I Said I’d Be Back
I’ve said it before, so why believe me now? Often throughout the past year, there were times where I almost didn’t come back; times where I could have easily said goodbye, shut down the groups, end nudist advocacy and participation (which in that, I for the most part did). So many times, where I just wanted to call it quits.
There are reasons for that, most being the loss of my Daniel; he’s been the love of my life and my partner for more than 28 years. In addition, he was my photographer, my biggest supporter in my nudist life, and he participated and helped in my advocacy; he was there for me at every event and activity I attended; it's hard to think of continuing without him. But leaving because he’s gone doesn’t make sense, I was a nudist long before I met Daniel, and that’s at least 20 or more years.
I don’t generally talk about my personal life because most people don’t care and, it doesn’t really matter in the end; but losing my Daniel is the biggest reason why I’ve been gone for so long and, for the most part, why I’ve not wanted to return. We had gone to New York in the fall of 2019 to participate in Ton Dou’s Annual Body Freedom Concert/Event. The event takes place in Times Square during the Labor Day weekend and since we knew ahead that we were going to be going, I purchased tickets (6 months in advance) to see Hamilton; we never did get to see Hamilton. We were able to attend the Body Freedom event however, but by the time it was wrapping up the evening prior, Daniel began aspirating. I took him to Mt. Sinai West where he was diagnosed with two stage-4 cancers, esophageal and pancreatic – two of the worst cancers imaginable – we had no prior knowledge. By-the-way, the Naked Cowboy pictured here never gets naked, he just stands on the corner of Times Square in his undies signing autographs. What a gig, huh?
Outside of my random in and out appearances, I’ve been gone for roughly 2 ½ years. That includes September 2019 through today. After Daniel passed, I was medically diagnosed with chronic grief, and I went through the past year without medication – that would explain some of my irrational behavior. I don’t think I’ve really acted irrationally – well, maybe once or twice but whatever, I’m not planning on leaving again. Although I’ve been gone, I wasn’t really gone. I would drop in occasionally to see what was happening; I had to, I run nudist groups and if for no other reason, I need to check-in occasionally to monitor. I have great friends who stepped in to help in all that regard and I’m most appreciative to each of them for all their help; I really couldn’t have managed everything without them.
Daniel’s cancer diagnosis, his treatment schedules, and his 15 or so hospital stays took me out, it’s true. I was obviously not focused on nudism or advocacy. During times when I was be able to access a wi-fi signal – hospitals have the worst wi-fi in the world, it must be due to the MRI and Xray rooms – I would open pages or sites and be disappointed. I was dismayed at either the content or the direction some people (so-called friends) had gone. There were both groups and folks that I thought I’d known that went off to play in or become part of adult groups; it’s so sad. I deleted both and told everyone I was back. I wasn’t.
I wasn’t however completely idle all this time. While sitting in waiting rooms for hours on end and sometimes, overnight because, if you recall, during Covid, hospitals and medical facilities didn’t allow you to accompany your loved ones, I built the framework of a website – the one this writing is being hosted. The build is rather fragmented and it's easy to tell when life turned upside-down as entire sections of the site will just end. Whenever Daniel would have long treatments or hospital stays, a new fragmented section would be created. Nonetheless, this kept me busy with something I’d been meaning to do for a long time. The re-build, not the fragmented sections.
The Art of Dying
We believe that we have everything in order and that we’re prepared for death, but few of us are. We’re certainly not prepared emotionally even when all our paperwork is in order and our whatever insurance is paid up (if we’re lucky to have insurance) because, in the end, nothing prepares us for the emotional rollercoaster that follows.
The art of dying requires discipline to principles. Daniel and I have always been old fashioned when it comes to social etiquette. Despite being brought up in the early 60’s during a time of vast societal change, it was still a time when people left calling cards when visiting or making a “call” upon another one’s home. That’s a tradition that has long passed our current society but it’s the etiquette part of it, the rules that surround the circumstance or situation that Daniel and I were raised to honor and respect. We tried to continue most of our family’s values and traditions in our life together over the last 28 years despite some of them being unusual to most at best.
We learn as children, or we should have, that there’s a societal etiquette in almost everything we do. I’m not talking about which side of the plate the fork goes on, I’m speaking of etiquette being defined as a conduct taught; about proper manners and the cultural customs of our society. There is a proper etiquette as it relates to one’s passing and for the most part, Daniel and I were old-fashioned in how we respect that. Some of it might sound strange or completely ridiculous, but it’s how we viewed it.
First and foremost was to have Daniel’s last rites performed while he was still breathing. That was done albeit he was not conscious. Next was to have a black wreath made for the front door. Daniel had a fondness for this tradition ever since he saw it visually in the last scene of “Gone with the Wind,” – that black wreath on Scarlett O’Hara’s door. It was a tradition in the old days for the widow to hang a black wreath on her door for a full year to show she was in grieving. Again, proper etiquette and a symbology of respect for the deceased and extending to the widow. Thus, a black wreath has remained on my front door for the entire past year.
The death protocol has many quirky facets that are not practiced today. Some are, but instead of being practiced for a year, the timeline’s been cut down to 6 months. Those include not attending parties or social gatherings and/or limiting celebratory events. That wasn’t hard since the world was primarily in lockdown from Covid, but you get the idea.
I will bypass the long-drawn-out time it takes for someone to die and what you thought the hospice was going to be doing 1) because you don’t need to read it; and 2) it’s still too fresh for me to express it correctly. I had, and maybe still have, a problem with the whole hospice experience and what they do – they do drop by every other day to check the patient’s vitals and they do try to console the caregiver in the mass of confusion of it all, they do deliver the “calming” medications that the caregiver must administer, they do give instructions on helping one keep the patient comfortable and, of course, they’re always just a phone call away in case you need them – it does take them an hour to arrive, however. Oh yes, and they do start fund raising your mailbox somewhere around 7-months after your loved one’s passing.
Caregivers and survivors alike can tell you that cancer is the most horrible thing in the world. Despite it all, I must remain grateful that Daniel didn’t have side effects from his treatments. There were only a couple of times where he would have low energy after, but rarely was he ill or nauseous from the treatments themselves. I must also be grateful for the extra time that Daniel and I were given by having such an excellent oncologist. Each of Daniel’s two cancers only have a 3-month life expectancy but Daniel got 15 months fighting both at the same time. It’s true that Daniel died from cancer but not really, he died from an infection at the insertion point of his feeding tube. Isn’t that a silly reason to die?
Up until this point, Daniel’s treatments were successful; both tumors had become non-measurable. He had become the poster child of success! But because of an out of the blue infection, one requiring a hospital stay to have the feeding tube site relocated, he died; the infection, along with the time of the hospital stay took Daniel away from receiving his chemo treatment and the cancer came back. Cancer is a horrendous thing and during the 3-to-4-week delay in getting treatment, the cancer didn’t come back to the same location, it came back and hit Daniel’s lungs instead. That’s when his system began to shut down and he was forced to resigning into hospice care. Try doing that gracefully.
The Art of Grieving
For a surviving spouse/caregiver, cancer has two separate grieving processes: the during and the after. You think you’ve seen it all until you see your loved one drop 60 pounds in the first 3 weeks. That’s the during. After getting over the shock of seeing changes come way too fast, you figure out your new role and the new schedule, and you enter a world of, “Lord, I don’t know what I’m doing but please, help me do it.” You cry a lot in private but somehow, you do what it takes to get things done.
I’m not sure which is worse, the during or the after grief. Both are difficult in their own respect, and both are unavoidable. Everyone, of course, grieves differently and the time it takes for one to get through it is equally different. As I stated earlier, I chose to go through my grief without the aid of antidepressants. Despite being diagnosed with chronic grief, I didn’t want to be left lost on Prozac some years down the road, so I refused taking the meds from the very start.
Because Covid restrictions were still in place, so much of what I needed to do for the memorial planning was being challenged; rooms, catering, you name it. I decided to put all that on hold and instead, I rented an RV with my sister, and we took a trip to Daniel’s birthplace. I’d never been to Washington state, and it was on his bucket travel list to take me. Daniel had made a travel list when he was first diagnosed where he listed out the places that he wanted to go on vacation to for the next 5 years – he obviously had planned on beating his cancer. Daniel was born on the naval base located on Whidbey Island in Oak Harbor, Washington. The state of Washington is a magnificent emerald, green forestland where you’d expect to see a unicorn pop out of the trees; I thoroughly enjoyed the trip – my sister and the dogs did too. I was surprised how well the dogs did on such a long drive but they did good, so we’ll have to try that again sometime. The purpose of the trip was to take a spoonful of Daniel’s ashes with me to blow a “wish you were here” wish into the harbor – it was a beautiful foggy morning when I did that.
The year following Daniel’s passing has been as equally dreadful as was the year living through the cancer. Emotional rollercoasters of ups and downs abound; there are times of remorse when you think of what you should have done differently, there are guilt trips too for all the things that you did because it’s who you’ve been your whole life – yep, there’s that too. One day you think you’re past it all and a day or two later, it returns and haunts you again. Taking meds might’ve taken the edge off I suppose, but for me, I felt I still had to go through it with or without an edge. Have I arrived yet? I’m still not sure.
Regardless of mental state, the Covid lockdown was still in effect when I returned from the road trip, and no one was committing to anything. No churches, no catering services, no limos, or anything else you need to put on a proper memorial service. So, I resigned to a date later in the fall – still, getting commitments for all the whatnot was like pulling teeth. I chose November 11th because of it being Veterans Day. This year, Veterans Day fell on a Thursday, and thus allowed for a 4-day weekend if folks wanted to take the Friday off. The weather in Vegas is beautiful the first half of November and so my plan was set in motion. In the end, I’m very happy with the way it turned out.
Cherimoya, A Celebration of Life
Cherimoya is a fruit, one that Daniel and I had discovered while on vacation in Ecuador in 2016. Its discovery became one of my favorite memories over our 28 years together. Thus, I titled Daniel’s memorial dinner and celebration of life, Cherimoya.
There were 97 dinner guests, an MGM penthouse (which included an 800 square foot terrace overlooking the Las Vegas Strip), a limo party bus to shuttle folks to and from the dinner to the penthouse; and it was an extravaganza to say the least. I think (and hope) everybody had a good time. I’m worn out as it took the full year to plan and pull off – I was supposed to have an event coordinator’s help, but that kind of fell through when Covid shutdowns went into full swing. I ended up coordinating everything myself – I’m still exhausted weeks after the event.
I wanted it to be something people would remember, and I don’t think anyone will forget it. Daniel loved stage shows so it seemed fitting to start with designing a Playbill in his honor. I broke the contents down inside to fit sections and labeled them as Act 1, Act 2, etc., starting with his mother’s handwritten entries from his baby book; funny stuff like what kind of kid he was and that. I had his two brothers and his sister write an Act with a favorite memory they had of him and had them send me a favorite photograph to be included with their story. I wrote the ending Acts myself where one Act was about his professional life and the other about the man he had become. The Playbill turned out awesome and I couldn’t be happier – it makes a great memory tribute for his friends and family to reflect upon his life.
Next was to coordinate the whole penthouse experience. It would’ve been my preference to have everything, including the dinner, at one location but working with the MGM’s event coordination staff was like pulling teeth. The various particulars involved with coordinating the event (room blocks, catering, conference rooms, etc.) all required a new person to deal with and a whole lot of brochures dumped in your direction. It was so ridiculous that I decided to forget the hotel staff and their brochures, changed venues (outside of the penthouse), and found an exceptional offsite dinner location that included an outstanding catering service. The MGM lost a lot of money because of their pure incompetence to coordinate.
Although the official date of Daniel’s passing isn’t until tomorrow, the 3rd of December, I have made it through the year and today, I feel everything will be okay from here on out. It’s been a long road to and from and unless you’ve gone through it, it’s hard to understand but, I’m still here and that’s after the full E ticket ride.
What Ride Is Next?
I have no clue, but I know that I have returned from the darkest days of my life and I truly believe that I have come through it. After a year of reflection, this time saying that “I’m back” feels different; I feel I have come through with a renewed vision and hope. What that is exactly I’m not sure, but I know that I want to get out and not only meet people but get more involved organizationally. That doesn’t mean leaving events that Daniel and I participated in out, it means adding to them since I now have the time to do both. Again, I don’t know what that looks like in the end, but it probably involves a little travel to get to places so I can meet you. I’m serious about that, I look forward to meeting more than a few of you – the folks I call friend.
Well, I’ve been writing; not necessarily for publishing – mostly inner thoughts working things out in my head, but I’ve been writing random stuff as well. I’m working on a piece now about the art of shaving. Everything is an art, right? That piece is not finished yet, but it will be soon. Research has been done, concept completed, and most of my random writing structure has been laid out and/or started. I just need to get myself shaved.
Enjoy your naked day my friends!
*MotoBlog is a collection of thoughts, insights and stories based on true life experiences – gained by the misguided trust in others.
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