Passages

This has been a weird week for people who worship the cult of celebrity. First, Ed. Then Farrah. Then Michael. Now Billy.

Oddly, I took Michael Jackson’s death much harder than I would have expected to. I mean, yes, when I was a certain age (read teenager) Michael Jackson was a regular part of my music rotation. I listened to more Billy Joel, but I appreciated what Jackson could do and I can see how he served as a predecessor to many of the current popular acts that kids worship. I watched with some sort of strange fascination as he seemed to morph from the sweet-faced man-child to something more strange and more sinister, in some respects. I wonder if his appearance didn’t, to some degree, reflect his fascination with the elephant man or if the lupus he was rumored to have didn’t have a far more tragic effect on him than we imagined.

I watched some videos of some of his performances on the Grammy awards and the MTV music awards — shows I used to watch before they became more about being self-congratulatory than about showing people why you deserved to be there in the first place (witness this year’s Oscar presentations if you’re not sure what I mean here). As I watched those videos, though, from my perspective as an almost 40 year old person, it was with more horror than I watched them as a teenager.

Of course he was addicted to painkillers. What he asked his body to do wasn’t reasonable and it wasn’t going to be without pain after he reached a certain age. His recovery time from performances would have been so much slower and his body would not have been able to keep up without serious pain medication. He must have been in chronic pain. I know from that. It wears you down and makes it hard to make reasonable decisions; hard to figure out what’s right and what’s wrong. Hard to navigate basic, simple tasks like “did I take my meds this morning or not?” “Did I remember to load the pill holder last night, or did I forget?” I live most every day in fear that I’m going to accidentally overdose myself on something. Hell, I did it last night, not a serious overdose. Not something I can’t recover from easily, but I didn’t think about what I was doing before I took the medicine and took more than I should have. And it makes you feel stupid and out of control to have to depend on pills to keep you alive.

This one for blood pressure that’s too high (the one, by the way, that I took too much of, still within the theraputic dosage level and, in fact, for the three years prior to Katie, the precise dosage I took, so no harm, likely no foul).

That one for the migraines that just do not stop. Oh, and that other one that serves as back up. The heavy hitter if the first one doesn’t stop the migraine in its tracks.

These two or three or four or even five to keep me breathing. On a good day, it’s three. On a bad day, I can get to five really quickly. I have more good days than bad days, and I am grateful for that.

New to the stable, though, are the pain meds. Three different levels depending on the amount of pain I’m in. The thing is, I’m so terrified of addiction, I have to be in pretty bad shape to take more than advil. And this is BEFORE the doc and I have the follow up talk we need to have about what we’re going to do about the issues that are not going away from the surgery and the general issues that are not going away.

And I can’t imagine that his level of pain was less than mine. In fact, I think proportionally his was probably massive. I know that when it gets ahold of you, there’s nothing you want to do. It’s hard to be present, to eat, to do anything. So, I can see how he ended up where he was. I don’t understand a lot about the man, and I’m certainly not making excuses for many of the other things that he did (allegedly or in fact, whichever), but I can understand pain and understand the only way that he could go forward and keep moving involved putting himself in increasingly higher levels of jeopardy.

The other reason it hit me hard is the same reason that Heath Ledger’s death hit me super hard in January 2008. The kids. He left behind three children for whom he was their world. I feel so badly for them and I hurt so much for them. Whatever else he was, he was their father and they clearly loved him. For the people who criticize him having them wear masks when they were small — with the amount of press surrounding his every move, I can hardly blame him for trying to give them some privacy. How great is it that most of us couldn’t have picked his kids out of a line up until just a few days ago. Given how huge a celebrity he was, how great is that? Perhaps the people who complain about the press and their children (Sarah Palin, I’m looking at you), should take notes from Michael about how to protect your children’s privacy.

I hate being reminded of my mortality and this was a serious reminder that we aren’t going to be here forever. We can have all the plans in the world, but plans mean nothing when it’s time. Good rest and Godspeed Michael, Billy, Ed, and Farrah. The world is the poorer for each loss.