Category: About Love


“Excited?” Maria asked as she placed a slice of cake in front of me and sat to my left. “I mean, it’s here. It’s finally here.”  Then, leaning in, “It’s here.”

“Weird. It just feels weird,” I responded while typing ‘execution commands’ on my laptop. I momentarily glanced at the memo taped over the cake, candy, chips, assorted snacks, bottles of sparkling juice, party streamers, ribbons, and helium-filled balloons. 

“COVID Tiger Task Force Deactivation.” the internal memo broadcasted to staffers. The shutdown comes as the pandemic continues. The U.S. will eclipse 610,000 deaths by Summers’ end, while the global death toll currently exceeds 4.1 million. As we approach deactivation, the entire team was focused on ensuring a smooth transition of key members back to normal business operations. Yet, I am unsure what ‘normal’ was anymore.

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There’s a ton of historical NDE experiences, some dating back centuries. Their stories are similar to those told in hundreds of books or websites (including mine). Though details vary across, there are many commonalities, including floating upward, viewing the scene of their death; spending time in a different realm, meeting relatives, feeling God, or something like ‘complete love.’ Once all that occurs, the person is told to return to live another day. For many, the person reports the experience was not a dream but “authentic,” changes profoundly post-NDE, and has a hard time returning into everyday life. 

My recent experience is similar, but not totally. Here’s a recap.

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Every time I meet someone in grief, I realize they are not alone in the grieving process. And when you’re grieving, you never know when you will receive an unexpected telephone call, a neighbor knocking at the door with several cups of coffee and an offer of companionship, or a sudden FaceTime call from a once-distant relative. 

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I’ve never fawned over celebrities, not even when living in Los Angeles. Traveling nearly every week, I often found myself departing either Sunday or Monday and returning Friday, and repeating the process the following week. I met many celebrities during my travels: Roma Downey, Della Reese, Hulk Hogan, Kelly Hu (whom I had one dinner date), Erik Estrada, Wolf Blitzer, Stephen Covey, John Tesh, and Connie Sellecca, to name a few. Even if I sat adjacent to a celebrity, I never bothered them. A few days ago, I made an exception. 

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It was late summer of 2010 while walking near the Hudson River shoreline when I heard Chris Carter talk about his retirement. Carter was on the Mike & Mike Show when a host asked Carter how he knew it was time to retire. “Mentally, I was still sharp. I could read the defense, understand the play, and mentally perform. Unfortunately, my body was no longer responding to what I was telling it to do. There was a delay, a gap, or in some cases, an inability to perform. That’s when I knew it was time.” I couldn’t relate. And for the better part of a decade, I never understood what Carter meant. Very few will ever experience a mind-body relationship like professional athletes. But these past ten days have provided one hell of an education. 

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I watched Nomadland Sunday. Robert Ebert’s website summarizes the film accordingly: “Fern (Frances McDormand) is grieving a life that’s been ripped away.” Almost every viewer will claim the movie is littered with pain (not in a bad way) of those who face the challenge of living life alone. Some suffered from loss of a town, job loss, homelessness, loss of a spouse, a child, or even loss of oneself. In one scene, Fern so much wishes upon being alone that when she finds an abandoned dog, she ties the dog to a table outside a shop and walks off, thereby averting any potentially sentimental moment of connection. When in trouble, they become masters of finding a way out, rarely calling anyone. And that’s where I can relate.

I spent much of Sunday in a chair, barely able to move. Regardless of position, my neck, shoulders, and chest. Anyone suffering cervical osteoarthritis gets accustomed to the sound or feeling of popping in the neck when moving. At ties, mine tends to sound like a garbage disposal in perpetual grind. Never forget to add that the ol’ ticker (my heart) dribbles in some momentary flickers of pain and reminds me that I am a mere mortal. One day, time will be up. But not today. In theory, I should have been able to reach out to someone, but hell, when you live a solitary life, the question I always seem to ask myself is, “Just who the hell do I call?”

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During my first big job during my 20’s, I overheard my coworker Jamie crying two cuticles away. I could only hear one side of the conversation, his. From the nature of his tears, his father had been diagnosed ‘terminal.’ The same scene repeated over several days, to which, at one point, I thought, “Get over it. Everyone dies.”

I wasn’t as appalled at myself then as I am now. Being ‘terminal’ tends to alter one’s perspective significantly. after surviving life in a military rescue squad, I arrogantly grew to believe I could live forever, that I was invincible. Rescue that person from the edge of a cliff? Sure. No problem. Deactivate that a piece of unexploded World War II ordinance without blowing oneself to bits? Sure. No problem.

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Thank You/Thank You Not

One of the most frequent questions any of us answer nearly every day is “How are you?” Since only a handful of people know that I’m a bald, fat man on a short leash, I clench my teeth, pretend a smile and say something utterly 70’s-ish, “Groovy.” The days could be like today, near frigid conditions, blizzard, the roads suck, and bleeding from a hemorrhoid. But damn it, I still say, “Groovy.” If I want to add sarcasm, I might add ‘F***’n’ just before ‘groovy.’

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This blog post is difficult to write, and I hardly know how to begin. I am devastated to learn of Karen’s death.

I spiritually carried Karen in my heart for decades. Everywhere traveled, a part of her remained alive in my heart. And throughout all the years, through all my spectacular failures, I am now forced to breathe differently. I am forced to accept the crushing gravity of loss of death. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. I (the UB) was supposed to die first.

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Working well into late Friday night, my boss messaged from California. “Why are you online this late on Friday?” I responded by texting that I was working on COVID research. “I thought so,” he said. “I remember you stating you slept 12 hours a day during Christmas break. You perform outstanding work for us, but I need for you to logoff. Get some rest. NOW.” He’s right, I should rest, but the battle is personal.

My boss doesn’t know my father died from COVID. My mother called on a Friday “…Dad was tested for COVID this past Tuesday. His results came back today indicating he had COVID. But there’s good news. The nurse indicates he only has a fever. So, he might be ok. Right?” I knew otherwise. I knew that an 89 year-old man, paralyzed on the left side from stroke, suffering dementia, and possible heart issues would probably not survive. I knew that the eleven days post-COVID infection would be critical. Sure enough, when I received my mother’s 3:15 AM text eight days later, “Call me,” I instinctively knew he passed.

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