Tag Archives: aphasia

Alice Begins Star Journey

Once Alice snaked her right arm around my neck in Doylestown’s Marketplace, I was hooked.

“Oh, here you are, dear,” she cooed loudly. “I’ve been looking all over for you.”

The two “honeys” on the other side of the bar I had been impressing with tales of derring-do emitted muted harrumphs, paid their tab hurriedly and left the building quicker than Elvis. “This guy is married,” they must have thought. “What a cad.” I bet they muttered more explicit language under their breath.

Alice grinned bigger than a jack o’ lantern; she had me all to herself.

The woman towering over my bar seat measured a full 6’3″. And I was struck by her boldness. All my life, I supported women becoming emancipated; finally at age 67, I met one. It was put up or shut up time; otherwise, I was a fraud.

Alice was pleased as I described our route through Colorado and beyond.

That’s how I met Alice McCormick on September 24, 2010. One year later, on September 24, we committed to one another utilizing a guide for gay and lesbian couples to demonstrate support for same-sex couples. Our commitment became a solemn promise, because an Apache prayer recited by Danawa Buchanan, self-appointed chief of the Allegheny Cherokee, made it so. The ceremony was guided by David DiPasquale, an interfaith minister with the township’s Pebble Hill Church.

Alice had a rough life, but SHE DANCED ON BANDSTAND. That’s all I needed to know. It didn’t matter she danced in the back row in ABC affiliate’s Philadelphia studio. Because of her Amazon-like height, whenever she bopped in rhythm with other girls, the TV studio and number of dancers appeared greater than the cramped physical space allowed.

Saying I would be the last man she ever loved, we moved to Oregon (the “left” Coast, we were told) in September 2014, a harrowing journey described elsewhere on this website. Six months afterward, Alice endured a stroke. Unlike the 90 percent of men who leave after their partners suffer a stroke, I stuck around. By comparison, 90 percent of women don’t leave a male partner. Loving is the meaning of the game; it means being around when a stroke survivor needs a friend the most.

Due to our new life in Oregon, later into Washington, Alice quickly became an inspiration for student nurses, administrators, stroke survivors and related care partners. At the Aphasia Network’s spring and summer camps on Garibaldi’s spectacular peninsula, I witnessed how Alice bonded with stroke survivors barely able to speak, encouraging all in a foreign unspoken language.

I fell deeply in love with Alice witnessing how she made friends with anyone who needed her ear. Those who no longer can rely on enunciated speech will substitute sounds, make gestures and point to turn a conversation into two-way communication. Alice knew this intuitively! Even better, she managed me (something men need to curb brutish behavior). I learned to appear brilliant by not saying a word. What a woman!

My time on Earth with Alice was cut short on March 27, 2020, after she suffered her ultimate coronary end. She never became stricken with Covid, an ailment she insisted we shun like the plague, so yes we managed to stay safe.

But now she was gone, and I faced the heartbreaking task of having her precious body cremated. With the help and encouragement of my first cousin, Margaret Johnston, we arranged it. The grief was seismic for Margaret, too. Alice instantly related to Margaret like a true sister.

So how did I manage without Alice? The pandemic was tough enough, but as a former Miami TV/radio/audio-video writer, I found more than enough distractions to get me through. But two questions continued to nag on me, “How should I dispose of Alice’s ashes? And when?”

The Northhead lighthouse, northern end of Long Beach peninsula, similar to lighthouse at Cape Disappointment. Photograph by Rick Schafer.

Alice was attracted to lighthouses, especially the one at Cape May, NJ. During our first visit to Long Beach, Washington, I watched her pulse quicken as we scaled the steep driveway leading to the Cape Disappointment lighthouse. The structure’s revolving lamp possessed majestic candlepower to guide ships entering or exiting the vast Columbia River’s manifest destiny.

It made sense to scatter Alice’s ashes on the Pacific Ocean’s beach north of the lighthouse, ending the continent-ending journey we undertook to escape the hard life she experienced growing up in Philly.

And when? Our commitment ceremony firmly established one year – precisely – as our timeline.

I realized my mission of remembrance seemed foolhardy. After all, the month of March was notorious for serious storms moving parallel to the coastline; nevertheless, I kept moving ahead. There was a slim chance the weather would be benign, since Alice, Margaret and I once enjoyed a 72-degree St. Patrick’s Day on Long Beach. That day, we made faces at one another marveling about Long Beach’s unusual warmth while folks inland were under clouds and cooler. But this time the odds were significantly not in my favor.

Somehow Alice must have prepared our way. Gale warnings were hoisted for Sunday, March 28. But on the day before Saturday, March 27th, the anniversary of Alice’s passing and our precious remembrance, weather conditions on the beach turned serene. Oh sure, it was cool – 50 degrees air temperature, water temperature to match – but the usual gusty wind off the water calmed down to a reasonable 10 miles an hour in advance of an onrushing winter storm.

(l-r) Kailey Cox, Kyna Seale, Jordan Horner and Taylor Luty.

Six of Alice’s fans from the Aphasia Network had driven out to the Coast to be welcomed for an introductory dinner by my First Cousin Margaret and her friend, Bruce Douglas.

From the moment John White arrived, Kailey Cox warmed up by practicing guitar with a distinguished picker of melodies. Photograph by Kyna Seale

Later, Douglas built a traditionally correct, crackling bonfire – for an after-dinner observance at which we related tales of Alice’s inspiration that mesmerized each of our hearts while she walked this planet.

As we huddled close to the warmth of the talkative fire, John White, a dedicated professor of occupational therapy and semi-professional troubadour, performed songs chosen for the occasion. Two numbers  – Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and John Lennon’s “Imagine”  – stood out as I sang along. In Doylestown, Alice had gifted me the sheet music for both songs so I could play them on her basement’s player piano.

While darkness shifted into a protective embrace around our retinue, a full moon glowed above our heads peering down through a thin, steady layer of clouds. No glare; moonlight was glowing blue across the sand! And Alice would love this extra touch; March 27th was Passover!

The good professor performed Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold,” a song that speech therapist Jordan Horner inspired Alice to join her in a sing-along, facilitating her recovery at RIO (Rehabilitation Institute of Oregon). White capped off the songlist with Willie Nelson’s song of forbearance, “One Day at a Time:”

“I live one day at a time,
I dream one dream at a time,
Yesterday’s dead and tomorrow’s blind,
I live one day at a time.”

With my voice straining to reach the high notes, thus came the moment to gather the bag with Alice’s ashes, with the purpose of casting them across the waves.

The creeping darkness honored us with anonymity as we padded across the soft sand. Photograph by Kyna Seale

Astonishingly enough, the onshore wind settled down even more, as our sacred gathering padded across the firm, pleasantly cool, beach sand for almost half a mile before our party made its way to the water’s edge at low tide. I looked up to the reassuring full moon, noticing how its blue reflection outlined the incoming waves, on guard for “sneaker waves” known to sweep unsuspecting visitors out to sea.

As my guests kept watch, I didn’t have to walk far into the water until I was up to my knees. I opened wide the heavy cellophane bag, turning it upside down, and saw Alice’s remains sweep slightly toward shore, until the breeze succumbed into a dead calm. Then her ashes dropped vertically to surround my legs. This wind was unpredictable!

Suddenly, I became thunderstruck by the culmination of a sacred mission; how did I manage this feat so deliberately without pausing? Without any doubt?

Everyone gave me a pat of congratulations as I emerged from the water, but I barely felt their happy hands. I was oblivious to White, who sang softly while walking the full distance playing his guitar. I focused my attention to the four forces of nature that gathered together this special night: water, air, earth and fire. What could have been more perfect for Alice’s remembrance than the environment Creator set?

As another chill encouraged our party to head off quickly toward the bonfire, leaving me straggling behind, something amazing happened.

While staring at the ground to ensure safe passage, I felt a warm breeze from shore envelop me, an answer from the seabreeze, another reassuring shift from one to the other, until suddenly I felt thrust into a mist-shrouded vortex that seemed to circle into the heavens above. What a bizarre occurrence!

I sloughed it off as nothing to remember.

(l-r) John White waving arms, Mason Loika, Bruce Douglas and Margaret Johnston. Photograph by Kyna Seale

Three days later, though, while at a doctor’s appointment, the attending nurse kept me later than usual.

Why? Because my heart was racing so fast she feared for my safety.

I had to tell her why. I realized the mist-shrouded vortex reaching heaven-bound three days ago was Alice’s embrace from a parallel universe, as she welcomed her Star Journey. Tears flooded my face, and I heard Alice’s voice call out, “Thank you.”

Her cry of appreciation infused the awareness that I had fulfilled her ultimate dream: moving the two of us to the West Coast into an area eminently inhabitable. What glories I was gifted! To love a woman like Alice? A woman who could love me, and moved heaven and Earth, not just for me but for members of Portland’s Aphasia Network as well?

The more I know, the more I realize what I don’t know. But one thing is for sure.

I will sing praises to Alice McCormick forevermore, because on March 27th, 2021, I experienced an unabashed encounter with eternity. It was a lovely remembrance.

A Change in Plans to Celebrate Alice’s Life

I apologize, but plans to celebrate at the Coast one year after Alice’s passing have changed.

It’s true I will be at the Adrift Hotel in Long Beach, WA on March 27 to scatter some of Alice’s ashes, as tradition dictates, but I will be more mournful on that day. After 10 months of isolation, my heart says that to hold the kind of celebration Alice deserves, it should occur after the pandemic is under control. It should occur when physical touch is no longer frowned upon. And it should occur in Garibaldi where the sound of the ocean will take Alice on her spirit journey.

I know my eyes will fill with tears when I revisit the myriads of people whom Alice inspired, and that’s the way I want to remember her. Alice will look down and witness the warmth of every hug offered on such an occasion. It’s true what Kailey Cox said, “Alice was amazing.”

Kailey’s intuitive words will stay with me until the end of time. It’s also a comfort to remember how momentous Alice’s love was to me – an itinerant writer and Quaker – who couldn’t help but love her back. Alice showed me something Quakers have yet to figure out. You don’t wage peace; you wage love, and peace will result.

After a panic attack yesterday, I learned I was reacting to the time delineator called March 27 that traditionally means more to our planet than it does to Alice. I shall honor this insight, and plan accordingly.

Thank you for honoring my vision.

Alice McCormick 3/6/44 – 3/27/20

A Perfect 10

Today is a special day. A very special day. A momentous day. A life-changing day.

On this day, September 24, 2010, I met Alice McCormick for the first time. And I became blessed with 6-feet-and-3-inches worth of unbridled Amazon love.

Tonight, a perfect 10 years later, I will celebrate the night I learned about true love. A longer version of how we met is planned for my forthcoming book well underway, “How I Became a Lesbian (and other stories).”

September 24 turned out to became so memorable that we planned a commitment ceremony to take place exactly one year later, September 24, 2011, guided by Keith David’s book, “The Complete Guide to Gay and Lesbian Weddings,” in support of same-sex couples.

Our vows to one another were witnessed by 25 close friends adjacent to Alice’s backyard pool home, accentuated by a screened-in gazebo and bubbling fish pond where brilliant-colored koi swam their approval. The ceremony was led by David DiPasquale of Pebble Hill Church and Danawa Buchanan, a self-appointed chief of the Allegheny Cherokee tribe who recited an Apache prayer uniting Alice and me.

September 24th thus marked our two-time anniversary, and Native tradition reminds me to hold dear this day in our hearts by celebrating inside Teri’s Restaurant in Longview, Washington, which became Alice’s favorite place on the West Coast to dine, dance, imbibe and hang out until closing time.

Alice may not be with me in person – at least, not in the physical sense – but her spirit is strong, and I expect a moment tonight when I feel a chill as she massages my heart. I honor her, and in doing so I honor the timeless love that Creator gifted me late in my years.

If a tear should appear in my eyes tonight, it will not be from grief; it will come from gratitude. Happy anniversary, Alice.

Awakening my honey on a Samhuinn morning, the “time of no time” according to Scottish Gaelic tradition. Also celebrated by Christians as Halloween.

Back in the Saddle again

I needed some time off to reflect on fast-moving events. And I thank everyone for honoring my period of reflection – and accomplishment.

An event occurred in June that reflects political correctness run amuck, something endemic to the West Coast. If the behavior of some well-meaning proponents of social change cannot recognize we share a common priority – a change in leadership – we could be doomed to four more years of madness.

The spirit inherent in writing a book of merit brings out my Quaker experience of reflection. In the long run, my support of the Aphasia Network shall be constant. Any complaint I have pales in importance to what appears in a book. These are the same sort of compromises our new activist generation needs to learn, or else the winds of change will fail to recognize ideals still thought dear.

I want to recognize Professor John White of Pacific University and speech therapist Jordan Horner for their kind assist in helping me determine the importance of my book’s contents. Also, former University of Oregon professor Melissa Hart oversaw my first three chapters and overall organization. I’m writing the book – finally!

How long can I keep my pedal to the metal? We’ll see.

One more thing: I miss Alice more now than ever.

The photo above reveals my left eye is half-closed, due to a burst blood vessel. Awww!

Going on Hiatus

Above: On the wall behind me is an artist’s impression of a pianist tickling the ivories next to a photo of my father performing in a big band during the 1940s. I once played Mozart for Louis Armstrong.

Once upon a time, I rushed to create new posts each week on this website to increase the number of visitors it receives.  The idea was to create anticipation for the book everyone is waiting for.

Well, last week some stupid shit hit the fan, and I’ve been spending a good amount of time and effort wiping it off my psyche. This spurred the realization that each consequential distraction interrupts the focused madness necessary to writing a complete book.

(You can anticipate what’s coming next, right?

Well, congratulations.) This website is going on hiatus for a little while.

Don’t be sad. If you want a further taste of who I am, peruse this website. A tribute to Danawa Buchanan can be found, a cross-country journey with a CHECK ENGINE light may humor you, and how my immigrant father emigrated here cum laude after arriving 101 years ago should comfort subsequent immigrants.

I’ll see you on the flip side!

COMMEMORATING ALICE

The photo above shows Alice checking her camera before hitting the beach during our first time at Couples Weekend on the Coast under the auspices of the Aphasia Network.

A few weeks ago, I published a Post-It that Alice wrote before she and I engaged in a commitment ceremony. The outdoor setting with a running-water, rock-garden fishpond occupied by spectacular baby koi, a six-foot deep swimming pool and a 12-person-size, screened-in gazebo was made complete by 30 invited guests. Alice planned to feature me as the last man she was ever going to love.

Alice had a rough life, far greater than anything I ever experienced. Each of her children and grandchildren had it tough, too. Comparatively speaking, I was just a babe in the woods.

Perhaps I sensed my innocence in the commitment letter Alice asked I write before our commitment ceremony, deliberately scheduled to occur Sept. 24, 2011, one year beyond the day we met.

On the beach, Alice became a child again, engaging in ridiculous chit-chat with two students.

Currently, the Aphasia Network is holding its annual Couples Weekend, but, because stroke survivors and care partners are especially at risk during this pandemic, we began meeting this week in a virtual setting using the Internet program Zoom.

Alice on the beach with student Meredith.

Everyone loved Alice, almost as much as she loved them, and the next 10 weeks will emulate the weekend event, the first camp since Alice’s passing. Students, educators, stroke survivors, care partners and staff members are clamoring for details about our love.

I watched an extraordinary video prepared by computer-savvy Mollie Wang, in which she sang and engineered pitch-perfect duets with Professor John White of Pacific University. The second and last song performed, “You’ve Got a Friend,” was written by James Taylor, Alice’s heart throb. At a meaningful moment in the song, an image of Alice appeared, and my heart flowed deeper than expected. Tears filled my eyes.

I took Alice to see James Taylor’s spectacular show at the Moda Center.

Today, I ran across the commitment letter I wrote to Alice on August 28, 2011. Shortly after Alice’s passing, I shared Alice’s commitment note here.

Since the Aphasia Network formally started its extended Couples Weekend celebration on Tuesday, the time is perfect to publish the commitment letter I wrote her. After all, it’s only fair, right?

Dearest Alice,

As we witness the last hurrahs from Hurricane Irene’s visit to the Northeast, I recall the time George and I went streaking during South Florida’s version of the hurricane’s namesake in 1999.  So much has changed since you became part of my life.

All my worldly possessions are now stored inside your house, a place you insist I call “ours.”  My environs are surreal, far beyond any expectations.  I feel out of kilter.

So far in life, my expectations as a writer have not borne fruit.  In order to cope, I declare myself a musician first, a writer second.  Somewhere in the scheme of things is my fallback identity as a limousine driver, bringing in the meager income I contribute.

Why do I try to defend myself from you, as if you are an intruder and not a friend?  Have I grown terrified of life, reverting back to the frightened boy depicted in my nightmares?

I decided to write this letter, even without a pat ending.  Perhaps I should write more this way using my subconscious, rather than wait until ideas ferment and scream to come out.  Anything worth investing into a sit-down exercise at this computer should attempt to glean insights without a glossy finish.

I love you in ways I know little about; I break new ground with every step we take.  I can predict nothing beyond tomorrow; is that what scares me?

I don’t know what you see in me; maybe that’s why you love me.  Little of it makes sense.  Just know I am trying to be true to myself and to our relationship.  Everything else seems up for grabs.

All my love,

Mason

This photo of Alice with student Megan Bravo says it all.

Guidance from Beyond

The photograph above is the last image taken of Alice McCormick, and I am the lucky guy who took this picture.  Alice and I were on the verge of returning home from the north side of Vancouver, Washington, where we “scored” a large package of Kirkland toilet paper during Costco’s senior shopping time.  Twenty-four rolls, oh boy!

On the drive back home, Alice must have been musing about something, because she was notably silent.  And once we sat down in the living room, she asked me to promise something.  As I think about it now, I wonder if Alice knew she was close to leaving this gray-green planet.

“Mason, I need you to promise me something,” Alice began.

“Oh sure,” I responded. “What is it?”

“Mason, I want you to promise me that you’ll start writing again,” Alice said seriously.

“Well,” I said, “I’ve stopped [rideshare] driving. That means I have the time to do it.”

Alice looked into my eyes, and said, “Promise me.”

I mulled it over for less than five seconds, and muttered, “Yes, I’ll go back to my writing.”

Alice nodded to show her satisfaction, stood up, and went into the kitchen to put our Costco goodies away.

(Alice managed me so much that I was left few tasks in which to reciprocate. She simply wanted to witness me make a bona fide attempt before she took over.)

I look at the featured picture above and wonder what Alice was thinking about. In the almost 10 years living together, Alice was consistently good at concealing some pretty serious things.

I have no clue what Alice knew on the eve the day before I found her body wearing a faraway, wistful expression. (Alice would wake up early each morning to putz around the kitchen, cuddle the cat, open the blinds and gaze at the nearly 1,000-foot-high hill north of our development before coming back to bed.)

The day of our commitment ceremony, which followed rules set forth by Keith C. David, author of The Complete Guide to Gay and Lesbian Weddings, in support of same-sex relationships.

And now, I know I must write, I cannot screw around, I must make good to my promise, because Alice is all around, watching and guiding me.  Dammit, I’ve already written one book, got it published, chronicled some major bands in concert (the Marshall Tucker Band, Heart, Norah Jones, Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen), and won the heart of Alice McCormick, a remarkable denizen of a historic Pennsylvania town known as Doylestown.

My grandmother was a librarian, my mother was an English teacher and my father was a professional musician.

I went to private school in Princeton, N.J., and do I have a tale to tell about being there! Imagine a boy from Miami thrust into an environment where Albert Einstein was known to stroll, and being schooled with fewer than 8 children per teacher.

Twenty years later, the managing editor, Gloria Brown Anderson, at the Miami News increased my workload until I had to drop out of Florida International University in the late 1970s. Anderson justified this tactic by confessing she did not want to have an unknown scholar destroy a “natural gift.”

In 2002, I wrote a book: Gulag to Rhapsody: A Survivor’s Journey, for Paul Tarko, who was imprisoned in the same Soviet workcamp later occupied by noted Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn. (After a literary agent showed interest, Tarko decided to self-publish.)

After promoting the book in Hartford, Connecticut, I discovered the Pennsylvania borough of Doylestown (30 miles south of Princeton), where I met Alice McCormick, although, in fairness, I say she met me.  I have never been loved by anyone so unabashedly, so flagrantly, so wholeheartedly and so fairly.  Yes, Kailey, you’re right, Alice was amazing!

So give a lot of credit to Alice for this decrepit creature I am becoming again. Every time I sit down to write something new, I’m fulfilling my promise to Alice. What comes from these slender fingers dancing over the computer keyboard is a celebration to that long-legged lady. Each phrase is a commitment, revisited over and over, checked and re-checked for readable style.

But here’s the amazing part: Alice made me a promise eight years ago. She said that when she disappears to an unnamed place, I would find a hidden message inside something I used, but a place where I seldom looked. She giggled when she told me.

Three days ago, in the top drawer of a small bureau in my writer’s office, where Alice had commandeered some of her possessions, I came across a Post-it note written by Alice, written on Dec. 22, 2011, approximately three months after our commitment ceremony:

Alice’s message from beyond.

I am honor-bound to follow up what I promised. Alice is all around me.

I have begun the book.

Members of the Aphasia Network created a GoFundMe page to support me during the time ahead. To see their message and hopefully donate, follow this link Alice was amazing

Goodbye Chloe, Your Life Will Improve

One thing about undergoing grief; some moments stand out more than others.

Take the matter of a tortoise-shell, short-haired cat named Chloe.  With incredible claws.

She turned out to be praise-worthy, where once upon a time she looked scraggly, barely alive.  You can read this website’s story about her adoption using the link at the end of the previous sentence.

Chloe still looked scraggly in July 2019.

For nine months, Alice adopted, fed and nurtured, brushed Chloe’s coat into something astounding, guided her bathroom habits toward the litterbox, and instructed the cat never to tip me off about how she was going to use our new, semi-plush carpet.

In that time, Chloe became a fully grown cat under Alice’s tutelage, and was taught “not to care.”

Then Alice passed over.

Almost from the outset, Chloe began performing her version of Mozart’s Urine Sonata.

Within two weeks, she awakened me by peeing loudly in the bedroom. On previous mornings, I discovered bathroom throw rugs tossed askew while I made morning rounds. Maybe I need to change all the kitty litter in the upstairs bathroom, I thought, so I took pains to make the litterbox immaculate.

Chloe took this gesture the wrong way. The very next morning, she shit on the bedroom carpet next to the window curtains. My eyes opened wide, I went ballistic and explored an option I previously considered blasphemous: take Chloe back to the same place where we adopted her, the Humane Society of Cowlitz County.

To understand the depth of my anxiety, readers need to consider my second wife. For 22 years, she became the woman with whom I intended to spend my life. We met in Miami in the winter of 1980 while I was attempting to get the city’s Bicentennial Park renamed in honor of John Lennon.

I was devastated by that tragedy. The night Lennon was shot, I was listening to the Miami Dolphins game against the New England Patriots in the Orange Bowl when an announcer breathlessly interrupted the lengthy commercial break after the third quarter to report John Lennon was shot and had died. When the broadcast feed of the game returned to the stadium live, it was impossible to tell.

The rowdy Orange Bowl home crowd had fallen silent.

As a Lennon admirer, my would-be partner stood by my side during a public show of grief, so I married her.  I also married quickly, because I needed to heal from Wife #1, but that’s another story.

Wife #2 was carrying some work-history baggage, though, relating to animals.

She worked as a secretary at the Humane Society of Greater Miami where more than 90 percent of its intake animals were euthanized on site.  As much as I asked her about that time in her life, she would shut down and give few details.

Back in the 1970s, Miami’s Humane Society became a dumping ground for unwanted animals where an onsite gas chamber was in frequent use. I visited the facility twice and felt an overpowering sense of doom walking past cages of desperate animals that sensed the Animal Holocaust awaiting them.

(A San Antonio reporter’s 2004 visit to that city’s Humane Society shelter is comparable to conditions I witnessed in Miami. Read that report here, if you have an ironclad stomach.)

Could I possibly be delivering Chloe to an unspeakable end of life? What kind of animal would do this?

I worried, frantically speaking at length with good friend Kailey Cox Wednesday night and cousin Margaret Thursday morning. I explained at length without saying what animal shelter care was like in Miami. Instead, I seriously castigated myself on the phone, imagining the worst possible results of an encounter at the Humane Society of Cowlitz County.

At 11 am on April 16th as I walked toward the Longview entrance, Chloe and I were intercepted and steered to a side door for cats, when another staff member in personal protection gear guided us back to the original entrance, and my heart sank.  These people are desperately confused, I thought, and everything inside was going haywire.

Carrying Chloe within her cat carrier, her woeful howling announced our entrance. Tears were creeping out of my eyelids, and I peered around my coronavirus mask.  We were “socially distancing,” but I thought how damned inappropriate it was to be “social” around would-be executioners.

The last time I saw Chloe, she was meowing at everyone inside her cat carrier (bottom left).

How inaccurate my apprehensions turned out to be!  These folks were here because of love for animals. The Humane Society of Cowlitz County turned out to be an adoption center where virtually all animals wind up being adopted by locals. The revelation I discovered yesterday is each Humane Society can be as different as night from day.  It’s characterized by its citizenry.

Looking at the sunny side of life, Chloe is on the verge of becoming the ideal outdoor cat within the same wild environment in which she survived, gave birth and was neutered before Alice and I adopted her in a condo development prohibiting outdoor cats. Alice brushed her daily and treated her like the queen both of them were, and Chloe grew fat in respect and stature.

Chloe’s aptitude for barn use is off the charts. She can dispatch all kinds of critters with her uncut sharp, long claws, and she knows how to be wary in an environment of bear, cougars and maybe Sasquatch. By being adopted with Alice’s constant care, Chloe’s warrior royalty should be at its prime.

Inside the Cowlitz County’s Humane Society building, I could not have been treated better – and neither could Chloe – by hard-working, blue-collar ladies who live by a no-kill policy, except for creatures at death’s door.  So now I feel an amazing sense of relief, colored by the firm, yet gentle, way I saw its staff handle animals.

Have fun, Chloe. I’ll miss you, and so will Alice.

But somehow, I suspect I might miss Chloe more.

Members of the Aphasia Network have begun a GoFundMe page to support me during the time ahead. To see their message and hopefully donate, follow this link Alice was amazing

Grief of My First Cousin

When Alice and I became interested in Moving West (unlike pioneers of Old, 21st century nomads resort to modern conveniences), we contacted a first cousin, Margaret Johnston, on my mother’s side of the family who in 2005 transplanted herself into the metro Portland, Oregon area.

Alice’s curiosity about this destination became an obsession after we vacationed in September 2013 for two weeks in Ashland, Oregon. A virtual fan of my writing, David Churchman, who bought my book, Gulag to Rhapsody: A Survivor’s Journey, had retired from his duties as a senior professor in Los Angeles to become a volunteer at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. When we blew into town, he literally became a one-man Ashland promoter and showed us all the tourist town’s hot spots.

“We’re proud of the fact that the only McDonalds in town went out of business,” Churchman proclaimed.

Before returning home from that eye-popping vacation, I showed Alice the wondrous national park, Crater Lake, where I once celebrated Summer Solstice, 2000. My affection for that heart-dropping collage of cloudless vistas of mirror-perfect images upon the deep-water lake inside a once-active volcano moved Alice the same way, and we committed to move into the more-cosmopolitan Portland area.  Margaret, unwittingly, became our co-conspirator.

(You can read about our impossible drive on my website here, and read more about the treacherous rescue of all our possessions in my blog from October 2014 onward.)

Fast forward to today, when Margaret is grieving deeper than one might ever suspect.

Why?

Because if you know anything about Alice, you know how she tugged on people’s hearts. And six months after we moved in September 2014 to Oregon, Alice tugged even more poignantly after enduring a serious stroke that caused hospitalization at the Rehabilitation Institute of Oregon (RIO). (For those who might question privacy concerns, Alice specifically instructed me to chronicle her experiences on this blog.)

Margaret and Alice spent St. Patrick’s Day 2019 on Washington’s aptly named Long Beach.

Alice and Margaret befriended one another from the day they met. And these days Margaret chooses to remember good times they shared:

Happy hours at Rock Creek Corner in Hillsboro, roadtrips throughout Oregon and Washington collecting McMenamins’ passport stamps, dinners at Teri’s Restaurant in Longview, beach trips, dancing at Coyote’s in Hillsboro and Rock Creek Tavern on Old Cornelius Pass Road.

Margaret also relished “the laughs and ability to share our deepest thoughts, whether is was about single parenthood, relationships, work experiences, or just day-to-day nothing. That is why she will be missed so dearly – she was my confidante and partner in crime!

“And we both loved giving Mason a hard time – on whatever the topic of the day was!!!

“The one thing about Alice that will live on forever is her favorite saying, which both my girls and I have adopted: ‘I don’t care,’ with Alice’s special vocal inflection. Thank God, aphasia did not steal this Gem!”

Jordon Horner was Alice McCormick’s speech language pathologist at RIO.

Alice’s unreliable speech aphasia would ebb and flow, but that tall, gallant woman fought through all the words that never came, yet became “the sister and confidante I never had growing up in life,” said Margaret tearfully. Margaret and I had gathered at the funeral home east of Kelso, Washington, where I reeled from my own sense of loss, but was incapable of perceiving what Cousin Margaret was going through.

When Margaret whipped out her checkbook to pay for Alice McCormick’s cremation on the very afternoon of the day she passed over, her knee-jerk response served more than to benefit me. (Another cousin, Carolyn Levin, later graciously picked up half the tab.) It was an exquisite expression of grief, denoting how Alice and Margaret bonded and loved one another.

There are many seismic events that have occurred in my life. This catastrophic one affects more people than me.

While Margaret treated Alice to a weekend in Seattle, Margaret snapped this photo after Alice emerged from a day spa.

Members of the Aphasia Network have begun a GoFundMe page to support me during the time ahead. To see their message and hopefully donate, follow this link Alice was amazing

An Open Letter to Alice

Dearest Alice,

I brought you home yesterday, but only your ashes are inside the urn.

I think you will like the vessel you’re in.  It’s perfectly color-coordinated to match our audio-video cabinet, although I know you would say, “I don’t care.”

You are no longer in this plane of existence, and that makes me miserable.  I have moments when I try to speak, but it’s garbled with tears. That’s become my own brand of aphasia, right?

No matter how competent a writer I may be, that won’t bring you back to life. Please know that my grief is shared by your family and close friends in the aphasia community. I share the picture of what remains of you on this website post to substitute for a viewing ceremony in these days of coronavirus.

Please know I continue to practice physical distancing. (I don’t like to say “social distancing,” because there is nothing social about staying 6 feet away from well-meaning friends.)  The coroner’s report says your cause of passing was “probable myocardial infarction,” but you looked peaceful when I found you.

I believe your passing was due to the strain of movement caused by ever-increasingly painful arthritis.  Well, your hips and legs stopped hurting March 27th, and that makes me glad.

Being physically unavailable to lie naked beside me, though, makes me sad and lonely.  Now I must let you go to ease the star journey you earned after this life. You put up with me so patiently, my love.

Green Hills funeral home is located east of Kelso, Washington.

I hope you like the funeral home that cousin Margaret Johnston researched the day after you passed. Green Hills funeral home and crematorium is located 500 feet up in the hills east of Kelso, Washington. And both Margaret and cousin Carolyn Levin stepped up to pay for the whole shebang.

Also, please know that Kailey Cox drove up here Thursday morning to adopt your plants before they go to ruin.  I never had a green thumb, and Kailey wanted to make sure I didn’t give visible testament to a plant cemetery.

I hope you like the reverence the funeral home director, José Nuñez, showed as Margaret and I oversaw the disposition of your physical remains. I kissed your chin at our viewing, but your skin was so cold I realized you were no longer imprisoned in that fragile body. Your slender fingers and expressive hands will no longer hurt you.

Unlike your skin, our love will never grow cold. Alice, I love you. So blessed much.

The picture you saved from one of our aphasia gatherings on the Coast contains the following message from a Chinese fortune cookie: “Rarely do great beauty and great virtue dwell together as they do in you.”

Indeed.

Please accept my tears of grief as a gentle rain, and may each drop bring you peace on your unending journey.  Save me a spot, okay?

Preparing to return home with Alice’s remains.

Forever yours,

Mason

Members of the Aphasia Network have begun a GoFundMe page to support me during the time ahead. To see their message and hopefully donate, follow this link Alice was amazing