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The Mike Varley Plain Dealer: Life Update

January 6th, 2011 by admin

For the first time in my ten years working at the nursing home, I went to the wake of a resident. Many residents have passed that I’ve felt closer to than kin, but I.B. was the first one to prompt me to pay respects. She had known me since I was sixteen.  She loved the game of bingo. She served as Resident Council President from ’04 to ’06 and always asked after my girlfriends. She is survived by her sons and meets her husband in heaven, a man whose loss cemented something heavy in her eyes.

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I found the funeral parlor after a twelve-hour workday, painfully underdressed with ten minutes till closing. I shuffled in and gave an awkward greeting to the son I most recognized, then went up to the coffin to pray.

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I could hear the mourners behind me as I said the Our Father talk about the staff’s attendance at the wake. She was well-regarded and Carillon Nursing responded, bearing with their presence a bit of the sacred weight.
Sitting in the casket with I.B., along with pictures of family and a set of rosary beads, was a plastic bag filled with milk bones. They were obviously meant to reflect her great affection for dogs during her life. But in the ten years I knew her, she only mentioned her dogs perhaps two or three times. I saw I was burying a different person that day than the I.B. of old friends and grandchildren. I was burying a woman diminished of vitality, deprived of basic joys she never dare shared, but resilient and proud in the face of institution. I was burying a woman who knew intimate suffering, and it had been my job to relieve that load.

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Before she died, I kissed her cheek and told her I was glad she was home. She called me the best, said she’d be okay, then drifted out of consciousness.

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The people we know are known by many as islands we’ll never discover.

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*****

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Hello all,

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Since its establishment in ’06, this newsletter has always been equal parts creative and personal updates. While the two largely share the same wiring, I’ve recently neglected recounting numerous developments in my life that inform my work but don’t necessarily appear in it. Many events have already been forgotten, but the following rise to my mind from the past nine months.

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On the Forth of July, I was told by my mother that she had been diagnosed with primary peritoneal carcinoma, a cancer that effects, among other areas, the lining that surrounds the abdominal and pelvic organs. This particular cancer, which shares traits with ovarian cancer, starts off as a fast growing, stage three cancer. In addition to the peritoneum, it effected multiple organs in the mid-section of her body.

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There were many things fortunate about this cancer. The body reacted to it by building up fluid in the midsection, serving as an early detection system. They found no surprises during surgery and were able to excise all the organs necessary. My mother works as a nurse and as a result received excellent care from her home hospital.

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Recovery from surgery was a difficult process, exacerbated by an existing back condition which made the sedentary recovery time very painful. After recovery came chemotherapy, the last session coming on December 28th. It too has come with its physical and emotional struggles, but the efforts seem to have payed off. While not at zero, my mother’s cancer count is within site of the doctor’s target and no further chemo is expected at this time.

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It’s hard to process in a paragraph what this has done to all parties involved. My mother has handled each trial with a grace only appreciated in the longhand of daily life. She has demonstrated fearlessness, determination, endurance and humility as each hour, day, and minute have called for. I know full well she has protected me from the worst of her pains, an act of motherhood that doubtless benefits us both. In letters I’ve written and writings I’ve shared, we’ve grown closer as mother and son, human being and human being. The blessings are there for those that would seek them, and we in our modest measure have built ourselves a haven.

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*****

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In August of this year Erin Welch, my girlfriend of roughly three years, relocated to pursue her law degree at the University of Buffalo. You can watch and read about my trip to visit her in September here. This move has not been without its heartache as we battle strain of distance and the rigors of law school. It’s hard to know what to say that wouldn’t seem either too naked or too clichéd to the eyes of a newsletter reader. But twice a day we talk and each month we touch, and with each trail and every joy our love grows more particular.

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*****

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Restricting this update to only struggles would give a distorted view of my past nine months. As evidenced by my other updates, I’ve gone on wonderful trips, continued my creative growth and experienced things in New York I couldn’t have anywhere else. The most encouraging development, however, has to be the growth of my social circle in recent months. Starting somewhere in the beginning of summer and continuing on through to the present, I’ve had the tremendous fortune to meet a small army’s worth of intelligent, thoughtful, creative and straight up fun guys and girls. From that sampling a regular cohort has formed, capable of spontaneous dance parties shifting to earnest art discussions without a single beat dropped. For those of you among this group, I thank you for your sincerity and vitality. I hope the coming year will bring a further broadening of the circle, and we can continue to live the promise our bohemian surroundings afford us.

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A happy and healthy New Year all.

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With Regards,
Mike Varley

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