Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Eulogy I never got to read at Ma's funeral, thanks to family drama...

Doris A. Jones 
April 14th, 1930 ~ May 19th, 2011

     While it was upsetting to me last Sunday morning to learn of the sudden changes in Ma’s health, I can’t deny that the irony of what I was doing in that moment now brings a smile to my face. I had stopped for coffee on the way to get a money order to send my dear friend Kate and her daughter Anika in Michigan $200 to cover the cost of their utility bill. Having no one else to borrow from, I had spent several hours talking to her the previous day reminding her that it was okay to ask for help, telling her even, that I would postpone the several thousand dollars of dental appointments I was currently undergoing before I let her and her daughter go without electricity. That is a perfect example, of who Ma was to me. And though I lived with her for two-thirds of my life, it wasn’t until after I finally left my home of 24 years at 12913 Church Street that the impact that she had made on me truly began to sink in. More and more, as time has passed in my time away from New York, I have come to realize that the longer I lived in her absence from my everyday life, the more I subconsciously have adopted many of her characteristics. After working in social work for a non-profit in Phoenix for the past 3 years, I know that although I could not be there in her final days in Demay, that she would be proud to know that I was living my life in service of homeless, abandoned, abused, and neglected youth, survivors of circumstances not unlike mine that she rescued me from as an infant to raise me as her own.

     Ask anyone who grew up in North Wolcott in the past several decades if they know who “Ma Jones” is, or "Doris" at Towpath Manor or Demay,  and you will no doubt be showered with smiles of recognition and heartfelt stories of memories long past. Ma was a lover of life, and a mother to all who knew her. Whether it be her neighbors the Sampsons and the Syrells in North Wolcott or all of her friends and fellow residents of Towpath and Demay, one thing is for certain, Ma had no enemies. Although she and Grandpa lived a simple, old-fashioned kind of life and didn’t always have much money for extras, she never had a shortage of love to go around. And though our house they rented from our dear friend Norris Flint for over 30 years was by no means a mansion, every one of her kids knew that at any time, in any circumstances we were always welcome back to it as our home.

     Ma was a one of a kind individual who by some people’s standards probably had quite a nontraditional style of parenting. I don’t recall a single time in my life that she ever raised her voice in anger or frustration to anyone. She virtually never complained, never argued, and rarely ever layed a finger on one of her kids like we were always raised hearing the stories of how her parents would send her out back to get a switch to be whipped with if she misbehaved. If anyone she knew ever needed anything, she would be the first to offer help in whatever way she could, often even, if it meant that she would live without any extra. She was one of the most selfless, generous and compassionate people I have ever known. She also never judged anyone, and hated drama, though she was still always tolerant of those who often created it in their life, accepting them for who they were.

     Though I was sad when she moved to Towpath, I was excited that she after 70 years had the opportunity to be surrounded by so many new friends and live a whole new life with a new community and new activities around every corner. Similarly, even when as her health and mind slowly deteriorated and she had to be checked in to Demay, even in the years that followed when she did not always have her wits about her, I could not help but be continually moved by how she remained a friend to all. She was always a caretaker and a mother to the core, often for those who seemed the most lonely and outcast, who didn’t always have any other friends or visitors. Even in a nursing home surrounded by dying, lost and forgotten people, she continued to make others smile, and to be a ray of light until the very end.

     Ma’s unique sense of humor and quirkiness I hope still brings people joy when they think of her for years to come. From her cheesy jokes, silly facial expressions, to her absolutely shameless and sometimes constant farts, I for one can’t help but think of her without giggling. I will never forget how she always kept money in her bra, and her perpetually dry and dirty feet in flip-flops. I can still smell her saliva from when she would always feel the need to plunge a finger into her mouth and spit-shine us in public if we had dirt on our face, or how she used to always stick her pointy fingernails in my ears trying to clean out earwax when I would least expect it! I remember her always turning the light on for me when I used to be afraid of the dark, and always checking on me each night to tuck me in and turn off my music or TV I would always need to fall asleep to, though often I was still awake, and would turn it back on. I remember how she rode the school bus with me on my very first day of kindergarten when I didn’t want to go, and how she bought me an Atari of my very own because Grandpa was always stingy, not letting anyone play with his, and also used to worry about me always running up and down the stairs to play Robert’s. I remember all the walks I always begged for her to take with me to explore--around the block to pick up pop cans, up the hill to pick blackberries and look at the lake on the horizon, down the road to visit the Sampson's or to throw rocks in the creek. I remember picking blueberries as a family and always having a shelf full of frozen ones we each loved more than anyone else, and how she always would steal handfuls from the freezer for me when she got some for her shredded wheat. I remember how, though I was picky and didn’t really like it, that everyone always made it seem like her biscuits and chicken and gravy were like cuisine from a 5-star restaurant, the biscuits of which to this day it seems no one can replicate exactly, even though they have the recipe. I do however remember always begging for her chocolate mayonnaise cakes and no bake cookies, which I still make my own modified versions of to this day. And I will never forget all the jigsaw puzzles we put together, and how when I finally left New York to travel, it felt like every new and exciting place I saw after all those sheltered years in North Wolcott, that I was getting to see all those beautiful landscape puzzles come to life, and how I always wished she could have seen them with me.

     I know that I would not be the person that I am today without the unconditional support of Ma growing up. No matter what color my hair was or what flamboyant clothes I ever happened to wear, what strange diet I happened to be practicing, there was not a single day in my life that Ma ever made me feel judged for the way I lived my life, no matter how drastically different some of my beliefs and behaviors sometimes were from hers. She may have made a funny face at me, but she never once told me not to be an artist, or a vegan, or not to dye my hair, not to put on her dress and her mother’s wig and go to an art show. In fact, she even let me record her saying a bunch of silly phrases I had written to play from a tape recorder in my purse at the gallery that night when I bumped into people! Though I know that she missed me throughout her final years, I know that she never was upset or judgmental of me for moving away to find a new home and new life for myself. She was always supportive of all her kids, in any way that she could be. I still remember her taking care of Carol after her car accident. I remember the door always being open for anyone in transition or having a difficult time to move back into the house, not just for a few weeks, but indefinitely! I remember her always helping any of us pay our bills if she could. Though all of her kids moved out at one time while I was growing up to begin their new lives, virtually all of them also moved back IN for a while (including myself) before we finally all left our North Wolcott home.

     Ma’s compassion and sense of self-sacrifice has been unmatched by anyone to me in 33 years, and it is something I myself continue to strive for. She always believed in the inherent goodness in all people, their ability to persevere, overcome, and find happiness and success in their life, and was also aware that it might have taken some of us a little longer than others to figure that out. She always believed in helping people. When it came to caring for her kids, no matter what the circumstances of her own life entailed, it was a lifelong responsibility that she never once took for granted. Anyone, after all, can bring a child into the world…but it takes integrity, compassion, kindness, understanding, patience and most importantly, LOVE to truly be a MOTHER.

     I encourage us all, that whatever you believe, to not be sad today. Ma’s memory will forever live on through us, in the stories we tell, and in our actions each day, as who she was and all she meant to us continues to inspire us and all of whom we share her spirit and teachings with. Though some may not understand why all of us could not spend as much time with Ma as others throughout the years and in her final days, I for one wish to point out that I am filled with absolutely nothing but joy and gratitude for every second that I ever got to spend with her, and her love continues to pulse through my veins as I continue to offer it to the Universe daily wherever I go. I aspire every day to do her memory justice, and hope that one day I can ever shine to the world with even a fraction of the ray of light that she always has to everyone who loved her.

     Thank you, Ma, for always taking care of all of us, sometimes even at the cost of taking care of yourself. Thank you for always giving us a home and thank you for accepting the no doubt often daunting responsibility of raising me as your last crazy child when others did not. You were my first real best friend and partner in crime, and I will never forget all the time we spent together in the years after Grandpa died when it felt like we were all alone. I never would have imagined in a million years that the weird, shy little kid I was back then could have ever come this far. I hope that you are proud of me. You will always be the “mother I never had,” and my greatest inspiration. You have always made me want to be a better person, and made me smile when nothing else has. I love you, Ma, and I hope that you can finally find peace. You don't have to worry about me anymore. Thanks to you, I turned out "pretty good."

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A moment of blog silence...

as I fly "home" to NY tonight to say my goodbyes to my grandmother, Ma. I had really hoped that she would hang on a little longer and be alive to see me truly smile again for the first time in years, but I know that she would still be proud of me and all I have accomplished since I left New York 5 1/2 years ago. I hope that her spirit can finally find peace after the shell of who she once was that Alzheimer's has left her for the past several years finally let's it go. I aspire every day to do her memory justice and hope that one day I can ever shine with even a fraction of the ray of light that she always has to everyone who loved her.
Me and Ma on my 28th birthday, November 2005. A few days before I left my NY life behind.

Monday, May 16, 2011

With all these macro lens, gross pictures of me in here...

I thought perhaps I would post a current one not quite so disgusting! Damn...

So, we all had to get our photos taken at work for new ID badges we are having made with our fingerprint clearance cards built into them. I actually was kinda surprised that my spur of the moment, "Hey Paul, come stand outside against the building and get yoru ID picture taken after a long and draining day at work" sort of picture could have actually came out remotely decent. Ironically, I feel that it is one of the bext pictures taken of me in some time, and it makes me feel good to see it, in comparison to the absolutely unflattering one that Rakhee took of me during my 3rd appointment when she was documenting the status of my mouth and jaw:
I hope that I won't be the only one who notices the improvement in this recent picture over the past 3 months, even if I don't yet have the confidence for an open-mouthed smile, or one full of teeth. This picture actually makes me feel good about myself, and as far as ID badges at work in the history of all the jobs I have had, for once it looks like I actually even like my job! Haha. Thanks Erika for taking it :-)

Appointment #14 and my first root canal

On May 6th I went in to begin the long and elaborate process of my first (and only) root canal in my treatment plan on tooth #7. Up until a few weeks ago we had been planning on pulling it, so it was nice upon re-evaluation and additional consultations to decide in fact to keep and reconstruct one more small part of me, to leave me with exactly half of my own teeth when everything is all said and done.
Today marked the switch of gears toward more reconstructive procedures, and a switch of departments after such a long trip thus far, toa chair in Endodontistry, with Rakhee working directly with another student, Shane, who happens to be an aspiring Endodontist himself. It would also be Rakhee's first root canal on a patient.
We began with the most interesting and first symmetrical rubber dam and clamp formation, that one again made me feel like some quirky cartoon like Trapjar from He-man I always watched as a child.

The initial starter hole for the canal was made with a powered drill as I have become well-aquainted with already.

Upon taking further X-rays, it was determined that a depth of 28.5mm was needed to reach the tip of my abnormally long root, so medicine could be applied to the infection. This was accomplished by a long and tedious process of finger-powered drills smaller than a toothpich that unfortunately I did not get pictures of! Grr. They are seriously impressive to me and I would frankly love a set myself! Through a seemingly endless series of increasing bit size for depth and diameter and taking additional X-rays under the close supervision of Shane and a nearby Endodontist, the final necessary depth was reached. I must add, that during the process the sodium whatchamacallit that was periodically used (to irrigate the canal?) was by far the grossest tasting stuff yet to be put in my mouth at the dentist.

Would you believe that is actually the handle of a drill bit with over an inch of it hidden inside my tooth?

Shortly after, medicine was applied a the root, and the canal was plugged with a putty-like material to fight the infection until my next appointment on the 17th. Here are some other random pictures from this appointment. I want to add that for how much I have grown up hearing about the tortures of root canals, this visit was one of my least painful. I'm sure they are probably easier on anterior teeth with only one root, but still. I would rather sit through a root canal than lower molar extractions any day!

There is a trick you can use with most point and shoot digital cameras if you can adjust some of the settings correctly where you can mimic a fisheye lens by holding a peephole from a door in front of the lens. Try it sometime! This is a pretty good idea of my perspective while in the chair on thsi particular appointment.

Oh, are getting such bizarre default pictures fo me throughout thsi transformation! This is among the favorites.

The plugged and temporarily finished tooth. I absolutely cannot wait to get that one last gross remnant of the old me removed! After how far I have come, I am so sick of looking at it! By the end of June I hope to have my last 3 extractions and possible bone grafts taken care of. Counting down the days!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

On MC Paul Barman, and Getting Help

I first heard of the insanely clever rhyme wizard MC Paul Barman about eight years ago, a few years after I began my constant search for underground hip hop at the record store Soundgarden in Syracuse, back when I lived in upstate NY. His most recent album, "Thought Balloon Mushroom Cloud" has a song on it that I love called "Help" that when I first heard it, I joked that it should be the theme song for the non-profit I worked (and still work for) Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development. 

Though the sentiment is a little different than my re-occuring theme of "ASKing" for help throughout this blog, I know that in some small way around the same time as so many changes were beginning to manifest in my life in the spring of 2010, that this song became a firmly planted seed in my subconscious thoughts. It is, of course, one thing to ask for help. It is another to stay determined, follow through, and continually pursue it to a positive resolution and real change. This entry is dedicated to another Paul, for all he has inspired me as a clever poet myself who often uses humor to deal with difficult, personal and/or awkward subject manner. To someone who can pack more content into a single song and write circles around practically anyone I know in hip-hop. Thank you. I hope your music can continue to surprise people, and bring "Joy to their worlds." It certainly gave me, Pinar and her sister who all love owls a new-found appreciation for, and reason to yell the words "Owl Pellets!"

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

An Old Video I Found About How Cavities Develop, Little Hugs & Bill Hicks

I seriously don't recall ever having to watch anything related to dental health in elementary school. There was certainly a ton of brainwashing about the old "4 Food Groups" though, before it was later changed to a pyramid.

I can't help but wonder if more effort was taken in schools to educate children through all levels of development if maybe, perhaps, it could help fight the naivety of old fashioned or ignorant parents. I hope some things have changed in public schools since 1985. I have heard of schools banning soda I think? If only I were never allowed to develop a taste for high fructose corn syrup like what's in the caffeine-free Pepsi my mother has sucked down ever since I remember, maybe things wouldn't have gotten so bad so early.
If only conscientious, caring consumers would vote toxic waste like this bullshit off of store shelves with their monetary votes, maybe together we could slowly begin to turn the tide toward a more nutritious lifestyle for the children of the future.

Here's my favorite comedian and an inspiration for over a decade, Bill Hicks talking about how to advertise empty, sugary crap such as this:

Monday, May 2, 2011

Appointments 11 Through 13 and More Good News

The past few weeks are a bit of a blur. I had three appointments on April 22nd, 25th and 28th. The 22nd was originally scheduled to be the day when I would be getting my final four extractions, a day I had been nervous of for the past two months. It was the partial loss on another of my front teeth, number 8, that had initially been the catalyst for me finally facing treatment in the first place due to how much it affected my ability to speak clearly. I had no idea how having one more of my front teeth would additionally alter my voice, and though I knew it was part of the process, I couldn't help but be more anxious than normal. It would also be my second appointment of four extractions, the last of which was by far the most painful. But on that day, it apparently just wasn't my fate.

We began with a new series of tests to measure my bite to help align my teeth on the new model being built. This, however, took a little longer than predicted, and by the time I was about to be prepped for surgery, for one reason or another my blood pressure was a lot higher than normal. Unfortunately it also meant that the oral surgery students could not proceed with my extractions unless it happened to come down.
I left pretty disappointed that day for the first appointment ever, not sure what went wrong, with a surgery consent form mandated to be signed by a doctor I did not have. If anything were to increase my blood pressure, it would certainly be trying to figure out how to find a doctor and manage to get a form signed to confirm I didn't have high blood pressure fast enough somehow to be able to keep my next two appointments the following week. While I no longer generally feel anxious or scared at the dentist, my blood pressure has continually been higher than expected ever since I have been going. Recently I had been joking that it was because I was simply so excited to see Rakhee and share all the latest exciting news and continue to move forward.

My next appointment was mostly to discuss my amended treatment plan in the works, and new options that Rakhee had elaborated on in her presentation a few weeks prior. After all this talk of the possibilities for my new smile for weeks, I was finally getting closer after all my extractions and healing to actually hearing my updated ideal options on the verge of approval by three departments at the school. Additional consultations were needed to confirm the pros and cons of bridges versus implants on my premolars, #5 and #12. Additional X-rays were taken of my "bitewings" to show the crowns of my upper and lower posterior teeth. We also took an additional tomographic survey to show the new levels of bone that remained after my extractions to the perio- and prosthodontists to determine if I had sufficient bone to support implants or if I may need bone grafts. We discussed the possibility of keeping tooth #7 which was as far as I had believed all this time dead and worthless and waiting to get out, complete with its giant cavity, necrotic pulp and abcess. I have decided to embrace the shift in my consciousness that has happened over the past several appointments and be thankful for the teeth that I have, however currently messed up they might be. I spent years hating to even look at any of them, and it is nice to be told that I can keep one more small part of me, however weird or metaphorical I guess that might be.

My BP was still too high to be able to continue with fillings, and I left that day excitedly awaiting the coming news after Rakhee's consultations the next morning, determined to find a doctor and fix things before my next appointment. My struggle for finding a doctor was stressful to say the least, and my subsequent frustrations with the meds I got put on is an entirely different story I really don't feel like going into here. I am working on it, and whichever methods of meds, coping or treatment I ultimately find to keep myself calm for the rest of my appointments, I am sure it is the last thing you all want to read about, and I wish to write about it even less! I did however get my consent form signed, and am currently continuing to move forward.

Appointment number 13 actually marked my 100th day including my first appointment on January 19th of this journey. It is pretty hard to believe how far I have come. Even harder, perhaps, to think of all that is left. Today...was a very special day. It was the day that I would finally after all this time get to hold in my hands a new and improved and more importantly APPROVED treatment plan with five signatures on it, one each from my student dentist, her director of general dentistry, the periodontist, the prosthodontist, and myself. It would be the day that I would finally get to see my grand total cost of the seemingly endless number of procedures I would be undergoing over the coming months. It would be the day that the order and logistics of it all would finally make sense to me. Beginning to end, as soon as I could afford it all and schedule the nearly 25 appointments and hopefully heal on schedule, there it was...the cost of my new life on the bottom of the second page and 49 more individual steps:


Making my grand total counting all my previous work and accommodating for future meds and things approximately the new total you can see to the right on my fund-raising thermometer, $21.400, almost $9000 savings from the scary thirty grand I have had burnt into my mind for the past two months! This, was exciting. (Ha, I'm thinking now back to my very first appointment when Rakhee asked me if I wanted her to be my dentist and she said "We'll work on your enthusiasm." I am still a work in progress, healing and opening up more and more with each small step. I was happy, and excited inside, I promise!) Exciting, yet more REAL than ever before.

Rakhee and I both confided that we were a little nervous what with thousand dollar appointments coming soon of my ability to continue to perform monetary miracles and stay on track for the duration now that every chapter of this adventure was finally outlined in detail in front of us. But I have come THIS far, dammit! WE have come this far. And I think that if her and all the students at the school and all of my readers can learn nothing else from me, it is my ultimate desire when this is all said and done to prove to us all that anything is possible. I will find a way. I believe in myself, and in Rakhee, and in this story. I believe it has importance and value outside of myself, and I aim to inspire others in every creative yet vulnerably honest way that I can until the end, and everyone's continued support and positive feedback and donations from around the world only continues to demonstrate that.

Four months ago I nervously posted my biggest lifelong secret in a note on facebook to only about forty friends, terrified of what their responses might be, barely able to afford my first appointment, working part time, couchsurfing, and mending a broken heart while trying to process all that had happened on my epic two month bike tour. NOW, I barely even know where to begin anymore when trying to tell anyone new my story, it has practically taken on a mind of its own. I am about to hit 37,000 views on my blog! That's about 37 times the population of the town I grew up in, and probably more people than I have ever individually ever spoken to in my entire life, out there somewhere, listening, after a lifetime of feeling alone. I can't even begin to express how that feels after living with this for so many years. All I can do is try to remain humble and true to myself and my voice, speak with my honest convictions, trust in the journey, be thankful, and keep moving forward, one small step at a time. So that is what I am going to do.

For the remainder of my last appointment, we proceeded once again to take care of some more fillings, this time on the occlusal surface of teeth numbers 20 and 21. At risk of some of my blog feeling redundant, and after talking so much above, I am going to simply tell you that it went well, and share some pictures. These were the quickest fillings yet, without the need for those awkward-feeling wedges I hate, though this time there was no "complimentary shower." :-P I left that day with SEVEN scheduled appointments over the next few months, eager and determined to plan as much as possible. After a few more appointments of fillings, I will be making the exciting chair switch from the comfortable one by the window I've come to know and love, 148, to the Prosth Department with only five chairs and less availability. I currently have enough of a surplus to pay for everything up until attaching my bridges and beginning the implant procedure, and want to get it all out of the way as soon as I can possibly schedule it and find rides. This little Ebert rollercoaster has been fun, but now comes the time to refocus on the REAL fund-raising efforts I believe, so look forward to all the crazy ideas I have in the works :-) Thanks for reading, as always. I will have lots more to post real soon.

Okay, dumb question....all the previous pics of the rubber dam I kept wondering what spongy thing was smooshed up against my gums underneath it. Yup, pretty sure now that's just my own puffy lip. STUPID!

I seriously think I have more fun now at my appointments than like, anyone. Bizarre, I know.

Look, you can even read the name on the tool! What the hell is a Hu-Friedy?

I was seriously half asleep on blood pressure meds this time. So much, that I did not even realize how ridiculously color-coordinated my surroundings seemed! Seriously? The tool tray, the folder, the smock, AND the barrette? Does somebody love PINK or what? Haha.

I'm sure it's quite rare for patients to feel this way, but going to the dentist actually makes me MISS my dremel!