Wednesday, June 13, 2018

A Sad Story

Came across this photo in a basement clean up this week. It was taken 5 Aug 52 at Headquarters First Army, Governor's Island, Lt. Gen. Willis D. Grittenberger, Commanding General, First Army, Presented Mrs. Marie O'Donnell wife of the late 1st Lt. Joseph t. O'Donnell, with the Distinguished Service Cross ( Post-Humous) which was awarded her husband for extraordinary heroism on 13 Oct 51, near Mun-Dung-Ni, Korea, on which date he was fatally wounded. Lt. O'Donnell was a member of Com A 38th Inf. Rect., 2nd Inf Div.
Mr. and Mrs. T.J. O'Donnell, parents of the Lieutenant, look on while Mrs. O'Donnell shows the medal and citation to her two daughters, Sharon and Diane.  Marie was 26 years old at the time of her husband's death ( He was 29).  Although a young and attractive woman, Marie never remarried.  I remember her signing a song with these words in them, "I'd rather die young than live old without you". Tragically, she was killed at age 40 while getting into her vehicle in Freeport, LI.  Marie and Joe had 7 grandchildren.  Sharon has four children and Diane has three sons.  Marie and Joe would be so proud of their descendants.

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Grief of a 6 Year Old Girl

Joe and his oldest daughter, Sharon

The Grief of a 6 year old Girl is Deeply Embedded in the Soul of a 73 year old Woman
My Uncle Joe O’Donnell died on October 13, 1951 on Heartbreak Ridge in Korea.   The sadness I still feel over this particular loss so many years ago- 67 years this October - has me perplexed.    I was only 6 years old at the time and I am a little surprised that it left such a permanent imprint on my heart.   I almost feel a wee bit of guilt, after all, this man was my Uncle and not my Father.   Shouldn’t it be his two daughters who are allowed to mourn for so long?   To be exact, Uncle Joe was my mother, Rita’s younger brother, and the only boy out of 6 children.   If this isn’t sad enough, he was only 29 years old when his life ebbed away on a foreign hill in a foreign land?   
So what do I often do when I am really perplexed?  I sit and write things down as a way to see what might be hidden inside.   Then I try to analyze what my own words are trying to tell me.   In delving back into my personal history, I seem to remember only bits and pieces, and the pieces I remember are heavily laden with emotions.  Actually it is the emotions I remember more clearly than the factual details.   Some of my memory, some of my emotion, is based on hearsay or what one might describe as family lore. 
Probably the first feeling I experienced about my Uncle’s death was a vague sense of dread - the nervous energy being projected by my mother and other family members when letters weren’t arriving home as expected.   No one was yet verbalizing the possibility of a reality much too painful to allow into full consciousness.   
The next thing I remember about this tragedy is being at birthday party in a little court up the street from my house in Brooklyn.   The birthday kid’s name was Kurt Branch, he was an only child, and he was a little older that my brother, Charlie.  His family had emigrated from Germany at the time of WW II, and his mother was a no-nonsense, strict, German woman, who scared the living daylights out of me.  There weren’t a lot of kids on our street - Interboro Parkway-  back in those days so, in spite of our wide range of age differences, all three of us kids were at the party.  My youngest sibling, Meg, wasn't born yet.   My father arrived at the house unexpectedly and spoke to Mrs. Branch in a serious, secretive manner -“off to one side”.   I don’t remember hearing words, I do however remember the catastrophic nature of my father’s tone and demeanor.  It was obvious to me that something bad, really bad, had happened.   My father asked Mrs. Branch if she could keep us at the party longer than previously scheduled.   I did not want to stay, I wanted to go with my father.  I knew at the core of my being, this was not the time to be “partying”.    I probably made a stink, maybe I even cried, and I remember Mrs. Branch slapping me.  Then I remember standing outside the house in the middle of the small court.  As a part of Kurt's birthday celebration, we were given curly streamers to throw up in the air and unwind.  It was probably one of the most incongruous things I have ever done in my life. 
The next thing I can remember about this time is kneeling and saying the rosary in the living room at my Aunt Marie and Uncle Joe’s apartment on Linden Street in the Bushwich section of Brooklyn.   I remember that the apartment was on the fifth floor and it wasn’t very big and the modest living room was filled with family members knelling together in prayer.  Specifically, I can see my grandmother O’Donnell's face.  She is the only one I see clearly.  I remember the Chinese art work hanging on the walls, things my Uncle brought back after WWII.  The feeling I experienced that day was comfort in the face of deep sadness.  It was good to be with the people I loved the most.
Another thing I remember is my mother walking around like one of the Stepford Wives in the semi-finished room in our basement.  She was trying her best to offer a little birthday celebration for Diane, Joe’s youngest daughter who just turned 3.   
I remember the funeral parlor on Bushwich Avenue, the closed casket, the American Flag, my Grandma crying, the kids running around.   Someone brought a bunch of us kids to get ice cream at a nearby Ice Cream Parlor.  I don’t remember who it was, maybe Uncle Bill?  
I remember the 21 gun salute at the Cypress Hills National Cemetery on Jamaica Avenue.  It was a bitter cold, somber day.   A day covered by a dome of silence and sorrow.  Family members walking up the small incline to the top of the cemetery.
I remember things I was told that I don’t remember witnessing firsthand.   I heard that when my Aunt Anne O’Donnell came home from work and first heard the unbearable news that her younger brother, Joe, was dead, she sat down on her mother’s lap in the rocking chair and let her mother rock her like a baby.  Anne was 30 years old but desperately needed her Mommy’s comfort that day.  Her brother, Joe, was the next youngest sibling and only a year and a half her junior.
One thing that probably bothers me most of all is not being able to know what happened that day in October.  Maybe I shouldn’t want to know.  But for some reason, I want to know, or at least feel, that someone was there with my Uncle Joe.   I want to know that other human beings were right there with him, holding him, offering him some level of support, some level of comfort, some level of love.   
Many, many years later I came across the letter that my Grandmother wrote to "the powers that be" basically pleading that  her son be spared from this "police action" in Korea.  She said her son had served his country throughout World War II and that he had been the sole surviving officer of his unit at the Battle of the Bulge.  Now, he was the father of two little girls who were only 6 years old and 2 years old.  Hadn't he done enough?   Grandma O'Donnell's pleading fell on deaf ears.  A horrifying realization came over me when I noticed this refusal letter was actually dated a few days after Joe had died.  Talk about irony. It actually made me feel sick to my stomach.
I was privileged to have experienced this man first hand, however briefly, and I know what a kind, gentle, loving man he was.   I cannot bear to envision him dying alone on a battle field.
I hate war.  It kills loving, kind young men.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

A Good Guy with a Gun

I must admit I am biased when it comes to guns. Sometimes a personal experience will influence the way one thinks. No matter what arguments to the contrary, this life event left deep seated emotional scars that influenced my thinking.
I remember walking into the hospital room on the 8th floor Pediatric Unit at St. Vincent’s Hospital in NYC and seeing the dark haired, handsome little boy lying in the bed closest to the window. His family members sat by his bedside for hours on end. Even though visiting hours were rather stringent in the decade of the 60’s, we bent the rules for this little boy and his family. Their sorrow was palpable even though it was obvious they were trying to mask it for the sake of Anthony.  They tried to maintain a semblance of normalcy in front of this beloved child, but their smiles were plastic and weird. The child still seemed “normal”. I don’t know if he was aware of the reality of his condition. I don’t know if any of us adults, family and staff included, could honestly internalize the horrendous reality in front of us. Sometimes in life you can’t recall every last detail of an experience but you can feel the overwhelming emotional pain that surrounded it. That is the part that stays enmeshed in your heart and soul forever. This was the case in this incident.
Anthony was probably 10 years old when he found the hidden gun and went to get the bullets that had been carefully hidden in another part of the house. The gun belonged to his Grandfather. I remember him as a gentle, loving man, a “good guy” by every stretch of the imagination. Now he sat at the head of his grandson’s bed, a broken man, a man who would never be whole again. Little boys that age are inquisitive, and a lot of the time they are smarter than you think. Anthony got a bullet in that gun and accidentally shot himself through the neck. In medical terminology, Anthony, was now a quadriplegic. It is easier for me to say that term than to define its meaning. Anthony could not move his arms or his legs and he would never, ever move them again. Believe me when I say, having known the particulars of the story, this family was as good as any other family on earth. I am infuriated when people brush it off as negligence or act like this could never happen to them because they would be much more careful and responsible. Accidents happen. Not one of us is perfect. I know this man was a good guy with a gun. But I know more than anything else in this world, he wished he never had that gun.
This experience that colored my thoughts and feelings about guns was so heart wrenching that it is hard to describe without reliving the pain.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

A Matter of Principle and Common Sense

Brooks Women's Adrenaline GTS 17 Silver/Purple Cactus Flower/Bluebird 10 AA US

I have always considered marching in the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade a tremendous honor and privilege and one of the most exhilarating and exciting events of my year. Indeed, the march up Fifth Avenue alongside my beloved fellow graduates of the prestigious St. Vincent’s Hospital School of Nursing, NY, NY stands out as one of the greatest memories of my lifetime. But sadly, I am not marching this year. “Why not march” you ask, “if you enjoy it so very much?”

When I received the green post card “ St. Patrick’s Day Parade - Come Represent St. Vincent’s and March” I was filled with mixed emotions. My initial reaction was excitement. My mind flooded with the wonderful, heartfelt memories of past marches: my very first March on St. Patrick’s Day in 1963 when, for the very first time, I got to wear the uniform of an upperclassman and another special March many years later when I met up with a beloved classmate and friend, Mary Geraldine (Gerry) Crowley Fahey. We were the only members of the class of 1965 who marched that year but it was a wonderful experience nevertheless. Several years later, we had spoken on the phone and were planning to march again on March 17, 2006 before her sudden, untimely death on March 8th of that year. Nonetheless, I marched anyway, filled with love and emotion, as I carried my dear friend in my heart.

Several years ago, and the last time I marched in the NYC St. Patrick's Day Parade, I took Amtrak from Albany-Rensselaer Station downstate to NYC Penn Station. Being an obedient woman,  I was wearing my “business attire” and carrying my “business, professional-looking shoes in a bag . I decided to wear more appropriate footwear (i.e., sturdy, walking sneakers) as I walked from Penn Station to our designated line-up spot on Madison Avenue. I am an avid walker and at the age of 73, I still try to keep fit with brisk three mile walks several times a week. I also have an MS in Health Education from Russell Sage College and learned some things about health and wellness.

Shortly before we were given the signal that we were “on the move” I questioned my decision to change out of my sneakers, but was convinced by other very obedient graduates to bag the sneakers and don my sturdy business shoes. Against my better judgment, I removed my sneakers.  Even though my professional shoes were certainly sturdy, this proved to be a rather costly mistake! As a result of this error, I developed plantar fasciitis for which I was prescribed rather expensive orthotics. Without sharing all the boring details, the orthotics caused me to slide across my kitchen tiles and injure my knee. This led to several visits to an Orthopedic Specialist. My knee has never been the same. I learned an expensive and life altering lesson as a result of this experience and the purpose of this blog entry.  I want to share this important message with you:  Do not obey foolish rules. 

We are Registered Nurses, role models of good health practices, and we should know better.

Now I wear appropriate, supportive sneakers each and every time I go out for a walk.  My sneakers are expensive but they are not black! I quote from the little green post card, “ ….If you need to wear sneakers, only black sneakers are permitted.” Who the hell ( pardon the hell word but it is the only word that really expresses this point adequately) wears black sneakers?!! I’d love to march, but I do not care to take the rather major trek from Upstate New York to Manhattan to be told I can’t march because my $130 pair of sneakers, don’t meet the requirements. Even if this a parade committee requirement - separate and apart from a SVH Alumnae requirement - it should be challenged.  Remember, as we have been told on numerous occasions over the years, we are "cream of the crop nurses".   We must
promote sound health and wellness practices.  Let us be role models for the rest of the marchers.  Wearing state of the art footwear appropriate for this type of physical activity should be our first step as we march proudly with our fellow graduates. 

PS. The photo above is a picture of my marvelously effective sneakers.  They have done a wonderful job of allowing me to continue my regular walking regime.  Hopefully by next year, I will be "allowed" and encouraged to wear them as I proudly represent my Alma Mater in the St. Patrick's Day Parade.

So I have learned a few things since posting this Blog entry. Black Sneakers are more popular than I originally suspected. They are not simply "nun shoes" or "old lady" shoes. My 41 year old son tells me they are very acceptable alternatives to any other color sneaker. Some can more easily pass as dress shoes. Possibly, I, myself, should buy a pair for every day living in place of the shoes I currently wear for housework, food shopping, etc. I still would need a rather expensive pair as I need a sneaker with a very good arch support to keep my plantar fasciitis at bay. I also discovered that several of the really cool ladies from the Class of 1965 wear black sneakers so that realization alone has elevated the acceptability of wearing black sneakers in my mind. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me. Whatever your decision , make sure you wear appropriately supportive footwear as you walk up 5th Avenue on St. Patrick's Day
I grew up with the most wonderful Dad.  He felt the content of your heart was much more important than the clothes/footwear you wore.   I still believe that supportive footwear when you march should be the priority, whatever the color.    I did not mean to insult or belittle anyone who wears black sneakers and I apologize for  my statement "who the hell wears black sneakers, anyway?".  I honestly was concerned about coming all the way down from Albany, NY to march in the NYC St. Patrick's Parade and then being told I was inappropriate because my sneakers were not black. 
I will have to save up my money and decide whether I want to invest in a black pair of supportive sneakers for next year's March.  I am growing more fond of the idea of owning black sneakers but I certainly think it is foolish to buy a pair for just one day a year ( especially at my age - LOL). 
Mary Beth Fries Buchner, RN

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Sadness of Aging

A few years ago, I was given a questionnaire to fill out prior to one of my doctor's appointments.  It contained many rather depressing statements and questions regarding my present state of mind.  It was obviously designed to pick up signs and symptoms of depression in the elderly.  Back then, when I tried to answer this questionnaire, I just couldn't do it. After giving several answers  I started responding in a rather sarcastic, comical way.  I felt it was a bit condescending and I basically refused to take it seriously.  I was not ready to categorize myself as one of the "elderly".  I was able to deny that the "golden years" were upon me.
Today, I texted my sister and asked if she was free to take a walk with me.  We met at the Mall and seeing her smiling face again after a 6 week hiatus was immediately uplifting.  I desperately needed to pull myself out of my funk. Walking with a darling sister or beloved friend is certainly a way to do that.  Thank God, I am still able to grab onto this life saver.   I was feeling melancholy lately after being bombarded with all the unpleasant things that accompany aging.  It seems like all the people I know who are my age or close to it  are dealing with one medical condition or experiencing significant losses of one type or another.   Cancer of this or that body part, gastric malfunctions, bowel problems, heart defects as well as defective knees, hips, backs.  On and on, I could go, but you get the picture, especially if you happen to be in this same boat.   "Try not to dwell on it", people say.  That is getting harder and harder, I reply.  How can I adequately suppress the reality that is rearing its ugly head everywhere I turn.  It is more and more difficult to live in a fantasy when doctor's appointments, diagnostic procedures and funerals replace the things I'd rather spend time doing.  
I think it is best for me to express this reality and accept these rather significant limitations, so I can enjoy the moments that still bring me joy.   I am blessed and I have many great things in my life. I am grateful.  But the sadness is real too.  

My 1st Attempt at Fiction

Moral Dilemmas
When Susie was a little girl she was in the habit of drawing her 12 children across the bottom of her paper. She liked to imagine her future and invariably it contained a whole lot of children under foot. She never imagined that it could be otherwise except for a very short time around 7th grade when she had fleeting thoughts of donning a habit and dedicating her life to Jesus. However this was short lived as soon as that first young man held her hand and gently kissed her lips. Babies it would be after all!
Fearful of mortal sin that would condemn her to the fires of hell for all eternity, pre-marital intercourse and even lengthy kissing were out of the question. Nevertheless, little Susie continued to grow into a woman and finally met a man willing to put up with her scrupulosities. Even after the vows of holy matrimony were taken, the use of artificial birth control could lead Susie to eternal damnation. Participating in this new marital sexuality could prove to be a bit stressful as there were strict criteria to be followed.
So Susie was happy because she did not have to use birth control because she still thought she want ed at least a half dozen kids (she became a bit more realistic after babysitting in her teen years and reduced her expectations from 12 babies to 6 babies). Susie didn’t have to live in fear of dying and going to hell since she wasn’t using wicked Birth Control and she was married and could now do the “wild thing” without guilt.
Sadly after a couple of years of marital sexual activity, Susie was still experiencing her monthly visitor. Eventually she spoke to her family doctor who suggested some “basic,down home” remedies. When these recommendations failed to produce results, the services of a Inferiority ( funny that this word appeared as I meant to put the word Infertility) Specialist were secured. This guy proved to be a smug, pompous know-it-all. During one office visit, he demanded that Susie “pant like a dog” in order to inhale more sedative gas so it would make it easier on him to perform an endometrial biopsy on her. This did not sit well with Susie. After getting her legs out of the stirrups, she proceeded to his prestigious outer office and sat in front of his big desk. He went to the bookcase and pulled out a copy of his latest Obs-Gyn textbook, in an apparent effort to show Susie how smart he was. Without batting an eye, she answered” don’t bother, I’ve read it already”, stood up, left his office and never returned there again.
It was interesting to Susie that all the infertility focus was on her, almost as if she were creating a baby completely on her own.  Luckily, Susie had a good friend who worked in the Laboratory and she suggested that before Susie put herself through any more embarrassing, invasive procedures, she should get a bit of semen from her hubby so his sperm could be examined under her microscope. After all, this was a rather simple, rather painless (actually quite the opposite) step and would easily rule out problems from this vital source. But, believe it or not, this was the first of many moral dilemmas in the heartache that surrounds infertility. You see, Susie, happened to be Roman Catholic, and obtaining a sperm sample involves masturbation, and masturbation is considered a sin. ..... to be continued...

Susie probably felt it was less of a sin for her since, she, herself, was not doing the masturbating. Her husband was a lot less intense about such things and he easily proceeded to obtain the needed specimen. Susie brought the important ingredient to her workplace and remembers quite clearly the shock and distress she felt when her Lab Technician Friend rather flippantly announced that the little spermatozoa were not all they should be. “Oh no, this is not good news”, she said, but possibly it will save me from undergoing any further invasive procedures. “I’ll tell the Infertility Specialist what we discovered and the focus will shift to this vital part of our Infertility problem.” But Susie failed to comprehend that this was the very early 70’s and typically the woman was, quite frankly, seen as the defective piece in the Infertility puzzle. The Obs-Gyn Infertility Specialist completely ignored this finding and proceeded to perform major surgery on Susie.   Did I mention that this Specialist was a male.  To be fair, Susie did have some issues of her own, including endometriosis. Possibly, these issues possibly could have been handled with less invasive procedures. Nonetheless, a crucial issue such as her husband’s inadequate sperm count and poor motility should certainly have been looked  concurrently.  Perhaps, Susie would have been spared a major surgical procedure.