“My loss has partially stunned me and I feel myself groping desperately but futilely. For the first time in my life, I need all the help I can get.”
– General Douglas MacArthur, on the loss of his beloved mother “Pinky”
I really hate roller coasters, the real ones which make me physically sick, and hackneyed expressions like ‘lately it’s been a real roller coaster here.’ Roller coasters don’t often get stuck at the bottom of their track, but my entire life seemed to have done just that. I lost my beloved wife Jane in October.
She died right in front of me at the kitchen sink. I called 911 immediately and the EMT’s responded quickly but it was already too late. She was gone in a blink, after 36 wonderful years at my side, my best friend. Gone in the wind.
As luck would have it, I’ve got the best sons in the world (not just an opinion) and terrific friends around the country, from South Carolina to Maryland and Atlanta to New Mexico, Chicago, Milwaukee, Minnesota and Seattle. The boys came down immediately with the very strong suggestion that they get me up to Boston very quickly to live near them. I was in no position to argue and they were right anyway. It was time to get out and try for a fresh start. And Boston has provided just that.
The boys, Jack and Greg, had the house cleared out, thoroughly cleaned, landscaped, and on the market in six days. Hear that Guinness people? Six days and I was on a flight with Jack to LaGuardia, where I met my next good omen. Juanita, who works for the airport, saw me struggling up the ramp after we landed and presented me with a wheelchair before I could protest. She then insisted on staying with me until my brother Paul could pick me up for an interim stay with him in Connecticut. Traffic around the airport was psychotically snarled due to construction and she wound up staying with me for an hour and a half, not willing to leave until she saw me getting into his car. I gave her a big hug and a tip which she accepted only reluctantly but with a smile. Juanita was a harbinger of things to come.
So what is CAVU anyway? CAVU is an old WWII navy pilots’ acronym for “ceiling and visibility unlimited.” It was all but their mantra, the goal for weather and atmospherics to improve the likelihood of a successful sortie. The term got some play recently at President George H. W. Bush’s state funeral, where we learned of Bush’s fifty-eight combat flights and rescue by the USS Finback submarine when he was shot down over Chichi Jima in the Pacific. Like countless others, I was glued to my TV for much of the somber proceedings and thought about how a young man, upon turning eighteen in 1942, immediately joined the navy to help defend his country and freedom around the world. Eighteen years old, barely out of high school. CAVU.
As I struggled with my own loss and the radical adjustment required in Boston (it is awfully cold up here and winter has barely begun), the notion of CAVU began to take on a life of its own—my life. I quickly became ill in Boston and was hospitalized for four days, after which I was dazed and still very weak. It took all my strength to walk down the hallway where I live or take our dogs out for a short walk. I couldn’t even read, much less write, mostly subsisting on TV, ice cream, and regular visits from the boys, often over dinner we ordered in. We ate lots of Thai, a familiar cuisine for all of us and even ventured to order an array of Turkish food for Thanksgiving. No, not turkey but Turkish.
The streets of Boston bear no resemblance whatsoever to our beloved lowcountry. Young people scurrying along, many Asians, and nearly everyone glued to their smart phones while barely looking up to avoid collision. Cigarette butts all over the place and people smoking nearly everywhere. At one point I noticed three young men walking abreast down the street, all of whom had a fresh cigarette tucked in their mouth. Well, many Asians smoke so there you have it, apparently. The buildings are large and elegant and stretch for miles, including Boston University and the Hayden Planetarium. Fenway Park, home of the 2018 champs, lies not very far away.
Across the street from my place sits the “World Shaving Headquarters.” Who knew such a place was necessary? Well, maybe some Danish dignitary is in town and wants to learn more about just how Americans shave. Apparently, though, it’s serious. According to their website, “Gillette’s South Boston Manufacturing Center covers over 44-acres with 26 interconnecting buildings on South Boston’s Fort Point Channel. The state-of-the-art facility celebrated its 110th anniversary in Fall of 2011.” And to think I nearly missed that. Yeah, a close shave.
There are also fine restaurants across the street, a Whole Foods, and a Chinese Market cleverly called “C-Mart.” Something for everyone. There are also loads of dogs around, a very welcome sight. Mostly small breeds but not all. More than once I stepped into our elevator with the girls in tow and was joined by someone leashed to a huge dog. Apparently gasping helps, because so far we’ve not had any problems.
As I continue my search for CAVU, my sons, their friends and mine continue to offer terribly much needed support and comfort. Losing one’s spouse of many years is a nearly indescribable stressor. The pain is constant and corrosive. Somehow, the photos we put up at my place showing Jane and our son Jack decades ago provide me reassurance. That’s the lovely firecracker I married, that’s the terrific mother who put all else aside to raise our son Jack. And I’m so glad that he remembers that lovely woman, before cascading health issues and advancing age tore at her relentlessly.
Throughout this miserable, uplifting experience, I have been reading my good friend James Scott’s new book, “Rampage,” about how U.S. forces retook Manila from the Japanese in 1945 under MacArthur’s direction. No, my opinion of Mac didn’t change much, but my already exalted view of U.S. troops soared anew. And the raw, unspeakable suffering of Manila residents at the hands of the fiendishly abhorrent Japanese seemed to offer a baseline for my own suffering. ‘You think you’ve had it bad, Jackson? What about the shooting, bayoneting, fire bombing, mutilation and hanging by the Japanese of those poor suffering Philippinos? Count your blessings, buddy.’
With everyone’s help and a few dollops of pure luck, I will come out of this alive. While my search for CAVU continues, I thank God for my wonderful, amazing family and friends.
Jack Sparacino received a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Chicago, a fellowship at The Ohio State University, and the U.S. Navy’s World War II Victory Medal. Jack worked for many years for Sikorsky Aircraft. A longtime resident of the Lowcountry, he was married for 34 wonderful years to his best friend, Jane, and now resides in Boston near his sons with his two Yorkies.