20 October 2018
I hope this is the hardest blog I ever have to write. If Uproar, our home, was driven on a reef and her keel torn off, somehow I know I could withstand it. It has been a year of loss that has tested me to my limits. But I accept that it is the cycle of life and will carry on.
If you are reading this, please take care. No matter how remote, you mean a lot to me.
Mom suffered from Alzheimer's for the past 10 years. She barely opened her eyes for the past few years. Still, Dad insisted on taking care of her at home. He had a lot of help from dedicated and loving women who spent countless hours comforting Mom and taking care of her. But the toll on Dad was a lot and he died January 1, at the age of 90. Mom died four months later. I have been saying goodbye to Mom for years. But when Dad died, I just wasn't ready. As a boy, I asked Dad why we referred to God as “Our Father?” Dad replied, “Well, your father is someone who protects you and loves you.” I know well the idyllic image of a loving God we refer to as our Father.
Mom was the caregiver who has no equal. She did everything she could for us as children and adults. And she never considered it a burden, never complained. She even took care of a neighbor who had a stroke. Every morning she would help her dress and make her breakfast. Evenings she would help her with dinner and into bed. Our neighbor's sister lived a block away. I asked Mom why the lady's sister didn't help her. Mom replied, “I don't know but it doesn't matter, I can help her.”
Growing up with parents like this was a blessing that I can't measure. Their loss is also something that is so hard to endure. But the memory of their love sustains me.
Just over a year ago, George Meikrantz, my Alfa Romeo friend died from MS. George and I used to cross country ski race together. Years later, I would visit George and find him on the floor of his kitchen. George would not let me lift his withered body into the chair. Instead, he would inch his way across the floor, use handles on the kitchen table legs and eventually pull himself up to his chair. It didn't take me long to realize it was George's way of showing me just how tough and strong he was. He would smile at me like he had won the gold medal when he finally made it up to his chair. The only surprise is just how long George hung on. George and I started the Wisconsin Alfa Romeo club with a few others in 1979.
Gordy Stahl, my OFB (old flying buddy) was a model airplane friend I made 35 years ago. I showed up at a little known flying field and he told me, “You aren't cleared to fly here.” I didn't challenge him but asked, “How do I get cleared?” He smiled and that started a long friendship. I have called Gordy a few times in the past year and he would answer the phone, “Russ, not dead yet.” Gordy suffered from cancer but refused to consider it a problem, it was just something he had to work through. After a long passage without internet, I received a message from his wife that he had passed. It is hard for me to imagine there was anything Gordy couldn't overcome.
Devin Taylor, sailor I met in Carriacou, introduced Lisa and me to an entire cruising community. That is one of the reasons Carriacou, part of Grenada, is my favorite island in the Caribbean. He and his wife, Liz led morning water aerobics and extensive hikes through the varied terrains of Carriacou. I asked Devin to sail with us in the Carriacou Regatta. Devin replied, “Russ, I'm not a racer, I'm a lover.” Next regatta was the famous Antigua Race week. Devin readily joined our crew and dispelled his earlier protest about not being a racer. He led our infamous “UP Roar” cheer as we took trophies every night. Devin, died suddenly of a massive heart failure, something totally unexpected. As we sailed away from our Caribbean friends, Devin assured me we would make new friends. My last words to him as I gave him a tearful hug were, “Devin, you bastard you.”
I became a motorcycle rider at age 50. My parent's warnings about motorcycles lasted a long time but when they wore off, I took to the sport with passion. One of the first moto friends I made was Joey Haupt, whose passion for anything moto and life knows no bounds. Joey enticed me to my first track day, loaning me his race bike and leathers. He tapped the vein inside of my elbow and said, “Russ, we are just going to give you a little taste.” Wow! Joey and I spent countless days freezing our asses off, racing on the ice at Okauchee Lake and McKinley Marina. He would often bring neighborhood kids who had never ridden a motorcycle before and put them on a small ice bike. I don't know how he got their parent's permission but those kids sure loved it. Last year when I returned to Wisconsin, Joey and I and his two dogs spent a night in front of the fire at the River Retreat together. I wouldn't let him drive home. Joey took his life a week ago. He gave so much to others, but not enough to himself.
Sophie, our Jack Russell Terrier, was buried at sea in the beautiful Tuamotos, French Polynesia, two months ago. She was just short of 18 years old. She sailed with us for 3 ½ years and over 20,000 miles. People would ask me how she liked sailing. I replied, “Don't know, we never gave her a choice.” But how many dogs spend 24/7 with their people? We did. We still look for her around the boat where she would find a comfortable place, usually with one of us. We miss our spirited sea dog.
Sometimes I feel empty from loss but eventually stronger. I just read an important book, “Tuesday's with Morrie.” Morrie was an aged professor who suffered from ALS. One of his former students visited him every Tuesday during the last year of his life. They shared their most intimate thoughts. Morrie eventually says to his student. “Death ends a life, not a relationship. The love of a relationship endures.” I am so thankful for the relationships of friends and family. I feel the loss and the love that will be with me forever.