Finding the road again …

Leonard Schneider and Jo Anna March Clift.

Well, I got lost.

I’m still lost, in fact, but I’m slowly finding my way back again. A little more each day.

Some of you know it, and I’m sure some of you don’t. But my life changed drastically last year. It was truly “the best of times, the worst of times.” A dichotomy, the likes of which I have never known before.

In late February of 2009, I published my first novel “Silver Shoes.” A joyous occasion, indeed. I realize you know that much already, because you’re reading this. The book is dedicated to my parents, Leonard Schneider and Jo Anna March Clift.

“For Mom and Dad, who always believed.
With deepest love, admiration, and appreciation.”

My mother had been ill for quite some time when the book was released. Over the course of three and a half years, she had transitioned into an assisted living facility, then a memory care unit, and ultimately a nursing home. She had severe emphysema and dementia and was only in her early seventies when she could no longer care for herself. Rather suddenly, I had taken over managing her affairs, both financial and medical. I was making decisions long-distance from Los Angeles, and visiting with her and our cousins in the Seattle area as often as I could manage it. Mom read the initial draft of “Silver Shoes” when I first wrote and copyrighted it, back in 2005. It was about eighty percent of the final, published version. Her mind and memory were in fairly good shape then. She understood the story and liked it very much. She asked me lots of questions about the characters, the plot twists, and also about my creative process. She was pleased and proud that I had dedicated it to her and Dad.

I sent her a published hardcover right away in March of 2009, and she was so happy. But by this point, she couldn’t read anymore. The nurses told me she had shown it to them often, and proudly exclaimed, “That’s my son!”

I flew up to spend time with her in May. We had one really good day together where we shared old photos and some memories. She could still recall a few things, when prompted. I saw the copy of “Silver Shoes” on her bedside table in the nursing home. It was well worn, and the dust jacket was creased and battered a bit. She had held it and studied it quite a lot, even if she was incapable of understanding the text beyond a basic recitation.

One month later, she died. I was as prepared as anyone could be, watching his mother slowly fade away in front of his eyes over several years, becoming a shadow of her former self. I knew it was coming. I had told myself to get ready for it. But it was an overwhelming and devastating experience, nonetheless.

My father and mother had divorced in 1985, after twenty-six years of marriage. Their split had been amicable, and there were no ill feelings between them. They had even spoken a few times over the phone since then, although distance seemed to suit them best.

When my mother died, I could tell how deeply effected my father was. Part of him had died, as well. He even said those exact words to me, on one occasion.

My dad never remarried, but my mother had married Brooks Clift after the divorce. Brooks was the brother of actor Montgomery Clift. He was an old friend and a romantic flame before she had even met my father. But their happiness together was short-lived. He died less then a year later. That was it for Mom. She was never romantically involved or married again.

Dad was wonderful during this incredibly difficult time coping with Mom’s death. We talked every day on the phone. Sometimes for hours. He was still living in Kansas, where I had grown up. We were always close, but we were growing even closer now, helping each other through the painful loss.

Then, six weeks after Mom passed away, we were on the phone one day, and he told me his doctors had found a spot on his left lung. They wanted to run more tests. I asked him if it was cancer, and he said they didn’t know yet. He was trying to be conversational and casual about it, not wanting to upset either of us too much. He asked me not to say a word to anyone about it. No sense in alarming people. It would only make him feel worse anyway. Dad was a very private person. He always had been that way. He didn’t care for attention, particularly during bad times. Even though I had plenty of people asking me how I was getting along after my mother’s passing, I honored Dad’s request and didn’t mention his health. Not to family or friends.

A week later, his doctors were sure. It was cancer.

Several aggressive tests and exploratory surgeries followed over the next two months. His doctors ultimately determined it was Stage Three, Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer of the Squamous variety. My father, who was in perfect health otherwise, began rigorous chemo and radiation treatments, but the prognosis was not good.

I went to Kansas in October for my mini book tour of Wamego/Manhattan, Lawrence, and Louisburg. Dad was too ill to attend the library presentation in Lawrence, even though he lived only about a mile away. I was staying with him, and we both thought he might bounce back a bit. Then he took a turn for the worse. In a matter of three short weeks, I was running back and forth with doctors, nursing homes, hospice care, all on an accelerated path as he quickly declined.

My father passed away on November 29, 2009, four months after his diagnosis, and six months after my mother’s death.

That’s when my world stopped.

It was too much in one year. I stopped working, stopped writing, stopped promoting my book, and stopped dreaming. What was the point? Too many obstacles. Too difficult. Too impractical. Too complicated.

I didn’t lose all hope, but I pulled up the oars and stopped rowing. I couldn’t do it anymore.

I was also mired in busywork for both parents at once: bills, health coverage, wills, funeral homes, estate attorneys, brokers, and accountants.

And even though I had trouble motivating myself to keep going at all, time and reflection have helped greatly. It’s only been a few months now since Dad died, and I see the beginnings of change. I have the best friends in the world. I have a strong extended family, too. I realize just how lucky I am, in that respect. I see my blessings, and I count them daily.

I’m writing again.

That has been the first thing to really help steer me back on track. I have read the encouraging emails and letters from people who have told me how much they enjoyed “Silver Shoes.” They wanted to know more. “What happens next?”

I wanted to know more, too. So I dove into my make-believe world again. I’m knee deep in the sequel now. And I’m letting my imagination run wild with it. It has kept me disciplined and focused at a time when I have lacked both.

I’m not out of the woods yet. But I can see light at least, and I’m finding my way back on course again.

This blog post is part of it. Sharing the bumps and sharp turns in the road, along with the good stuff.

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