28 Oct 2013
in Uncategorized Tags: EveryDayStuff, gratitude, grief, LouReed, Mom
Last Thursday Mom told me she didn’t want to try to change or address her emotions. It hurts a lot. I’m trying to not let it feel like a personal rejection, but it is hard. When it counted all of my parents, Father, Step-dad, and now Mom, have always chose to not fight, to not do the work needed to stay in the world. I’m trying to remember that the depth of Mom’s mental illness makes trying seem like a task not worth doing and it isn’t that she doesn’t care enough about me to try.
Saturday was filled with the wonderful gift of a cooking lesson from a woman who has gone from “vendor” to “friend” in the years we’ve worked together to provide a tasty lunch at Open Source Bridge. She met me, and a few friends, for “coached shopping” at a new Asian supermarket. Then on to freshly made tofu. Back to our home for a flurry of cooking. It wore me out, but it was good to have that energy in the house.
Yesterday I woke up feeling like I needed a do-over. I had slept alright and got up early enough to have a soak after feeding our companion animals. I then got Mom up and got her started on her day, but was finding my morning tea was leaving me feeling a nauseous. I decided the answer was to just go back to bed for a while.
I did. I slept another 90 minutes or so and felt better for it. Then I went online and discovered the news that Lou Reed had died.
I nearly just gave up and went back to bed, but the necessity of errands drove me forth. The misty, gray day suited my lousy mood. I bemoaned my iPod, which had died recently taking my library with it. Much of it is backed up, but getting our music server going is a project we need to take on together soon. I couldn’t immediately gratify my desire to put on Lou Reed’s music, loud. I was angry at yet another loss, regardless of the inevitability of loss that is part of living.
I decided the day, with all the tiredness and sadness brought on by Mom’s declaration, combined with a moody-funk brought on by the news about Lou Reed, needed flowers. I set out with the intention of glaring down the errands, buying my damn flowers, and defying the misty grey weather by potting them on the front porch.
Then the sun came out. I got home, bought a copy of “Magic and Loss”, transferred it to the shiny new iPod CK bought for me while she was flying off on another business trip, and set to planting my flowers. I ended by sweeping down the bricks. In my bones when I sweep down a walk in chilly weather I am drawn back to sesshin. The music ended. I softly chanted some of the Diamond Sutra. I went back inside feeling more grounded.
Today I saw my acupuncturist. I shared with him that I have been feeling foolish for getting my hopes up around Mom. I so deeply hoped that our alleviating the burden of her health management, of stabilizing her health, would create a space for her to want to have a relationship with me based around something other than appointments or shopping. The reality that she doesn’t want that and no amount of my hoping and wanting it for us makes any difference is tough.
My very wise practitioner quickly responded, “Oh don’t do that. Never feel foolish for hoping. It is wonderful to have hope.”
I blinked in surprise at this swift re-framing of my feeling dumb for getting my hopes up. He then added, “You tested the bounds of that hope for your Mom. You’ve done what you could. It is alright to have had hope then found it wasn’t a possible path. It is time to move on.”
It still hurts, a lot. I’m trying to reset to new hopes for Mom. That she’ll be safe and secure. That she’ll find new friends who have more in common with her. I am not going to push it and hope for contentment or ease for her, I feel these will elude her entirely. She will always stumble on joy.
I was introduced to the song, “What’s Good”, by the late Lou Reed when it appeared on the soundtrack for one of my favorite movies, Until the End of the World. It is actually from “Magic and Loss”. I have always been really struck by the lyrics toward the end that remind us that “Life’s good (but not fair at all)”.
If things were “fair” then Mom would want a relationship with me as much as I want one with her, she’d respond to all the work I put in to try and make that happen. Sunday ended up being sunny and beautiful. The flowers I planted graced our home. Life is good, even when it feels distinctly unfair.
Autumn Planting – Portland, Oregon – October 27, 2013
by Lou Reed
Life’s like a mayonnaise soda
And life’s like space without room
And life’s like bacon and ice cream
That’s what life’s like without you
Life’s like forever becoming
But life’s forever dealing in hurt
Now life’s like death without living
That’s what life’s like without you
Life’s like Sanskrit read to a pony
I see you in my mind’s eye strangling on your tongue
What’s good is knowing such devotion
I’ve been around, I know what makes things run
What good is seeing eye chocolate
What good’s a computerized nose
And what good was cancer in April
Why no good, no good at all
What good’s a war without killing
What good is rain that falls up
What good’s a disease that won’t hurt you
Why no good, I guess, no good at all
What good are these thoughts that I’m thinking
It must be better not to be thinking at all
A Styrofoam lover with emotions of concrete
No not much, not much at all
What good is life without living
What good’s this lion that barks
You loved a life others throw away nightly
It’s not fair, not fair at all
Oh, baby, what’s good?
Not much at all
Hey, baby, what’s good?
Not much at all
But not fair at all
28 Sep 2013
in Uncategorized Tags: Aging in Place, anger, EveryDayStuff, grief, Mom
CK Teaching Mom to Use iPad – November 2012 – Portland, Oregon
**Trigger Warning: Lots and lots of Mom Stuff, Abusive behavior, references to childhood abuse and dealing with addiction issues**
It has been a year since we moved into our new home, 11 months since Mom moved in with us. It has been quite a year.
Honestly, I have found it hard to write about anything. This year has been facing the reality that I am unable to affect my Mom’s happiness, no matter how hard I try.
It has also taken away my last hopes that maybe my childhood wasn’t awful. That it only had moments of lousiness. That my Mom was pretty good the majority of the time.
Those last hopes are pretty much gone having seen how quickly CK has seen Mom’s manipulative tendencies. How swiftly she’s become horrified by and angry at Mom’s behavior. It is deeply painful to really acknowledge the truth of one of my therapists observing that she felt my entire childhood was devoid of any adult who had my best interests at heart.
All I’ve wanted for Mom is to see her content, happy even if just in small ways. I gave up on seeing Mom have a life that’s fulfilling a long time ago after realizing that I don’t think I could recognize what that means to Mom. I also recognized a long time ago that what I find fulfilling, my Mother finds either amusing or baffling, which also hurts.
We hoped that by bringing Mom to live with us we could help relieve some of things she was clearly overwhelmed by. Living alone she fell several times, kept getting sick, and was clearly not coping with anything. I was going out to Gresham all the time, sometimes in a panicked rush. We knew that with some oversight with medication and meals, and some company, that she would stabilize. I’d hoped that with stability we might have the space to enjoy some of our time together.
The first weekend after she moved in we had a low blood sugar incident because Mom had taken insulin and didn’t follow up with food. We were out running errands and not here to supervise. When we arrived home Mom was barely responsive, clammy, and incoherent.
By “incident” I mean a fire truck out front, 6 or 7 very large, male EMTs in our cramped living room that had just been filled with Mom’s stuff, and an ambulance ride. It was the second time in my life I’ve been asked to “ride shotgun” in an ambulance with someone I know being stabilized in the back. I gave directions to the hospital, the ER doc went over her list of medications in shock. After returning home from the hospital we also took over Mom’s medications, particularly things like Oxycodone and Ativan, which we caught her about to incorrectly dose herself.
It hit us really hard that the terrifying mix of Ambien, Ativan, Oxycode, and Fentanyl patches she was on left her in kind of a vague haze all the time. If you add to the the insulin, forgetting to eat, and not eating well we knew it was really no wonder she hadn’t fallen more. A combination of over-medicating herself and low blood sugars could have very easily been lethal.
Since this incident all her diabetes medications and insulin levels have been adjusted and we most often check into be sure she’s eaten after insulin. CK spent several months having weekly calls with a diabetes nurse specialist at Kaiser to track Mom’s blood glucose, get Mom off the Metformin, figure out what the new R and N insulin doses should be, and what the best scale for corrective R insulin needs to be. We make sure Mom checks her blood glucose 4 times a day, correcting the insulin dose 2-3 times each day.
Every other week for the past year and a half or so I set up her meds for the next two weeks. We’ve also realized that she still doesn’t do well getting them out of the containers, often leaving pills behind, and occasionally taking the pills incorrectly (wrong days, wrong time to take them, etc.). Since last autumn every morning we set out a day’s pills in small ceramic ramekins, each resting on a colored sticky note to indicate which time it is to be taken.
I now also dispense her Fentanyl patches, which she also hadn’t been taking correctly. I’ve got her to stop taking Ativan too and work with her in stressful situations to try and focus on her breath, reminding her that she’s alright. Besides which, her last physician had prescribed it only because of the traumatic way her late husband’s family dumped her at the independent living facility in January 2012. Mom isn’t having panic attacks anymore, so it doesn’t make sense for her to keep taking Ativan on a daily basis. At times she was taking one a few times a day in combination with Oxycodone 1-2 at a time, “as needed”. Yes, that is on top of 100mg Fentanyl patches and her taking Ambien at bedtime.
We’ve stopped the Ambien too, particularly since she already is taking an Oxycodone at bedtime too. When she was taking those Ambien and Oxycodone at bedtime she would become alarmingly out-of-it. No surprise.
Then there’s the kidney disease. After years of diabetes, and not really doing a good job managing it, with the related medications like Metformin has left Mom’s kidneys is sorry shape. The result is a constant struggle with anemia since her kidneys fail to adequately do their part of the job of red blood cell production. This means bi-weekly blood work to see how her blood levels are. When they’re falling, there is the scheduling for a type & cross-match followed by a transfusion, sometimes needed monthly. She had an access port installed several years ago, but to ensure that it always properly working in case a transfusion is needed we also have to have bi-weekly port flushes scheduled. Since we’ve engaged the help of the care management folks at least the work of taking Mom to a Kaiser facility weekly is offloaded from us, but still we’re always reviewing the lab results. We also weekly dispense a dose of Procrit which stimulates the kidneys into working and have regular calls with the nephrology pharmacy as the dosage needs to change to try and keep ahead of the anemia.
It hasn’t been easy getting Mom’s health to stabilize, but we’ve done it. There have been no more serious falls and no more low blood sugar incidents. On top of that the change to a vegan diet* and stabilization of her blood glucose levels has meant that her eyes** are actually improving, her near constant digestive distress has been resolved, and her triglycerides have lowered to the point they can actually be measured.***
*Mostly vegan, we encourage her to eat as she likes outside the home.
**Mom is legally blind due to complications of the diabetes. Her eyes have had a lot of swelling in them, necessitating treatments directly too them. Her eye doctor was actually quite pleasantly surprised at our last visit and felt that the diet change and blood sugar stabilization is clearly helping. He told Mom that she should keep doing what she’s been doing!
***Yes, Mom’s triglycerides have been so high they’ve been out of measurable range.
We’ve worked with a new physician on what her dose of Oxycodone is, but Mom often complains about wanting to go back to when she was self-dosing with these. The amount we can get from the pharmacy is very strictly controlled and we’re not allowed to pick them up early. On more than one occasion we’ve come up short of the date, which leaves me suspecting that she can actually get into them on the high shelf I’ve put them. In fact, I’ve moved them this week because I really think some of those prescriptions have been “short” because she’s got into them.
There’s been some good, but mostly it has just been a damn long couple of years we’re coming up on. That said, it has been a particularly lousy week.
Sunday, when CK and I were going to leave to go take care of the week’s grocery shopping Mom somewhat snidely remarked that she hoped we had fun without her.
Mom’s been resentful for a while that grocery shopping isn’t set aside as a fun outing for her to poke around the store. Getting the grocery shopping is largely a chore I like to get done with as efficiently as possible and I realized early on that shopping with her took at least twice as long. I also had to stop her from nearly running into people with the shopping cart she insists on using. Grocery shopping with Mom makes a tolerable chore an anxiety inducing activity.
On Monday I had to admit I was fighting a cold. Watching CK play Skyrim after dinner started making horribly dizzy so I went to lay down. While I was doing so I could overhear Mom, through her closed door, on the phone with a friend complaining about us, particularly about how “of course” we didn’t take her with us shopping along with other bitterness.
This is not the first time one of us has overheard Mom bitching about us on the phone. CK even confronted Mom once after overhearing her telling a friend that I was misusing her funds. What shocked CK most about this is my lack of surprise that Mom should get caught saying awful things about me to people behind my back. She’s done it many times in my life, at various ages.
On Tuesday Mom’s blood glucose at dinner was unexpectedly high, particularly since she’d had lunch earlier than usual that day. It was high enough that I’d asked her what she had for lunch and asked if she’d had a snack in the afternoon. A snack would have been fine, I just wanted the 220 blood glucose to make some sense. I had her retest, assuming she had something on her hands, but it was still at 200. I just shook my head over it and gave her a higher dose of the R insulin to take before dinner. We’ve suspected Mom’s been snacking in her room because she’s been overheard munching at times and we’ve also caught Dora licking up crumbs off the floor. We’ve asked her about it, but she always denies it. sometimes really defensively.
On Thursday morning CK realized that our recycling and compost cans didn’t make it down to the curb and rush out in the morning to do so. She discovered Mom had accidentally dumped the small trash can from her bedroom into the recycling. This has happened a couple of times. We’ve labeled the cans with big reflective letter stickers, we’ve suggested she not take it out when it is dim outside (which makes it even harder for her to see which can is which), and we’ve even noted that her trash is emptied every other week by the person who comes and cleans the house for us. Still, it is one of those things where she still wants to feel like she can do something herself, so sometimes we end up with trash in the compost and recycling, leaving whoever finds it the messy job of getting the trash out of the wrong bin and into the right one.
That’s not the bad part. Yes, it is frustrating and irritating, but if that’s the only irritation we dealt with it would be entirely manageable.
In the trash CK discovered several Twinkie wrappers and a receipt from buying some herbal weight loss pills while out shopping with friends when we visited Toronto for our anniversary. Take away that Twinkies aren’t vegan. Take away that she’s self medicating with weight loss pills that, combined with all the medications for her diabetes, high blood pressure, and congestive heart failure, not to mention her pacemaker, are really a dangerous combination. Not to mention just being a bad idea to take them with Mom’s combination of health challenges. Take all that away and we’re left with her sneaking things that are not good for her and lying about it.
CK confronted her while I finished getting dressed. I had to take several deep breaths to go out into the kitchen where I could hear Mom implying that her hiding things was our fault. That she is forced to lie and sneak because we so rigid, don’t let her have anything she wants, and “treat her like a child”. I confronted her about the high blood glucose on Tuesday evening, noting that Twinkies explained it now. I told her I wouldn’t have cared if she’d had a sugary treat, even if it isn’t the right kind of choice for herself. I had just wanted to understand because unexplained highs or lows in the blood sugar can be indicative of something going on that should be seen to by her doctor.
Since Thursday morning Mom’s barely spoken to us****. She is polite, but doesn’t really engage and retreats to her room. I haven’t given in to the old training that compels me to make it better for her, comfort her. CK is also not really talking to her at all after telling Mom she needed to really honestly talk to us. Right before Mom told CK that she’s not a psychologist and she can’t make Mom say anything.
Mom Watching the Sunset – March 2013 – Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii
This past spring we had an assessment of Mom done by a company in town that provides care coordination and management for seniors and other vulnerable people. They advised that Mom shouldn’t be living with us, that the level of oversight and assistance she needs would require us bringing in a lot of extra help in the home. I’ve also been questioned pretty repeatedly by both of my therapists this past year about what I get out of having Mom live here, aside from the reassurance that direct oversight of her provides.
Mom’s not happy here. My therapists believe Mom really isn’t capable of happiness, that she connects with others only through misery. Lately I think the main things she gets out of being here is an increase in her monthly income, because she’s not spending as much for her “rent”, and access to a hot tub. I’ve felt for several years that while Mom says she loves me, she doesn’t like me. She doesn’t respect me, doesn’t understand me, and feels entitled to demand respect from me.
Mom has this idea that merely attaining a certain age entitles someone to be respected regardless of how they behave. Growing up I was repeatedly told that age demanded respect, regardless of truth or what was ethically right. Mom also raised me to respond to her unhappiness, to do anything to make her happy and to make things easier for her.
Add to a huge, lifelong list of behavior and mental health issues the fact that the clear toll of the past couple of traumatic years is a decline in cognitive ability. Add to that the reality that Mom can go from generally OK to totally decompensated very quickly. This progression is so rapid that it is not advisable for her to take public transportation, not even the ride share for seniors. She does take a shuttle to the senior center, but those drivers have more experience dealing with folks like Mom.
The assessment folks were right. CK and I are so overwhelmed with the effort to care for her that that effort combined with our respective, demanding jobs, means we often have little energy left to connect with one another. It has become increasingly clear that Mom does not, cannot appreciate the tremendous effort it takes to keep her health stable. In fact, I often am left feeling like she resents our efforts to keep her health stabilized because she doesn’t want to think about what she eats, she doesn’t want to keep a consistent schedule around eating, she wants to take all the pills that let her put this world she hates and the pain she fears behind a haze of fog.
The reality is that Mom will be unhappy, petty, and spiteful no matter where she lives. She will continue to decline mentally, further removing any hope that she can honestly engage with us about the hurtful ways she behaves. Not that she ever really has taken responsibility for her behavior.
On Tuesday afternoon we met with a woman who specializes in placing people in care facilities. She was recommended to us by the people who did the care assessment. Her belief, given Mom’s cognitive state and mental health issues, is that Mom needs a residential care facility. She is encouraging us, me particularly, to understand that it is OK to pursue this decision about Mom’s long term care, that it isn’t reasonable for us to sacrifice our life together just so Mom can be terrible to us, me particularly. No sacrifice on our part can actually bring Mom happiness in any way, but will only further harm us.
****As of 11pm we’ve had a huge blow up, but I suppose at least it isn’t festering just below the surface any longer.
11 May 2013
in Uncategorized Tags: Art, grief, Inner Critic
Back in January I finally decided to sign up for a workshop with Seth Apter at one of my favorite little, local art shops, Collage. Today was the day.
It has been hard this past several weeks. Igal’s death has been a dark pall over the bright flowers of spring. I was really quietly pleased that despite the grief, anxiety, PTSD triggers, illness, exhaustion and busyness of April, I still managed to put together 30 poems in 30 days.
In the cleaning, sorting, distributing, and dealing with Igal’s apartments, which his closest friends took on, some of his things were sent to, or set aside for people. I helped in the initial days, the apartment was easier to deal with than the meetings to plan his memorial. In the final days our friends decided some things should be brought to us.
Japanese ceramics, a collection that seems to have no theme beyond being pleasing to Igal at some time has been brought to CK and I. I look forward to serving festive dishes, particularly Japanese ones, on these beautiful dishes. At future Thanksgiving dinners it will give me a way of continuing to include Igal, despite his being gone from this life.
Igal’s Lovely Japanese Dishes
In January, when I’d decided to attend the workshop, I had so looked forward to discussing my ideas about it with Igal. He had encouraged me to explore using acrylic medium for my artwork. At one of our infrequent, but wonderful Art at Koehler Haus days, Igal sat with me and shared his acrylics to help me learn how to use them.
Another gift of our friends was a decision to bring Igal’s art supplies to us. Today I had Igal with me; I brought his paint box with me to class and used many of his acrylic paints and glaze in the start of my project today. I am so humbled that our friends thought these things should come to me.
Beginning the Workshop, with Igal’s paint box.
I was so nervous this morning before heading to the workshop. All the usual feelings of inadequacy, of “pretending” at art. CK gave me a kiss before leaving, encouraging me.
Our instructor, Seth Apter, was great. He immediately assured us that we would most likely not finish! Such a relied to be assured that 54 small collage pieces was a tall order indeed!
We quickly got to work on applying black gesso to all 52 playing cards and a piece for the front, another for the back.
He reminded us right away to not forget to work on the cover and back pieces, on book board, pieces in addition to the 52 playing cards. The black and the beauty of metallic, gold acrylic inspired me to create a small Enso. I will admit that it felt really very good when Seth complimented it, showing it to the other workshop participants, and recognizing it as an Enso.
Cover with Enso
Next we were encourage to apply some layers, at least one, of acrylic paint. My colors were all fairly rich and dark, against the black gesso they mostly implied a suggestion of color, which was pretty lovely.
Layers of Acrylic Paint Over Gesso
Then we were to set aside one side for adding text. Eventually my book will have poems by Hafiz and Rumi appearing on these pages. To the other side we received instruction on how to mix the acrylic paint with glaze to make sheer, translucent layers of color over the black gesso.
Layers and Layers of Acrylic Glaze
Next came time to apply collage layers. Here’s where I felt a little lost. I’d thought I’d seen the boxes of paper and emphera I’ve collected these past handful of years, but I only found the small box of the smallest scraps. Given that we’re altering playing cards, it was really just fine, but I still wish I’d found my awesome paper stash!
Next Step, Collage!
All too soon the workshop was over! I am only a quarter or a third of the way done! I really can’t wait to get my office fully together, my chair out the box, so I can create!
Just Barely Begun!
Today is all “wrapped up” and I’m already thinking about making a book of Mary Oliver poetry in this form. I’m also really intrigued by Seth’s inspiration for this workshop; making one card a week for an entire year. Seems like a great way to combine collage, altered art and haiku into a project.
Hafiz / Rumi Altered Playing Card Book – Day One
13 Apr 2013
in Uncategorized Tags: 30-Poems-30-Days, EveryDayStuff, grief, Haiku, poetry
Still Pond – April 12, 2013 – Portland, OR
Today I helped with the sorting at my friend’s apartment. The packing, the sifting, the cataloging, analyzing, and inventorying of a life. It is so hard.
Before going to do that, while CK attended a planning meeting for our fiend’s memorial, I went out to skim the pond. It is a task that calls to me in our new home, definitely a work practice. Even as I lift pine needles off the surface of the water the wind blows new ones down, always more to be removed. I like the sound of the water dripping, the movement of the net made of silk screen material, finding the best method for collecting the needles and leaves.
Today I discovered that some of the water lilies we saw leaves for last summer have survived the winter and was lifting small, red leaves out from the murky bottom and up toward the sun.
Lily reaching up.
Emerging from dark water.
Spreading leaves sun-ward.
CK has written a very moving piece on her blog about our friend’s death and about living with chronic illness (mental and/or physical) here.
02 Apr 2013
in Uncategorized Tags: 30-Poems-30-Days, grief, poetry
Heard Billy Bragg sing Tank Park Salute live tonight. Although it came out 9/10 years before my Dads (step and biological) would die, it is the song I associate with their deaths, less than 11 months apart. Hearing it live is always something of a punch to the heart.
Neither of you
Were ever heroes.
Ever aspired to
Even in your
Well, maybe there,
In the wild space
Even then, you clung
To safer waters,
Not the unknown
Shoals of bravery.
Still, you were
The closest I had
To an in-person hero.
At the very least
I so wanted you
To be my hero.
All that Remains – April 6, 2013, Portland, OR
I have nothing
In tribute to
The hero you
Never could be.
Tried to be.
20 Jun 2012
in Uncategorized Tags: Beloit, gratitude, grief
2012 Eclipse as Seen from Cloudy Portland
The news came via Facebook, of course.
One of my college advisors (the one for my major), Archaeologist Dr. Daniel Edward Shea collapsed while on a summer research trip in Chile, never regained consciousness, and died.
I can’t even begin to imagine the pain his students and staff there with him are experiencing, or the terrible loss to his family back home, his students, his colleagues. I do know some of the grief felt by students who left Beloit and moved on into our lives. It is of course a tremendous, tragic loss.
We all called him Dan. In his upper division classes coffee duty rotated and when it was your turn you made coffee & got up and brought the pot in for everyone. He’d wake me up for my classes when I’d fall asleep in the department lounge. I used to babysit his kids.
Dan let me down a few times and in some big, important ways. Seeing old friends at Jen’s memorial really brought this home to me.
Beloit let me down. I’m still working through the shame, the mantra that repeats in my head, endlessly:
You didn’t finish what you started.
Jen’s memorial made me realize I’m also still working through the anger at knowing that when I really, desperately needed them, my advisors didn’t advise.
All that aside, reflecting on Dan’s influence in my life, I want to acknowledge something very important. When I would get my courage up to sit down in his office and tell him my ideas and theories about Peruvian archaeology, I left those discussions feeling like he listened to me and respected me. Even when he occasionally, and rightly, shot those theories full of holes.
As a woman who’s been working in tech for well over a dozen years, and has gone through phone calls where a man asked me to put another man on the phone, doubting my skills and knowledge merely because I’m a woman, the experience of having my academic opinion respected was hugely beneficial. Hell, college was really my first experience at having my opinion respected or really heard much at all.
Having my advisor really listen to me, well it meant a lot and it still does. It also helps offset some of the anger I’m working through at being let down when I needed help.
Clearly ceremonies and observances are called for:
Incense lit and offered to Dan and the Kwan Yin statue in the herb garden.
To the lingering solstice twilight in the west, three bows for Dan.
Metta to those students and faculty with Dan, may you know ease.
Metta to Dan’s family, may you be at peace.
Metta to Dan’s colleagues and students at Beloit, may you be peaceful.
Metta for all Dan’s students who’ve moved on from Beloit, may we all be at ease.
Move on Dan. May your next life also be filled with adventure, learning, and joy. Thank you for the lessons you taught me and for listening.
17 Jun 2012
in Uncategorized Tags: Dad, grief, health, relationship dynamics
I don’t talk about my Dad much here, or my biological father. In 11 months, from December 2000 to November 2001, I’d lost them both.
My Mom was married to my step-father for nearly 25 years, so he’s really the person I think of when I say “Dad”. He died in December 2000. I was outside, fixing his reindeer lawn ornament, when he actually died. I held his hand for several minutes when I came in before taking off his wedding ring and putting it on my own hand.
I wore it for a few years until I’d lost so much weight I was afraid I’d lose it. I still have it and a small handful of his other things. I continue to miss him, including his inability to express his emotions well.
When I was 24 my biological father got back in touch with me and we had a strained, uneasy relationship for about 6 years before he died in November 2001. I have his discharge papers, some slides and a handful of photographs. Mostly all from before I was even born.
Both of them died because they wouldn’t give up the things that were killing them. Both of them were alcoholic smokers. Dad was a Seagram’s drinker and he went from unfiltered Pall Mall cigarettes to filtered Camels. My biological father was a vodka man and I can’t recall what brand he smoked, but a cigarette was never far. I’m sure also had an addiction to the array of prescription pain medications he took.
My Dad felt a real sense of entitlement about his addiction, particularly to alcohol. He felt like he worked hard and he paid the majority of all the household bills, so he deserved that bedtime drink. As the size of that drink grew, the Seagram’s nearly filling the glass and the 7-Up just floating over the top, he told us he just needed it to relax so he could get a good night’s sleep before working hard the following day. He never tried to excuse the cigarettes this way, but in the end he was hiding them and sneaking around for a smoke as CPOD raced with cirrhosis to kill him. The coroner’s statement said his liver “won” the race to the end.
My biological father had similar ways of excusing his drinking. His drinking was actually far worse than my Dad’s, who was a bedtime and weekend drunk. My Father often nursed a vodka all day long, took his Oxycotin with it. Once I realized this, I stopped riding in a vehicle with him. He would wax poetic on being a vet. Vietnam was his entitlement to his addiction. A massive coronary in his sleep would take him out.
These men play into my life tremendously. If you ask me about becoming a vegan and choosing health for myself, my Dad and my Father are certainly behind it. They left me in this world feeling like I wasn’t important enough.
Yeah, they loved me in their own flawed, dysfunctional ways. I know that. I also know that when it came down to choosing health and being a part of my life, they turned again and again to the things that were clearly killing them. Sure, quitting is hard, I get that, but if you don’t even try what kind of message do you send to the people who love you, particularly your kid?
The lesson they taught me is that the best thing you give to your family is your life. You do the hard work to make sure you’re here for them. Sure, sometimes we get caught unawares and no healthy choice we make can fix it. That said, if you’re out there choosing something that’s killing you and not even trying, well there’s a good chance that when you’re gone there will be someone feeling like they weren’t worth the effort.
I never want to leave my wife, my kid, my friends, my mother, or anyone who loves me feeling like I didn’t care enough to do the hard work for them. It is what we should do. We show up, we do the hard work so those people know that they’re worth the effort of living for them.
10 Apr 2012
in Uncategorized Tags: 30-Poems-30-Days, grief, poetry
Paper Memorial "Stupa" - Westminster, Colorado - May 2011
Season of Loss
In my dreams
You were there.
Was as as bright
As I remembered.
When I awoke
Vibrant and alive.
I was dreamed of my friend Jen last night, who left us just over a year ago.
11 Jul 2011
in Uncategorized Tags: anger, grief, history, PTSD, shame
I did go to Denver for Jen’s memorial. There was never really any question in my mind that I wanted to be there, but it was a hard decision in many ways. Difficult in large part because CK was co-chairing an event in Portland the same weekend and wouldn’t be able to travel with me. A good friend offered to travel with me and I lucked out in being able to get her on the same flights that I was booked on, particularly for the flight home to Portland out of Denver International Airport, which has the “advanced imaging systems” well in place.
I haven’t wanted to fly anywhere at all since TSA began their policy of doing invasive pat-downs if you opt-out of the full body scans. As someone who had at least one set of chest x-rays a year throughout my entire childhood and well into my 20s and 30s, I am mindful of how many times I get exposed to those kinds of radiation levels. Being asked to submit to a full-body x-ray type blast in order than some person in a dark room somewhere and peruse my nearly-naked image really kind of bothers me. It bothers me more to have a complete stranger, regardless of gender, touch me in my genital area and my breasts. It bothers me a great deal that to travel I must submit to being seen by a stranger nearly naked or submit to a level of touching that would be considered felony sexual assault if someone not in a TSA uniform attempted it.
So I felt I was faced with two choices that were not good for my physically or mentally. Given that I have a very small number of very private, but very meaningful, piercings, I worried that these appearing either on a full-body scan or during an invasive pat-down would be cause for even more invasive, triggering, traumatic treatment. By biggest concern was clearing security to come home and I was very worried that if things were traumatizing that I wouldn’t be mentally capable of getting myself onto my plane. Having a friend travel with me helped alleviate these worries to the point that thinking of the travel didn’t make me feel nauseous with anxiety.
As it was, I was on full-alert mode by the time we passed through security at PDX to board our plane to Denver. It was the way a TSA agent was telling a man in the security line behind me that he was going to give him a pat down. The agent carefully and clearly explained to the man traveling that he’d be running his hands over and around the buttocks, groin and genital area.
My travel companion hadn’t even noticed. I had noticed and it made me shiver with anxiety despite my own uneventful trip through the security line. We made it to DIA without any problems, got our rental car, some amusement ensued around using the map function on my phone to try to get to a Whole Foods; we ended up at the distribution center near the airport.
We found the house and it swiftly filled up with college friends who had all come to Denver to honor Jen’s life. I was so grateful for the simple lentil-based spaghetti sauce BD & VD had put together upon arriving to the house first. It was a huge relief to get there and have tasty, vegan food waiting for me.
It was on my third gin & tonic that I realized that my hyper-vigilance, which almost never turns all the way off, was out-of-control. I don’t make ridiculously strong drinks, but under “normal” circumstances I’d certainly have noticed the affect of 3 drinks. I wouldn’t have been so foolish as to get in the car and drive to prove to myself that I wasn’t affected, but I know that if some emergency had arisen I would have been perfectly focused.
Even much later, after taking Xanax to help me sleep and give my muscles some relief from the tightness and muscle spasms, I was still completely wired. I was pretty much that way all weekend long and didn’t manage to drop off into fitful, troubled sleep any earlier than 4AM. The first real sleep I managed to get was on the plane back to Portland.
The trip itself, seeing many friends from college, was bittersweet. I really enjoyed connecting with folks again, and it seemed right to share our sorrow about losing Jen. However, I felt I never left a state of hurt and shame. Many times I found myself feeling like I was not really a part, having not returned for my senior year.
Seeing my EMDR therapist a couple of days following we started to look at why talking about college just leaves me stuck in so much suffering. There is just so much shame for me around not finishing, feeling like I let myself down, my family down and my friends. Jen went through so much hell during what would have been our senior year. I feel like she’d tried to help me during my big crash our junior year, and my not being there for our senior year let her down.
I often felt like I kept monopolizing the conversation while in Denver. I just felt so awkward. I felt a lot of anger too at the advisers I had who utterly failed me. In hearing about how the school psychologist made some demands upon Jennifer her senior year I was angry for how she was treated, but even angrier that I never even know our college had any kind of mental health office at all. I was never told about one, referred to one… I don’t know if it would have kept me from having a nervous breakdown, but it sure has hell would have been nice to know then that there was any kind of option.
VD, my other college best friend, reminded me that my two academic advisers were known assholes. While it was good to be reminded, it was also a reminder of just how little they did to help me. If I wasn’t giving it my all, they didn’t have much time for me. If I was floundering after being raped… they never asked. Not once. Instead I was told by both of them to get my shit together and get my grades back up.
Everything about college brings me around and around to being hurt, betrayed, and having my faith in men destroyed. From the fiance who raped me to my advisers who never tried to help in anyway. With that there’s this constant feeling that all of that was my fault. My bad choices, my not saying “No” loudly or forcefully enough, my not standing up to my advisers.
Seeing my college friends kept me in a constant state of shame, hurt, and anger. On top of that the profound grief around Jen’s death and terrible guilt that I should have done more to go see her while she was living. Stir in a good dose of awkwardness and the feeling like I was talking way, way too much…. Yeah, no wonder I didn’t really sleep at all there.
Ultimately I am glad I went despite the deep discomfort I felt while there. Also despite the EMDR appointment afterward that left me totally unhinged in looking at all the stuff that’s wrapped up in not finishing school. Reliving and pulling this stuff out into the light of day is contrary to everything I was taught (via intimidation, isolation and shame) as a child, but I do really see the correlation between the chronic pain I’ve had for over 11 years as well as a lifetime of insomnia.
I’m also glad I went for the time shared in the afternoon before Jen’s memorial. We hung out in the morning and chatted. I made a paper memorial and MK told us about letterboxing. We set out to find a couple of letterboxes, only finding one. We gathered and did a small memorial of our own alongside a stream. We hung tokens we’d all brought and/or made into the tree above the stream. We hid a letterbox as a memorial for Jen. Then we all rushed back to change and go to the “official” memorial. These moments were the small window during which I felt a little more myself, and not emotionally raw and wired.
Stupa-inspired, ribbon & paper memorial with verse from the Diamond Sutra
17 Mar 2011
in Uncategorized Tags: grief
Last night I got some sad news, mostly unexpected. Although when I saw two words, “Call me.” posted hastily to my Facebook page I already knew the worst news was about to hit.
On one hand, we’re constantly surrounded by the worst news. Dictators inflicting violence upon people. Heads of state trying to legalese their way out of having sex with minors. Nuclear reactors on the brink of catastrophic meltdown. Thousands of Japanese lost in the earthquake and tsunami. Children being raped by gangs and then blamed for it. Children being tortured to death by the very people who should cherish and protect them.
Et cetera. Et cetera. Et cetera.
Just go sip the daily news and be prepared for the worst. In fact we get such a steady stream of the worst that we’re partially numb to it all the time.
On the other hand, it is the personal worst that still gets us.
It got me last night in the form of a phone call with one of my two closest friends from college. She asked me to phone so she could tell me that my other closest friend had lost her fight with cancer.
These two women were the ones that really helped me keep limping along my junior year. They were the ones I went to with the terrible letter from JM saying how sorry he was for raping me. The letter that stripped off every bit of disassociation my brain had put into that horrifying weekend and left me utterly shattered and suicidal.
Jen had been fighting cancer for months and months. The lack of clear understanding of where exactly it had started and how to most effectively treat it led her to refer to it as her “Special Snowflake” cancer. From the very beginning she’s tried to keep positive and focused on kicking this cancer’s butt. She’d even just posted an update to Facebook about her excitement about having tickets to see Duran Duran.
Front of shrine I made for Jen
And now? Now she’s gone.
Yes, of course she lives on in our precious memories. Yes, I do believe that her indomnitable spirit, humor, creativity, and outspoken nature will most certainly move onward to her next incarnation. Yes, I know we’ll all keep on humming and drumming through today, the next day, and so on. Until each of us is gone.
At the same time I am filled with anger for not going to see her. All those months I wasn’t working. Flights to Denver are cheap. Jen’s husband certainly would have come and fetched me from the airport. Heck, I could have even rented a car. Had I asked, CK would have helped me make it happen. But I didn’t do any of those things. Instead I stayed home with my fear and dread.
Right now I’m still cycling between profound grief and being entirely awash in all the anger I’ve felt for letting connections falter and fade away. I am angry for all the missed good-byes. Angry for all the unfinished conversations. Angry for the good-byes that ended in recriminations that were never resolved and never can be resolved.
And I miss her. I miss every single conversation. Every single crazy idea, especially the ones we went through with. I miss the late night insanity. I miss the silly books, the music, the cooking, the sarcasm, the compassion. I miss her laughter.
**My reference to our lives going on “humming and drumming” is inspired from a poem by Northwest poet David Wagoner. Although Jen wasn’t killed by violence her cancer surely killed her, so it seems fitting to include the whole of the poem to honor both Jen and the poet.
Jen would have approved of honoring the poet.
Plainsong For Everyone Who Was Killed Yesterday
By David Wagoner
You haven’t missed anything yet:
One dawn, one breakfast, and a little weather,
The clamor of birds whose names
You didn’t know, perhaps some housework,
Homework, or a quick sale.
The trees are still the same color
And the Mayor is still the same mayor, and we’re not
Having unusual for lunch.
No one has kissed her yet
Or slept with him. Our humdrum lives
Have gone on humming and drumming
Through one more morning.
But for a while, we must consider
What you might have wished for
To do or look like. So far,
Thinking of you, no one has forgotten
Anything he wanted to remember.
Your death is fresh as a prize
Vegetable- familiar but amazing,
Admirable but not yet useful-
And your in class
By yourself. We don’t know
Quite what to make of you.
You’ve noticed you don’t die
All at once. Some people, like me,
Still offer you our songs
Because we don’t know any better
And because you might believe
At last whatever we sing
About you, since no one else is dreaming
Of singing: Remember that time
When you were wrong? Well, you were right.
And here’s more comfort: all fires burn out
As quickly as they burn. They’re over
Before we know it, like accidents.
You may feel you were interrupted
Rudely, cut off in the middle
Of something crucial,
And you may even be right
Today, but tomorrow
No one will think so.
Today consists of millions
Of newsless current events
Like the million of sticks and stones
From here to the horizon. What are you
Going to miss? The calendar
Is our only program.
Next week or next year
Is soon enough to consider
Those brief occasions you might rather
Not have lost- the strange ones
You might go so far
As to say you could die for:
Love, for example, or all
The other inflammations of the cerebral
Cortex, the astounding, irreversible
Moments you kept promising yourself
To honor, which are as far away
Now as they ever were.