Thursday, October 18, 2018

How about a 'real' love story?

A well-written love story.....…. inspiring and heartfelt, with a touch of sweet sadness at the end.” An Amazon commenter.

It might be realistic, but fiction is still fiction
  As a writer the late-life, October Years stories I tell are fictional, but hopefully realistic. For instance, in Best Friends and Promises, when I depict Aaron Peck’s struggle to maintain contact with Leona as she slips further behind her disorienting Alzheimer’s veil, I am painting what I hope is a convincing word-picture of an imagined scenario that will end in only one way. Still, though I appreciate the affirming validation of readers who find my account convincing……it is in the end a work of fiction, a figment of my imagination, something less than real.

Reality, however, is not a fiction
If, however, you are drawn to reality, a well-told story of actual events, you would be hard pressed to do better than a new book by Luke Fritz Jr. An ALS Love Story: Updates on Pat is absolutely real, and all the more convincing because of that. There, in a setting of stark reality, in the face of a daunting ALS diagnosis, Fritz offers his very personal account of an extraordinary woman and the love they share……caring for each other while battling that unwelcome intrusion into their long and enduring relationship.
To be sure, his is an unvarnished, inspirational love story.……the harrowing tale of an aging husband who sets aside everything to devote his life to the care of his ailing, failing wife. From the beginning they realize that ALS will be a relentless adversary, whose path ultimately leads to only one destination. Yet their journey will prove be an illuminating time of love, joy, humor, and yes, some sadness.

The battle is joined
A while back I posted an October Years blog titled “October works best as a shared effort.” Fritz’ story is a perfect example of that truth. In the face of long odds the two of them, Luke and Pat, vow to resist her diagnosis, to impose their will on the inevitable. And my, how they resist. Time after time they manage to wring bits of loving sunshine from a universe of dark, unyielding clouds. You can sense the resolve in Luke’s defiant, yet situationally appropriate humor……those special moments when the two of them renew their determined stand against an unpromising future.
And theirs will not be a private story. At every step, through even the harshest times, Luke provides family and friends with the email updates that are central to his story. With that simple, but effective literary device Fritz offers the reader an easy to follow account of Pat’s ALS struggles and their continuing attempts to find the ‘normal’ in what has become an increasingly ‘un-normal’ world.
Each chapter begins with one of Pat’s friends reminiscing about the woman they knew so well. And always, at the heart of Fritz’ narrative are telling hints of what he manages to avoid. His account is undeniably emotional, yet comfortably calm. The couple’s struggles are often touching, yet never saccharine, and dramatic, without unnecessary drama. At every turn the reader senses Pat’s thankful confidence in her windmill-tilting knight……even when his armor seems a bit tarnished.

In the hands of a loving caregiver
Month after month Luke’s waking hours, sometimes twenty-four at a time, are increasingly devoted to tasks that Pat can no longer do for herself. As her decline continues he assumes responsibility for her grooming and personal hygiene. Meal preparation and housekeeping chores, so much a part of her natural ‘mothering’ instinct, are handed off to him. In time he is even feeding her.
As his care-taking role expands, so too does Luke’s inventory of special equipment……the mobility, health care, and treatment devices necessary to maintain Pat’s comfort and functioning. At every turn he consults with ALS specialists, learning to use the new tools they suggest. As always he carries on with a single, overriding commitment in mind. He will provide the care and comfort she needs, in their own home, doing what needs doing. She will not be sent off to some impersonal care facility.

Pat’s story is a family story
From beginning to end Pat’s story is a powerful family-centered account, one that includes their three children, each of them an inheritor of their parents’ strong will. While Fritz gently tugs the reader toward a calm acceptance of the end of life as an actuality, rather than an abstract possibility, he offers up-close insights into a special sort of alchemy. With indomitable determination the entire family, all five of them, face trials that would surely overwhelm and embitter most of us. Yet through it all their unquestioning support for each other never waivers.
It is probably not coincidental that each of them……mother, father, and children……has found his or her life’s calling as teachers. To a person they share an unselfish gift of caring for the vulnerable and needy. Each of them will weather their own life-changing trials and emerge with an inbred desire to share their gifts.

Why tell a story like this?
In Fritz’ own words Pat’s story was written to “Raise awareness of ALS and share the essence of a superbly remarkable lady.” Together the two of them had set off on a great adventure, a daunting journey littered with speed bumps, unexpected detours, and surprising touches of hopeful anticipation……culminating in what one reviewer terms a surprisingly “sweet sadness.”
In his telling he creates a heartfelt rendering of lives worth living, even in the face of imminent death……two caring persons who literally give everything they have to give in the name of their love. And as he recounts the chronicle of his brave and caring heroine, Fritz proves that a story like theirs certainly has room for two heroes.
Truth in advertising
The paperback edition of An ALS Love Story, with its many color photos, is more expensive than the books I normally buy. However, the Kindle version, at $3.99, is the kind of bargain I love……a wonderful, feel-good read, in spite of the sad conclusion that Fritz never attempts to dodge. The proceeds from all sales are being donated to ALS research.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

What, me worry?

Why this?
Truth to tell, there are other topics I would rather explore today ……so many things that need explaining, at least to me. For instance, do the endless pharmaceutical commercials that dot the nightly news bother you as much as they do me? 
They seem to follow a common formula……smiling faces made well by some medicine with a made-up name are parading around while the narrator recites all the ways that wonder drug may harm or maim me, all the reasons I ought not use it. Most aggravating of all, they carry on without ever telling me what ailment their medicine treats. Small wonder those ads are muted in our house.
So why, you might wonder, did I settle on the sad lament that follows? I suppose it must have been something I read, or saw on the tube. Wherever it was born it seemed worth addressing. Hopefully it won’t offend you.

Do warts really worry?
Did it ever happen to you? Did your mother ever look across the dining table into your eyes, with an admonition that sounded something like this? “Don’t be such a worry wart, son. It can’t be as bad as that.”
A ‘worry wart?’ Now there is a term you don’t hear much anymore, at least not in my circles. But there was a time, perhaps before ‘The Power of Positive Thinking,’ when it was a not-uncommon label for those who raised their concerns, especially unpopular ones. 
So here is today’s question, the one I am asking you to consider…….is this Stewart fellow a worry wart? Does he have any reason to be concerned about what he sees ahead? Read on, and tell me what you think.
Signs of trouble in Octoberland
Perhaps you have heard rumors that all is not well in Octoberland. An endless stream of dire accounts and daunting predictions remind us how many of our October/November peers are ill prepared for retirement, or late-life in any form. 
The equivalent of whole forests have given their lives to produce the newspapers, magazines, and books making that point. And odds are that depressing onslaught will continue as the unsettling tide of financial reality becomes more apparent, and the fiscal noose continues to tighten.
To be sure, if you are one of those caught in that tightening noose you know how real it can be, because it is happening to you. It is true, you know, our own reality is the most real of all. We all understand that truth, don’t we? So what is it that awaits us around the next corner or two?

Who will pay the price?
The questions facing the next generation or two are indeed formidable. Is Social Security really a ‘forever’ program? What about Medicare? Will affordable health care be available ten, twenty, or thirty years from now? Or what about the long-term impact of student debt? Will those underemployed graduates ever get beyond that?
Yet as you look ahead to that future, consider this. The tightening noose facing today’s “Greatest Generation” may well look like the ‘good old days’ to a significant portion of the Greatest Generation Plus 1. And if that is true, what about Greatest Generation Plus 2……our grandchildren. After all, they are the ones who will be asked to pay the bill we have left for them.

How did we get here?
But before we turn our attention to those we care about the most, let’s take a moment to visit some of the reasons we stand at the edge of what might be a steep and slippery slope. I would submit that a lifetime of cultural potty training, in the form of schooling, television advertising, movies, books, social media, etc., has enshrined and empowered the supposed virtues of material success, status, and the accumulation of ‘stuff and things.’  
Not just any ‘stuff and things,’ but the right sort of things. The things so prominently affirmed in glossy TV ads and accepted by our peers as desirable. How often is the relevant question……have we met society’s expectations?
Too many of us have spent too much of our life worshipping what we called success as the most reliable measure of our efforts. We know how easy it is to become addicted to the ‘feel-good’ rush of the Divine Dollar Sign smiling in our direction, validating our efforts and confirming our worthiness. Of course, when the dollars and status fail to flow our way that same commitment to material rewards can lay us low.
To be sure, for as long as there have been sellers and buyers, sellers have wanted to sell more, and buyers have wanted to buy more. There is nothing new about that. What is perhaps new, however, are the pervasive forces that feed the blatantly materialistic culture we have seen evolve in the course of our postwar lifetime.

They learned from us
Truth is, an era of unrivaled prosperity……growing income, burgeoning credit-card debt, easy-to-qualify mortgages, inflated home values, and generous pensions……has enabled us to dream dreams no earlier generation had ever dared to dream. In the process our offspring, consciously or not, have learned to dream those same dreams. 
Unfortunately, the historically unique times that allowed so many of our dreams to come true may not reflect the world our loved ones will inherit. Chances are for too many of them the world will be a harder place to grow the dreams they learned from us. In that case they may have to settle for more modest, more achievable dreams.
Will they be able to create those ‘more achievable dreams’? I hope so, but I am not overly confident. So much depends on the path our nation, and the world, follows in the years ahead. Given today’s political climate who would pretend to know what lies ahead? 

How can they be ready?
  We have been raised to believe that things are always improving, that the years ahead will be better than those we have lived through. We call that progress. However, that progress is not a given.
The best advice I can offer our own children harks back to my long-ago Boy Scout days. “Be prepared.” Do your best to create a lifestyle that has you living within your means, setting more than a ‘little something’ aside, and relying on as few ‘safety net’ resources as possible.
In my humble opinion the odds of taxpayers and governments, from municipal to federal levels, continuing to fund what politicians call “entitlements” over the long haul, especially at today’s levels, is very iffy. Any future that includes substantial numbers of tomorrow’s October population depending on Social Security, Medicare, and other government programs is apt to produce a disappointing outcome.

The case for caution
Hopefully those of us who have already made it to October and beyond have outgrown the need for all that ‘stuff and things.’ We are likely to understand the advantages of creating a ‘cautious’ lifestyle, preparing for an uncertain future. Fact is, those lessons are best learned early, when the student has time on his or her side. Still, as convinced as I am of the need for caution, I realize how easy it is for an elder fossil like me to accept that logic, compared to how it is received by a starry-eyed twenty-five year old, whose weekly mail includes half a dozen credit-card offers.
In all likelihood most members of the next generation, our children, will emerge intact, if not victorious, from the challenging life-maze that awaits them. But what about their babies, our grandchildren? I fear it will be a harsher and more traumatic journey for them.

They’ll have to find out for themselves
It seems that life lessons must be lived to be learned. I guess it’s always been that way. We may wish that our hard-won elder wisdom was easily transferable to those who come behind us. But alas, there are inconvenient laws of nature at work……laws which are rarely rescinded. We can share our concerns and self-proclaimed wisdom, but it is left to those younger generations to accept it, if they will, and put it into action. Here’s hoping they can pull that off.

Those of us who make up today’s October/November population will find a way to muddle through to our natural end……some quite elegantly, some on a more modest scale. As you can tell, my anxiety is stoked by what I see ahead, the challenging future that awaits the next generations, and the impact that future will have on the ones you and I care about. That is what has me sounding like a worry wart.