” On April 7, 1979 a shamefully remote professional descendant of Hippocrates actually uttered those words. In his horribly misguided attempt to be humane the doctor telling us that Jason had Down syndrome, informed us that we could put Jason in a foster home or an institution. The tone of his voice indicated, in fact, that was the preferred decision. Then he uttered those incredibly insensitive words which shaped our conversations since that day: “But, some people even take them home.” That word “even” sounded as if it was in capital letters and over the years the type has gotten much larger.

Later we found out there was a philosophical battle raging among pediatricians, especially in the central Florida area, over whether keeping a Down syndrome child at home was advisable. Doctors hesitated to subject their patients to what they felt might be “undue influence” to persuade them to take the children home. I thought our pediatrician bent over too far the other way and left us with the impression we would be more than a little nuts if we took Jason home.

That ugly story juxtaposes with the fact that when I was born badly crippled in 1949, (yes, that was the word in 1949) many of my Dad’s friends urged him to immediately commit me to the State Mental Institution which happened to be in our home town. Thankfully my parents resisted and my wife, Jean, and I took Jason home.

This book is the result of those two momentous decisions. I hope you will order a copy. I pray you will like it. I ask that if you do, you ll write positive reviews and then send the book and the review to a friend. I will need your help to make the book go viral.