Friday, January 31, 2014

In honor of William (Bill, Will, Willie) Balkovec, 1925 - 2014

 In honor of William (Bill, Will, Willie) Balkovec, 1925 - 2014

The Leader of the Band by Dan Fogelberg

The leader of the band is tired
And his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through my instrument
And his song is in my soul
My life has been a poor attempt
To imitate the man
I'm just a living legacy
To the leader of the band

I thank you for the music
And your stories of the road
I thank you for the freedom
When it came my time to go
I thank you for the kindness
And the times when you got tough
And, papa, I don't think I
Said 'I love you' near enough

The leader of the band is tired
And his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through my instrument
And his song is in my soul
My life has been a poor attempt
To imitate the man
I'm just a living legacy
To the leader of the band

This song reminds me of my Daddy. Not because he was ever a band leader, but because of his love of music, especially the music of the Big Bands of the 40s and early 50s. Lately, the stanza about thanks has meant a lot to me.

I am grateful for his love of music and the exposure to it in our house. I am thankful to know who Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Bunny Berrigen, Fred Waring, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Eddy Duchin, Count Basie, Glenn Gray, Duke Ellington, Sammy Kaye, Louis Jordan, and many others I'm sure I've forgotten, are. I might have been one of the few kids in my age group to know the words to songs like "Skylark", or "Pennsylvania 6-5000", or "Chattanooga Choo-choo".

My daddy's stories were not "of the road", but rather of his times playing baseball, or times growing up with his family, or his friends in the Army. He always had stories to tell. Only in the last couple of years did I listen intently. I am sorry for not listening with greater appreciation through the years. 

We left Pittsburgh several times over the last few years and each time it was with my dad's blessing. So, indeed, I thank him for "the freedom when it came my time to go". And I thank him especially for telling me when I needed to come home.

My Daddy was almost always kind. He stood up for me when others did not. He may not have always understood my choices, but he loved me enough to always have my back. I hope he knew how much that meant to me. I can't say Daddy got tough with me too many times, but there are a couple that stand out in my memory. Those were turning points to a better relationship between us, I think.

As to whether I told him I loved him enough…I did not. I don't think "I love you" was a phrase used in our house when I was growing up. Consequently, I never told my Dad I loved him until I was 25. And I was afraid to say it. Amazingly, once it was out there, that first time, and Daddy responded with, "I love you, too, kid," there was never anything holding back our mutual "I love you". Still, "Papa, I don't think I said 'I love you' near enough".  

The leader of our family has moved beyond this life. He was tired. Not just his eyes, but all of him. But, his blood, does run through each of my his children's instruments. His songs live on in our hearts and souls. And I think I speak for each of us when I say that, indeed, our lives have been a poor attempt to imitate a good, loving, caring, kind-hearted man, whom we were blessed to call our Dad. I pray we are a legacy of which he can be proud.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


2014 Jan 27

Where to begin? My family of origin doesn't really have anger issues. I do not ever recall seeing my paternal or maternal grandparents get angry. My Mom had lots of issues, but I'm not sure anger was one of them. My Dad was not an angry man. Yet of the eight siblings in our family, at least four have or have had anger issues. Currently, I would say at least two of us, maybe three need to work on our anger. 

So where does this anger originate? According to Pastor Bertine's sermon yesterday, at Gulf to Lake Church, anger generally originates as a result of hurt, and or frustration, and or fear. Since I can only speak to my own stuff, I would say that I have the trifecta of origins going on.

Most of my anger is involved in my relationship with my husband. Hurt? Yes.
Frustration? Yes. Fear? Yes, but not of him, rather of where our relationship is headed.

The past year has been a most difficult one for me, for our marriage, and for the general feelings of marital joy. Neither Raymond or I are the perfect spouse. But, I thought we shared in common, a strong sense of family. 

Now, for some recent background.

Last February, as we were planning our travels for 2013, my Dad had emergency surgery for a hernia repair and bowel resection. At that hospitalization it was discovered that he had stage 4 small cell lung cancer. We changed our plans, and instead of heading to Texas, drove to Pennsylvania. Dad's oncologist would not discuss life expectations, so we took up residence at a local campground, uncertain how long we would be in Pennsylvania.

By summer, Raymond was getting the urge to move on. Since he doesn't drive, any moving that was going to take place had to involve me. We made plans to travel from Pittsburgh through upstate New York, into Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Then, on our way to Florida, we would come back through Pittsburgh for my doctor appointments and for Dad's 88th birthday.

Throughout the spring I had been experiencing numbness and tingling from my chin to my shoulder. My PCP suggested I see an Orthopedic neck specialist, which was one of the appointments scheduled for September. I have had severe arthritic changes in my cervical spine for several years, but they had only begun to be intrusive during 2013.

On our return to Pittsburgh in September, we opted to park in Raymond's brother and sister-in-law's driveway, since the plan was to be in the area for about two weeks. Even so, Raymond disliked the location because he felt too isolated in the far northern suburbs, since very little was in walking distance, and I was rarely available since I was spending as much time as possible with my Dad.

The real curve ball came just before we were scheduled to leave for Florida. My symptoms were progressing and I really felt, as did my surgeon, that waiting till spring for neck surgery was a gamble. So, I scheduled the cervical surgery and fusion for mid October. Raymond was very unhappy. Between the surgery and recovery, the absolute earliest I would be available to drive our RV to Florida would be the last week on November.

Raymond acted in a manner that hurt me deeply. Later when we talked about it, he explained that his reaction was because he felt blindsided. 

Shortly before my surgery, my Dad began radiation therapy to attempt to shrink one of his tumors which was causing him difficulty breathing. He finished radiation while I was recovering, but still unable to drive. 

I began driving when my surgeon OK'd it. Slowly, I began to build my strength and my range of motion. By my final post op visit, early in the last week of November, Dr. Smith gave the OK for me to try the drive to Florida in the RV. It was two days before Thanksgiving. Raymond wanted to leave immediately. I want to spend Thanksgiving with my dad and brothers. At this point I was feeling both fear and frustration. The fear was two pronged. I was afraid of Raymond's reaction if I told him I wanted to stay on longer in Pittsburgh, as well as feeling fear that this would be my Dad's last Thanksgiving. Frustration was full blown because Raymond seemed to be lacking an empathy for my needs, at that point. Frustration was also in play because of my father's situation.

Yep, I had the full trifecta, of hurt, frustration and fear. Only I didn't know it at the time.

Truth be told, I didn't want to leave Pittsburgh at the end of November. But we were already paying for a lot in Florida that we hadn't used in October or November. The weather was freezing in Pittsburgh, and our RV is not really made for winter camping. Raymond was unhappy in the extreme. I was depressed. My Dad was dying. Life was overwhelming. So, in an attempt to be "a good wife", we left for Florida on November 29.

The drive took a lot longer than any before.  Apparently I still did not have the stamina to drive long distances and found it necessary to stop frequently for rest and naps. When we made to to Edisto Beach State Park, in SC, we stayed four days. I needed three of those just to recharge.

After arrival at Nature Coast Landing, in Crystal River, FL, the thought of immediately turning around and driving back to Pittsburgh was daunting. So, I didn't think about it. Instead, I called home every other day or so to see how things were going. I distracted myself by decorating the lot and the RV for Christmas. 

On Christmas, I was very homesick. Raymond was very melancholy and seemed to be missing his parents, who died several years ago. Because of Raymond's emotional state, I was glad that I hadn't left him and Greyla alone over Christmas. Although, I was still torn by thinking of Daddy and the fact that this might be his last Christmas. Still, when I spoke with Daddy on Christmas morning, he seemed in good spirits. But there was still some part of me that was resentful of Raymond and his blindness to my needs and wishes.

New Year's day arrived and I called to wish my Dad and brothers a Happy New Year. My brother informed me of Daddy's decline & after talking to Daddy, I knew I had to return to Pittsburgh. I explained to Raymond that I needed to face this own my own. I would be wanting to focus all my energy and time on my Dad, at my brother's house, and that to have him & Greyla along at a local motel (which was what Ray wanted), would be too much of a distraction. Perhaps that hurt him. I don't know. I just knew it was the truth as I was experiencing it.

I arrived in Pittsburgh on the afternoon on Jan 5, after driving from Florida.
I spent time talking with my Dad. My brothers and I spent time trying to care for him over the next several days. He passed away in the wee hours of Jan 9. Following Daddy's last wishes, we arranged for his cremation, with no viewing. There was a service the day of the interment of his ashes, at the chapel at the cemetery, on Jan 14.

The next day, Raymond began pressuring me to return to Florida. I was not ready. There were things to be done. There was a need to be with my brothers and sister. There was a need to grieve with my family. Raymond seemed not to have any understanding of these feelings.

My feelings of anger grew. Each time Raymond called, I dreaded answering, knowing one of his first questions would be, "When are you coming back?" I wanted to stay at my brother's house. I wanted to be with people who were experiencing the same pain and loss I was feeling. Twice I put off my return date. I really couldn't understand Ray's impatience for my return. Especially since every time we spoke, I cried. Finally, when there was news of an anticipated storm and snow accumulation, I relented, and planned my departure. 

Then, my brother, Vinny, developed a problem with his left arm. His doctor's appointment was scheduled for 8:15 AM, the day I was scheduled to leave. I called Ray to let him know that I would be getting on the road later in the morning that day, and his reaction was not positive. He assumed I was going to stay to see what Vinny's outcome would be. I had to explain, more than once, that I would drive Vinny to the doctor and get on the road around 10:30, rather than the 8 AM departure we had originally figured. Regardless of Vinny's status, I was not yet prepared to leave. However, I felt I had to in order to placate Raymond.

Several times on my way back to Florida, I became overwhelmed by emotions and cried. Some of that was loss. Some was anger.

Having arrived back in Florida on Jan 25, just three weeks to the day since I left, I was in full on anger mode with regard to Raymond. At this point I knew it was anger, because God graciously pointed it out to me as I drove. And there was an assurance that I had to return to Gulf to Lake Church on Sunday morning. I knew that the sermon was one I needed to hear. It was!

I am now trying to work through both my anger and my loss. Pray for me. And for Ray.