The simultaneous intersections of a host of experiences of emotional and analytical experiences in my mind have, once again, highlighted significant flaws. That is, which ones can be repaired and which of the shattered and broken pieces should simply be swept up and discarded. While the two preceding sentences might seem negative and emotionally fraught, that is not the case. Emotionally-charged, perhaps, but not fraught.


Yesterday afternoon, I got a text message from a friend from my long-ago Chicago days, a guy I had been meaning to get in touch with for months (but as they say, “…the road to Hell is paved with good intentions…”). His message wished my wife and me Happy Easter and asked how we are doing. And he suggested the four of us (he, his wife, my wife, and I) talk by telephone soon. I was busy when his message came in, so I put off reading it until last night, after dinner at my neighbors’ house.

Last night, when I took the time to read his message, one of my increasingly rare meltdowns occurred. I responded to his message, though it took me a long time to get through it. The shock and pain of my wife’s death came back to me with such full force that I thought I might not be able to reply to him. But I did. The fact that I hadn’t even told him about her death bothered me; it still does. I wonder who else who would want to know, who I might have neglected to contact?

That episode made it clear to me that, despite the significant improvement in my ability to deal with her death, it’s still almost unbearably hard for me to accept that my wife is gone forever. Even though I’ve made some truly extraordinary strides and can feel myself wanting to be (and getting) closer to people whose presence in my life I enthusiastically embrace, the excruciating pain is not gone. And it’s not yet really tolerable. If truth be told, it probably never will be tolerable because of who I am at my core.


Other texts came my way yesterday, several from a friend from the D/FW area. She will visit soon (as in this Friday). She is someone whose attitudes and emotions seem to parallel mine. And she writes and reads poetry, to boot, so her time here is apt to be a calming influence; that’s what poetry tends to do for me. I’m very excited about her visit and the opportunity to have long, meaningful conversations with her. In my experience, people who write poetry tend to think and feel deeply and they tend to understand emotions and to feel compassion more deeply than the “average” person on the street.

Another couple of texts came from a woman who has left the Hot Springs area circle where I met her but who, even though quite distant physically (as in the Pacific Northwest) might as well be joined to me at the hip with respect to our disturbing humor. Until recently, I haven’t heard about or from her in around five years. Now that I’m thinking about it, I think I made the most recent contact, the purpose of which was to tell her about my wife’s death. This woman, who became a flight attendant since last I saw her, has two adult or near-adult children and a husband in or around Portland or Seattle or environs. I gather from our recent communications that she has had to rein in some of her more expressive behaviors/humor in her new role as airborne protector.

I got a phone message, too, from a friend and former teacher (who taught me to throw clay on a potter’s wheel and to create sculpture), asking about getting together for lunch sometime soon. We had tried to arrange a lunch recently, but her dog (who had been her close friend and companion for 10 years) experienced seizures and then died about the time we were to meet.  We’ll try for another time soon. Though she is more (maybe considerably more) than twenty years younger than I, if she weren’t in what I think is a stable gay relationship, I might have wondered whether an old man like me might have an opportunity to develop a passionate relationship with her whenever my on-again, off-again grief subsides. But I am too old and she is too young and I might never be ready, anyway, for a considerably younger lover. Especially a younger gay woman whose interests probably do not include old heterosexual men.

Speaking of visits, a week from this coming Friday I will be visited (for at least a few days) by a couple, close friends, who live in Fort Smith. These friends are the people I consider among a miniscule core of my very closest friends (as close as I think I am capable of getting, anyway). Although we don’t see each other often (even before COVID-19), there’s something about them that’s extremely comforting to me when I’m in their presence; or on the phone or Zoom with them. I wish we lived much closer together and could see one another far more frequently.


Even amid all the visits and conversations and demonstrations that I matter to people who matter to me, slivers of doubt jabbed at me all day. People I’ve begun to think of as friends did not make contact with me as I might have hoped. But, it occurred to me, neither did I make contact with them. Yet maybe I had simply given up; my efforts, perhaps, had not generated “enough” responsiveness to satisfy me. Absurd! People have lives of their own. I should not and cannot expect everyone to make a point of caring for my tender ego every moment. I should not expect people to think about me and let me know it. Someone (but I don’t recall who) is quoted, roughly, as saying “You wouldn’t worry so much about what people think about you if you understood how seldom they do.”

Suddenly, it occurred to me that all I’ve written this morning is purely self-centered. And it occurs to me, as I think about that unpleasant realization, that most of my writing is. That disturbing fact suggests I need to have some uncomfortable conversations with myself and change my behavior and thought-processes accordingly. I must change myself so I get more satisfaction from learning about my ego-driven emotions than from indulging them. And I thought I knew, going into this morning’s writing, that I had begun to learn and take deliberate control.


But yesterday was a delight in many ways. I mentioned in yesterday’s post that a friend from church, disguised as the Easter Bunny, dropped by. And I spent literally hours playing Words with Friends with my sister in law, who was sitting across the table from me as she slaughtered me, game after game. And last night I enjoyed a wonderful dinner with neighbors who served some of the most delicious lamb chops I have ever eaten. And I watched and listened to the minister from my church (along with some lay leaders) express thoughts and ideas that I found both inspirational and challenging. My little pocket of the world, mostly hidden from view of the people around me, was generally happy and deserving of my appreciation and gratitude. How can I preserve and protect those moments of appreciation and gratitude?


On with the day. It’s almost 9 o’clock. Crap. I started this day very late (waking around 7:30 with a brutal headache) and I’ve frittered away part of it on self-indulgent drool. Enough! I will grab this day by the neck and squeeze until either it, or I, can’t give any more.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to Giving

  1. Patty, you are more of a treasure to me than you can imagine. And I count you among my tiny group of close friends!

  2. Patty Dacus says:

    Wow! Just look at how many friends you mentioned in this one post! You seem to have a trove of people who care about you! That says something about the person you are, that a lot of people count you as friend and that those relationships seem to last. You are a good man and a lucky one even though your writing sometimes would indicate that you don’t believe it. Happy to count you among my very small group of friends!

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