Published by

Nick Hennen

Nick Hennen a senior manager at Cheetah Mobile in Silicon Valley, Calif.

NICK HENNEN: Now I See — What Is It About Death?

Like birth, I think the hour of our death is very meaningful, whether our earthly minds allow us to solve the puzzle or not. It is drenched in meaning, here and also somewhere else. The year, month, day, hour and second — it is already written for each of us.

My father, “Pops” and “Papa.”
My father, “Pops” and “Papa.”

I think I’m lucky in that I can see the light of that meaning, glowing like a street lantern illuminating my steps through a blackened night, but I can’t really articulate my grief. I am not able to explain what happens to me when it comes knocking. And that’s actually the hardest part.

I have accepted the death of my father, then mentor, then mother. My mind has yet to fully grasp what else it is I’m supposed to know about my devotion to each of them, about their part in the play of my life and about how and why we came to love each other.

Dad spent a lifetime in broadcasting and loved teaching us kids the ropes.
Dad spent a lifetime in broadcasting and loved teaching us kids the ropes.

And with all three, feelings of great significance wash over me on certain days, like when they left or on dates of things we celebrated together. It starts off as a really strong feeling. I will wonder, what is it? What’s wrong? And then I notice the date, or a that a date is coming instead of the other way around. These are signposts I think, and evidence to some kind of intelligent communication from beyond.

Somedays I feel like I’m standing on the edge of a rabbit hole. “Mom, are you there?” I call out to myself in the quiet. I talk to all three of these souls like they are with me all the time. I’m not even embarrassed about it.

Me and my mentor, Alan Colmes in 2015.
Me and my mentor, Alan Colmes in 2015.

Sometimes I’m stopped cold when their presence pops into my reality and I spin into another dimension. Like the reoccurring thought chasing me lately, that my mentor never saw me transform (as much, only just the beginning … and man, was he accepting!) into the stronger, taller and uniquely complex man I am today. I was a different person entirely when I saw him last. That hurts and like a razor cut it bleeds slowly and painfully. “But I look so different now,” I say softly as if he can hear me.

For my father, it is simply true that he is everywhere with me. If I’m having a bad day, I reach for his Minnesota Twins cap. I chose it after he died because it was the most worn. Dark sweat stains along the rim, knowing they were his made me feel close to him. I loved him enough that I feel like we never left each other, that instead he is now just slightly out of reach.

I think I’m getting there with my father and mentor. Not 100 percent, mind you, but I’m no longer in the weird stages of grief where you never know what to expect.

I’m not there for mom yet. A mom is such a big thing, yes? That’s part of it I’m sure.

“Mommy!” We all can imagine saying this, or feel the orphaned reality when we utter those words, or just you know, watch “Bambi.” Mom is mom all day, and she was important to me in so many ways and, and it is still so very new it seems.

And it is also true that I’m exhausted by grief, so I put it off until my body is begging me to stop. To turn off the music, shut down the laptop, to put away the pen and paper, switch off the lights, back away from the world and just grieve. Even then, “I don’t want to,” my mind will argue. “I’m busy!” “I can’t today. I’m too tired,” “hurts too much,” “I don’t like to cry,” on and on with the excuses of the mind. But in time I give in and tears flow a little bit.

It’s like trimming the hedges. You put it off by snipping a few clips here and there until at once you realize it’s grown tall enough to block your sun.

I imagine I could use a raging sob, which is very cathartic right? I’m just not sure where to find it. When is the last time you sobbed? I like the idea because it puts a focus on the physical and occurs mostly outside of the mind.

Sudden deaths like my father and mentor came easy. I shouldn’t say that, they came whether I wanted them to or not. The process began like a break in a dam. There wasn’t a second for debate on when this event would occur. The wave hit me the moment I learned. Like tripping and falling as the water slams your body further into the ocean floor, it is unexpected and without reserve. I lost myself in the news, but when someone is slowly dying over time, a pattern of grief emerges that becomes much more complex.

There is guilt and anger and all of the stages of grief, but they are entirely different when that someone spent so much time being completely vulnerable.

While alive, you grieve what they once were but you’re still celebrating their life. And in the end, every single breath. After they leave, you realize your small pond of grief has become an ocean. It feels overwhelming.

I know I need to take that time to open the door to the moment of her death. I haven’t done this yet. I have only experienced and then ran away from it. I think doing so will feel like making a conscious, though anxious decision to cliff dive. To leave earth for a bit flailing wildly into the unknown. To crash into the cool waters below, and to eventually heal.

I will. I will. I can’t just yet but I am looking forward to the time when I can tell my mind a story about the good, bad, ugly, great reality of all the memories that make up our relationship as mother and son.

“Let your hopes, not your hurts, shape your future”  —  Robert Shuller

NICK HENNEN: Now I See — Visiting Home

I didn’t cry when I first saw her but I wanted to. I held it in for a bit in an effort to stay sober and soak in everything.

Changes.

Changes like the time I came back from living in Grand Forks for a few years to Fargo and I saw the back of my dad’s head sitting in the recliner. So much gray was pushing out and a lot less hair on that familiar head … it was striking.

I remember my next words so well they haunt me: “Man, he’s gotten old.” It sounded like a line out of an old book I read, and it felt robotic and unreal to utter it. But the moment felt very real.

And so did this Tuesday afternoon with mom. Only with her, I have seen it under a microscope and in slow motion.

I actually sped to the memory care center after my plane landed. I picked up my rental and zoomed out of the airport lot. I was starving, but there was no way I was going to make any stops before seeing her. I flew out of the car and ran to the sliding glass door, ran to the elevator, tapping my hands as I waited impatiently, and burst out of it when it reached her floor and ran to her room.

I have never done this before. A sense of urgency just came over me. I wanted to see her now. I felt like I was extremely late to something.

There she was, seated for dinner. Slumped over in her wheelchair, her nose dripping as it does all day, every day due to some of the medications she needs, her head drooping, her eyes staring deeply into nothingness. This is raw truth here, and it’s real and it hurts, but it’s what it is.

She did not acknowledge me in a traditional way. She did not speak, but her eyes told me not only that she knows me but also loves me.

She is vastly different this visit. And, of course, and it has been far too long. The biggest change since the last time I was here is her inability to stand on her own in any way. She also has a serious and marked forward lean making sitting in her wheelchair or at the table difficult or at the least uncomfortable.

I tenderly fed her dinner, wiping her nose, which drips like faucet as much as possible in between, and trying to hide my tears. But who was I kidding? I was sobbing.

Afterward, I wheeled her to the assisted living place in the far wing where she used to live what felt like another lifetime ago. We sat watching the wind take over the trees outside the big bay windows. When the breeze came through the doors as someone entered, she actually liked it — I was surprised. (She never used to.) I thought it felt fresh and good, too, because it’s often hot inside.

A little while later, we went to her room to watch the nightly news, and she laughed when I made fun of the anchor’s hair. The light comes in when you least expect it, making life surprisingly precious.

I gave her a strawberry shake then put lotion on her face and hands, so sweet like a little lamb, she lit right up after I did that; opened her eyes wide.

There was an utterly singular moment when I touched her face after the aides so gently and kindly helped to put her to rest. After a busy afternoon, a postlunch nap was needed. We all agreed. I chatted with a nurse about her little boy as Mom hit the pillow and went immediately lights out.

I had run to the car to get my phone charger and asked if they could swoop in and help me get her ready for her nap. They came, and I ran and came quickly back. It’s been like that. I mean, I’ve been feeling like I don’t have a minute to waste, kind of crazy-like.

She was put into the bed, and I was chatting with aide about my music choice, which filled the room. It is called peaceful piano on Spotify, I say; they leave. I grab a chair and scoot as close to her as possible as she rests in bed.

They’ve left and I’m hovering and leaning into the bed and caressing her head and I feel such tightness. And it reminds me of what it’s like feeling your child’s body when they are scared. You notice this. For me, it was very early, of course, they were hungry and maybe something else or there was pain or discomfort, but a child inside you even grows stiff and concerned, and it can be felt in a way that is exactly, like fear. This continues throughout life.

And it’s also true that it cannot be distinguished from anxiety, but it’s there, inside all of us, and we can feel it in each other without words. This is powerful before we have speech and becomes even more powerful after we have lost our words.

I need to be here, I heard in a booming voice inside my head.

The big joke about having voices in your head is that we all do. Obviously. They are busy trying to tell us who and what we are, but if we shut them out, we realize we already know who we are because we feel it. We don’t need it to be constantly defined as does the mind. And sometimes your own voice rings through, and that’s what I heard telling me I was in the right place and at the right time.

I do need to be here, and I’m saying this because I felt that fear and anxiety leave as I caressed her head. She was sleeping before but she needed me to pull out that fear. At least that’s what I want to believe.

Earlier on the second day, she grabbed for my hand when we were stopped by the stained glass in the chapel, a favorite quiet spot for us. She raised it to her lips and kissed it, which I found so deeply touching. As if to say, I appreciate you. Thank you for being here — this is how it felt.

This has been a really incredible visit, so far. Eye-opening changes, a sliver of hope and the time I need to take in how these changes are affecting her. I get the opportunity to feed her breakfast, lunch and dinner and that likely makes me feel better than her, though she’s adjusting to new puree meals and drinking plenty of fluids. But even just drinking those fluids, you can see her struggling to swallow.

Why are we allowed to suffer like this?

For what purpose is this pain?

She takes it all so fiercely. She is a fighter. She has a tremendous and powerful will to live. This can be seen like a flickering fire behind her eyes. It’s really alive inside of her.

Another moment I’ll not forget was when she whispered, “I need you,” as I was feeding her. I had just told her she was eating really great.

Oh man, I thought, “I need you, too.”

NICK HENNEN: Now I See — Mom And Me

It’s much easier to stuff lately. And it’s not like I don’t have the energy to feel, it’s more like I’m making the conscious choice to avoid feeling much of anything that relates to the distance between us. Like wearing a life jacket in a rainstorm, it makes my inner child think I’m protected.

Something new has started where I can phone the head desk and they bring a phone to her as she awaits dinner. My sister thought of it and the staff doesn’t seem to mind.

They are able to help her put the phone to her ear, well, mostly, sometimes it starts to fade away. Those are the times I don’t get a good-bye or anything. Still, I listen to the ambient noise, and sometimes I hear her talking to others before the connection is lost.

Once I called and the woman that yabbers like she is singing was so loud, we barely got a word in. She’s more soft-spoken than ever, so that was pretty tough. Still, I hung up feeling pleased I’d reached her.

It’s strange knowing that you’ve lost someone when they are still here. It’s a funny feeling inside your bones. Like pins and needles jabbing you into a state of urgency. It’s like watching someone you love kayak down Niagara Falls over and over. You’d think that the terrified rushing  feeling would wear off from over exposure, but there is no ease in intensity as time passes.

About two calls ago, I had a really good talk. She said, “I miss my babies,” and at one point, “I love you” to me, which makes me feel more alive, if that makes sense. It’s more than I can explain in words, it’s a sense of belonging to something bigger than everything here. It’s a belief in knowing peace.

This afternoon, I caught her again and the call went pretty good. I did most of the talking and praying and singing, but I think it mostly transmitted.

I drove home in the rain and thought about how much energy it can take to avoid feeling something that makes you sad. I decided it was less than the exhaustion despair brings. For now, I’m focused on the bits of sunlight that glimmer across the tree’s leaves as they twist and turn in the wind. There is a lot of beauty in those moments.

NICK HENNEN: Now I See — Hi, Mom!

When it came to phone conversations with mom, I was always the one saying goodbye. This perhaps wasn’t the case as a child, but this is what I most remember. “Well, I’ll let you go,” and so on — so much so it just became a habit. After she became sick, it continued (despite the guilt) because I felt, I had to go.

– – – – –

Me: Hi Buddy!

Mom: Hi Buddy!

Me: I just called to say I love you.

Mom: Well, how nice!

Me: Ahh …

Mom: I miss you.

Me: I miss you, too!

– – – – –

And then a stage of immense awareness emerged.

That state, where I am now, is a place where I do not say goodbye until she initiates. I simply listen and share stories until she says she is ready to go.

Sometimes, we talk so long she literally forgets how to hang up the phone. (This happens more often on longer calls.) And unless we’re interrupted by ritual (pill time) or madness (someone’s wandered into her room) we talk and talk.

It seems so poignant — how putting a receiver to sleep can sometimes take so long.

I take so much for granted.

I listen to the clamoring attempts and when it doesn’t click, she’ll come back to say, “Hi”. Most of the time aware, though, sometimes not.

Worst case, I text a sibling to call and have the nurse assist while I stay on the line. (It makes an awful noise otherwise.)

All in all, this decision changed things a lot between us. So many hours simply being present with one another. Time spent of shared airspace in a way that wasn’t filled with needs. Neither one of us wanting to say or hear anything in particular from each other. But instead an awareness to just to be there. To experience whatever, together, minute by minute.

Very recently, however, she’s been taking the opportunity to say goodbye a lot sooner than she had been and for now, I’m taking its a good sign that she has other places to be, things to do and is doing OK.

I talk to her the same, if not more, but the conversations have felt slightly more urgent, shorter in length, and there is less for her to say, I feel. We’re focusing on the sentiment. And so, I have also started calling a little bit more often instead of what had become every night.

– – – – –

Me: I’ll pray for you

Mom: OK.

Me: OK.

Mom: I’ll pray for you, too

Me: Aww, you’re so sweet.

Mom: Love you.

Me: Love you more.

Mom: (Chuckles).

Me: Ralk to you late.r

Mom: Talk you tomorrow!

Me: Good night, g’noot.

Mom: Good night, my dear.

NICK HENNEN: Now I See — Moments To Cherish

So, over the weekend, my brother, Chris, was visiting mom and set up a call for me. This seems to be the best way to reach her these days. I wish I could articulate just how much this change affects me, but I can’t seem to find the words.

A lot of tears lately. A lot of just missing her, craving that soft hand, warm voice, and loving smile.

After I picked up my new wheels Friday, I put the top down and pulled away the happiest man alive (again and again I seem to have these highlights lately) and I only managed to get a few miles away. Just before the freeway exit, I had to pull over.

Heaving sobs as I turned off the engine and shot out of the car to try to catch my breath, take in some fresh air and find out exactly what was happening.

Me and Dad.
Me and Dad.

As I slipped back into the soft bucket seat, I found Dad. That is, I could just feel his presence. He was with me, somehow, someway … and it made me quite literally trembly.

I could feel his energy, so unyielding, I could even smell him.

His sweat-stained Twins ballcap, worn with wear, sat in the seat next to me. ( I had been wearing it. ) I let my fingers slip across the fabric over and over.

This haunting force field was palpable and the strangest yet strongest mix of happy and sad I’ve ever experienced.

I had to hit the road in an attempt to avoid drive time (I didn’t), so I decided I would be OK. But for miles and miles, I cried and cried and cried, and I could swear at one point I felt his hand touch my shoulder.

It was the moment I was crossing the Bay bridge. The traffic was thick so we were all going slow. I happened to notice just how beautiful the sunlight looked as it streamed across the brilliant Pacific ocean, surrounding us on either side, the wind in my hair, the beautiful car body I was seated in. It all hit me like a ton of bricks just how damn lucky I was to be here. To be alive. To be enjoying a life he surely must be proud of.

Me and Mom.
Me and Mom.

I made it home and was hoping to talk to Mom. I had tried to call but didn’t get through.

So, the next day, when Chris asked if I wanted to talk her, I jumped at the opportunity.

It is utterly mind-blowing the way in which such lucidity can slip through the cracks, blooming like a fresh flower from a seed dropped onto what was thought to be barren land.

We sang, we prayed, we laughed and sometimes we just sat in silence. It was wonderful.

Toward the end, after we said goodbye, I just listened to the static making up the space in miles between us. I clung to it, actually — until the nurse came in and hung up her phone.

The connection stays after the line goes dead.

This I know.

NICK HENNEN: Now I See — Is Facebook Quietly Banning Queer Content In Ads?

I think it’s creepy how unavailable actual human help has become. For the average person, it’s a dig to find a way to get in contact with anyone inside the most famous internet companies.

Imagine how powerful Twitter would be if an actual human answered a help desk phone? Or your direct emails? Or dms?

I realize reply emails, even when from a nonbot human entity, are not exactly warm and fuzzy and might be costly, but it would be a huge perk for users when problems arise, or if they need advertising help or assistance from being harassed online. A trained team (maybe small army) to take emails or DMs and try their best at customer service.

Instead, it’s always, “Look at this FAQ!” Or worse, you are sent to a “HELP” center where you type in your problem amidst volumes of other “solutions.”

The plight that brought me to this was a simple question about advertising with Facebook. As a sort of hobby, I run fan pages for all kinds of stuff, and sometimes I get “gifted” pages because the current creators/admins are tired of running them.

That’s how I got a page for lesbians over 30, from a very specific news channel, with which I found gratifying to work with. That was not the exact theme or page name, but I’m leaving it out because it’s not what this article is about.

Occasionally, I’ll spend small amounts of money to advertise something, mostly after I study the analytics I find interesting, and also to drive traffic to one destination or another.

Anyway, so I keep running into this problem where advertising was blocked as sexually explicit. And this page is not that kind of page.

To give you an idea, the last time it happened, it was a post for “walking group” for lesbians in their 60s. It was a great post that performed organically so well, I wanted to try to boost it, too.

Nope. A red bar comes up, and the notice reads, “Your Boosted Post May Not Be Approved. Your boosted post can’t promote sexual or adult products or services. Consider boosting a different post. Read about our Advertising Policies.”

It also happened on a post about Harvey Milk. In fact, it now happens every time, no matter what content is posted.

When you click on the policies, there is nothing in them to suggest walking groups are a violation  — so one must assume Facebook is choosing to block lesbian content simply because they say they’re lesbians?

When you search for “contact” in the help section, you get a literal circle of death. At least, I did.

And all I want to know is, why is Facebook banning content that should not be banned.

NICK HENNEN: Now I See — It’s All Worth It

I started to cry as I slowly peeled away the restrictive layer of clothing that is my binder, realizing this was the last day I would ever have to wear it again. What a strange mix of elation and contemplation.

I instantly recalled all the times I came home from something, immediately stripping away and relishing in the relief of its release when suddenly, or so it always felt, someone would call my attention back into the world.

Many times, it would be just as the article had come off. And I’d feel knocked down — even when it was my fault like for a pizza I forgot I ordered. Sometimes, I’d collapse to the floor. A mist would appear — out of nowhere — and I’d feel like crying, but I’d open the drawer just the same and fetch out a freshly laundered binder.

“This is my choice,” I often heard in my head, which at the time I thought was a sort of declaration: Like, “Hey buddy you wanted this, remember?” kind-of-thing.

I reflect on it now and wonder how can that be a choice? Wouldn’t saying that make it a sin? A choice? I don’t think so.

I think deeply to avoid tears; I take long walks into my consciousness to contemplate this existence. And I still don’t know what am I experiencing or why it has taken me so long to get here. And the way some kids are recognized by their parents and supported in their gender choices as babies makes the real sin of envy creep up.

But I think of my children and wonder how can I not be grateful for the life I have with them? How can I not be indebted to their incredible love and my family and friends and to all that has occurred to deliver me to this exact place at this exact right time? I wonder how can I better appreciate the “right now” and more importantly, how can I be more thankful?

As the binder awkwardly escaped my head, I swung it in circles above me and danced like John Travolta (or so I envisioned). Then, threw it on the floor triumphantly. But I quickly picked it back up, squinting to see the minuscule drops of blood, carefully examining the rubbery soft, sandpaper-like mix of fabric that made the garment so mysterious to me. The words, “How far I have come!” seem to leap from my head.

There’s much I don’t know about what lies ahead and yet so much has changed. And it is still evolving. Will it always feel this way? Am I taking enough time to look around on this trip down the rapids? Am I enjoying the ride?

I think about how lucky and how utterly blessed I feel.

I have moved far away from family for a chance to live this free. And everything couldn’t have turned out more perfectly.

I remember the day I decided I was leaving North Dakota. I was walking home from a guest lecture gig at the college wearing a jacket and tie and a mix of heat and angst had me feeling less than cheerful. Normally, I’d be happy for a rare chance to teach and if I had a reason for a suit and tie, but not on this day.

Out of nowhere, a woman slowed down and popped her head out the window. “Hey, I know who you are. Thank you,” she shouted.

“I’m sorry? ”

I stammered confusedly.

“I saw you on the news, and I think it’s terrible, anyway, thank you,” she hollered.

Both touched and annoyed, I thanked her as she drove off but don’t remember how. She was likely referencing a very short TV interview opinion/reaction thing I did about SB-2279. That’s the complicated bill that had just passed, disconnecting LGBT-identified North Dakotans from their civil rights.

Living through that was a frustrating hell, but this experience pierced me similarly. I remember thinking, “I want to go somewhere where I blend,” as I walked the rest of the way home.

And here I am now, in such a place! I’m not weird here. And I found a job I love more than anything I have ever experienced. I work for amazing, inspiring people with extraordinarily bright minds and hearts to match. I have re-connected with and made new, quality friends — the kind of folks that are there for you on moving day. And all in less than a year from that sweaty walk home.

I’ve traveled more of the world than I ever dreamed possible. I learned small parts of a fascinating language and a lot about an amazing culture, which now, like the company I work for, will always remain close to my heart.

Still, in fact, far too much fear and trepidation await this next important step. And while I’m not getting a new womb or risking life and limb with something untested like in that famous film, I am taking very real steps to modify my body in a radical way.

Will it “fix” everthing? Of course, not. But it will give me the freedom to look the way I want.

I’ve always been one of the boys. I was a fish-catching, frog holding, tree-climbing, all-star wresting, crunch tackle — far and above any “tomboy” girl, too. In fact, tomboys weren’t generally fond of me. They seemed to relish in a descriptor I’d narrow my eyes and scoff at.

My friends that were boys themselves could never explain my club card, why I was there or how exactly I seem to not only fit in but often lead group discussions in way that was pleasing to the others. But it just was and we all knew it.

Somewhere just before age 13, I lost my membership exclusivity. It was sudden and overnight yet. I have no single memory, just a mix of images of boys ackwardly asking girls to dances and girls acting weird and me falling in the cracks between.

I want to again effortlessly belong. Liking biking hands free. Once you learn, you never forget how.

I want to slip on a favorite T-shirt — like you do — and feel healthy and adjusted. Man, I can’t even imagine how good that will be, and it feels like it’s been forever since I’ve felt it.

And I know a choosing a bathroom will still take courage, but it will never hurt as much as living inauthentically as I did. I know that in the end, I will pass and eventually, people will likely leave me to both pee and be. But really, this isn’t about that.

It’s about tossing that binder in a burner and continuing to walk with my head held high. (How am I blessed with such confidence I wonder? God bless my mother!) And keeping it there knowing that I am doing the right thing in letting my body better reflect the “me” I feel I am.

As for this recovery, it will get better. And as I find my way, I’ll feel like I’ll be able to look back and laugh about all of this.

I understand that many can’t understand the pain or the fact that I’ve taken some of the steps to create it. I know this because I’m realistic but still confident that it is the right decision for me, to go to these efforts because it’s important that I present myself in a way I need to breathe easy.

And honestly, even if I die doing this, know that it was something I felt I had to do.

NICK HENNEN: Now I See — Another Conversation With Mom

Preface to reader: I originally planned to my make my second post one of the first ones I had made detailing my talks with my mom, who has primary progressive aphasia — a language disorder that involves changes in the ability to speak, read, write and understand what others are saying — and posts about them on social media.

I found, however, that gaining access to older posts is something I’m not yet well-versed on. So, in the meantime, I’ve included this and will make my best attempt to find the oldest post for my next submission:

When it came to phone conversations with mom, I was always the one saying goodbye. This perhaps wasn’t the case as a child, but this is what I most remember. “Well, I’ll let you go,” and so on — so much so it just became a habit. After she became sick, it continued (despite the guilt) because I felt, I had to go.
Me: Hi Buddy!
Mom: Hi Buddy!
Me: I just called to say I love you.
Mom: Well, how nice!
Me: ahh …
Mom: I miss you.
Me: I miss you, too!

And then a stage of immense awareness emerged.

That state, where I am now, is a place where I do not say goodbye until she initiates. I simply listen and share stories until she says she is ready to go.
Sometimes, we talk so long she literally forgets how to hang up the phone. (This happens more often on longer calls.) And unless we’re interrupted by ritual (pill time) or madness (someone’s wandered into her room) we talk and talk.
It seems so poignant -— how putting a receiver to sleep can sometimes take so long.
I take so much for granted.
I listen to the clamoring attempts and when it doesn’t click, she’ll come back to say “hi”. Most of the time she’s aware, though, sometimes not.
Worst case, I text a sibling to call and have the nurse assist while I stay on the line. (It makes an awful noise otherwise.)
All in all, this decision changed things a lot between us. So many hours simply being present with one another. Time spent of shared airspace in a way that wasn’t filled with needs. Neither one of us wanting to say or hear anything in particular from each other. But instead an awareness to just to be there. To experience whatever, together, minute by minute.
Very recently, however, she’s been taking the opportunity to say goodbye a lot sooner than she had been and for now, I’m taking its a good sign that she has other places to be, things to do and is doing OK.
I talk to her the same if not more, but the conversations have felt slightly more urgent, shorter in length, and there is less for her to say, I feel. We’re focusing on the sentiment. And so, I have also started calling a little bit more often instead of what had become every night.
Me: I’ll pray for you.
Mom: OK.
Me: OK.
Mom: I’ll pray for you, too.
Me: Aww, you’re so sweet.
Mom: Love you.
Me: Love you more.
Mom: (Chuckles).
Me: Talk to you later.
Mom Talk you tomorrow!
Me: Good night, g’noot.
Mom: Good night, my dear.

NICK HENNEN: Now I See — Seventeen Minutes With Mom Tonight

Preface: My mother has a rare brain disorder called primary progressive aphasia (PPA) is a language disorder that involves changes in the ability to speak, read, write and understand what others are saying. It is often associated with memory loss and dementia, and though mom has only rarely not known who I was for a short time, she does have some difficulty with other memory issues. She needs round-the-clock care, and thankfully for us, she’s was able to get inside a memory care unit in Fargo, N.D. 

I’ve been detailing my nearly nightly calls with her for quite some time on Facebook. So many friends have asked me to publish, that I’ve just decided to do it. If only because it may help someone else going through the same thing. 

This is my most recent post and my next submission will be the furthest back I can find. Then, perhaps, I can bring you, the reader, slowly back to present day. A window into this world of the unknown. 

When Mom answered the phone, I started singing, “I just called to say I love you,” and she busted out laughing, then sang along.

Some studies find music can help brain disorders. I don’t know why, but it does seem to help and more importantly, to comfort.

We chatted a bit, and the conversation kept circling back to my visit! It seems she is just as excited to see me as I am to see her. We sang “One Bread, One Body,” “Be Not Afraid” and “How Great Thou Art” -— and she did well.

One of my friends lost her mother last night. She is also suffering similarly. And she is devastated.

The time.

As she told me at the time that her mother passed, I felt like an invisible stake pierced my heart. Wh? There’s nothing to say, really — only that just as we focus on things like time, they are entering the timeless.

I’m trying to console as best as I can, but I’m also secretly observing the process … just short of preparing. I’m in a sort of heightened state of awareness.

What will it feel like? How will I remain inside of a parentless existence?

All of this fuels my intention to be present and open to experiencing all that I can, with what I have, from where I am, for as long as we have left. …

It makes me feel proud for sucking the marrow out every single time I talk to her. For pushing aside all of the life’s distractions, for closing my eyes and pressing the receiver to my sweaty ear and for listening to her words with my heart and mind.

I remain hopeful in between our talks, and I’m grateful for all that I’ve been given.

Me: “Do you love me no matter what?”

Mom: “I do!”

Me: “Thank you!”

Mom: “Thank YOU.”

Me: “Good night, buddy”

Mom: “‘Good-night, peanut.”

Everything is now, isn’t it?

NICK HENNEN: Now I See — Every Day Is A Challenge For LBGTs In North Dakota

As a gay American living in what is inarguably one of the most retrograde states in the union, every day can prove to be a challenge.

Traveling through my shoes, you’d feel a passage that can scrape, sometimes, against every living fiber that makes up who I am as a mother, a daughter, a sister, a human being, and most importantly for this discussion, a progressive North Dakotan.

Public discourse on gay politics here is not easy. It is in no way comfortable and here in particular, it somehow, strangely, seems to border on impolite. But it is as important as it is difficult and when human rights are involved, I feel it as a topic, it no longer can be ignored.

To say the political climate was heightened in the days leading up to the vote on North Dakota Senate Bill 2279 on April 2, would be quite an understatement.

Tensions were running high over this and similar bills being voted on across the United States.

The bill, known as SB2279, offered protection against discrimination for the lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender residents of our state. And it was controversial.

Stated simply, it meant that the LGBT population in North Dakota would be allowed the same rights as everyone else.

They would be protected legally from being unfairly fired due to their sexual orientation, something many LGBT think they were born with.

They would have the right to access consumer goods and services and an assurance that they would not be tossed out of an establishment because of their sexual orientation, should that somehow be discovered.

And let me say, before you ask, “How does one know someone is gay?” or “Why does this even come up?” Well, let me offer you evidence in the form of access to my public pages as a freelance journalist, social media editor and prolific breaking news tweeter — because there you will find a collection, though scattered across time and space, of photographs of me.

Otherwise, I suspect you could use your imagination when I tell you simply, “I look gay.”

And I do. I honestly was born looking this flavor of different.

How is this true?” you may ask. “A lot of ways,” I’d reply.

I suppose I have a masculine energy, and I’m not particularly feminine in every thing I do, which for the record, isn’t always an indicator of one’s “gayness.”

I also prefer men’s clothing and have a sort of forward leaning gait and have even been told, “you walk like a dude.” Thankfully, I don’t consider it an insult.

I know I’m different. It’s OK. I would say, to borrow from Jacques Lacan, a favorite philosopher, this is “The Real.”

This is my truth, and I’ve accepted this reality, and the notion that my heavenly Father created me, exactly this way, for a reason.

Maybe that purpose is for me to reach you, somehow, someway, right now?

I don’t know, but I do believe that some people, like me, are known to be gay simply by appearance or other potential indicators.

In large metro areas across many parts of the United States and Europe, this difference goes largely unnoticed. I know this because I am grateful to have traveled all over the United States and a little bit abroad.

I feel alive when I travel. I feel free when I’m in between cities, and I even feel at home in airports, train stations and in subway stations.

Maybe this is because I have never really felt truly at home here in North Dakota?

There is a different sense of comfort and security for me inside big cities such as Seattle, San Francisco, Austin, Texas, Orlando, Fla., and my favorite, New York City. This fact can be largely attributed to the notion of going unnoticed for essentially, looking as gay as I do.

This feels like a victory as I want to be, or at least perceived to be, just like you — and everyone else.

So, yes, some people like me just “look” gay. Some also choose to look and appear as the opposite sex from which they were born, and that’s OK, too. Others may speak in a way that reveals a theory about one’s sexuality; still others may look heterosexual but chose to openly express affection for someone of the same-sex, like hand holding for example. Or there may be an all-male or all-female couple who are checking into a hotel, renting an apartment — or any number of things — when it is “discovered,” shall we say, that they may belong to the LGBT family.

This happens every day, and this is why it is sometimes known that a person just happens to be LGBT.

So, back to SB2279. The rest of the nation was also talking about similar matters in Indiana, where a pizza owner stated that she would “never refuse” service to LGBT client while simultaneously stating she would flat-out refuse to cater pizza for a gay wedding.

The question posed, hypothetical or not, appeared to use religion as a tool for discrimination against any LGBT this pizza owner may uncover.

Perhaps, she wanted it known that she would serve LGBT provided they look a certain way, or don’t — or discuss any gayness in her establishment? I’m not sure and frankly, I don’t think any one knows except for her.

Apparently, it is a belief of some, or at least one writer, that it is a “civil rights argument” in the violation of one’s religious rights when they “provide service to sinners,” As Mike Jacobs indicated in “The N.D. of discrimination against gay people,” which ran April 7 in the Grand Forks Herald.

In Kentucky, Gov. Steve Beshear said his state’s ban on gay marriage should be upheld in part because it is not discriminatory in that both gay and straight people are barred from marrying people of the same gender.

This is all confusing at best, right?

Well, this was the political climate leading up to the vote on SB2279 and it was happening all across the United States. And perplexing as it was, it was also controversial.

Here in North Dakota, many faces statewide were speaking out on social media to lawmakers asking them to help pass the bill. There seemed to be a sort of unified call for passage, a step that could help counter North Dakota’s long history of being stuck in “old world” thinking.

At least, that is what I was seeing from the faces of those I follow on Twitter, Facebook and a few other sites. There may have been public appeals to lawmakers requesting they shoot down this bill, but I didn’t come across any.

I took time myself to speak publicly when invited by talk radio host Sandy Buttweiler on 970 WDAY radio station out of Fargo.

We talked a lot about the justification of this bill. We discussed the city ordinance in Grand Forks protecting LGBT from housing discrimination.

And when Sandy asked the question so many were asking, “Does discrimination exist in North Dakota?” — “It does!” I argued as I talked about my participation on the public meeting in Grand Forks, where many courageous LGBT spoke out about specific incidences of housing discrimination here.

The lawmakers here listened — and voted appropriately.

Grand Forks is now the only city in North Dakota to enact a city ordinance to protect gays and lesbians against housing discrimination — because our local lawmakers felt we needed to do that after what they heard.

It made me very proud to call Grand Forks home.

I knew all along discrimination existed here — and still exits. Sadly, I have experienced this myself. I think many LGBT North Dakotans have. Not everyone discusses openly because it isn’t easy to talk about.

It wasn’t an easy experience to be apart of that council meeting here in Grand Forks. In fact, I’m quite sure I squirmed in my seat listening to the actual testimonies of hate-filled landowners who publicly testified that night that it was their religious right to discriminate against those they claimed were and are morally in the wrong.

It was hard to do, listen to that, but it was even harder for the actual victims of this tired use of religion for the purposes of discrimination.

As voting began that day, April 2, I began to feel hopeful for reasons I still don’t understand. I guess I couldn’t believe it could fail. I didn’t want to believe that the state of North Dakota would fail me or any of the LGBT population here.

I was wrong.

Across my social media feeds, outrage emerged, and with it a sense of fight — there was a lot work ahead of us.

But in my own head, there was just defeat.

I was sullen, and as a lesbian living in North Dakota, I found myself suddenly paranoid about losing the ability to obtain consumer goods and services, be removed from any employment or place of residence — all based on something that is a small slice of who I happen to be as a human being.

I publicly stated my dismay saying something to the effect that I felt as if I was without a government to protect me against basic human rights afforded to everyone else here.

“What did this mean?” I wondered aloud.

As the numbers were released, the names of the yays and nays quickly followed, and it was not long after that the “head shots” of every lawmaker involved in this bill were splashed on the front of the Fargo Forum.

As stated by the national news website Raw Story, “The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead listed all 55 members of the state House who voted against the measure, Senate Bill 2279, following a 90-minute debate on Thursday. The newspaper noted that this is the third time in six years that this type of bill has been voted down.”

And with the photographs of every man and woman who voted down the bill featured, I used an image of their collective head shots, to express my concern, fear and dismay.

I wrote. “…are the faces of the men and women who sanction discrimination against me and any and all LGBT North Dakotans,” and I included a snapshot of the Forum’s front page displaying those who voted “nay.”

And to those other faces, mostly Democrats, but some brave, new-world thinking Republicans who went, no doubt, against what seems to be their own party’s line on this issue, to these faces, I wrote another message: “I cannot thank you enough for your support and acceptance. I remain grateful for each one of you and to all of those cheering for you on the sidelines today.” I posted this with the photographs those who voted in favor of the bill.

The messages I sent out publicly through social media were personal — it all felt personal. It was one of my darkest days in a very long North Dakota history.

So, when I heard from a follower that my older brother was blogging about being proudly against this bill and that he had included a statement about his “gay sister,” I had to go look at what he was writing.

I was hurt, angry and shocked, really that I had been referred to after I had been so public about my opinions on this bill.

I know I don’t see eye to eye with this brother. I know we’re political opposites, but I can look the other way at this most of the time.

But this mentioning me as a sort of reason why he would claim there is, in fact, no discrimination in North Dakota, was out of bounds, I felt.

Long story short, I fired back a statement on his public blog, which essentially quite fairly challenged his entire sentiment.

Unfazed, he went on to continue to discuss this in a public forum without responding to me directly in a public way, but thankfully, without mentioning me anymore.

Later, I went on-the-air again with Sandy Buttweiler on 970 WDAY radio station out of Fargo and we talked about the latest developments including my disgust with my brother and his public use of my name to claim this, what I felt was a ridiculous notion that North Dakota residents, collectively, do not discriminate against LGBT, at all.

This brother and I politely texted one another on other matters during this time, but you could cut the tension with a knife.

It wasn’t long, however, before we talked on the phone about the bill, about my thoughts, about his thoughts, my recent radio interview and our subsequent conclusions.

We came to agreement to disagree.

I asked that he not mention me anymore inside his arguments on this, or any other LGBT topic.

He said he would like to ask the same. I agreed, but said I would write one final piece on SB2279 that would not mention any of the specifically personal issues which arose, or even his first name, but instead offer a summary of the entire experience for me.

Then, I said something we all, my entire family, regularly say and have said our entire lives, “I know you know I love you.” And he replied, “I do. And I know you know I love you, too.” And I did, and I do.

Sure, it’s like an elephant is always in whatever room we occupy, wherever we are, but I’m sort of used this enormous creature by now, after all these years.

In the days following the failure of North Dakota Senate Bill 2279, I have felt many, many different things.

Like many of my LGBT friends, I’ve considered moving away from the North Dakota I have come to love so much.

And I know while I’m here, there will always be that fear of living, existing, coming to grips with my choice to stay in a state where my human rights are not protected.

I am, however, choosing to hope for the best for our future here in North Dakota. I’m continuing to count on lawmakers like North Dakota’s Lois Delmore, Kylie Oversen, Joshua Boschee, Corey Mock, Elliot Glassheim and others to keep fighting the good fight for the change I believe we are collectively headed to as a nation.

North Dakota is so amazing.

This is the one state where you can use the word “awesome” to describe its vast, majestic landscape, and you are, in fact, using that word correctly.

I want to again say, “the great state of North Dakota” like I used to, with my chest swelling with pride.

I want to again tell others that we, as a state, have moved beyond being unwelcoming in this way, as we in the city of Grand Forks, have done.

I want to be proud to be a North Dakotan once again, and I believe that day will indeed come.

Social media sites to find me:

— Twitter @tweetbrk.

— Instagram @newsgunner.

— Periscope @BreakingNews @tweetbrk.

— SnapChat @newsgunner.

— Vine @tweetbrk.

— Tumblr @newsgunner.

And more at http://breakingjourno.com.