The Upside-Down Side

imageTwo years ago, I set a Life Change in motion and boy, oh boy, it seems to be picking up momentum.  I apologize if these blog posts seem to be stuck on this topic and understand if you prefer to skip yet another discussion about change, you are probably dealing with change in your own life. If so, I can relate.  But if I were to write a new blog post, my second for the month and in alignment with my secret New Year’s resolution, I would write about how change changes you. It’s a corny and overworked topic but when you are on the upside-down side of life, the view is a stunner. The stories themselves are not new, from Biblical tales of a tough angel beating the crap out of some guy walking down the road to a bunch of ranchers taking a national wildlife refuge hostage, good things and bad things and no things are happening to us all the time, whether we invite them or not.

I am currently back in Florida, not to live or float around in a pool while the north winds blow,  but to companion mom and dad in… (I hesitate here because my brave mother reads this blog) end-of-life issues. There is much that has been accomplished with more to go but this journey is not just about the paperwork or the positioning of stuff, doctor’s appointments or therapy sessions, it is scrabbling through the crucible of family; it is climbing through the sticky web of fear, sorrow, anger and sometimes, joy without a map or a manual.

It is grappling first hand with our version of the stories you have heard many times: The falls, the hospitals, the rehab facilities, the deliberate ignorance of a loved one trapped in a body that is failing but his spirit is not. Dad may be in an advanced stage of dementia but when I asked him the other day how to change a shower head, he told me, demonstrating with his right hand the twisting motion that removing the shower head would require.

It is getting lost in the endless jungle of papers and names and dates and numbers. It is not giving up.

We fight to stay alive as long as we can. It is our biology to do this but we have defied our biology with the science of medicine dedicated to keeping the body alive as long as possible, or at least as long as we hope it will last. We fight death at the cost of life, knowing all along that we will get there too. Someday. Maybe. Not today. Maybe.

Dad is in a good facility now, we are breathing a brief sigh of relief but it’s not like he’s going to come home. He will stay there being fed good food, going to the gym where he is hooked up to a broad strap and assisted to a walker and guided to move like he always did, then gently returned to bed in his quiet, sun-filled room for a few hours of rest. For a 92 year-old body, a body that fought in multiple major World War II Navy battles, a body that helped create and support 5 children, a body that golfed, danced, taught his children how to ride a bike, drive a car, and was a companion to his wife, my mother, for 70 years, that is not too shabby.

If I were to write a blog post, I would write about the loneliness of change, how you really walk down those dark halls alone. Whether change comes because you initiated it or arrives unwelcome and unannounced at your door, you are in your own story that no one else can understand or tell. Your visions of what may happen to someone you love, or to yourself as you contemplate making your own life change, rarely match the reality.

As change changes you, the people around you change too, from those decide they don’t care for the shape emerging from the cocoon and walk away to those who know how hard it is to learn to fly.

Every person you meet, every dawn you greet, changes you in some way. No two mornings are the same.

 

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“I Still Know I am Being Carried.”

IMG_6381

Dad is in the hospital. He is as safe and comfortable as the staff can make him. Mom visits every day, goes home for lunch and a brief nap, then returns to spend the afternoon with him while he alternately dozes off or wakes up and talks, sometimes coherently. This has been going on for a couple of weeks, until yesterday, when mom slipped from a curb and fell in the parking lot of the hospital and broke her shoulder.

My sister Carole (who was in Florida two weeks ago) will be there by noon today. I will follow tomorrow. We do not know when we will be returning home, there is much to do. Barbara and Harry will be showing up within the next few days and for a little while, we will be one family, under one roof.

I woke up last night, as I do every night, with my mind juggling thoughts about the day before and the one ahead, when I remembered an encounter I had during one of many trips to Florida over the 30 years my parents have lived there. There was a time in August of 2008, when mom had been hospitalized with a mysterious illness and there was a similar scramble to show up. After the sibling changing-of-the-guard, I was on my way back to New Jersey when one of those everyday moments in a crowded airplane suddenly transformed itself into something beyond itself.

And yes, I wrote about it, and yes, I knew at the time it was a foretelling.

THE INTIMACY OF STRANGERS

September 2, 2008

Mom is home from the hospital. My sister, Barbara, flew down to stay awhile. Barbara got off the plane; I got on the same one to fly home.

The mortality bullet was dodged. This time. I am aware.

It was an uneventful flight back to NJ. With only an hour to go, the cabin grew too chilly, then too warm. It was like being baked in an oven.

“This is why I don’t live in Florida,” I joked to the two women sitting next to me.

They smiled. The passenger in the aisle seat was a polished, attractive woman with shoulder-length silver hair pulled back with a clip of pearls. She wore an expensive red and gray blouse that accented her creamy skin.

“It’s good for getting away though,” she said, and then added, “I was there for two weeks after my parents died within 30 days of each other.”

“Oh! I’m so sorry….”

The woman in the middle seat looked thoughtful but said nothing.

I thought of my own parents, whose home I had just left after a week of being present through a sudden and severe illness that had hospitalized my 84 year-old mother. She is okay now; but we all wonder, for how long?

The gray-haired woman told her story, then added:

“You do what you think is right at the time. But I don’t think I would make some of those same choices now.”

The woman in the middle seat nodded. Her faded blond hair was pulled into a bun. Like the gray-haired woman, she also wore a pearl, a single stone of palest pink held in place by a gold chain around her neck. She looked up at the ceiling of the plane and said:

“My father is dying. I am on my way to Dublin, Ireland, where he lives with my mother. The hospice is trying to keep him alive until I get there.”

“My mother is upset that they took him from the house, but he was climbing over the bed rails and falling. She couldn’t handle him anymore, so the hospice staff insisted he be admitted to their facility to protect her. But she had promised my dad that she would not let that happen.”

Her face crumpled. She did not cry.

“Your father would not have wanted that for her,” I offered.

“No. Absolutely not.”

She sat back and closed her eyes.

“I am a three-time cancer survivor myself.”

The gray-haired woman on the aisle and I glanced at each other, then leaned forward, instantly forming the intuitive bond of support women can be so good at.

She continued.

“When I was sick, my father sat by my bed and told me he wished he could take the cancer away from me; that he would be sick if he could, instead of me. Now he is dying of esophageal cancer. It makes me wonder.”

It makes me wonder. I kept looking for the guy behind the camera that prepared this organized scene. It was so tidy. Three women, strangers to one another, sitting in a row: Gone through it, going through it, and looking at going through it.

“How did you, uh, get yourself through all of this?” I asked them.

The gray-haired woman responded immediately:

“You know that picture of the single set of footprints in the sand? I knew I was being held up by something beyond myself, and that same something is part of the place where my mother and father are now. I still know I am being carried.”

I nodded. I had just installed that very picture as the wallpaper of my new cell phone 12 hours before.

“I believe that too,” the woman in the middle seat agreed. “With my whole heart, now more than ever.”

I sat back against the narrow seat of the plane. During the last half hour of an anonymous flight that I have taken dozens of times, three strangers were talking about illness and death and faith. There was no messing around, no nervous jokes, no apologies for discussing topics that are usually taboo among people unless they have known each other for a long time. We were each on the same scale of the intimacies of the heart.

For Audrey: May your father rest in peace.

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

“We Travel Hopefully”

IMG_9258

I lost it at the grocery store the other day. Swinging my cart through the aisles to pick up carrots, brussel sprouts, potatoes and hamburgers for dinner, thinking about a new walking route to try later in the day with Toby, making a mental reminder of what bills to pay, I pushed past a store wagon full of cardboard boxes whose contents had yet to be placed on the shelves. The detour around the stack put me face to face with the racks of greeting cards you can still find in supermarkets. There was the section for His and Her Birthdays, Children, Special Occasion, Wedding, Anniversary, Sympathy and on the wall behind the boxes, two rows of red and pink Valentine’s Day cards. Seeing them was my annual reminder that the “lover’s holiday” was approaching but for our family, it also marks the twin birthdays for my father and younger sister, a trifecta of sweetness when we were growing up.

I walked around the giant cart and decided to get birthday cards for Dad and my sister before the good ones are picked over and gone. It has always been a bit of fun, I thought, to remember both their birthdays are on Valentines Day…

WAIT.

A bubble of grief burst in my brain as I realized this may be the last year I will be buying a Valentine’s birthday card for dad and suddenly, my eyes blurred with tears and for a minute, I could not move until the spinning reality of my father’s declining health became a dull light permanently switched to on. Ambushed by grief.

There are a lot of awful diseases out there and many ways to leave this earth. It is the one thing we have in common with every living thing on the planet. There have been many who have written more eloquently about the approaching loss of loved ones but this is my story this time, a story I don’t talk about much because living it is hard enough.

But, to borrow a phrase from a friend’s father who passed away recently: “We travel hopefully,” with both mom and dad, and with each other. We travel hopefully that we will be able to companion them in this transition to a place not that far away. We travel hopefully that we will find a way to keep Dad comfortable and safe. We travel hopefully that love will reach beyond the veil and we will know each other again.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Change is Messy

DjB Allagash FallsThis is me diving into Allagash Falls way back when. As I was about to leap, the guide informed me it would feel like being thrashed in a washing machine set to rough handling, and then instructed me to “swim like hell” when I broke to the surface to avoid being sucked into a whirlpool. I almost changed my mind right then and there but then I would have to climb back over the slippery rocks to where I had started. Leap or stay safe?

I got a little banged up and went back and leaped again. A lesson remembered now that the first week of 2016 has arrived, a time to glance back to see where I have been and forward to where I need to go to avoid getting sucked down.

It is tempting to berate the many mistakes and bad decisions made in the process of these past two years but I wanted to change from the person I was to the person I believe lives in me, a MORE me. But change is a messy business. Unless you are Scrooge and wake up a new and improved human being after an overnight series of weird dreams, change happens in fits and starts.

If I were to write a New Year’s blog post, I would write about change, how sometimes it happens overnight but not usually. Usually it happens over time, deliberate or not, life happens to you and sometimes you make it happen, you can only plan so much while God laughs. One of the changes I want to make is to push through the dense cloud of resistance to living a creative life, a daily life enriched by art, be it writing, drawing, coloring, photographing, meditating, laughing. Change is about sometimes stepping, sometimes leaping, into the intimidating known and the scary unknown without scooting  under the bed of the comfortable familiar. I do not make New Year’s resolutions but if I did, it would be to step out every day with my vulnerability as my shield and a “fake it until you make it” kind of courage.

I am, at heart, an introvert. With some effort, I can throw out flashes of sociability; however, the clock ticks on how long I can keep that going and invariably, substantial recovery time is required afterward. I have been in Middlebury for 5 months now and despite some pleasant experiences with the local birding organization, I have not yet uncovered a current of relationships that fit. There is no “newcomers” clubs or organizations; political groups are of no interest to me, what I am looking for is a small, intimate circle of people, preferably women, who are also seeking their creative arc.

Well, says the little voice: If you can’t find one that fits, start one yourself. I am thinking about it, maybe a writing group, one that meets in the mornings, “MY” time to write. The goal would be to connect with others by connecting to our inner artist, admitting she exists and then living into it. Show, don’t tell.

We could start by meeting for say, 10 weeks, so if it doesn’t work out, the end will already be in sight. It’s been awhile since I’ve organized something like this but there is nothing to lose, and besides, the reluctance I feel is the very thing I need to push through to get to the core of change I want to make happen.

If I were to make a New Year’s resolution, and I won’t, it would be to write  to OakintheSeed, twice a month to start off, to let the infection of creating something, anything, settle into my bones, start the fever to fire up the passion of creating because I am yet alive, let it be that I will not leave this earth empty of my passing.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

A Pair of Percherons

IMG_0509

Meet Jerry and Jake, two Percheron draft horses pulling the trash cart through Middlebury. Imagine getting the coffee ready and seeing these two on recycling day instead of the hulking truck coming down the street.

I have a childhood memory of a horse pulling a broken-down wagon rolling up Kingston Street where I grew up. The junk man, he called himself, and every now and then, the call would go out among us neighborhood children, “Here comes the junk man!” And I would run, thrilled to hear the clop-clop of the horses’ hooves, it stirred an excitement in me that has never diminished, and ignited when I saw these guys clopping down Buttolph Drive yesterday morning. I grabbed my camera and flew out the door as they glided around the curve at a speed we would all be better off going. The driver and crew were accustomed to breathless photographers in sloppy clothes who wanted to see the horses, be near a living vestige of our past but what they did not know was my own long history with horses and the burning attraction that somehow these animals are an integral part of my living spirit and always will be.

It’s not something I can explain. You horse people know what I mean.

IMG_0513

The connection goes further to people I have been drawn to over the years. I have come to expect that whenever I meet someone I like immediately (I am reticent my nature, not inclined to connecting easily), who moves a certain way or sees the world from a different, usually kinder (but not always) viewpoint, invariably has pets, who may not like but is not put off by bad weather, is clever with a shovel, is not afraid of getting dirty, and in general, exudes a kind of independent confidence, that we share some common history of horse involvement, past and or present. This is not limited to friends and acquaintances, there are some people in my own family I am drawn to for the same reason, imagine that.

Jerry and Jake work Tuesday and Thursdays at this job, another pair work Mondays and Wednesdays. I wanted to ask more questions; heck, I wanted to scratch their withers, I wanted to feel the warm harness, I wanted the smell of horse on my palms, I wanted to hop on the wagon and drive. But they had a job to do, the man and woman picking up the recycling from the homes of the people who had hired them were waiting patiently for me to step away so they could move on and finish their cold job.

I count this as one of the many little miracles of living in a new place, wouldn’t you? The world opens up in unexpected ways, it changes you, if you let it.

IMG_0514

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Knitting & Purling, Crashing & Burning

IMG_0820It’s been 15 months since we left New Jersey to move to Florida, 4 months since we left Florida to move in Vermont, where we currently live. Long story. I have not established a routine yet, every day has to be figured out, not a bad thing and a far cry from the mediocre existence I was floating in at a job that started off great 28 years ago but ended up a casualty to politics. As John Katz writes on his blog, Bedlam Farm, “…stasis and complacency are just a benign form of suicide.”

Last month, a friend I have not seen in twenty years came for a visit. She introduced me to the surprisingly addictive hobby of knitting. I’ve been fumbling with it since, spent hours YouTubing videos on knitting and purling, yarn-overs, then tried my new skills on knitting a pair of wristies to see something REAL, and not endless practice rows. I used the cheapest yarn I could find for my maiden voyage into garter and stockinette stiches but no matter what I did, the first two rows came out a row of curly knots. I cut my losses, cast on three more times only to knit myself more rows of scrambled yarn. Screw this, I can’t knit, I said to myself, and threw my little project against the wall where it poofed to the floor, still slung on its needle.

If I had known taking a chance and leaving my job and home would have been as hard as it has been, I would not have done it. Period. There, I said it. (All those memes about leaping, faith, dreams coming true!) I should have come up with a better plan, I should have been better organized in my decision-making, I should have gone to therapy.

I picked up the rejected knitting needle, pulled the cheap yarn off, cast around for a different project. Something totally different, I thought, start over. I vowed to keep going with it no matter what kind of mistakes I made, whether I gained or lost a stitch, whether the pattern got skewed, I swore I would finish it, even if it was full of mistakes, I would…will…make this work. It may not look the way I expected it to, it may not be as pretty as the picture, it may even be unrecognizable to anyone but me, but so help me, I was going to get this sucker done.

The thing was…is…the one clear thought that pushed me off my pedestal of professional mediocrity, was knowing I could do better, be better, there is more to me than marching from one day to the next waiting until Medicare kicks in. I am not sure who that someone is, but I would rather crash and burn and die trying than slide silently into my grave, retired at last.

The thing is…I did crash and burn. Some friends faded away, one went up in a puff of deceit, some stuck around but kept their distance, not quite knowing what to do with the nut in the corner. But the skies opened and new people arrived in my life, a dog trainer now soulmate partner, a dear friend from long ago showed up on my doorstep, acquaintances stepped forward into real friendship.

I got a third of the way through my new knitting project and realized I had missed a section of the instructions that would minimize the pattern. I could keep going and let the pattern fade or rip out a bunch of rows to try and fix it, taking the chance that I could ruin the entire thing. I had no idea how to drag a knitted piece off its needle, pull some of it apart, then thread it back on again and keep going. I could wreck everything I had done so far and I wanted to have a finished piece. But I also wanted the whole pattern, I wanted the best part to show. So I pulled it apart, the stitches sprang from their moorings, leaving a ragged row that had to be lifted back onto the needle in a sequence that made sense. It was touchy work, I held my breath a few times. The yarn is a bit ragged now, a little loopy in that section but it all went back on the needle, one way or another. I keep knitting and purling, the pattern is becoming clear again.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

THANKSGIVING 2015

I have posted earlier versions of my Thanksgiving Gratitude List in the past. Here is this year’s update…because it is always timely to be grateful.

IMG_0454.JPG

I am grateful to be still on this earth.

I am grateful for my husband, my parents, three sisters and brother. My oldest sister has passed on but I am grateful for fond memories of happier times. My new home in Vermont and the people who helped me get here, it was a series of miracles, really ,that I will happily never recover from. For my 2 cats and dog, good food on the table three times a day, my town, a car for both Ken and for me, clothes on my back, hair on my head, my family of friends in various stages of coming and going. My health, my strong legs that walk me miles every day to and from upon this earth, laughter, books, insight, notebooks, shoes, shampoo, dark chocolate, enough money, watches, soft socks, smooth-writing pens, brakes, air conditioning in the summer, heat in the winter. Potential. Hope.

Pandora, buttercream, the sharp scent of ozone before a storm, geese calling from their “V”, friends who tell you the truth.

Not ever giving up.

Electricity, otters, French press coffee pots, lace tablecloths, airplanes, rain, Xanax, trees, raccoons, bears and flying squirrels. Coming home at the end of the day, newspapers at my front door, pancakes with real Vermont fancy maple syrup. Being lifted by the smell of balsam for my daily morning mile.

Crisp sunrises, moonlight stroking my sleeping husband, heated birdbaths, warblers and woodpeckers, intuition, prayer, shoes to walk miles in. Telephones. Dirt. Suet you can buy in the store for chilly Chickadees. The flashing wings of Blue Jays picking peanuts off the deck railing, deck chairs, music, the cinnamon spice aroma of mulled apple cider.

Earthworms, quiet afternoons, scented candles, hard boiled eggs, pizza with extra cheese, solitude, naps, friends who understand pain, birds, the Grand Canyon, wild horses, bubble baths, sparkly rings, blank pages, poetry, Mary Oliver. Dishwashers, growing up a girl, roses, periwinkle.

Kind veterinarians, long walks in the woods, recipes, corduroy, fingernails, medicine, cat food, chants, indoor plumbing, clothes dryers, knitting (learning) green, restaurant dinners, lemons, hummingbirds, blogs.

Loons.

Water, duct tape, wireless routers, flush toilets, soap, icicles, forsythia. Swingline staplers, batteries, fingers, calendars, keyboards, love, switches, picture frames, flashlights, bookends, E. B. White. Answering machines, gas stations, orange juice, chocolate chips, apricots. Angels. Stories with happy endings, fleece, Dr. Cappitelli, flour, highlighters, harmony. Calligraphy, combs, toothpaste, wild bunnies in the yard. Wolves.

Pencils, bees, pansies, polka dots, pillows, zebras, salad, laughing children, convertibles, magazines. Sleeping kittens, fireflies, peanut butter, good clergy, email, purple, American flags, dragons, acorns, light bulbs, soap, jewelry boxes, ponies, walking sticks, dragonflies, guitars, tomorrow, cat litter, mirrors, blueberries, blinking Christmas reindeer, sequins, dictionaries, windy days and wet tree bark.

Unicorns, beginnings, grace, bats, stars, computers, bookends, hosta, garbage cans, skin, new tires, sunglasses, BINOCULARS, Cedar Waxwings, birding days, screech owl nights, duplicate car keys, paved roads, caller ID, friends who don’t let you go.

The list never ends. AMEN.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment