About Me

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In this blog I have created a haven, a place I allow my deepest emotions to go and sit. I can write easily about what I’ve accomplished. This biography I can recite in my sleep. But I’ve always written poetry and in diaries since I was a teenager. I continued to write poetry in my journals, and not until 2006 did I show them to anyone. I generally write every day, at the present in memoir form. I haven’t written poetry since my mother died in January, 2007. I didn’t write at all between her death and the death of my father three years later in January, 2010. On my father’s birthday in March, 2010, I began this blog, to honor my father and to help me grieve. But I also desperately needed to write, and this stream of conscious style emerged. I needed to find my organic voice.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Pre Christmas Clarity

Hey, there. Loving the end of the semester, even with all the work yet to finish. Snow has fallen, temps have been hovering around single digits. Hot beverages, cookies, memories. I have had the most extraordinary semester, at times surreal, at others, heartbreakingly REAL.  My students kept me going this semester, truly, and it gave me some momentum, at least to get through the day, until I flopped on the couch at home.

What do other people do at this time of year? They stress, shop, prepare for parties, choose dresses, wrap presents. This year our Christmas is very , very low key, to keep the heavy grieving at bay.  It's been nearly a year since my dad passed away, and I am still having periods of inconsolable crying. Uncovered some more photographs today, ones with my parents smiling on their travels,with pride at a party thy hosted at the house. No baking here, no decorations. K has his holiday music on the nano.  I'm not mad it's Christmas, it's just not something I want to be part of this year.

Now that the dining room center is here, at the house, I hope the energy from it will infuse my house with the spirit of entertaining. I will send up prayers to the universe to allow this energy to flow into my house. And I hope this means a shift in energy will bring people back into the house.

A young friend (she'd hate that term) came over and helped me clean my bedroom. And she didn't judge, or make fun...We got about 10 huge garbage bags of clothes to donate and about 3 or 4 bags of garbage. Couldn't have made this step forward without her. I am sleeping in my bedroom for the first time since last Christmas. THere are things that need to be organized in a heathier way for my heart, but this I can take the time to do.

I took out pictures today, from the furniture/et. al. shipping. Very slowly opened, looking for pictures of my mother smiling. That was hard to do! Similing pictures of my father were much easier. such different personalities. The toll mental illness, and then alcoholism took on my mom..so sad. Her four year anniversary is coming up Jan 4. Dad's is Jan13.

I feel I am stuck. I cannot move forward. the lump that stays in my throat is ever at the ready to produce tortured tears. My father wouldn't want any of it, but to move on symbolizes something I'm not ready to do, I guess.

Have made some changes to accommodate the physical differences in my appearance.  Working toward the outside reflecting the inside. My newly small frame@ 104, made me think pixie, so I went and got a pixie haircut. Changing something about myself during a tough time always tells me I am beginning to see the "other" side. I feel a little lighter, like a girl.

Getting ready to mail gifts to my loved ones: K and T, my beloved peepsters. Tomorrow may put me in the Christmas spirit.  So far, nothing's really worked. It was at this time that my father was really close to death, and putting on a huge front for the family. A warrior. It was good, as long as the kids were there, but late afternoon, he was back on oxygen, in his bedroom. I don't think a re-telling is something I can or should do, but Christmas was the beginning of the end.  And so for us, it will always be the saddest holiday. When my mother was in the hospital, near death, it was also Christmas time. And now with my dad. It will be many years before Christmas means anything except for painful memories. Good think I don't have kids, so I don't have to put up a ruse. I know my sister is going to work hard to make Christmas nice for the kids--they adore her so--but she wants to ball up, too.

Our escaping to warmer climes may be the beginning of a new tradition. I hope the Universe sees fit to send us there for real.  The sun streaming down every morning, sounds of exotic birds,   the lush green tropical green, the beach--which united my father, sister, and I--would stand as a reminder of us.

Am I running away from the little family I have left? Maybe, a little, this year is different. I did send out about 50 handmade Christmas cards (first time in 4 years); I waited to see what I could possibly say that was honest but not maudlin. I am taking a vacation that falls over Christmas. K and I are looking forward to it, even though for only a few days.

The estate, as far as I can tell, is finished. Just waiting for the official word from the attorney --if there is such a thing--that it is "officially closed." Those files will be moved directly into a sealed box. I like the idea of the estate being closed. THis doesn't hurt me or upset me.  I'm surprised.

So, now, at holiday time, and the burgeoning new year, I will set new year's resolutions, based on the the claw that ripped out my heart, or rather the things that were ripped out by the claw of cancer.
I am still not myself, those people who think I'm grieving too long. I am much more reactionary, I take things more personally. I have many more new buttons to push. It's still very new. Let's get through Christmas and the New Year.  Let's see how a vacation with K helps.  I feel the universe calling me to Key West. I hope it speaks to K, too. We are ready to move on.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Evening Reflection

The past few days have been so puzzling. Used as I am to the tougher road, I floated along life’s groove yesterday, and the peace I had was so remarkable, I smiled and went with it. And I didn’t ask any questions. I went with the flow!  As a type A personality with a desire to diversify, going with the flow is a real aspiration. I am okay with this feeling, that I am part of the world in its greater spinning. It was a gentle confirmation that it does, indeed, spin without me. I find peace in this sweet revelation.  Being a recovering control freak is no easy feat! These moments, days in the flow of the universe are mysterious and magical. No highs or lows, just a gentle sususration, like tall grasses in a breeze. Beautiful.
Tonight one of my students presented her senior voice recital. It was wonderful.  She is a very talented young singer, but she is also an excellent student, scooping up information and processing it without having to be hit over the head with it.  She has grown into a motivated, spirited young woman who is growing into a confident singer. My equivocation about academia was stymied tonight as I heard her sing. I could stay longer if I had more students like her: naturally talented,  open to teaching and trusting the teacher’s knowledge; practicing regularly, listening to famous singers sing, watching her teacher perform. Taking her teacher’s notes seriously. Processing and producing. This is a job that uses my intellect. This is the kind of teaching I crave. 

I've had a few wonderful interchanges with my sister this week, after a frenzied exchange just before we closed on dad's house.  A bump in the road. A bump on a bumpy road, that's more like it. My sister is a very loving person, but she doesn't know herself. I want her to feel empowered. If I could give it to her as a Christmas or birthday present I would. She and I realize we are both struggling with the loss of our parents, particularly our father, to whom we were both so close. It took us a while to recognize that we are struggling in different ways. We've been talking on Facebook every day now, just telling each other little bits of our day. I really like this. Maybe we can weave each other into our lives with things like this. I hope so. We get on each other's nerves very easily, so I lead her as I can into calm and even territory. 

Tomorrow is a recovery day. I need to re-tool some class materials for Friday's lecture and make some decisions about the rest of the semester so the students don't keep freaking out.  I am feeling confident tonight, after a few peaceful days, free of gut-wrenching grief, that I can manage the tasks at hand.  Amen.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

My thanksgiving was a gut-ripping, horrifying low of howling emptiness. I cried, I cried until my stomach hurt, ready to wretch. I got in the shower and howled like a wounded animal. I yelled and ended up balled up in a heap in the bathtub. Poor K and to come in and see me like that. I knew it broke his heart. But I wanted to die.  My body is still sore from everything I put it through yesterday.

Today I cannot interact with people. I've stayed away from facebook and have generally realized that I cannot go more than an inch below my emotional surface with anyone.  And now, back with my therapist, a good move.

I am barely functional outside the clasroom. I can pull it together long enough, but it exhausts all my reserves so that by the time I get home I am back to the numb or crying version of me that I have become.

I really thought I was making progress on my grief, then the furniture arrived, the house closed, checks arrived, and Thanksgiving hit.  Truth is, I made it, but Thanksgiving took a huge chunk of flesh out of me. I felt like I had been bitten by a great white shark and was just lying there, bleeding, waiting to die.

Today, in solitude, was helpful. I stayed above the emotional fray, watched Robin Hood with Russell Crowe, cuddled with the cats...I almost feel peaceful. It's such a thin strata I walk, like a gossamer stream that gets me from place to place.

I wonder and worry how my sister fared. My aunt was busy cooking for her family. That was her therapy. We none of us wanted this Thanksgiving to come, and we are all fearing Christmas. If Thanksgiving was hard...I shudder to think what might happen, what I might feel....Thanksgiving hit me unexpected, honestly. The furniture had come, all the other steps of the estate being made...and the night before Thanksgiving I had the most beautiful dream. So beautiful it is indescribable beyond that it involved a fantasty-sort of experience, with me trying on one gorgeous dress after another, choosing them for some unbeknownst event. It was such a happy, peace, simple dream. Morpheus must have sent it to ease the pain upon waking.

I put some of my father's things away last night, after looking at them, touching them, reading them, remembering them. They are not far out of reach, but they are put out of sight, where treasured things belong. There's a lot more to be done, but a start has been made.

It is official. I have cracked open. I don't know what is next, this holiday season. I don't know to whom I can cling. I know there will be clinging needed if Thanksgiving is any indication.  I have this weekend to myself and my husband. And work to do to prepare for Monday. Emotional work so that my answer to the inevitable polite question, "How was your Thanksgiving?" can be a bland, "Fine. Tell me about yours."  I can't blame the world for enjoying theirs, and I hope someday to enjoy mine again, too. But this year, like all the firsts, I just wish it to go away.

A friend asked what I was doing for my birthday this year, and I said "nothing." Which is true. It's my longest teaching day, anyway, and I don't feel like celebrating anything.

There are things to clear up, now, that the majority of the estate work is done. Now I can move on with my own emotional work. A lot of it was put aside to make sure I could stay focused on details, school work, and keeping up the facade that I am the strong one. In my drinking days, I could have numbed the pain every night after work with a good bottle of wine. Now instead, I fall asleep, (if I fall asleep) feeling ripped up inside, wondering how to make everything right--school, home, friends, family. I am so out of whack that I barely know myself anymore. And I trust even fewer people to see that.  So I isolate as my way of protecting myself, steeling myself for the next public appearance of the person I was.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Closing Another Chapter

My dad's house is sold; the closing is on Friday.  My dear friend M has helped us as much as the real estate agent, the attorney, the financial planner/accountant. The furniture has been shipped out to me--on its way. The wine wall has been collected, the books and remaining stuff packed and prepared for charity. The charity guy came today and picked up everything; even the left over cleaning supplies in the bathroom! The only stuff left is what my sister wants to keep. She says she'll be over there tomorrow.
And then it will be empty.

I am trying to see the house in my mind, like it was the day we moved in; it was empty then, too, but pregnant with possibilities. I remember each person's excitement was palpable! My parents, buying their first house, were thrilled, worried, and proud; my sister and I were so happy to have our own rooms. And we got to pick the colors!

I remember the hardwood floors, the big windows. The sunlight. The kitchen, so much bigger than any of the apartment kitchens we'd lived in. My mother was going to *cook.* The family room downstairs, the fireplace...We roasted hot dogs in that fireplace, made popcorn, and once we even grilled a steak.  My dad built bookcases into the walls for all of my mother's beloved books. And the wine wall. He built that in, too. It was a glorious house surrounded by young pine trees. Many hundreds of memories are flooding my brain like snapshots--the pool in the summers, my grandmother visiting, learning how to walk in heels like a lady, sleepover parties. These come to me now as I envision the space after thirty years of living in it.  It has come full circle.  The house has come full circle.

 I can imagine the newly pruned trees are letting in all the sunlight in the sky, warming the wooden floors. The ivory walls are bare, waiting. The scent of eucalyptus and lemon Hall's menthol cough drops still hangs in the air of the hunter green master bedroom. The two remaining bedrooms, one for my sister and one for me, stand still in time with the wallpaper we were allowed to select as teenagers.

It is bare again, but not for long. Waiting for new joys, with the old ones seeped into the walls, between the boards in the floor. I said to my husband, many years ago, that I could never be sentimental about "a house."  I wish I could have gone one last time, to the empty house, to let it seep into me, to curl itself into my heart. I have said good bye to it several times in my life:  as I left for college then grad school, as a young married woman, at my mother's funeral, after my semester at home with dad, at my father's funeral, at the cleaning out of my father's possessions, and now, as it is about to start a new life.

When last I left the house, I spent a few minutes in my father's beautiful bedroom and let scent of it cling to me. I kissed the front door as I closed and locked it.  I mean, I guess I'll never be in that house again, and I wonder if ever I'll be in my hometown again. We are dispersed to the winds, like that dandelion who's petals turn into fairies and float heavenward.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Oh, haaaaaaaaaaai there...

I feel extraordinarily blessed today. Of course there is a story involved, one that may or may not interest anyone, but I have finally had some time for reflection--more accurately Time for Reflection. It should *absolutely* be in capital letters. My god, I've been running like my life depends on it, for months now; perhaps running AWAY from something is more accurate...hmmm. Like I said, I finally have an hour and the inclination to reflect. My primary goal for the past few years has been to stay in the moment, be there, be present...and while this is the best thing I could ever have chosen, there has been a lack of balance in the pendular swing of things--that of the Time for Reflection. This blog challenges me to do just that.

First, as always, I think about the preternatural speed at which time is flying. And my father's watch is still ticking away in my bedroom. I check it every time I go in there, as if to check for a pulse, or a breath.

It is nearly November. This brings waves of anxiety. Halloween is a bad time, because that's when my mother was found, nearly dead, at my parents' house. Halloween is also a blessed time, because I spent TWO of them with my dad, sister, niece and nephew in CT. I dressed up, followed the kids as they went trick-or-treating, and walked arm-in-arm with my dad, who was starting to slow down. Last Halloween, (I mean THE LAST Halloween) was lovely; a beautiful night, happy kids, my dad furiously taking pictures. I think he knew, although didn't tell, he didn't have much time left with us. In retrospect, yes, the signs were everywhere. I was intentionally blind to them, as he asked me to be. I remember now the soft cushiony feel of his sweatshirt, the black one, underneath which he wore his "halloween" shirt --black, with orange letters spelling 'Poppi' that I made him--and the work of his gait. His hand over mine as we enjoyed his grandchildren, my niece and nephew, who were blissfully unaware of his condition an ran like maniacs from door to door for more candy. Just the way he wanted it!

So, back to the present: I've sung four concerts in three weeks in addition to overload teaching and fighting some ungodly ailment. Been through antibiotics and corticosteroids to relieve the swelling of my vocal cords.  This is very stressful for a singer and a teacher on whom the voice is depended.  I was happy with one of the four performances, and I'll take it.  Just recently flew to New Hampshire to sing a couple of gigs and to see some friends.  I was so surprised at my melancholy; I thought joy would finally overtake me as I escaped for a few days to New England at the peak of foliage season. Instead, an immense sadness filled me, sapped me of the energy I usually feel jolted with before a performance. There wasn't enough time with the friends I longed to see. I slept for close to an entire day: 17 hours, and stumbled through the rest of the weekend somehow disheveled and groggy. Some of it I can attribute to a slip in philosophy; the rest to depression, grief, and exhaustion.

I am at the precipice, looking out and down, at the last tasks to be completed, the finality of it scares me. It also propels me into frenetic action that has left me devoid of compassion, of interest, of anything other than *getting it done*.  I've hired two people as assistants to help me deal with the amount of work that needs to be completed in a very short time. One there, one here.  All this work was waiting to be done until the house was sold. It is under contract now, my dad's place,  and the flurry of action between me and real estate agent, me and attorney, has flung my overwrought brain into a tizzy. So much to do in three weeks.  Estate sale; Movers; Salvation Army; Utilities; Final dispersement of estate funds. OH, and I'm sure one more hefty attorney's fee, even though I was assured over the summer that my huge check was payment in full. Bullshit. I knew it.

My heart is telling me it needs to go to the house one last time. To attend the closing. To visit my parents' graves.  This comes at a terrible price of time I do not have. When I miss lessons at school, I have to make them up. This means I double, sometimes triple my workload, depending on how much I am gone.  There is no room to double a load that is already past the maximum.

But my heart,
My heart needs this time to
Say goodbye, to
the person I was before
the little one I was
the child, the daughter--the protected, loved one
Who is now out on her own,
in her own boat,
sailing as the captain
she is meant to be.
But to leave port,
I must say a proper good bye.

My guess is that I'll be seeing my CT friends in a few weeks. We'll see.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Isn't this supposed to be getting better with time?

The first six weeks of the semester went well; I've been making strides dealing with the busy-ness of being back at school--with a teaching overload to boot-- preparing for upcoming gigs, and have even entered into a tentative agreement with a publisher to write a textbook.  Work has been a solace. My dad taught me the values of working hard, not letting shit get you down; but now I wonder if I've been avoiding some unfinished emotional work.

In fact, I'm sure of it.

I led a finely choreographed dance and the balance of things was on the point of a needle. And I've either been pierced by it or at the very least,  tipped off it.

Amidst the stress of re-entry into academia, I am now, apparently, going through some new phase of the grieving process. It feels like it's happening all over again. That damned car accident two weeks ago was the thing that did it. It jolted me back into reality. It created a vortex into which I have plummeted; at least temporarily.

There is a transition in the works for me and I believe it's life-changing. Everything is swirling and I want to stay mindful to get the Universal message as it is sent me.  What happens if I can't figure it out? I'm frustrated because I don't understand what's happening inside me.

Time to refocus, rebalance--the emotional work is ongoing, and I need to respect that. But there are only so many hours in the day. I asked the Universe for a Time Out and got the bug floating around my department. Nice sense of humor, there ;oP

Home sick for part of this week, I looked around and realized my house is stuck, too--I can't move anything, clear anything. We are frozen in time.  Nothing has changed at my place since Christmas. To move even the mail recognizes the enormity of my loss and my inability to move forward. And yet there is a profound urge pushing me--driving me--from the inside out. This internal dilemma is making me sick, ruining my sleep, and causing my fibromyalgia to flare. Anxiety is through the roof. While this is definitely a wake up call, can *this* the push I've been waiting for? And if so, what the hell do I do about it? I loved my father. I don't know how to move on.

So many questions. So much unrest. I am befuddled and a little discouraged.

Friday, September 24, 2010

New Definitions of Productivity

My husband received his annual review this week. He has always been a model employee:  well-liked, thorough, dependable, accurate, rarely sick. This has made him a popular guy outside his department, but a source of some petty jealousy within.  This past year, apparently, there has been a "drop" in his "productivity." He is not pulling his weight. It is clear some of his colleagues, all of whom are allowed to make written comments, are Soul-less, Mean-Spirited Shrews who have clearly and conveniently forgotten what his life outside the ten-mile radius of this little town has been like over the past year. (Many people who live in this area have lived here all their lives, along with generations of their families. They literally don't get out much.)  

These comments, and the review by his supervisor left him shaken, angry, and resentful. He was hurt by the insinuation that he was not working enough, or fast enough.  We mentally reviewed the past year together, he and I; the trips out east, events, worries, scares, changes, and the tolls it took on us. Certainly from Christmas until my father's death on January 13th was the toughest, but every day leading up to that eventuality---as everyone knows who has a terminally ill family member ---is full of worry, sadness, longing, anxiety, and anticipatory grieving.  This anticipatory period is draining, too, and I'd say most people, except those who have been through it or sensitive to it, wouldn't "count" that as a weight on top of every day activities.   And of course, the period after the person you love dies is really hard. Duh.

For my husband, a man who has only recently come into his own emotional availability, grieving for his father-in-law has been very hard on him. To deflect the attention from himself, he will tell you that it's because he's been so worried about me, concerned for me, my weight loss, my stress, my sadness. While I know that is true, he has also begun worrying about his own parents, both still alive, and what their deaths will feel like to him.

To: Soul-less Office Hags
From: Normal Human Being, only slightly biased
Re: K's not pulling his weight

cc: Ball-less Supervisor who delivered annual review

Does it not make sense that perhaps someone who's been through the ringer over the past year might be having a tough time at work? Should he have worn a sign to remind you? Might the weight of real life slow down the daily, weekly, or annual productivity of the department's most recognized employee?   Does it mean that he is just goofing off, or has a profound change temporarily altered his ability to function at the same level?

Just wondering, because, thankfully none of you has ever had the misfortune of watching and worrying as a loved one is dying slowly from a terminal disease, or have had to watch that person struggle to breathe, suffer indignities in front of your eyes, watch that person leave this life.  Thank goodness you have never had to arrange a funeral, clean out the house, watch a part of your own life change forever. And just keep on pumping out your 9-5 while your spouse is 1500 miles away for four months. As if nothing has happened.

Thank you, and have a nice day.


Right? So, he's telling me about his review, and when he's done, I gently remind him that it's possible his "productivity" may have indeed dropped. This may be a just fact rather than a judgment. What would be wrong with that, considering the past year? Whose work wouldn't be affected by the year we've had?  And I also said, gently, that he's experiencing grief for the first time in his life.  This is Something pretty Important. I am proud that he's recognizing and allowing himself this experience.  I told him, that, too. I'm glad our life together takes more of his spirit than his job. He is not only the Happy-Go-Lucky Guy everybody loves. He now has a vulnerability that is hard on him, hard won, but gives him so much more depth as a human being and as a partner. 

These little lightbulbs, appearing like fireflies, keep coming. Productivity has more than one definition. 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Memento mori

Blue's a good color for today. The color of the gorgeous fall sky here as well as the color of my mood. It's been a Week, do you know what I mean? It was the eighth month anniversary of my father's passing (still using euphemisms, so what does that say?), I was in a fender bender-- got only mildly injured, thank god, but ended up having to cancel two rehearsals. Two much needed rehearsals with gigs upcoming.  Some good news on the horizon, too, but it's too early to say.

I realized, on the road today, that even with the discomfort, I should not have taken the muscle relaxant the doctor gave me. I was driving unsafely, and pulled over. Called and cancelled the rehearsal (2 hours away),  and my network of friends helped get me back home safely. God, did I feel stupid. First, that I didn't realize that I'd be compromised taking something that would help me, and second, that I have been overlooking my own wellness for the past several weeks. 

Any time I get worn down, I go to my old companion, Grief. She is easily accessible, is always around. I feel no shame with her anymore--we are so intimately acquainted.  Inevitably, there's a pity party involved, too. 

After getting home, and falling into the arms of this companion, I started looking at my memento mori, and the day dimmed. I see the sun out there, the blue sky, the colors of leaves.  To say a pall is cast would be too dramatic, but it feels like the life's been sucked out of me.  I looked at the shells I collected on Sanibel Island, during the week I'd "planned to grieve;" I read through the book I crafted for my father to keep his spirits up; through the photobook I made of photos we displayed at the funeral; the book his colleagues made in his honor. That was far enough for today.  The big box is still sitting in my sunroom, the one with the dresses, the pictures, the love letters. I don't know when the right time will be, but I am glad I have it to open when I am ready.

I bought a new computer, and with it came a printer/scanner. I've been waiting to get a scanner; so many pictures to scan into the computer, The Motherload waits as well. I realized, through the message of a friend, that there are no pictures of my mother on my FB account. With the scanner, some will pop up; but only pictures that flatter her. The last years of her life took an incredible toll on her spirit as well as her physical appearance. So while I have pictures of her from the last few years before she died, I won't post any. My mother loved--no-- idolized Jackie O, as so many young women did at the time, and was always a fashion-conscious and well groomed lady. She loved the idea of High Tea, Ladies' Lunches, and she herself was a beautiful hostess, even when she felt insecure--which was most of the time.  

I find myself mentioning my father more in classes--my world music class hears stories of my father's travels to India, Sri Lanka--my vocal pedagogy class is learning about his take on body language, and the importance our physical impressions make on others.   It helps me to mention him, in the past tense, to remind me of the reality of his passing. But I must control the circumstances in which he is mentioned and will cut people off if they go too far--which is not far, at all, really. It is still so hard manage the weight of this knowledge. I am sure that's why I have taken on so much work. It does make me happy, though, so it feels a healthy thing to do. Purpose, productivity help with the harder, deeper work that needs time to simmer.  

While I understand that my father is gone, he has died, I am still in some form of denial: I can't wrap my head around it. I struggle with the flashes of memories that hit me at unexpected times. I have to stop myself from calling my father--whose phone number I'll never forget--with news, or to see how he's doing.  There are some things that only he would appreciate or understand. That unique relationship is over, out in the ether. Do I look for someone to replace that? Do I need that kind of relationship in my life now?   There are lots of things to figure out now.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Kind Word Sparks Reflection

Cancer, by the author
Some one asked me how I was doing TODAY. She was asking about my grieving process.  My respose: I am in recovery. And exploring my new normal. Realizing some things about myself that are really beautiful. Parts of me feel more free. Parts of me feel very hurt. But I am growing toward wholeness, that I feel. I am not whole, may never be whole-- I may never fully recover from the loss of my parents, my father in particular--but the fact that I am hopeful of its possibility keeps me looking towards the light instead of  being mired in darkness.

I am back at university, teaching voice, vocal pedagogy, and music in world cultures. One of the larger archs is music and healing (rituals) from around the world. It's a big course load, but it is good for me to feel validated by my work. I am continuing my healing through my work.  I am also grateful I am good at what I do. 

Back now from a 15 month sabbatical, it feels like I work all the time, now. All day, with students, prepping, teaching; then come home, work on lectures, trying to get ahead so that I can memorize this recital program I have coming up in a few weeks.  This gig isn't nearly as memorized as it needs to be. But I am in a place of acceptance, honestly. 

Back in the classroom
I have programmed yoga classes into my day, twice a week, with time even for lunch with my husband. (I continue my other classes on weekends.) I conclude my teaching day by 4 most days, and leave the building. I speak more softly. I feel more gentle, as if I'm holding my heart in my hands like a baby bird.    

I'm talking with strangers as myself, not as someone they may expect me to be. 

My dad and my husband, on our "once in a lifetime" family cruise.
Why did it take the loss of my father to help me move in this direction?  DID it take his death to do this, or is it just coincidence? I die inside thinking my spirit might have been held back by my dad, my parents. I don't want to believe this, or even contemplate it. That is too great a price to ask of anyone on either end of the equation. 

Last night, I finally took a few things out of my bedroom, things of my father's: his monogrammed notepaper. Simple and dignified. We'll use it in our kitchen for notes.   I took a particular picture, snapped many years ago, and put it in a frame I bought (waiting for the right time). It has a quote underneath:

"They that love beyond the world
cannot be separated by it.
In his beloved Mustang!
Death is but crossing the world, 
as friends do the seas;
they live on in one another still."
~William Penn

I still cannot look at his picture without tearing up. That he is gone still mystifies me.  The WHY of it never to be answered. The things I've wanted to share with him, the questions about classroom management I know he could answer. The validation that being structured and demanding toward raising student's standards is a worthy goal.

Christmas, 2007 with the family

The mail in his name has slowed down; our financial planner is now talking to me about what to do with MY money. 

And I have a lecture to prepare for a student convocation on Friday: "How to Maximize Your Time for Effective Learning"~how I'd love to run this by my dad in advance. Legacy? Yes. It is unfolding as I am unfolding from the fetal position I've been in for months.

So, thank you, my friend, for the caring and loving question of how I'm doing TODAY. 

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Brief, simple, brain dead

Today K and  I made our annual pilgrimage to the MN State Fair, the second largest state fair in the country. A long history have we with this "great minnesota get-together," it has specific associations with particular friends.  Last year, we didn't go, as our friend K was still recouperating from open heart surgery, and he is one of the components of our compagnie.  

Today, two years later, I find myself at the DNR fish pond, a beautiful place to watch the native fish of our state swim lazily around their pond. And I thought comes to me peacefully, which I know now to recognize as Truth: you are a profoundly different person than you were last time you went to the State Fair. Very true. Lots has changed; the fit of things, and people are shifting. I am trying to let these changes be as organic as possible, although I am fighting them more than I would like. THere are unspoken words out in the ether--mine are out there, the responses are not making their ways back to me. I feel like if it were important, they'd come back so I could get a read on things. I am left only to suspect and assume, which feels icky. ANd then there are the awkward silences. Also really uncomfortable after may years of friendship.  There only good changes are those between Karl and and we want to hang out together more. These are refreshing alterations for each of us.

Today at the fair was so different from past fairs. I felt myself trying to hang on to people, to keep our experience within our old pod. Evolution is a way of life, but my comfort zone is very thin right now, and narrow, I am grasping at gossamer threads that kept slipping from my hands. I struggled with wanting to be on the same page.   If the same page was waiting around for other people more than actually seeing the fair,  I begrudgingly report we were on the same page. I need, more than ever, free form wandering, and yet hold on to the old ways of what used to work, when I was different.  They are the same, and I am different.   This may be our last Fair year en masse. It wasn't that much fun. In fact it felt stressful and chaotic and also mind-numbingly slow.

Thank god we have tomorrow off, just the two of us and balance will be restored. I am ready to move on, in so many ways, but more research needs to be done, choices to be made...and we hold hands and jump off the cliff into a new, deep pool of water.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

And.....we're off!

Oh, goodness. I am back at work. Back teaching at the university. The place I couldn't imagine returning as anything other than a broken person. And a resentful one--how dare a job get in the way of my grieving, my healing?  There's some truth to that, in all honesty, but not in the magnitude I imagined.

I have been on academic sabbatical, aka my odyssey, since mid- May of 2009. Before that, I taught Jan-May 2009.  The previous semester, that of fall, 2008, I lived with my father in Connecticut, to spend time with him and taught my classes online. So I've been gone a lot over the past two years. I'd been gone, mentally, ALL of that time, fearing my father's month to month lifespan changes, fearing for his ability to withstand aggressive treatments, worrying about his grief over my mother's death just months prior, freaking out over the thought of losing both my parents so quickly, hating my job, its location, its ass-numbing repetition, its challenging and toxic personalities, drinking waaaaaaaaaay to much to numb the pain.

This past fall, 2009, I was on my first semester of sabbatical, and spent most of the time on the east coast, being with my father, who was declining rapidly, and singing recitals here and there.  We drove to my sister's place, just over an hour away, every weekend, for most of the time, but by the end of October, we weren't going. He wouldn't ask her to come and visit him. I wanted him, too, desperately, because his family was his lifeline--my sister and I --and especially his grandchildren, who gave him so much joy. Michelle didn't really want to come to the house, for a variety of legitimate reasons, although a few of which I prayed she'd overcome, for my father's sake.  Acquaintances who knew my father naturally knew about his family. They all said, after he'd passed away,  "This has hit your sister very hard. He and your sister were very close." Those comments prickled me, a little, because I'd chosen, twice, each for a semester, to leave my own home and come stay at his, so he and I could be together. These same people had wondered what I was doing in CT, and my father asked me to reveal nothing of his illness, so my impotent answer was always, "Oh, just visiting." Even now, months later, when I was last in CT, an acquaintance asked how Michelle was doing, you know, because it hit her so hard. My Executrix Dog and Pony show must have a real spit shine on it; most of these people don't ask me how I'm doing. Odd.  It's a little like nails down a chalkboard that I pretend not to hear. I guess it's true that you never know how strong you are until you have no choice. I hope my sister learns this lesson. I believe she is strong, I don't know if *she* knows it, because so many people rush to take care of and worry about her. I want her to feel empowered, to BE empowered. She is also my father's daughter, so there must be a cord of strength running inside her. I have also been hoping (and vocal) that our relationship will grow. I send her cards, little gifts when I think of her, and she asks me what she's supposed to do. DO? Isn't that a strange question coming from one sibling to another? I am puzzled. *But I digress*

I am back at the university, on my own terms, which at least for now, I can maintain, by maximizing my contact with students, minimizing my contact with colleagues. Shucks, I have class during faculty meetings. It adds work to my overloaded schedule, to read every poorly researched, (ir-)rational and badly written proposal, keep track of often equally nonsensical email POVs, and the submit my vote BEFORE the meeting. But the good news is that, this, too, is on my terms! How wonderful a welcome.  I do sound cynical, but for very good reasons, none of which need to be dredged up like thousand year old petrified trees from the great depths of a lake. Just know they're slimy, full of lichen and gunk.

During this first week, the Big Box arrived at my house; some of the things we rescued from my father's attic (including The Motherload). M and K had shipped it for us. It contains the dress in which I made my Kennedy Center debut, part of one of my mother's evening gowns from when she and my dad were dating. It's a big box, and it is NOT going into my bedroom. It will 'stay as it lays' in the sunroom, where the western exposure will seep through the cardboard, purify the contents with its inherent goodness, and wash away the sadness. If this box ever made its way to my bedroom, the room itself would be forever lost.  While there are no surprises in the Big Box, since K and I packed it ourselves, I am still leery to open it. I have dealt with all of my father's things, big and small, over the last eight months, and I am tired.  I do not want these two worlds to overlap. But they are. Estate work continues over email and fax, new subcontractors with more spiffing up work to do on the house, more checks to write.

These worlds, like rivers, are colliding in my mind, pushing my limits to process clearly. One collapses into the other, and neither remains unpolluted. Muddy water disconcerts me. In cases like these, where two vitally important but very separate tasks need to coexist, I lose the ability to multi-task. My old black and white thinking returns. Old emotional patterns resurface.  Ah, the Odyssey has perhaps been a cyclical journey after all? I had thought not. I feel so different.

I have no time now for self-exploration, only self-preservation. This angers me and frankly, scares me.  I have not gone through the year of a lifetime only to end up BACK in stymied self-preservation mode, in which I can only tread water, and not move forward.

I will emerge from this cocoon. I don't know where I will be when this happens, whether in this job or another. In this state or another. There will be new companions on the journey, that I know.  Others with wings, like mine.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Over_______________(fill in the blank)

Sooooooooo..."it's been xxx weeks since my last confession..." remember those days??

I can't believe I haven't posted since we got back from Connecticut. August has flown by, just as July did. Dammit. I tried to savor the time between then and now, but I fear I've only squandered it.  In a sort of sacred rush I've been thrust back into a life that isn't really mine anymore. I am an utterly different person than the one who left on sabbatical last year.   I am experiencing the flutters I felt when I gave my first lecture thirteen years ago. I have the brain weariness after being talked AT all day in meetings. My grief-worn body is aching from sitting, from missing yoga, and my cardio training.  

Oh, my. Deep, breath in, deep breath out.......long exhale on a hiss. Again. In, slowly, like through a big straw. Out, slowly, on a hiss. As long as it takes. I do this a lot when I feel lonely, not good enough and feeling replaceable. And when I struggle to understand that people grow and move on with their lives, in life or in the ether. AND LEAVE ME BEHIND.

Deep down  I believe that working with and on my own security is the way through this. Enhancing who I am, truly coming to accept that my choices determine my life and how it goes.  If the past is holding me back, this is bad. This is not nostalgia. It will not come and lead me forward unless it is from a position of hindsight and learning.

So a few brief anecdotes:
A friend of mine, just last night,  said that all the crap he's gone through since his divorce (10 years ago)-all the insecurity, the baggage, the beating his heart took-led him to the place he's in today, which is one of greater self confidence, acceptance of who HE is, and he has been shedding the hurt someone else placed on him throughout this process. Because he had to rely on himself for his own stability, strength, growth, and courage. And it's in THIS place, the one of self-containment, in which he is cool with himself, that he met a fabulous woman a couple of weeks ago. He is who he is, and his core self is what he's gained through so much pain.

Grieving is like that, too, I think, for me. I am learning to embrace myself as I am, knowing there are better people than I out there: better singers, better teachers, better lovers, better wives, better friends. And I am accepting that as a fact, not as a judgment against myself. And the people that don't recognize my light aren't meant to--it has nothing to do with me. Sure, I"m learning, growing, changing, but the rest of the world is, too. And circumspectly, I think my parents are, too, somewhere in the ether, and I am watching and letting them float away, because that is what needs to be. I know the direction I need to go, and I'm going there. I have to let them go their directions, too. That's part of my respect for them, and my love for them.

*This* is what I want for people who are grieving. We all do it so differently, but I know what I want for you. YES it's painful, my god. There's no way around that. There's no way it's NOT going to hurt. But I'm thinking that even while I cry, I must bring the focus back to myself as quickly and mindfully as I can, to remind myself of the good, the joyous, and grab on to the things I am pursuing, the things that move me forward.

But ooh, those triggers, still everywhere.  That stabbing pain I feel in my heart and gut,  is normal. We all feel that pain when a trigger hits us. I don't know if this helps, but there are so many things that remind me of my father, there are some days I am just twisting in agony--my heart is twisting in pain, my intestines writhing in pain. When we love someone that intensely the reaction to triggers is stronger and hurts longer. I hate human nature, and I hate this part of being human. 

I guess I sound tortured. Not really. I slept in my bedroom for the first time in almost nine months. Truth be told, all the clothes are still on the bed (all clean). I moved them over. I took out some of the boxes that I had mailed back home after my father died. I took the clothes out with them. I won't wear them again. I couldn't.  And that's okay. I have a picture of my dad and I in my studio at the university now. It was taken at my wedding, during the father-daughter dance. I get a little teary telling you about it, but the memory of his smile, his holding my hands, telling me to be happy, is so, so beautiful and precious to me.  I can look at the picture now, and smile. That's me and my dad. 

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Motherload

Home, after an emotionally charged trip. Another bend in the road, another upside-down loop completed. 
 We, none of us, emerged unscathed, but I just read a quote somewhere along the lines of "people without scars have lead a poor life." In this I find solace.  I'm a quote-loving person; they inspire me, send me messages, lend meaning to an experience; they can describe what I'm feeling better than I can.  My family loves quotes. Every day I try to read and meditate on an inspirational quote to help focus my day. I don't know whether it's because we Italians love proverbs, or that I'm a singer and a lover of words.  Doesn't really matter, I guess, right? Accept what IS.  Dad was someone who helped me embrace acceptance. "Life's not fair," he'd say when I'd be upset about something, even though we both knew the "something" really sucked. Acceptance helps achieve a better attitude about an experience, a relationship, a  *diagnosis*.  To make yourself crazy trying to figure something out that is beyond explanation is a recipe for disaster. Oooh, I'm waxing poetic tonight; this time at my father's house has been another in a series of life-changing, cathartic experiences that leave me at once exhausted and grateful.  

K and I met family and friends at my father's house to clean out the attic and garage, as we move toward a more final closure of material things.   My husband, sister, and I worked for two days straight to unload the attic, go through the boxes, and decide what to keep and what to ....not keep. It's really hard to say "throw away" or even "discard." It's hard to say that about my fathers things--things that he loved, but things that neither my sister nor I loved.  We'd look at each other, and agree. Or we'd talk about the memory it evoked, and maybe laughed or cried. And then decide. K largely stayed out of it, as was appropriate. He worked so hard, and there were some little discoveries he paused to look at, but never made decisions. He respected my sister and I as we wept while reading our father's love letters to our mother.  He knew we'd found the Motherload and needed time alone, together, to process. I don't think we EVER expected to find these letters. We knew we'd find the requisite boxes of Christmas decorations, actually huge numbers of boxes of Christmas decorations--at first my mom's joy, and then my dad's attempts to bring her joy. They are now memories for us--of my mom before her illness overtook us, after my father continued to offer her gifts that he knew (and then later hoped) she'd like, to give her  a smile.  But the letters we've found date from the three years of dating prior to getting married. 
We just sat on the garage floor, trading letters, reading lines here and there to each other, and crying. What had gone so wrong with their marriage. Their courtship was so full of love, my father an effusive, poetic young man dedicating himself to her happiness.  We don't have her letters, but we know she wrote back from some of his responses.  SO. HOLD THAT THOUGHT.

My aunt arrived on Friday; she's my father's sister-- my last link to him. My sister and I told her about the letters, and she wept, too. She couldn't bring herself to read them because she's been torturing herself trying to answer the great question of "HOW" my parents' relationship devolved and disintegrated and "WHY" it happened.  It's torturing her. I shared with her my theory of acceptance, and that some of the same questions were troubling me, never to be answered, so I released them to the Universe. And accepted. It has brought me an enormous amount of peace during a horrifying time where the world seems upside down and everyone seems to be speaking a language different from your own. I thought my way through it, analyzed what I had, and had to offer it up to the Universe, so that  power greater than mine can transform it into something useful--if not for me, for someone else.  I'm comfortable with that.

Transformative moment #1: My sister and I decided I'd take the letters, scan them, and make a book of the letters one, for each of us. They are so beautifully written, so full of happy emotion, bursting with love for my mother. I would have loved to see her face read these letters. I know she would be smiling, a shy smile because she didn't seem comfortable in her own skin, ever.  I can't wait to do this project for  us. 

My sister and I pulled it together and moved on  through the other boxes found in the garage, and slowly feeling our way to letting certain things go. My father was a sentimental keeper, always organized, but he kept a lot. We worked through the day, some tears, some smiles. All in all, it felt pretty peaceful. We had the privacy that I think a day like this should be afforded. Peaceful, private, reverent. All in preparation to allow friends to come and ramp up the amount of possessions that were heading toward the dumpster. (We both felt better knowing we had an Estate Sale pile)

About a week prior to our visit, I took up the offers my father's friends had so sincerely made should we ever need help of any kind. Kind of like the Counsel of Dads. (I should tell them that, see what they think!) An email to three men brought seven more to the house on Saturday at 10am ready to work.  Cars, SUV, Trucks pulled up to the house they knew. The saw the two dumpsters on their way to being filled. I am sure it was hard for them to be back. But they came with hugs, and smiles, stories here and there as we cleaned out the garage and the remaining stuff from the attic. We had help figuring out what might be worth put in the Estate Sale area father than the dumpster. I felt a lot of anxiety, even with such good people in good spirits. Then came, at the end of the day, a natural stopping place, and people saw the dumpsters full, the Estate Sale area defined, and my father's los trios amigos came inside and hovered, wanting to talk more intimately with Karl and I; to share the stories based on a particular object they saw in the house. Good men, these are. People with whom I have MY FATHER in common. It feels more like that now, than ever. They ceded my dad's clubs to Karl. That was really special. They split up his movies among the three of them (they had similar tastes) and then we got to ask them questions, too: did he ever talk about dating again after my mother passed away? Did he have lady friends in different places? They responded there was a Ms so an so n Singapore; ad Ms Thus and So in Romania. We shared some stories, funny stories of our interactions over the years. It was concluded, informally, that these men are the dearest men I've ever met and yet know only vicariously through my father. Will the Universe keep us together? I hope so, I want these men in my life.

There were meetings to schedule along the way, with our usual cast of characters, and they all went well; I asked about anschluss of paperwork,  hoping we're getting to the point of maybe less paperwork...who knows. I got home today and pulled out my files from my suitcase, and refiled them in my office, in their rightful spots, with notes to follow up on...as always. 

The Sunday Crew was much more laid back. My sister had left mid day on Saturday to attend  a wedding, and she didn't come back on Sunday. Sunday's crew consisted of my beloved aunt and cousin, my local friends who gave up their Sunday afternoon packing glassware, china, and miscellaneous coffee mugs, etc.  and moving them to the appropriate locations. Washing windows, shredding documents, My friends, all of whom have full and busy lives, came on Sunday to continue the work begun on Saturday with Dad's friends and family.  After a whirlwind of heat, fiberglass from the attic, frantic activity, lots of catching up, and even a trip to the town dump, renamed the transfer station or something equally ridiculous, we had the peace of Saturday night with our friends M and K up in a beautiful, hilly green, happy house. These friends are beyond. They give of their time, their love, always let us spend the night when we can't manage emotionally at my dad's. They are selfless friends who give away time on weekends that just bring them back to their jobs on Monday.  Sunday night, the trio, Ro Ro, K and me, marked furniture for the movers--things both for my sister and for myself--washed floors, vacuumed, cleaned counters, bathrooms; made last minute organization of the Estate Sale stuff, made ourselves familiar with various areas so any of the three of us could talk to this man as he passed through the house.  We had two hours before our plane was leaving...so Mr. Man needed to be all business. He was all that and very knowledgeable. He helped us decide what we should keep and what would really sell.
I wish Michelle had been there, but when she asked, I told her, no, no biggie--I guess I thought I'd see her on Sunday as we continued to work at our father's house. We still had work to do. But she was a trouper through Saturday, then didn't come back. I worry. I wonder. I've made no secret of what I feel are my brother in law's intentions, but I hoped she'd have brought a friend, for moral support on Sunday, so we could keep working and getting the house ready. It was hard what we did. I needed the moral support, and contacted my father's friends who'd volunteered, as well as high school friends who live locally. 

And so here we are, back at home. with the dumpsters full of detritis of a person's life. Of two people's lives, really, because many things in the attic were testaments to the person she used to be, and who they tried to be, together.

I will never forget the conversations I had with my dad during the last months of his life--how grateful I was to be with him for a lot of it. He said to me, many times, No More Secrets. My life is pretty open,  I live out in the open.  I kissed my dad's front door this morning as I was leaving, I kissed his car when we sold it on Friday. K and I went to the gravestone and laid flowers and stones. I kept touching it to make sure it was real, running my hands through the carvings of the names. My parents. On the next part of their journey.  So pretty sure we're not running parallel, but I'm going to ask for a sign. A person of faith told me it is okay to ask for a sign. A sign that they are...peaceful? happy? together? healthy? I may be subscribing a little too much to Christian doctrine here--not an authentic representation of who I am.  Are my parents' spirits waiting for new baby bodies to be born into? Would I ever meet them? Am I a whackadoodle for even contemplating this possibility?  

I'm going to light my grief release candle tonight, say the meditation, and make this part of my healing along with my daily inspirational reading. And then off to yoga. I am finding myself through all of this, and now get to move back into my professional life with this spiritual growth. 

And if some of you know only one small piece of this pie, look to the rest of the ingredients, and I pray, honestly, that you never experience what my family has. If it has taught me one thing (and that's hard to pinpoint) it is to seek out the bigger picture; I grow in ways I'd never expected by looking outside one person's view. Thank god for this gift.

Namaste. And I welcome myself back home.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Soooooooooo, it's been a while: Nuts and Bolts

The last time I posted was about ten days ago. Life has happened between now and then.  A new anti-anxiety medication has happened between now and then, and thrown my life into a bit of a spiral. Which I do not enjoy. At all. I feel like I"m hanging on by a thread MOST of the time----don't need some freaky side effects to flush my consciousness down the toilet. So I told the doctor NO. And I was proud of that. It means, though, that I have to deal with this continuing anxiety sans medecin. Bummer. Big weekend coming up.

But since my last rant, which I am sure qualifies as one, I am finding that jumping back into life too quickly isn't working for me. Y'all know I volunteered to be a wedding planner for a friend as her wedding gift. My thinking was that taking on a loving project would help balance the inner sadness that's still just below the surface. I threw myself into the planning of this wedding, and I though I am on top of things,  I am exhausted. Happiness has its price, too, when one is still grieving.  What's up with that? Overall, this was a good idea, but my last few weeks of sabbatical are covered with layers of work--getting ready for school, which starts insanely early this academic year, preparing myself mentally to go back to school/work after a year no one should have to endure, and have a happy face on: Gee, my sabbatical was SUPER, thanks for asking! My sabbatical project was completed, and I"ll post it on our dept's email so I don't have to answer the same questions a thousand times to people who really don't care anyway. Seems like a waste of time and energy, doesn't it?

This weekend, K and I are flying to CT to clean out my father's attic and garage, and sell his remaining car. We will also be going to see the gravestone in place for the first time.  I was brave enough to contact my father's dearest friends to come and help at the house. They had offered, on the day of the funeral, if I ever needed anything, to let them know. I cried when I got their emails today. They'd already conferred, gotten my dad's crew together, and said when they'd be there. A colleague of my father's had offered the same, and volunteered her husband as well. And they said yes, too. What a testament to my father, that they loved him so much that they'll come and help *me*.  His goodness continues to resonate.  My heart is so full. My beloved aunt and cousin are coming up for the weekend, too.  My sister? Don't know. I don't want my brother in law to come "help" so he can go shopping through my dad's possessions.

In order to prepare for this weekend, all bank statements and check registers, executor log, all needed to be copied for the attorney; documents for the house, car and investments all needed to be pulled for the meetings I need to squeeze in while we're there.   I hope I remember to pack underwear and contact lens solution.

I am continually surprised by the amount of grief I am experiencing on a daily basis. I'm out and about, doing life, but there will be a spike, something that unlocks the box in which I am keeping my grief at bay. It's good that as time as gone by I recover from these bursts more quickly. But they do still come. It is difficult to talk about my father without tears welling. I'm okay with that, now, and am less embarrassed, because I can move through them, into another conversation, and go on...

Looking back on life since Christmas, I see the enormous range of growth I have been gifted. I am transformed. I see priorities so much more quickly, clearly. I have enormous reserves of strength and I am brave beyond what I *ever* knew I could be. I am much more vulnerable to beauty, to sadness, to joy.  Sounds like I"ve gotten my shit together,  huh? Hell, no. I'm still sleeping on the couch because I cannot yet face my bedroom. My goal is to have it ready for the beginning of the school year; I think this weekend's journey will help toward that. Another piece of closure, another door opens for my own growth.

We will be seeing friends this time, too. Staying with our beloveds M and K and their kids. Hope to see Rita, my mother's childhood friend; hope to see V, the woman who loved my father like the father she wished she had, and whose generosity made me love her, too.  Always, so much to do in so little time. And always, far from home. I am craving hugs from my niece and nephew and  longing for the beach.

Send me the vibes to achieve what I need to, and what I want to....I hope the Universe finds me worthy!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Medicating Grief

It's pretty dumb that I am actually posting an entry today. Today is the six month anniversary since the death of my father.  I've spent the entire day on the computer and in my jammies. So many plans to make, emails to write and to respond, JESUS: it was like having a office day. At least I was at home and in my pjs. Finally made plane reservations for our trip to CT to do some final things with Dad's house: the attic and the garage. Okay, that and the wine collection, the hundreds of books,  the china still in the cabinets...I think it'll just be the two of us, K and I. And frankly, I'm a little on edge today.

I have, like many others going through the deep process of grief, wished for something magical to help take the emotional pain away. But there is also physical pain associated with this process.  We are traumatized. This is automatically reflected in how the body works, how it responds. Is it wrong to seek out meds that may mitigate some of this suffering? God, no. But should we rush to medicate ourselves? No. And we certainly should not take to self-medicating with alcohol, food, recreational drugs, reckless behavior...

I saw my doctor the other day, and told him about the spikes in anxiety I've been experiencing even though the more traditional elements of grieving seem to be lessening. All I have to do is see a list with more than a few items on it, and my heart races, I start sweating, and I can't think clearly. I feel stupid and crazy. Well, his reaction was to have me try a new anti anxiety med.  It's called Klonopin, for those of you interested. *Disclaimer: my physician is a great guy. He listens, responds, and is always willing to help with pharmacology as well as more holistic approaches* However, in my short experience with clonazepam, it is not for me. Firstly, I was a zombie, literally for four days. A stupid zombie. I feel asleep in yoga class with NO warning. More like passed out. Missed the whole class. I was a danger behind the wheel,  I slept like the dead during the day, and then could not sleep at night, finally falling asleep as it was getting light out. Which brings me to my next point. My life does not normally allow me to sleep until 11am and yet....there I was, several days in a row. Thank god it's summer time and I'm not teaching. (Karl couldn't wake me up over the weekend)  So today, I also missed yoga (it's at 11am), which I know may sound whiny, but it's a big part of my overall wellness and has really helped with the grief process. And so the decision was made. I am calling the doctor tomorrow to let him know I plan to discontinue Klonopin and staring again with the Ativan, which works well enough with NOOOOOOOOO side effects. I just have to work harder at dealing with the anxiety spikes.

As you might imagine, I did some research on Klonopin (clonazepam), and it is usually prescribed for people with bi-polar disorder. I have not been diagnosed with this disorder. I really bristled at this.  I may feel crazy as I go through all this grief stuff, but I feel remarkably certain that being zombie-fied is not the healthiest way to go about the healing process. Is this my doctor's fault? ABSOLUTELY NOT. He was trying to help me because he knows I'm going about this process in a largely drug-free manner: sitting with and experiencing bone-crushing sadness, fits of crying, and then more  positively, drinking lots of water, exercising every day, and choosing positive things to do each day. So I'm thankful he was so willing to try and help me.

Okay, so where  am I going with this? I just made reservations to fly back east to finish up my dad's house. The attic, the garage. Flush of anxiety, flush of fear. So much to arrange, so much to *touch*. This is hard. I feel the energy of my dad in his things. Even still. The watch of his I have, his rings, his photographs. I"m afraid of what we'll find in the attic. Not like bats or mouse poop or anything, but memories. His handwriting on ancient boxes. Seeing what he has saved, what he thought was important. I have to be honest when I am there: what was important to him may not be important to me. This may kill me, but I am going to try and stick to it.  And then there's the garage. All important things to him. He was a DIY guy. He was a sentimental man. The thought of emptying its contents into a dumpster may crush me. No, I'm pretty sure it'll crush me. That's where I hope our hired man will be able to come in to help. He is the man my dad used to do lawn and yard work. I hope, HOPE, having him there will help.

I am incredibly hesitant to call my sister. I really don't want her there for this. She'll bring the kids --there is no tv, radio, internet or phone at the house. She'll be worried about their sadness, as I would be, and then she'll be distracted and not work. This happened in February. And my brother-in-law? Banned. Banned. I will not have him in my father's house after he barely ever visited him while he was alive. So he will not be welcome in this final process, which he will view as a "shopping opportunity." I will say this to any face that opposes me. I am fiercely protective of my father's house and his things. They already have his beloved Mustang. The brother-in-law has, literally, shouted belongings he wants while my sister and I were talking on the phone.  I have a lot of anger toward him. I think he used my father, took advantage of him because he is the father of my dad's only beloved grandchildren.

Ooh. I"m in a toxic place. Gotta sign off to decompress. This  post did not go where I thought it would.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

I'm in a really weird place right now. My life is re-starting and I feel completely overwhelmed and not ready. I headed out to Washington DC to take lessons with my mentor/teacher; jumped into coaching repertoire for some upcoming gigs. It was a very focused In on Friday Out on Monday. Home for a few days in time to enjoy the midnight premiere of the Twilight movie Eclipse with my gurls (for which we all made t shirts)..and in the next day turn around and head out to Salt Lake City for a national conference --The National Association of Teachers of Singing, over the holiday weekend. Knowing virtually no one was a boon--an emotionally void experience which is good still for me. HOWEvER, it turned out better that I'd imagined; my roommate, a woman and a colleague who invited me to attend, was the best possible roommate for this experience. Enjoyed some very fine dinners,  attended a few well-presented sessions, and I slept very well each night.  By the third day of the conference, I was done. Full. Ready to go, carrying my notes from sessions, the new music I'd purchased, and a small gift for my husband.   Out of fourteen days, I had been home two. This is not the grounded living I need right now.

Mail piled up while I was gone; estate mail, mostly. Bills, invoices, taxes, and the cable company in CT requesting their equipment back...shall I beam it to Manchester, CT? Frustrating. I am keeping them in this pile...keeping them from me so that I can be free from them.  This time away from the grief reality has been both invigorating and confusing.

While in DC with my teacher, I took lessons, hearing my voice for the first time in many months.  We spent time together talking about singing, going to an opera, and eating delicious food.  We did, as we have done, talk about my family and its shrinking nature....I had a significant grief burst, but got through it. It felt WONDERFUL to sing to work, to focus. A matter of life and death: mine. She said "Sing! Always sing! It is better than any therapy out there.! I felt that true for me; my spirits lifted a great deal, \The last time I visited, back in March, I was barely functional, and they cocooned me when I needed it most. And so I got confidence to move on through the rest of my sabbatical observations, and then ultimately to the beach house on Sanibel to crumple on the beach. I didn't crumple as much as rest. Riding the bike to the beach, to the lighthouse, to a restaurant.

After this quick weekend with L in DC, I was home a few days, and then I headed out to Salt Lake City, Utah to attend the National Conference of the National Association of Teachers of Singing. Immersion in my field after a year of barely thinking about it. It was very easy to put this aside while being with my father, and focusing on our relationship and being a manager of his care.  I felt like a fish out of water at this conference.  I was comfortable in that I chose appropriate attire, took the time to look well, chose the sessions that appealed to me and SOD the rest. I don't yammer, kibbutz, gossip. I've been with only very small groups of people over the past 18 months, and large groups discomfit me. Especially the beasts of the singing world. Teachers of singers are of two ilks: 1> Active singers who also maintain active studio adn 2>Over the hill teachers who are past their prime in all avenues. the navigation of these events is tricky, and networking can be a nightmare. HOWEVER. My friend helped introduced me to some great people, and I met some on my own. Overall, the sessions I attended fired my soul, validated my own pedagogical beliefs, and I left feeling good!

But, my god, I was ready to get out of Mormonville and away from  the NATS cliques. Back home.

My husband made  a pile of mail with my name or my father's name....I know what's there..taxes due to the town for the house that hasn't sold, a few smaller bills for other maintenance (and helpful assistance), and something from the IRS about which I am fuming. Said Middle man made some sort of error, aftr charging me quite the fee for tax prep..the IRS is claiming they are owed more money.. AH, I am just venting, because I have taken a much needed break from the estate.

But reality calls in these piles of my mail, my estate checking account. And we are now planning a trip east to my father' house to clean out the attic and the garage and decide what to do with the wine collection and all the books. I cannot think straight where this is concerned. My heart is racing, my anxiety is at an 8,only to increase as we begin to book plane fares, schedule the dumpster, trying to leave room for the intense emotion that will surely accompany this job.I wish we were able to stay in the cradle of our friends' house, but it is not to be this time. There is much to do in addition to the manual labor; i need to meet with the accountant dude who has been incommunicado for over two weeks after a question I asked.  I need to meet with the banker, who has been the most wonderful person in this post mortem journey, and to pay the arborist who had better make one HELL of a difference for the price he is charging.

All this by the time we hit August....because I have to get ready to come off sabbatical "excited" to be back. Not. And face all the barely sincere comments " Sorry to hear about your father, " and "How was your sabbatical?" "Are your fired up to be back?"  I would have given the first of these questions a little more slack if cards or flowers had been sent by the department, or independently. How was my sabbatical? I watched my father die. How do you think it was? Am I fired up to be back? I am  looking forward to a diversion from the grief. But fired up to put up with the toxic bullshit that pervades our department? I will have NONE of it. I will be much more mindful about what I will and will not do. ANd I am blessed that I have the ability to this as needed. I don't need these thoughtless colleagues digging into my barely healed wound. I need a comeback line to shut them down.

Well, there's more on this, but the ambien is taking over...love to my friends. <3

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Closer to the Saddle, I Think

Progress, not perfection. What a great little nugget this is. So simple, profound, yet so easy to dismiss. I dislike being so hard on myself.  I think it's getting in the way of my healing. Perfectionism causes me to judge myself without care, without compassion.  I worry that I'm not grieving *correctly* or quickly enough. I often feel guilty for having a good day, or having fun.

But mostly, I worry that I'm just being emotionally or physically lazy during this time.  But I'm keeping going, and beginning to add things back in to my life.

One day, it's the garden; another it's cooking dinner or cleaning the bathroom. Yes. This is how slow-going  it is. It is possible, though, that my reluctance to jump back in too quickly has prevented me from feeling better. I walk a very fine line, and it's often confusing. Treat myself gently...Get back on the horse! Some days I negotiate all right, while others feel like an utter shipwreck. The pendulum swings, still, but not as widely.

Anyway, what I mean is that my desire and worry to do all things correctly ties me up in knots and paralyzes even my thinking process. So when I  have moments of "normalcy,"  I move like lightning, making plans, appointments, cooking, filing...living at warp speed to catch up from and/or to anticipate the next time my heart cracks and I am suspended in sadness.   This may sound like bi-polar disorder, but as I've said before, grief is kind of like that. In my high powered moments I've made too many plans and not followed through by writing them in my diary/calendar. I've missed a couple of appointments with the physical therapist--not something I would choose to miss--and have also started to resent certain commitments I've made. THIS I must work through.

I'm trying to live at normal speed, and I'm not quite ready to do it. Yet.

Just recently I tackled a demon of fear...getting back into singing. I've taken several months off with the exception of one song at a concert and singing at a friend's funeral. This is not singing. Not even maintenance. I'm talking about getting back in shape, as a runner would. The only person I would call, who is also the most judgmental, is my voice teacher of 17 years, L.  I started and finished my doctorate under her guidance, and I learned a lot more than just singing. She is really my role model in many ways.  A survivor of cancer, a brilliant mind, a ladylike exterior with the soul of a sailor, and an analytical ear beyond the realm of excellent. Singing for her after a hiatus is a frightening prospect. I stared our first lesson with , "I don't know what's going to come out." Her answer was, "Well, let's see then." And off we went for about 90 minutes of technical exercises. I committed , walked the line of trying to "listen" to what I was doing (never an efficient idea).  L is one of the few people in my life to whom I can give myself fully. As if I place my voice, in my hands, like a beautiful flower, and hand it to her. She knows just the right vase, just the right sunlight, and just the right amount of water. And then knows where to put it. She hasn't always said she liked the flower, but is willing to look at it for a while  She cannot hurt my feelings because I trust her appreciation, her judgment so completely.  There is no one else in my world that holds this honor.  So I brought my rep to her, prepared and ready to work. And i found I was capable of working. Capable of working and  processing information. NO SHIT!!!  This was a real shot in the arm for me. My heart opened up like a lotus flower, floating on a sea of kindness, L knows me, the different and difficult journeys I've taken, and luckily has never called me a complainer. Sometimes she loses patience with my lack of self-esteem. Can  you tell how much I value L in my life? Especially now, that my parents are gone.   To be honest, we three are a little family, but have only talked about it once in 17 years. L was pregnant around the time I was born, and she lost the baby. She and her husband G, were not able to have any more children.  For many years.....until I came along, there were special students, friendships and the like. One visit, about five years ago L and G told me their story about the baby and that she was a girl, near the time i was born (once they realized when I was born).  The call me their celestial child, but they don't talk about it any more. To know I am in their hearts as a child of sorts makes me very, very special. Especially now. And so I go to them for lessons....I spent two weeks with them back in March during my Odyssey, but never sang a note.  I listened to other lessons L was teaching, making notes for our kibbutz at the end, but I could not muster any strength to sing.

SO here I was, back in DC, four months later, for lessons, and coaching with a pianist. With  a purpose: presenting this recital program in several cities but needing to shop it out some more.  L gives me a realistic view of who I am when I cannot see it. I know she knows this, and she knows I am in need of this, particularly now. She inspired me to re -start my daily regimen of practicing, a good half hour a day. I am happy to do this, even though I know it will not be perfect. ( I send them cards around mother's and father's day, but never that specific)

Flying back to my home state, the one that has nothing I want, I took some well-needed naps, clear and unaffected naps. I arrived at my doorstep with a few hours to spare before meeting some girlfriend/students for the midnight premiere of the Twilight Saga's Eclipse. I pushed myself to go, when Id rather have had my jammies, no contacts, no artifice of teacher/student propriety. I Awkwardly joined the crew near 11pm, ad they were so gracious. I just felt out of whack from the day ,the experience, being 45 with a bunch of 20 somethings...it was a lot of fun, I remember telling my father about the premiere we attended back last time in November, and of course he thought I was nuts,,,but he smiled, like he got it. That was cool. L nd G do not get it . They are old school...people my age, in my profession do *not* hang out with their students, do not have multiple tattoos and use the word "Dude."  I baffle them as much as I endear myself to them, I am fortunate. There isn't a word that I know that describes our affection for each other. Adoration? Love? Hmmm Yes, but they mercilessly kick my ass about the "courage" tattoo on my wrist, the color choice of my hair. They haven't yet seen the flowers at the base of my spine-the flowers on my parents' gravestone.

Goooood visit. L said, as I was leaving, "Please come back, any time.' She rarely says things like that. A woman of few but meaningful compliments.

Back at home for two days, I now regrouped for most today, getting the airplane rides out of my body in preparation for two more flights  in another day.  About a month ago, on an energetic day, a friend contacted me, hoping I was going to this Conference in Salt Lake over the 4th...she plied me with compliments about my fun personality, and I realized that it was time to get back into my field as my sabbatical winds down. FINE FINE I'll go. Honestly my initial thought was "Yes! It's perfect timing." Now with only two days to turn everything around, I find the speed of this is too much for me. I worry about what to wear, especially heels, because I am mortally sick of "OH, my gosh you're so tiny." One day I will respond with a roundhouse punch to a bitch's face. Or at least a slap in the face. "OH, I had no idea your ASS was so big." You know. I will have my beautiful friend with me and she makes me feel beautiful, too. This conference is going to be about what interests me, and how many people i can meet that I like, increasing my networks of colleagues. I am shy about this, but my friend S has a knack.

So it seems that I am back in the saddle, but it feels a little hectic, a little disorganized. I hope my little mare is kind to me. My lists just have to be in large font. I can do it I dread the 'nice to meet you''chitchat....I am out of a few key inclusions this year...Do I have family? Yes,  a sister and an aunt.  I need to have a comeback to shut people down without being rude or uncomfortable. Maybe I'll sound mysterious...ooooooOOOOOooooooooooohhhh. Find humor where I can . Stick to the happy stuff.
Talk a LOT of shop with people who can. Enjoy some good food, hopefully at least one dinner in my jammies while watching fun TV>

Then pack it up sneak out, and fly home. Details to follow.