Category Archives: Grief

Carter Mondale pin

Voting With Jeff

Today is Election Day, so declared in 1845. It was a practical decision that accounted for a number of factors our young nation was facing.

We recognized the realities of our agrarian nature by scheduling a vote after harvest season, but not so far into winter as to make northern roads impassable from snow. We saw the effects of technology improving our communications, compounding the advantages of some states voting later than others, and so we made everyone in the U.S. vote on the same day. We chose Tuesday so as not to interfere with either Sabbath or Market Day, two institutions of our society. We tossed in the specificity of waiting until after the first Monday of November to keep the vote of electors a consistent 29 days apart.

Today is that day. While some of the magic has dulled from widespread adoption of early voting, I am still an open-presents-on-Christmas kind of guy. I like the pageantry, taking the day off to bask in democracy and share the experience with friends.

One of those friends, however, is now gone.

The earliest conversations Jeff and I had about politics came during our time at Northwood Elementary School. At some point, our teachers taught us about the election process by having us pick sides, hold up signs, and pretend we were at a national convention. Despite living in a Republican county, I started on Team Carter and never looked back. I’m certain Jeff wasn’t on my side of the fence initially, but as the years progressed we found common ground in the same pasture.

Politics drove much of our conversation over the years. We wrote—poorly—articles with political themes for the LeProCon, our high school periodical. We exchanged letters in college, occasionally commenting on the different politics of the Midwest and California. Long before social media, we emailed our debates. At some point, frustrated with the crop of politicians and policies, we created ThirdParty.org to be a forum for alternative politics. Four decades into our relationship, our politics was still central to our interactions.

On this particular Tuesday, I find myself missing Jeff more than any point since I got the sad news of his death. This is the kind of day we lived for, with high stakes following a long period of activism.

I want to talk to him about walking for Liz Watson, my local candidate for Congress, and why it took this long to knock on doors and donate meaningfully to a campaign. I want to tell him when our Indiana polls close and inquire about his own ballot choices. I want to stay up late into the night (for me) to watch the results come in, looking for virtual high fives or hugs, depending on the results. I want to conspire once again on impractical projects to change the world.

Today, I find myself angry at the arbitrary choice to vote on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November. I don’t know if Jeff was able to vote this year. California’s early voting started on October 8th, and it is conceivable he might have stopped his last Uber at a polling center somewhere, just in case, or filled out an absentee ballot as a precaution. Probably not, though. When it came to voting, he was an open-presents-on-Christmas kind of guy, and an eternal optimist. I find myself cursing agrarian society and the Sabbath and Market Day and all of the things that conspired to keep Jeff from enjoying today.

I found an old Carter/Mondale button in my son’s car. It reminded me of those early political conversations with Jeff, so I pinned it to my chest. I carried Jeff with me to the polls, and he helped me fill out my ballot.

Today, should you be on the fence about voting, please let Jeff take you to the polls.

 

 

hands on wall to make 50

Beginning

“How do I begin?”

This is the question that paralyzes me most when facing the death of someone I know and love. As I start to consider possible answers, my mind and my heart talk over each other with a swirl of suggestions that avoids consensus. I get stuck between a desire to connect with others and the guilt over not doing enough while my friend was alive, between fixing the unfixable and making a bedsheet fort where I will live the rest of my days. I want to do everything and absolutely nothing. How do I begin?

Just Bad for You is an archive of my friend Jeff Poehlmann’s experience living through a serious health challenge that ultimately cost him his life and us his voice. It is a space he made to help himself and others understand the particulars of lung cancer and how to live beyond the prognosis. From the testimonials on Facebook and LungCancer.net, where he spent the past year as a contributing writer, Jeff’s reach proved considerable. While he may not be here to continue publishing, Jeff did leave works-in-progress and a community of friends who can curate and contribute to the continuing story of what makes life meaningful.

In the wake of his death, I find it both comforting and intimidating to read and hear his words. Through his podcast, Jeff accompanies me on walking commutes to work, though usually only at the end of the day for fear I may be rendered useless. I see a dozen or so drafts in his queue, each started at different stages of his health journey, but I cannot yet bring myself to touch them.

With a brain and heart muddled in grief, I don’t have a clear idea how this blog will evolve. Perhaps it will be a place to process his life and our loss, or expand as a resource for the state of care for this and other diseases. Regardless, I do know that I want it to continue.

For four years, Jeff wrote about what he knew, what he learned, and most poignantly what he was experiencing. I do not have lung cancer. What I am experiencing now is loss and the challenge of regaining forward momentum in a world without Jeff. For a little while at least, that’s what this blog may focus on. We’ll draw from the strength he showed, even when not physically at his best, and the time he made to love the world.

I do not expect to be alone in this. Others who knew him or were impacted by his story may contribute as well, by sharing memories of Jeff that continue to resonate in his absence or by making meaning from the struggles they endure. For the moment, this space is for us.

Caring for Jeff’s community, however, requires starting with something. Right now, this is where I am and what I can do. Tomorrow, I will know I have already begun.