Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘heartbreaking stories’ Category

Milwaukee Bridge Opens Unexpectedly, Kills Tourist

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Folks, last week in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, there was a shocking accident.

A man, Richard Dujardin — a retired writer and religious reporter who’d covered the Dalai Lama, Pope John Paul II, Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell — was visiting Milwaukee along with his wife, Rose-Marie. They were walking over the Kilbourn Avenue bridge over Milwaukee River. Rose-Marie had safely crossed, but her husband was behind her, slowly navigating the bridge, and looking at his iPad. The bridge unexpectedly opened, Mr. Dujardin grabbed for a railing and held on for a few minutes, but then plunged over seventy feet to his death.

This is hard to fathom for many reasons.

First, when bridges open and close in Wisconsin, there are lights, sirens, and alarms. These all functioned properly and should’ve warned Mr. Dujardin. But he was 77, hard of hearing, and focused on his iPad.

In other words, he didn’t hear or see anything until it was too late.

Second, the bridge was operated remotely. More of Milwaukee’s bridges appear to be operated this way, rather than having someone directly on site who would’ve been able to see that Mr. Dujardin was still on the bridge before opening it up. No one has any idea how the poor man was missed, as far as I can tell.

(This is one reason I waited almost a week to discuss this.)

Third, the remote operator apparently didn’t see that Mr. Dujardin was still holding on to the railing for a few minutes before he fell!

This seems to be an egregious lapse, to put it mildly.

Anyway, I have felt terrible ever since I heard about this accidental death. I know how it feels to wake up a wife and suddenly, without warning, end up as a widow.

More importantly to me than that, though, was the detail that his wife had already crossed the bridge. That meant she was in front of him. She could not help him when this happened.

Longtime readers of my blog probably know this, but that’s exactly the situation I was in when Michael collapsed on the lawn at our rented duplex years ago. Normally he’d have been in front of me, or we’d maybe be side-by-side holding hands. But this one day, he was behind me…and then he fell backward.

(Yes, I rushed forward, but I couldn’t do anything to break his fall. That I would’ve dislocated both arms had I somehow been in position to catch him makes no nevermind.)

I’m now nearing the eighteenth year of my widowhood. I still see Michael falling, me unable to catch him, in blinding technicolor.

I would imagine that Mrs. Dujardin may end up having similar flashbacks.

Anyway, I’m well aware that life is short, that we have no idea whether today is our last or if we have eighteen more years of widowhood in our future. (Or whatever.) We can only do the best with every day and honor the memories and the love we shared as we continue to go forward in whatever halting way we can.

I feel bad for Mrs. Dujardin. I wish I could help her.

(I couldn’t help Eric Flint’s widow, Lucille, either, though I hope someone is. And someday, maybe I’ll get to meet her again and attempt to show kindness as well as respect, ’cause she deserves it. But I digress.)

All I can ask you, right now, are two things:

Number one: Be kind.

Why do I say that? Well, many people are on edge due to the ongoing Covid pandemic, politics seems even more brutal than usual, and folks have forgotten they have more in common with each other than not.

Some have decided as the world is bleak, they have permission to be their worst selves. They spread misery.

Don’t do it. Refuse the impulse.

Be kind, instead.

Number two: Help the widows and widowers in your life, no matter how long — or short — it’s been since their spouses died.

See, I can tell you for a fact that I still want to talk about the most important person in my life, who’s ever been in my life. That’s my husband, Michael.

Other widows and widowers have said the same.

Too often, we who are grieving are told to just “move on” and in that spirit, we’re supposed to look toward the future and either forget the past entirely or suppress it.

I’m sorry. I refuse to do either. And most widows and widowers that I’ve spoken to over the years feel the same way.

We want to speak about our favorite people. Our formative influences. Our various experiences.

We need to do that. It’s part of who we are.

Hell, even those who’ve ended up finding a second great spouse to marry have said the same things. They can love their second husband (or wife) even better because of the experiences they had with their first spouse.

Otherwise, I hope that Mrs. Dujardin finds out why the remote bridge operator screwed up. She needs to know why that was the final day of her husband’s life.

But I also hope that the people around her will be kind and support her in her hours of grief. She will need that kindness and support for the rest of her life (whether it be short or long).

My Thoughts on the Salman Rushdie Stabbing

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Folks, yesterday, in Chautauqua, NY, author Sir Salman Rushdie was about to give a speech at the Chautauqua Institution. He’d stepped up to the podium with another man, Henry Reese (the co-founder of the nonprofit City of Asylum), as they were both going to speak about the importance of freedom of speech with regards to artistic expression.

This is an important topic. It always is. Freedom of speech and freedom of expression is of paramount importance, especially in the United States of America.*

So, picture yourself there. It’s a crowded room, as Salman Rushdie is a well-known author with multiple, well-received books to his credit. Everyone there wants to see and hear him, as he’s been under the threat of persecution for a long, long time…

All except for one.

That guy, a twenty-four-year-old idiot, ran to the podium and stabbed Rushdie multiple times before he was brought down by audience members and a lone policeman. Rushdie sustained injuries in the throat, to his liver, to his arm (nerves are reportedly severed), and to one of his eyes (which he may lose). The idiot also stabbed Reese in the face**, possibly to get Reese out of the way quicker so he could go to town on Rushdie.

(As per usual, I am not going to name this guy.)

This all happened a bit before 11 a.m. EDT, and the people on the scene said the lack of security was a problem. One spoke on one of the cable news networks (I forget which) to say that they were screening out people who brought coffee and water into the auditorium (or wherever this speech was to be held); they’d have done better to screen for weapons.

And think about that lack of security for a moment. Was this a good idea, especially considering Rushdie was about to speak?

Rushdie has had a fatwa, otherwise known as a price on his head, since the late 1980s after his novel The Satanic Verses came out. The last anyone checked, the bounty for killing Rushdie was up to $3.3M.

Just writing that sickens me.

A person’s life is worth so much more than any amount of money. What one person can do, what one person’s strengths can do, what one person’s transmutation of weaknesses can do, is unable to be monetized. Because it is infinite in possibilities.

I said at my Facebook page that I understand people hating books. I understand, even, people hating authors. But leave it there. Don’t attack authors just because you hate them.

We believe in freedom of speech in this country, which might be one reason why Rushdie relocated here in the early 2000s. (He has never become a US citizen, I don’t think. Last I checked — which was last night — Rushdie is a citizen of the UK.)

So, in a nation that celebrates free speech, at a place that most especially discusses writing and writers and thoughts related to such, a twenty-four-year-old decided to stab one of the most decorated writers alive.

I don’t care about the stabber’s motivation. I care that he stabbed Rushdie multiple times, that Rushdie is said to be on a ventilator right now, that Rushdie has injuries to his arm (nerve damage is a serious thing), and that Rushdie may lose an eye.

I sincerely hope that Salman Rushdie will fully recover. I hope he won’t lose his eye. I hope his liver will heal. I hope his nerves in his arm that apparently got severed will be reattached, and that with physical therapy and time, he will be restored to himself in full measure.

But the thought that a fellow writer — albeit one that’s wealthy and well-known, unlike me — had this happen bothers me greatly.

I wrote a blog a while ago called “Where Can We Be Safe?

That rings in my mind right now, as I continue to ponder the utter wreckage this twenty-four-year-old stabber left in his wake.

————

*The way I always learned it was, “I may not like what you have to say. I may really hate it, in fact. But I will defend to the death your right to say it.” (That is, providing you’re not doing something asinine like yelling fire in a crowded theatre that’s not actually on fire.)

**In case you’re wondering about the other speaker, Mr. Reese, he was treated and released from the hospital.

Racine Concert Band Parts Ways With Me

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Folks, this is a blog I never thought I’d write, but here goes.

Four days ago, I received a letter from the current president of the Racine Concert Band’s board of directors. It was titled “RCB Letter,” and at first I thought it was something they wanted me to look at to give my writing/editing opinion (as they’ve occasionally done that before).

That was not it.

The letter said it was “uncomfortable” for them to ask this, after my many years of service, but that they wanted me to resign for the good of the band.

I will not do it. They can put me out, and I’m sure they will. But I will not resign, and I will not pretend this was my decision. It wasn’t.

I have been a member of the RCB for over twenty years. Every time I was capable of playing music and in the area, I was in the band. I played oboe, clarinet, and saxophone in the band, and soloed (in front of the band) on all three instruments. I’ve also played in both the regular concert band and the jazz ensemble.

However, if you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you have to realize my health is problematic. Especially for a band that has a summer outdoor concert series like the RCB, my health issues — which include asthma, allergies, and migraines — have always been difficult to deal with for me.

Until the last few years — after Covid-19 hit the US with great force — I was able to power through most of the time. I still had migraines and still had asthma issues (one knocked me out of half of a rehearsal, several years ago; I went to the local hospital’s ER to get a breathing treatment), but I played many concerts under hot, humid, and difficult conditions.

The difference now is, I suffered a pulmonary embolism in early 2020. (We did not yet know Covid was in the country, so all I can do is presume that’s why it happened. There were obviously no tests for Covid at that time.) I have really never been the same since then, though I have regained some strength and some health.

Just not enough.

Anyway, the RCB has been important to me for a long time. I was fourteen when I first joined. (Yes, fourteen.) I never have wanted to cause trouble for the band, or its members, or its board. (Especially as I was on the board for two years myself, once upon a time.)

I’ve loved playing the music over the years and have appreciated the fact that they put up with my health for the past two years before making this decision to part ways with me.

There are many great people in that band. I want them to be able to play music, enjoy themselves, and enjoy life.

But I will not say I resigned, because that is not the truth.

The truth is, I was forced out.

And it makes me very, very unhappy that this is so.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 28, 2022 at 9:35 pm

Sunday Musings: Why should you help a widow? (Or widower?)

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Folks, my last blog asked you to please help Eric Flint’s wife, Lucille, in her time of need. (I was one of many people asking for people to help.) She received an outpouring of financial support, and the GoFundMe for Eric’s final expenses has been closed.

Thank you all.

That said, there are still other things to be done to help her, or other widows/widowers suffering from the loss of their spouse.

First, though, I wanted to answer this (somewhat obvious) question: Why should you help a widow or widower?

I’ve thought a lot about this question in the intervening years since Michael’s passing. And I’ve come up with a few reasons as to why you should always help a grieving widow or widower — any grieving widow or widower, whether you like them personally or not.

When you’ve been newly widowed, you are exceptionally vulnerable. All of your support, all of the love you had that you had freely shared with your spouse, is suddenly gone. That love has no place to go. And worst of all, you are often misunderstood when you try to express your grief in any way, shape, or form.

It’s incredibly difficult to deal with the world when you’re in deep shock, suffering with the worst wound you’ve ever had. That’s just a fact.

Everything seems unreal. Nothing feels the same. It’s very hard to go on, alone except for memories (and, if you’re like me, the knowledge that the spirit is eternal and that you will eventually be reunited in joy somewhere/somewhen again).

We all grieve differently, but what I just said tends to be in common for nearly any grieving widow/widower if they deeply loved their spouse.

Anyway, I wanted to talk more about Eric’s wife and widow, Lucille, at this point. I do not know Lucille except for that one meeting in 2002 I’ve previously discussed (and there, I asked Eric a question; I should’ve asked her one, too, in retrospect, but I didn’t think of it). But I do know that if I were within a hundred miles of where she is (I’m not), I would try to bring her a cooked meal or two. Or volunteer to run errands.

And if I knew her better, I’d offer to listen to her talk at any time of the day or night.

Lucille is a valuable person in her own right. Yet if she’s anything like me, or the other widows and widowers I’ve known, she’s not going to be able to feel that for quite some time.

She deserves to be helped in as many ways as possible in whatever way she’ll allow on any given day. She should be given all available love, stamina, support, and whatever other good things she can possibly be helped with for as long of a time as she needs.

Her loss should be respected.

People should talk with her about Eric, as soon as she’s able to do that (or wishes to do that). He was her favorite person in this world. It’s unlikely she’ll want to stop talking about him, merely because his Earthly presence is gone.

Give her time, space, if she needs that. (I know this seems contradictory, but much about grief seems contradictory, too.) But help her as much as you possibly can, those of you who know her best. (I will help, too, if I ever get a chance to meet her again, and if she allows.)

In other words, while monetary help is great, it’s not the only way to help a grieving widow or widower.

Now to a bit more personal stuff, about my own feelings regarding being a widow.

Those of you who have met me, in person, or even have known me through my blog or my books, should know how much I value — and will always value — my marriage to the most wonderful man in the world, Michael B. Caffrey. I had some monetary support at the time of his passing, enough to help me buy an obituary for him, and help to pay for his funeral expenses. I appreciated that, too, at the time.

But no one knew how to help me with my grief. (My grief was so bad, a grief-support group sent me away.)

My family understood that Michael’s death was a huge loss. They didn’t have any idea how to help me process that.

I suffered, mostly on my own, with how to come to terms with it. How to see myself as valuable in my own right. How to go on alone (except for memories and the belief, as I said before, that the spirit is eternal). How to keep writing on my own, with little to no support or understanding of why I felt I must write (whether it be poetry, SF/F, or nonfiction/essays).

I had to figure it out one step at a time, stumbling and fumbling in the dark.

I don’t want anyone to have as much trouble as I did, not even the person who believed Michael was better off dead than with me. (I will never forgive that person. Never. But I still don’t wish ill on them. No point.) If and when they lose their spouses, I want them to have help and support.

That, most of all, is why I dearly hope that Lucille will be aided in as many ways and for as long of a time as she needs. And I pray very much that this will be so.

Where Can We Be Safe? #Updated

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Update #1: There was a mass shooting this afternoon — no deaths yet reported — at Graceland Cemetery in Racine, WI (where I live). No reason given yet, though the man who was being buried (Da’Shontay “Day Day” King) had apparently fled the police and been shot due to the pursuit.

Why anyone would want to shoot these mourners is beyond me.

In addition, as the names of the victims of the Tulsa Shooting have been released, I wanted to give a link about that. Four people died, including a pioneering Black orthopedic surgeon, Preston J. Phillips; Amanda Glenn, a devoted mother, wife, and also a receptionist; Stephanie Husen, another doctor known in the community as kind and caring; and a retired Army First Sergeant, William Love.

I have to mention two things. Dr. Husen had a devoted canine companion that is not going to understand what’s happened to his loving owner. I hope the dog finds a new forever home in honor of his brave owner. The second is this: William Love was 73. He was with his wife of fifty-five years (they married in 1967) when the gunman rushed in. He first held the door closed so his wife could get out safely, then confronted the gunman.

This meant until the end of his life, he remembered what he’d been taught in the Army.

All honor to him. All blessings to his widow.

Now to the original post, already in progress:

#

Folks, once again in the United States, we’ve had another mass shooting. This time, it was in a medical clinic, because (apparently) the shooter was upset that he still had pain from a surgery in mid-May of this year. The doctor (again, apparently) hadn’t been responsive to the shooter’s pain issues, so the solution for the shooter was this: Shoot the doctor. Shoot another doctor. Shoot the receptionist. Wound a whole bunch of other people. And then shoot himself stone cold dead.

So, let me get this straight. We’ve had shootings in the following places in the last decade: Temples of worship, churches, mosques, supermarkets, concerts (the Las Vegas country music festival comes to mind), outside basketball games (the shooting of 21 people in Milwaukee a few weeks ago comes to mind), movie theatres. People have been shot in their cars and in their homes. People have been shot in assisted living situations and in senior housing, too. There have even been shootings on buses and a few on subway platforms in the past few years. And, of course, there have been the senseless deaths at colleges, universities, and other schools, including the recent shooting in Uvalde, Texas, at an elementary school.

With all of that, I ask this question: Where can we feel safe?

Recently, I played a concert with the Racine Concert Band in a church. (Beautiful church, too.) It’s our 100th anniversary, and we’ve played free concerts in the Racine Zoo or elsewhere during all of that time. It’s certainly a setting where you’d never expect a gunman with a pistol and some sort of rifle (as this shooter at the medical clinic had today).

But as much as I enjoyed playing my saxophone with the band, I still was wary as I got out of my car and went into the building. I kept scanning the audience to make sure there wasn’t anyone suspicious or out to make trouble. (I’ve never done this before while playing a concert. Occasionally, I’ve done it in other places.) And I was glad to get through the concert, not just because we as a group played well (and I didn’t muff an extended solo as I’d feared), but because we hadn’t had our activity marred by senseless violence.

Why must we feel this way in the United States of America? Why is it that I feel as if we got lucky because there wasn’t any senseless violence where we were?

Are we as a band supposed to have armed guards around us to protect us as we play?

(If so, we won’t be playing any free concerts again anytime soon. Armed guards are expensive.)

Before anyone says this, I will: I realize that all life is risk. Every time you step outside, you are risking something. (Brushing against poison ivy or poison oak, for example. Or getting stung by a bee, which would be very bad in my case as I am deathly allergic.) Every time you get into a vehicle, you are risking your life to a degree because you can’t fully predict what other drivers will do.

Those, however, are manageable risks. They are known risks. You can, to a large degree, compensate for them.

With all of these shootings in all of these various places, they were not manageable risks. The Las Vegas shooter used a sniper rifle to kill people from a hotel room high above the festival. The recent shooting at the Buffalo supermarket was made by someone who was a racist and who wanted to kill Black people, and had scoped the area out with pre-planning. (That guy may have been evil, but he was not stupid. He didn’t even live in Buffalo, so how could anyone have predicted he’d do this?) The shootings in El Paso, Texas, a few years back, were also done by a racist who wanted to kill Latinos, and he, too, like the Buffalo gunman, didn’t live in the area and had driven from hours away to murder people for no good reason.

These gunmen were not on anyone’s radar, either, even though coworkers had mentioned that the killer of children and teachers in Uvalde recently had the nickname of “serial killer” at work. He was said to be a scary person, someone you didn’t want to cross. He also had discussed his plans with several young women online, but they didn’t tell anyone because they thought “this is just how guys are, always bragging themselves up.” (That last is a paraphrase of several comments I’ve read, and is not an exact quote.)

There is an argument in all of these shootings that they come from a culture known as “toxic masculinity.” That is, these are men (or in some cases, teenage men) who firmly believe they are right, everyone else is wrong, and because they are the “man,” they get to make the rules even if they’re against society’s covenant.

(Yes, I know this isn’t the way “toxic masculinity” is usually described, but it’s the way I think of it. I defined it this way because most men do not think this way. Thank goodness. Moving on…)

Personally, I think this is happening for three reasons. The first is because so many other shooters have gotten away with their violence in the moment that it’s emboldened other domestic terrorists to do the same. (This is one reason why I refuse to name any gunman at my blog.) The second is because local, state, and federal governments have refused to do anything — or in some cases have been blocked from doing anything — to protect people from deranged shooters. This includes prevention and identifying suspects and realizing that at least half of the domestic terrorists in the above cases were men below the age of twenty-five. (Somehow, the local, state, and federal officials need to figure out who these bad apples are and stop them before they do anything remotely like the horrid acts I’ve listed above.) The third is because people are apathetic and believe nothing can or will be done, because our politicians have made it so.

As I said, I don’t have the answers. I just have the questions.

Now, folks, you have the floor: What do you think? What can be done other than perhaps beefing up budgets to deal with people who are obviously deranged and having some sort of awareness campaign so young people will understand that a guy with the nickname of “serial killer” is not normal?

P.S. Before I end this blog, I also want to point out that most police officers, sheriff’s deputies, federal and state law enforcement, and other personnel are good people. They do the best they can with the limited resources they have. Usually, these folks are maligned when something awful happens (sometimes rightfully — at least, so it seems — as in Uvalde), but they’re the first line of defense. They should be appreciated as much as possible rather than denigrated or besmirched. They stop many bad things from happening that most of us never hear about. Which means things might be even worse without their help…awful as that seems, considering how bad it is already.

My Thoughts on the Uvalde Shooting

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Folks, I thought about this for a few days before posting. I didn’t want to just pop off, as I felt that was unfair to the subject matter.

That said, here goes.

I’m extremely frustrated, upset, and unhappy over the recent shooting up of an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. The gunman (who as usual I will not name) was a high-school senior and he was not going to graduate. This made him so upset, he shot two teachers to death, at least 19 children to death (as there are more in the hospital, conditions unknown), and argued with his own grandmother beforehand and shot her, too. (Last I read, she was still in critical condition, but alive.)

This makes it sound like this shooter did this on the spur of the moment, but he didn’t.

We know this because he bought two guns, legally, and bought a great deal of ammunition, again legally. He did this just after he turned eighteen.

His only purpose seems to have been to create terror and heartbreak. He has unfortunately succeeded.

The gunman is dead, which somehow doesn’t seem like nearly enough punishment for what he’s done.

Former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who’s running for Governor of Texas, showed up at the press conference to demand answers. I don’t know how I feel about this because on one hand, I understand why he’s frustrated and upset — and I certainly share that. (I also will point out that Beto was one of the first people on the scene in 2019 when some depraved butthole shot twenty-three people to death at an El Paso Walmart and injured another twenty-three, all because he didn’t like Hispanic people. Beto raised money for the victims and their families and performed many acts at that time that seemed quite selfless.) I also am sure that if I had represented Texas in the House of Representatives, as Beto did for years, I’d be furious at the lack of improvements in the laws of Texas.

But it’s worse than that.

Recently — within the past few months, I believe — gun laws in Texas have been weakened by the current sitting Governor, Greg Abbott (R). The weakening that angers me most is this: there used to be a mandate saying everyone who buys a gun needs to go through a gun safety course. (I agree with this. It makes sense.) Now, however, no one has to do that.

Perhaps this is why Beto went to the press conference and started yelling at Governor Abbott.

Even so, I feel it was the wrong time and the wrong place for that. The parents are grieving. The teachers — the survivors, who know two of their own are dead — are grieving. The police in that area are grieving (one policeman lost a daughter and another his wife). The people of the area are grieving, too.

While I believe the way Governor Abbott behaved was wrong (he wasn’t polite, from what I’ve seen), and am further sickened by the fact that Abbott went to a fund-raiser later that evening from various TV reports rather than stay and try to comfort the victims and their families, I still wish Beto O’Rourke hadn’t confronted him there.

I understand Beto’s anger. I understand why he’s frustrated. I understand and agree with the fact that those laws should never have been weakened.

But when people are grieving, you need to help them heal. Beto knew that in El Paso in 2019.

That’s why I wish he’d not let his anger get the best of him.

Anyway, I remain sickened by the loss of life, the loss of potential in all those ten-year-old kids, the loss of two gifted teachers, and the loss of innocence in and around Uvalde as so many people they knew and loved have died.

Wisconsin is nowhere near Texas. I can’t drive to Uvalde and offer food, or a shoulder to cry on, or lay a wreath at the elementary school’s entrance.

I feel impotent. My rage at more senseless, unnecessary deaths has no place to go, because I know most of the politicians in office in Washington, DC, will do nothing at all, even after innocent children and their innocent teachers have died.

While I of course will pray for the innocent souls, and I will not forget them, thoughts and prayers are no longer enough.

I have no answers. I only have questions.

I wish I knew what to say to put an end to this horrible, awful, grotesque, disgusting and reprehensible behavior.

But I don’t.

Now, you all have the floor: what do you think should be done about gun violence? (Is there anything we can do? If so, what? And what do you think about Beto O’Rourke’s behavior?)

Responses, as always, must be polite or they will be deleted.

My Thoughts, As A Widow, On Recent “This is Us” Episodes

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(What a pretentious title, huh? But it was the best I could do…moving on.)

My Mom and I have watched NBC’s TV show “This is Us” about the Pearson clan for several years. (I can’t recall if we watched it regularly until the third year, but we did watch.) I’ve had a great deal of empathy for various characters. I remember Randall (played by Sterling K. Brown), the Black man raised in a white family, meeting his biological father for the first time. That was both difficult and heartening, all by itself; when the Pearsons, en masse, decided to welcome William (Randall’s bio father), it became something more.

Anyway, the matriarch of the Pearsons is Rebecca, played by Mandy Moore. We see her when she’s young and heavily pregnant; we see her when she’s in her late twenties/early thirties, raising her kids; we see her in her fifties and sixties, after her first husband’s passed away and she’s married her second one; we see her, finally, with Alzheimer’s disease, dying with her kids and grandkids around her.

Rebecca’s story is the one that I took to the most, over time. (This is not surprising, I suppose.) She loved her first husband Jack with everything that she had, and when he died unexpectedly, still in his prime, her world collapsed.

I understand how that feels extremely well.

Rebecca, unlike me, had three children who were all teenagers. She still had to be there for them. She also had good friends, including Miguel (the man who later became her second husband), her husband’s best friend. The friends helped Rebecca and her kids accustom themselves to a life with a Jack-sized hole in it.

This was not easy for any of them. Jack was an interesting, kind, funny, hard-working, loving man who adored his wife and was so ecstatic to be a father. He had his faults, including battles with alcoholism, that he tried to hide from his wife (and mostly did hide, successfully, from his children). But his virtues far outweighed his flaws.

Obviously, Jack’s loss was hardest on Rebecca. She was still in her prime, in her late thirties/early forties. She hadn’t expected to be a widow, much less so soon. But she was one, and she had to adapt on the fly, just as her kids were starting to flee the nest.

As her kids married, divorced, remarried, had children, and lived their lives, one thing was clear: even if their spouses had been divorced, they were still part of the Pearson clan. They were still welcome at every family function. They were included, not excluded, because the Pearsons believed “the more the merrier,” which probably came from Rebecca being pregnant with triplets in the first place. (The third triplet died, which is why Rebecca and Jack adopted Randall, who was born on the same day and needed a family as his mother had died and his father — then — was completely unknown.)

Of course, there were oddities that happened to the Pearsons. (How else? Life itself is strange.)

One of them was when Randall’s father, William, made contact with Rebecca and Jack when Randall was quite young. William felt Randall was better off where he was, as William was battling a drug addiction along with poverty and much frustration; that was an extremely hard decision, but one that reaped major dividends late in life when Randall (in his thirties, roughly) found that William had known a) he was Randall’s bio father and b) where Randall was the entire time. Randall forgave William, in time, and as I said before, the Pearsons welcomed William until the day William died.

That said, for many fans, the oddest oddity of them all was the fact of Miguel marrying Rebecca. We knew Miguel was with Rebecca from the start (or nearly), because “This is Us” has always told its story in a non-linear fashion. We also knew that Miguel was Jack’s best friend, that he was appreciative of Rebecca from the start (he told Jack to make sure he married Rebecca, because “someone else” would; maybe even he didn’t know that someone else, someday, would be Miguel himself), and that while Jack lived Miguel made no moves (as a quality human being, of course he didn’t).

Because of the jumping back and forth in time effect, though, until the last few episodes it was impossible to tell when Miguel had married Rebecca. (That Rebecca had developed Alzheimer’s, and Miguel was caring for her until his own death, was something explored in great depth this past season.)

Why?

Well, Miguel didn’t get an episode revolving around him until a few weeks ago. That’s when I found out that Miguel had waited several years, had moved away to a different state, and made sure his feelings were real (and not something conjured out of pity and the deep, abiding friendship he’d always had with Rebecca while Jack was still alive) before he married Rebecca.

We still didn’t see his marriage, which was the second marriage for both of them. (Miguel’s first marriage ended in divorce.) But we saw how he took care of Rebecca. He was tender, kind, compassionate, loving, and altogether the right person for her after Jack died.

I was happy she found another good man to love.

This may sound odd, if you’ve read my blog for years. I thought for quite a few years that my heart was not big enough to admit another love — romantic love, anyway — after Michael’s way-too-early death.

While I found out that was wrong, the two men I’ve cared about in the past few years did not end up growing with me in the same way. They did not want the same things. (Or in one case, even if he had, he could not express that. He is neuro-divergent.)

The man who might’ve been “my Miguel” was Jeff Wilson, who died in 2011. Jeff didn’t know Michael, so that part wouldn’t be analogous. But Jeff knew I was the person I am because of Michael. Jeff also was my best friend of many years (seven, at the time of his death), and during his fatal health crisis said to me, with a weary yet humorous tone in his voice, “Can we please proceed to the dating phase now?”

I’ll never know what would’ve happened had Jeff lived. But I knew I was going to try, and I told him that.

Then he died, after he’d been improving; his death was unexpected, and he was only a year older than Michael had been when Michael died.

So, two men. Both interesting, intelligent, funny, hard-working, creative…both themselves, indelibly themselves, and I cared about them — loved them — both. (I did not yet have romantic love for Jeff, but I certainly was getting there at the time of his death. I definitely had agape love and philios also.)

Anyway, Rebecca’s death episode was this past Tuesday. She was pictured on a train. She saw William (acting as the conductor); she saw her obstetrician (acting as a bartender). She saw her kids, possibly including her deceased triplet (I wasn’t sure about that), at various ages. She heard the various well-wishes of the Pearson clan, including from her daughter’s ex-husband, her son Kevin’s wife (he’d only married twice, to the same woman, but many years apart), and her sons. But she was waiting “for something”…

As she’s waiting, she sees Miguel, a passenger on the train. He salutes her with his drink, and tells her she’s still his favorite person.

This made me cry.

Miguel got no more time in that episode, which upset me. I thought Rebecca should’ve gone to him, hugged him, and said “thank you.” Her mentation has been restored, on the train; she knows that Miguel helped her while she was so ill with Alzheimer’s. She also got a second wonderful husband in addition to her first, which is very rare…yet while she smiled at him, and seemed happy to see him, she didn’t go to him.

This made me even sadder.

The end of the episode came when her daughter, Kate, was able to get there (she’d been overseas). As she says goodbye, Rebecca clearly crosses over and enters “the caboose,” where her first husband, Jack, waits.

That’s where the episode ended.

I don’t know what’ll happen in the finale of “This is Us.” I do hope that Miguel’s contribution to Rebecca’s life, and to the entire life of the Pearson clan, will somehow be recognized. (Her children all told her to say “hey” to their father for them, but no one asked her to hug Miguel if they saw him. That, too, bugged me, but maybe the writers wrote it and they had no time to get it into the episode.) It’s obvious that without him in her later years (even before she got Alheimer’s), there wouldn’t have been as much acceptance and love from the Pearsons as a whole.

Anyway, my take as a widow is that I want there to be some recognition of how much good Miguel did for Rebecca, and that Jack had no problems with it as Miguel both made her happy and helped her as her mentation declined. (Miguel also still saw Rebecca as the same person, even with her mind going; her own children couldn’t always do that, as her daughter Kate pointed out in a recent episode.)

To be able to love again after such tragedy was wonderful. To not express thankfulness and gratitude for loving again…well, had it been me in that position, I hope I’d have done better.

(And yes, I know they’re all characters. Not real people. But they surely felt real, which is why I hope that Mandy Moore wins an Emmy for her portrayal of Rebecca and that Jon Huertas wins an Emmy as well for his excellent supporting work.)

Sunday Musings: The Empathy Gap

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Recently, I’ve thought a great deal about one thing. Empathy.

Why? Well, the United States, as a country, don’t seem to be showing a lot of it lately.

Whether it’s because of how individuals have handled Covid-19, or because of the ascension of politicians with more mouth than brain (including current US Reps Marjorie Taylor Greene and Nicole Boebert), it seems trendy now to behave badly and blame it on someone else.

I read a lengthy article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel recently about this very thing. (I am not linking to it because it was for “subscribers only,” meaning unless you have a subscription, they won’t let you see it.) It talked about the differences between what good, empathetic behavior is and bad behavior, and discussed how two decades — the 1970s, or “Me Decade,” and the 1980s, or the “Greed is Good” Decade — have changed public discourse for the worse.

I’m not sure it was just because of those two decades, mind you. But it is possible that folks who were born in those decades changed their parenting style, and their kids grew up with fewer “guard rails” against bad behavior along with perhaps lesser consequences for said bad behavior.

I think most of us have seen someone treated badly because of Covid-19. Whether it’s a customer cussing out a store employee for wearing a mask (as they mostly have had to do due to local or state regulations), someone being happy that another person who’s died because they didn’t get the vaccine and felt they wouldn’t get sick (schadenfreude, in other words), or a store employee (in a state/county that does not require masks) ask someone to remove their mask because said store employee didn’t like it, there seems to be very little tolerance for any behavior besides one’s own.

I have a very good friend who went to the post office recently where she lives. The clerk there is an anti-masker and possibly also an anti-vaxxer and complained when my friend (who is immunocompromised) did not remove her mask after she was asked. She explained this, but the clerk did not care. It was all she could do to stay in the post office until her business was done due to being so upset.

I have another friend who lives in Florida. He is also immunocompromised, but his doctors believe he should not be vaccinated. (I’m not sure why.) He has kept himself from just about everyone now for almost three years. It’s been a tough life, as he is gregarious and loves to talk with people about just about anything. But he’s risking his life with or without a mask, and as he lives in Florida — where people have disdained wearing masks even at the worst of the Covid-19 breakout stages — he sees no other way but to stay home, live quietly, and hope Covid goes away.

Other than the nurse who comes in to give him treatments, he sees no one. He hears many, mind, as there are people roundly cursing each other out at his apartment complex at all hours. (That we’re all under much more stress due to Covid is a given, granted.) But he sees no one.

There hasn’t been anyone to bring him food, or talk to him outside (making sure there’s no one around at the time so it’ll be safe for him, with a mask if he wants one, to do that), or do any of the small, kind human gestures that show empathy for someone who’s suffering, much less through no fault of his own.

(He lives too far away for me to help, or I’d have already visited. But I digress.)

I could give more examples, but I’ll stop there because I think my point’s been made.

You, as an individual person, should be free to lead your life any way you see fit. But you also should not be rude to someone who needs a mask even if mask mandates have been relaxed; you should not be rude to someone because her autistic son cannot wear a mask; you should not be rude to someone, like me, who has asthma and has great difficulty and distress wearing a mask but tries anyway because of two parents “of a certain age.” You also should not be so rude as to say, “I’m glad he’s dead” when you hear of a prominent anti-vaxxer dying due to Covid.

Why has it become so controversial to say these things, anyway? (To say what I just said, mind. Not to be outright rude, which seems perfectly fine to many for reasons I just don’t understand.) Why must empathy now be politicized, as if it’s something bad to actually care about others?

What I want this Sunday — not to mention every single day of my life — is for everyone to take a moment and step back. Realize that we are all human. We are all deserving of care, empathy, trust, and love. And we should start to show the best of ourselves to others, quietly, not as an Instragrammable moment but because our shared humanity deserves that.

If we can do that, the world will become a much better place.

The Waukesha Parade Tragedy, Ten Days Later

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Folks, on November 21, 2021, a man who I shall not name drove his SUV into a parade route and injured over sixty people, killing six. The youngest of the six was eight; the oldest of the six was eighty-one.

There are any number of GoFundMes set up for various people who got hurt during the Waukesha Parade, but the best place to go to see a good number of them is here. I do urge you to donate, if you can.

Anyway, I’ve found the Waukesha Parade tragedy an extremely difficult thing to talk about, because some of those hit by the driver (I’ve called him a lunatic/maniac/criminal on Facebook, and that does seem to fit) were musicians who played in the Waukesha South Marching Band.

I can easily picture myself doing what those young musicians were — just playing their music, minding their own business, trying to make people happy during the holidays — and get so upset, so frustrated, and so deeply angry that anyone would want to interfere with those kids just playing their horns that it’s been all I can do not to break into tears at odd moments.

My best friend played in the Lighthouse Brigade Band (in Racine). So did my sister. So did quite a few of my high school bandmates. (I didn’t, because my first instrument was the oboe. There is no such thing as a marching oboist. I didn’t take up the sax until fifteen, and the clarinet until seventeen.) So I can easily put the people I know into that context, and think, “There but for the grace of God…”

Yet, why should we have to think this, when all we want to do is spread a little holiday cheer?

There’s another reason this all hit home, too. That’s in the nature of what happened with the Dancing Grannies, a beloved Milwaukee-area institution. You have to be a grandmother to dance with the Dancing Grannies. And one member, just fifty-two, was performing for the very first (and last) time. While another member, seventy-nine, filled in at the last minute by holding the banner (as someone had to do it).

Four people affiliated with the Dancing Grannies died. (One was one of the Dancing Grannies’ husbands.)

I know how it feels to go from wife to widow in the blink of an eye. (At least, it feels like it, at the time.) And I also know how awful it is to have to go see your spouse, in the hospital, hooked up to multitudinous machines, just praying to God/dess that you will somehow, some way, be able to hug your husband again. Hear his voice again. Hell, even hear him complain again about something…just so long as he’s there to do it, you see.

Too many people lost their spouses, suddenly, for no damned good reason.

And too many kids, just playing in the band and doing their best to uplift people’s spirits, were injured as well.

The child who died was only eight, and he played baseball. His twelve-year-old brother was apparently thrown out of the way (best I could tell from grainy video evidence), as he had road rash (which he’d most likely not have had if he’d been hit) and much lesser injuries than his younger brother.

So, I keep thinking of the last acts of the Dancing Grannies. Some of them were trying to get others out of the way, knowing full well they were going to be hurt, or killed. But doing what they could in a time of crisis to save lives was an admirable act of selflessness that I wish was being celebrated in the news.

I have a category here on my blog called “Truly Horrible Behavior.” The actions of that SUV driver qualify.

I truly wish that SUV driver had never gone onto the Waukesha parade route at all, much less hit all those people. But as my wishes don’t count for much after the fact — and before the fact, who could’ve possibly thought of something so vile? — I don’t know what to say other than this:

Keep the spirit of the holidays in your heart, despite it all.

Care for others, even if it doesn’t seem worth it.

Let those you love know it, even if it sounds silly or contrived. (The action of saying it isn’t, no matter how it sounds.)

Find a cause you care about, and donate time, or money, or whatever else you can think of to it, because life is short, and meaningful acts sometimes seem shorter still.

Remember those who lost their lives.

Remember those who were injured.

And, finally, do what you can to drive back the darkness. It’s tough. I know that. (I am fighting as hard as I can, myself.) But we must live through all this, as witnesses, and do what we can to shape a better world, one act of grace at a time.

What Makes a Good Story?

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Recently, I wrote about Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher John Axford, and I said that the way his story ended was not the way his story was supposed to go.

This begs the question: What makes for a good story, anyway?

By contemporary standards, what would’ve made Axford’s story much better would’ve been him coming into the game, striking out the side (or at least getting three outs), getting the save, and having the stadium rain cheers upon his head. (The crowd did cheer him when he came in — I think he may have even received a standing ovation — and cheered him on the way out, too, which is not usual when a pitcher is unable to get out of the inning. This last happened because we Brewers fans knew Axford well from his previous service with us, and knew he was deserving of such approbation due to how well he’d done before.)

In previous eras, though, they had stories such as MADAME BOVARY that sold a ton. Those stories would have characters put through the wringer and they’d never be able to come up for air; instead, even their children would be put through the wringer for no purpose, and would never be able to get ahead.

Why audiences appreciated such stories is beyond me, but that was the fashion at that time. The would-be heroine (or hero) had a tragic flaw (or two, or five), and because of that flaw would taint herself and everyone around her beyond any hope of redemption.

The fashion now tends more to happy endings, but well-deserved happy endings. Characters still get put through the wringer (see Lois McMaster Bujold’s MIRROR DANCE, or Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s NIGHT CALLS, or any of Robert Jordan’s novels in the Wheel of Time series, among others), but they live to fight another day. They learn from their mistakes, too. And they continue on, having learned much more about themselves in the process.

Of course, the Harry Potter novels also exemplify this sort of story. Harry grows up to be a powerful magician, but he’s put through the wringer and must fight the big, bad, nasty, evil, and disgusting Lord Voldemort (and yes, I meant all those descriptions, as Voldemort is just that bad) in order to become the magician he needs to be. He and his friends Hermione and Ron are put through all sorts of awful things, but they eventually prevail.

My friend Chris Nuttall’s novels about Emily, starting with SCHOOLED IN MAGIC and continuing through to FACE OF THE ENEMY (with CHILD OF DESTINY coming soon), also have a plot that shows Emily being thrown into awful situation after awful situation, but she finds a way to prevail every time through hard work, effort, and a talent to get along with people even if they’ve crossed her (or she’s crossed them). Emily scans as a real person, and we care about her because she faces things most of us face even though we’re not magicians.

What are those things, you ask? Well, she has to learn from her own mistakes. She has to realize that she can’t fix everything and everyone. She has to find out that her snap judgments are not always correct. And she has to reevaluate people and situations, even when she doesn’t want to.

Of course, my own stories about Bruno and Sarah (AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE and A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE) have many of the same lessons. There are things Bruno can do, and does, once he realizes he’s been lied to about nearly everything. Sarah is in much the same boat, except she has different talents — complementary ones, in most cases — and the two of them have to find that they’re stronger together than they could ever be alone. But there are still things they can’t do, and they must make their peace with that (as every adult does), while continuing to work on the things they can.

In other words, they can control what is in their power to control. But they can’t control other people. (It would be wrong to do so, anyway. They have to make their own lives meaningful in whatever way they can, too. And make their own mistakes, as we all do…but I digress.)

Anyway, the stories I love best are those with happy endings. People sometimes start out with situations they don’t deserve (such as my friend Kayelle Allen’s character Izzorah, who went through a childhood illness that damaged his heart and nearly blinded him), but they get into better positions and find the people who can help them — maybe even love them the way they deserve. (Izzorah, for example, finds a treatment for his heart — it’s not a standard one, by any means, but it works in the context of the story — and finds love along the way in SURRENDER LOVE.)

So, to go back to the beginning of this blog, as we love happy endings and we want to see deserving people find good luck and happiness, the true ending we wanted for John Axford was to get the outs, get the cheers, bask in the glow of achieving his dreams once again at the baseball-advanced age of thirty-eight, and stay with the Brewers the rest of the season as they continue to make their run at postseason play.

That Axford was unable to achieve this happy ending was distressing. But all the hard work and effort he put into his return to the big leagues should still be celebrated. And my hope, overall, is that he will still be with the Brewers in one way or another after this season ends.

What makes for a good story? Do you agree or disagree with me, and if so, why? Tell me about it in the comments!