About Me

My photo
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.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Remember that concert and rehearsal I blogged about? Well, they're done. I had to really reach down and pull that gig out of somewhere...I was not interested in being there, in singing, in facing people, talking to them after. Just plain ungracious. That's how I was feeling. Trying to get my warm up kick-started, I made tea, turned on the lights to brighten up the shadowy house, and went to find my notes from a lesson I'd had with my teacher.  It took a lot of self-talk to get me moving, and after about twenty minutes of slogging, I got some energy moving around and my voice started to respond. I thought of both my parents, one who secretly loved my singing, and one who loved my work ethic--both seemed to kindle some internal motivation within me.

As I was getting ready, I kept thinking that I *had* to get through this concert. I'd agreed to do it months ago. I looked at the tattoo on my wrist (Courage), and plunged ahead with the tedious curlers, make up, gallons of hairspray and finally the gown.  I looked in the mirror, transfixed by the person in the reflection. Who was that? Certainly much prettier than I'd remembered, thinner, and one might not be able to read the grief still emanating from my pores. I tried out a smile. Then a bow. Both felt strange. Superfluous.  How could I possibly be thinking about how I look when things inside are so dire?

I've gotta say, it helped a little. It helped me get to the gig, sing it, and make it home in one piece.  The rawness of my emotional state was clear when people asked me how I was doing.  On stage, I was completely shut down, shut off. Robotic. A pretty robot.  I couldn't wait to get the hell out of there.

Afterward, back at home, I stood again in front of the mirror, and wondered. You know, all the questions we ponder in normal situations were there,  but superceded by this newer, bigger picture. Where does this image fit in to the new picture I am getting of myself, this woman without parents? The one who cannot sleep in her own bedroom and cannot touch her father's things? Who is this person called "beautiful" by her friends? For a "brief, shining moment" (Camelot) a saw HER. The woman I want to be, the woman I've pretended to be for so many years.

I am still becoming, I guess. Not fully cooked. I want to be strong yet vulnerable, compassionate and not combative, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound...

My social life is still very sketchy--still bagging out of activities, although I did hit a fundraiser with a friend yesterday. I wanted to find the Pretty Girl I saw in the mirror the other night, so I threw on a t-shirt and black skirt, with my most fun shoes--fushia patent leather--hoping to dress myself into a fun mood. It felt awkward to be consciously dressed up.  I felt awkward with one of my dearest friends. I *hated* that feeling. My stomach mutinied eating rich desserts on an empty stomach.  And so I navigated mindfully, noticing, and later realizing my mother's social fears in me. I own this now, as of today. She was always nervous at parties, gatherings, afraid of not being pretty enough, smart enough, --things many of us fear--but with her it was almost phobic. I have this tendency, too. My father had a charisma I admire, but a private, quiet side, too. My mother was very shy, and even more private. If you do the math, that makes only one quarter charisma...I don't even know if I have that. I can put up a good front, for a while, but at least now it takes a lot, too much, energy to conjure such a glamour.  

Will the glittery side of me be resuscitated? Was it ever an organic, authentic part of who I am? I kinda hope so. The concert persona felt like SUCH a facade to me, and I really hated it. I used to love the ritual of getting ready for a concert, and especially the "doing" of a concert. Instead, I am saying the word "hate" a lot. Probably an overstatement. It's just easier than running down my inner thesaurus for something more descriptive. Lame on my part, I know, but I'm at least putting it out there.

I'm putting myself out there as far as I can, and then withdrawing back into my cocoon. The cocoon of becoming.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

This One's for You, Mom, Because of Rita

Last night another dream about my parents. So far, they have been dreams of ordinary life--peaceful subjects likely created by my subconscious, as many dreams are.  What I have also heard, though, is that the dead can come to us in dreams. I am beginning to believe this. It happened after my mother died, and it is happening now. Our family has had rather tumultuous times in our history, and it feels like these dreams are coming to soothe me, or as an apology in some cases. I dream of my Nonni's house when I am deeply stressed out. I can smell her perfume, her shampoo, see the light coming through the windows, and feel the carpet on my bare feet as I go up the stairs. Nonni is never in the dream, though.  In the dreams with my parents,  the scenarios are realistic but not real. A mother taking her daughters shopping. My parents embracing each other, shutting the world out. My parents enjoying a night out at a restaurant, late meeting Karl and I at the house.  These images are so gentle, the dreams come to me and I embrace them.  They also bring me questions.  Is it just my mind doing this as part of the grieving process, or is there a spiritual deliverer to ease my grief?  I am the over-analyzing type, and always want The Answer.  I might end up having to choose my Answer.  

I've recently been contacted by an old friend of my mother's. I say "old" rather then "longtime" because I am just learning the extent to which they kept in touch over many years. Rita and my mother were girlhood friends.  She found me on Facebook, and started sharing all these memories of herself and my mother.  They had wonderful times together, and Rita shared so many things about the mother that I never really knew.  She gave me the person I longed for my mother to be.  The one I always wondered about. The one my father fell in love with.  And it is *this*mother that's coming to me in dreams. Not the mother with whom I chose to sever ties about a year before she died. Her abusiveness forced me to choose this path without her. By then she was already lost behind the iron curtain of vodka and starvation. I don't know how much Rita knows about my mother's later life. I know she is reading this blog.  Rita has alcoholism in her family, so knows a little of what it might have been like.

So while this is a blog about the journey surrounding my father's passing, it now includes, thanks, to Rita, a bit more about my mother. Her journey, prior to the Verrilli family. How did we change her? Did we make her so unhappy that she drank? I know enough about alcoholism that it is more complicated than that--alcohol is cunning, baffling, and powerful. Some of you may recognize that language.

Rita's messages are helping me heal. I love the bright, caring young woman she describes in her emails and the fun she had with a dear friend who loved her unconditionally. I am sad that she may not have known *we* loved her unconditionally, too, as children.  I am devastated that she may not have known my father loved her unconditionally until the day she died. I cannot even bear to think she may not have cared.  Rita's messages are equally painful, though, because I feel doubly-grieved.  I knew when my mother died the hopes of ever reviving a relationship with her were over. My choice. The most difficult choice I've ever made. I now call in to question some things about which I felt very secure. I told my mother I would not speak to her when she was drunk.  This ended up being the last thing I said to her.  It was a necessary choice and I wish I hadn't felt compelled to make it. Reflection is a painful and useful tool.

I am so, so, SO glad Rita found me. She's encouraged me to dig deeper to see my mother differently. I think it could only be she who could help me in this way.  I don't know if there's a divine reason she found me now, and opened my eyes, but I think there might be. I don't know if I want to enter into a longer relationship with her, but I am open to the Universe guiding me. And if she is a guide on the path to my mother, then I will take her hand.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Grief Brings Me to Unfamiliar Territory

Monday, Monday...MONDAY!
I think momentum is returning. Maybe it's the warm weather, the sun, the birds. I realized something today. My father's death was not the FIRST thing in my mind as I woke up. Admittedly it was the second. I don't know how I am supposed to feel about this. In part, it is a brief and welcome respite from the pain that death doles out. At least I did not wake up, sucking in my breath as the virtual stab to my heart hits. I woke up feeling refreshed. This is new, too, since my father's passing.

 It's taken three months to begin recouperating.

As I reconnect with my local friends, there have been opportunities to re-tell the story: my dad's story, really.  I read somewhere that it's important to tell the story of someone's passing; it aids us in our grieving, helps the experience feel more "real." HMMM. We, those who have lost someone, feel the duality of denial and reality---we KNOW we've lost someone, but it's hard to believe. I think it's that our hearts cannot fathom it.  I can't tell yet if relaying The Story is helping me. It's never Less Painful. The reason I've not seen a lot of people is because I don't want to tell it. I don't want to answer questions, I don't want to be gracious in my replies to offers of condolence. This re-opens the wound. I can't stand it.

I have two very public events coming up in the next week. The rehearsal on Sunday and the concert on Tuesday. I agreed to this gig back in October, riding the wave of other gig happiness, and living in the Great Unknown.  My father was declining, but we were all living day to day, not pursuing the future.   Anyway, next week's annual concert, now in its eighth year, has always been important to me. I generally love the spotlight :o) but this concert is all about the collaboration of women --students and faculty as well as a selected community organization that focuses on women and girls. I am dreading this event for a couple of reasons--because I like these women so much I let my guard down. I don't want to be any more vulnerable than *absolutely necessary*. And then there are the college students. During my year on sabbatical I have seen very few of them.  Coffees here and there, Facebook messages.  Seeing the women's choir at this Sunday's rehearsal is going to be emotional. I don't want that, either. 

I don't know how to be with my grief in professional situations.  I don't want to be with my grief in professional situations. This event (Her Story, Her Song, btw) is both professional and personal. So again, Grief brings me to unfamiliar territory. 

Hey, the truth is that my students know me as a woman of few filters--I don't do "Professor Mode" very well. I'm just myself. They usually think this is a good thing; sometimes not. I usually think it's a good thing, too, but being Me all day is exhausting. WELL, my friends, this is another story entirely. I digress.

So this begs the question: Getting myself back out there is good, right? I had the opportunity to pull out of this upcoming concert but did not. When my mother died three years ago, I cancelled a gig because I couldn't muster the energy to sing.  I was embarrassed (sp) and felt unprofessional. Was this a legitimate reason to cancel something to which I'd agreed? What is legitimate enough? Jesus! I really struggled with the decision, but in the end, it was the right one. 

This time, with my father's passing, I am more deeply affected. This is well-documented. My energy has been sapped, although, as I wrote above, I have felt a bit more renewed the past few mornings.  I'm back at yoga. The baby steps I have been taking feel like walking on broken glass.  The rehearsal on Sunday will be more difficult than the actual gig. Sunday will be the broken glass. Because people may want to comfort me, console me. I stiffen, now, when these things happen. What will happen?  The Unfamiliar has proven to be painful in my recent history, so I am more sensitive, more fearful of unknown emotional situations.

The concert will be a piece of cake in comparison to Sunday's re-introduction to all those who know but haven't seen me. I will put on my familiar body armor: lots of make up, concert hair, evening gown, heels. I will cloak myself in the business of singing, engaging my body in breathing and supporting my sound, finding the focal point beyond the audience. Hey...that's professionalism. Going about the business at hand.  My father thoroughly believed in his will to continue working throughout his devastating illness. I am healthy, although very, very sad. If he could do it, so can I.

Body armor, spiritual armor. Veni, vidi, vici. Love you, Dad!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Baby Steps Amidst the Wreckage

I am sitting here, staring at the screen, feeling dead inside, emotionally drained. It was good to get some things done today--dad's taxes are in, our taxes are in, and I finally worked up the nerve to call one of the 401k case managers and admitted I could not find any of the documentation needed to submit for survivor benefits.  At a different point in my life, I would have scoured heaven and earth, piling and unpiling, viciously tearing through stuff to find what I needed. Life and death, you see. How things change when death is actually involved. I simply gave up looking, and then avoided making the phone call.  You might be curious now about the documents for which I was looking. Passport. Birth Certificate. Social Security Card. Yup. Missing. All of them. Into some horrific vacuum. Proof of Who I Am. Missing. How appropriate.

The man to whom I spoke was very kind, and provided me alternate methods of proving who I am;  I stumbled through my appreciation and sat down in the kitchen, numbly staring at the television. Brokeback Mountain was on. Good choice, Verrilli. :o/  The shower beckoned, and my kitties, Sid and Joy-Joy playfully trotted into the bathroom ahead of me. They know the peace of running water. They even like it.

Today I literally curled up into a fetal position on my bed, paralyzed by the emptiness gnawing away inside me. I don't know how long I was like that, in the quiet, the void space. After a while, my brain kickstarted, as if jumped by another's energy. Put on pants; now shirt; socks, shoes. Get up and go downstairs. You have errands to accomplish. Go. I am not going to say it was my father's voice, or a divine one. I think it was my own, reminding myself to take baby steps whenever possible. They were small, all right, but they got me out of the house to do what was necessary.

Back to this idea of the shipwrecked identity of a person who has lost a parent. Both parents. Losing them has eviscerated me. My life is now clearly divided in two: before and after.  Part of my "before" identity included elements that were in place to please my parents, especially my father. I admired him, I feared his disapproval, I feared I'd disappoint him. I now have to examine which behaviors and conceptions were created for this purpose, and see if they serve me now.  As a kid, I had to live with a lid on; I was flamboyant even as a little one. That flashiness disturbed my parents. Once I went away to conservatory being flamboyant served me well in class, and especially on stage.  Coming home from school, I put the lid back on. When I brought my then-boyfriend, Karl (now my husband of 20 years) home to meet my parents, I tried to cap his natural ebullience so that he was appropriately presentable.  I loved my parents, but they stifled part of who I was and I accepted it. As an adult I got very good at adopting a persona during visits, on the phone, so they would see Dr. Verrilli instead of Catherine. I believed that's who they wanted to know. I'll never be sure if it was true, but this has to be part of the letting go.  What did I hold back from them that they might have really loved? I have to examine that in more detail, and perhaps invite some things back.  At the end of my dad's life, I was too...present... to keep up any facade. I thank the gods for that.  It leaves me, though, in a place of wandering...

A good friend told me that the death of his parents changed him, too, but served to validate who he was, and gave him more confidence because he was "on his own." Is that just a guy thing, or a healthy human thing? I am neither, I fear.

Today I am stumbling around, disoriented, like someone who's survived a shipwreck. I can't shake the feeling that my dad would be disappointed. I also can't shake the reality that I am suffering today, even with the sun out, and the flowers blooming. My gratitude journal has sat empty for two days.  < sigh >

Thing is, part of me can stop whining, stop whinging at every little effort. I just don't know which part!  I am dragging my heart around with me, and I would like to leave it home for a bit. This will not work, however. About a year ago, I made a commitment to open my heart, through breathing, yoga, therapy, and removing elements of self-medication.  It was an important decision that has changed me. I think about all the things and people that have come into my life since then, and I'm grateful. THERE. I've talked myself into my gratitude entry for today.

It's okay. I'll be okay. Just not today.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Rollercoaster

What a weekend. It started off kind of great. I woke up in time for my yoga class, barely. There's been a long-standing challenge, or rather, an agreement between my mind and body: if I wake up in time for yoga class on Saturdays, I will go.  And so, I woke up about twenty minutes before class and my mind said Nope, not enough time. Suddenly, there a flair came shooting from my gut upward, and the sparks spelled out: Go, you fool! You can make it!  It is the first time since my father died, that I felt that fire, that motivation to do *anything*.  My body's need for exercise overrode my mind's need for grief.  I did make it to class and I'm glad.  After that, feeling empowered, I grabbed a coffee and headed to another Saturday regular. Seeing old friends after being gone for so long really fed my soul. They were so happy to see me, hugged me, welcomed me back. It reaffirmed my heart's need to get back out in the world. The sun was out,  it was pretty warm, and I felt lighter.

Maybe I was coming out of the fog that has enveloped me and obscured my own life. Maybe I was finding calmer seas.

With this tiny pearl of confidence, I decided to approach my father's journal. I held it in my hands, feeling the pen he had attached to the spiral binding, and smelling the still vibrant odor of the Sharpie. I made this journal for him after my mother died, as a gratitude journal, to help his spirit find some rest. In it, I included quotes from the Buddha, interspersed stamped designs, and an occasional "I love you Dad."  I knew all these things were inside.  I never knew if or how he used it until our first family cruise in 2008. He titled the journal "the Trip of a Lifetime." So from then on, I knew he was writing in it, presumably about the cruise experience, what we did, where we went...he never seemed the poetic sort. When we went on the second family cruise, in 2009, he brought it with him again.

After that, I hadn't seen or heard of it. Until after he died, when my aunt and I were cleaning out his dressers in the bedroom. Seeing the journal in his room, in his dresser, was one of the moments I'll never forget. All I could do was take it out and put it aside with the other small things I hoped to keep.

Back in my own house, in my own bedroom, I approached the journal, because I'd had a good day. And page, by page, I read it. I smelled the ink, I deciphered his handwriting and saw the poet emerging. A man writing about his mortality, his fear of losing his children, his grandchildren. His sadness about dying. His regrets about not being a good enough dad. Lovely comments about my mother still being "his girl."

I lost it. Totally and utterly lost it. I put on his watch, the one he always wore, and wept. Loudly. Viscerally. And I spend the rest of the weekend in our tv room/my alternative bedroom, cocooned in blankets, supported by pillows, comforted by the mindless television on which I did not have to concentrate. (I couldn't watch SyFy, though, even with its ultimate silliness, my usual escape.  My father and I spent hours watching SyFy together, and it's too poignant a reminder.)  So, I sat with my grief all weekend and it felt *awful*.  I wallowed in it, cradled it.

Where was my husband during all this? Hovering, just out of sight, like an angel waiting.  Each time I emerged from the cave, he was there for a hug, a slight touch of our hands as I walked by,  a kiss on my grief-stricken face.  He let me sit with my grief. Let me take the weekend off from life.

This morning, this Monday morning, I am still facing the abyss. Estate business beckons. I've got a gig coming up for which I need to learn the music. But the first thing I did, other than shower, was to send flowers to my beautiful friend Megan and her family for all the kindness, love, lodging and food they have extended to me over the past four months. I think starting each day with gratitude is a powerful tool  for recovery.

I am going to make my own gratitude journal today, as I did for my dad. Three things, each day, for which I am grateful.  A kindness done everyday for someone else.  I hope this will ease my ascent into my new normal life.  Stay tuned.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Middle Man

There are so many kinds of grief. And so many events that cause it. We (the "universal" we) have to honor the grief along with the event that caused it. And then grieve for the grief.  For example,  a friend is still grieving after the break up of a serious relationship. It has been six months, and she is still devastated. It is hard to watch, but her grief resonates with me. The *event* may be different, but the feelings of loss are there. I remember my dad's grief over the loss of his beloved cat. It was real grief. They were companions.

Grief is a complicated ritual. It spawns emotions, spiralling off like Chinese firecrackers, that without examination, seem unrelated to grief. Ummm, emotions like frustration, anger, short-temper...

Today, my own grief is exacerbated by the estate process and the middle man goons that are between me and closure. Am I rushing too fast toward this end? I've been asking myself because I am an impatient person. I think fast, work fast, with a high degree of accuracy. My expectations extend to all those around me. I know this is unfair. However, I've always been frustrated by the idea of the Middle Man.  (This is what led me away from Catholicism, and ultimately away from Christianity.) Were I without them, I could be working up a storm right now, on top of the situation, aware of the various statuses of my dad's estate.  There are too many middle men in this process for me, and I want to fire them. It seems they are forgetting that they are working for ME. I AM the client. Sending self-deprecating emails (like Hi, Sorry, I'm new at this...) has not elicited the response I'd hoped. It didn't help. So I sent emails with  my pointed questions; they've clammed up. Why? Just answer my questions; they are organized and reasonable.  Admittedly, I am more easily angered than usual, more sensitive, and so I jump to:  I'm paying you to do this work, and you have the answers. DAMMIT DAMMIT you fools! It doesn't help that me and the Middle Men are 1500 miles apart.  My being a control freak is not serving me well in the grief process. 

It's been three months since my father's death, and the things accomplished have been by my own hand: the funeral arrangements, the ceremony, creating the estate bank accounts, bookkeeping, record keeping, the gravestone, cleaning his house and preparing it for sale.  These things have been done, completed. The things I cannot do? Undone. Uncommunicated. Why?

I'm afraid if I lighten up, deadlines will pass, stuff will get mangled, and my father's estate will become a complicated mess. It shouldn't be complicated. 50% 50% split between me and my sister. Basta. Cosi. Finito. MAKE IT SO Middle Man. You're not the one who's lost both parents in three years. You're not the one who's so sad that it feels like each day walks through wet cement. You're not the one who's had to sift through cherished belongings and give them away, or design a gravestone,  or arrange the funeral.


I don't think my intense personality is helping my grief process.  I can't relax knowing so much is unknown, that my father's legacy is in someone else's hands. And that these hands may be idle creates such a swirling, gripping anxiety in my that I am angry.  At the Middle Men.  Reminds me of when I was forced to go to Confession as a kid, forced to go to pre-marital counseling given by a celibate, never-married priest....AH....lightbulb moment! I have some inner work to do. And I'm off.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

An Unexpected Retreat

Hi, Mariners!
Yesterday was something. A cold and cloudy day here, and I was virtually *unplugged*.  It didn't start out as my intention, but it evolved into an "acoustic" day.  It was wonderful. I would normally not describe a cold, grey day as "wonderful." There are too many of them here where I live. My husband bought me a bunch of full spectrum lightbulbs that help simulate natural light---and believe me, I use them here.  So yesterday morning, coffee in hand, I turned on the hand-shaped lamp (or, rather, a hand with five fingers) in our sunroom, had a fire, and sat. Looked out at the back yard. Sighed. Then noticed a book I read last summer, one of Stephenie Myers' Twilight series. The last one, Eclipse. The perfect item appeared and my day was created. I never changed out of my jammies, and rarely moved off the couch. And entered a world of make-believe that swooped me away for the day. I never turned on my Crackberry, let the landline go to voice mail, and didn't get online until after dinner. This may not sound like a big deal, but read on.

I've been called many things, but techno-addicted is not one of them.  Facebook "whore," yep.  Guilty. The Crackberry was an essential addition to my Odyssey equipment.  I wasn't going to lug my computer along with three seasons' worth of clothing and files up the wazoo.  The strange thing is that since my father passed away, every day has been filled with such strain, and especially after I went to CT the second time, (heretofore known as the Odyssey) I was attached to the Crackberry---the reality of my father's death unfolded like a weeping peony: all the estate info was rolling in, appointments made and kept, contacts with charities for the delivery of items from my father's house,  arrangements for stops along the east coast for sabbatical research, blessed emails and texts from my husband, and facebook encouragement from all of my friends. I clung to that thing like the crutch it was.

So, back to yesterday. A retreat.  Jammies. Coffee. Hundreds of pages of delightful storytelling. Quiet mind.  The thing really worth mentioning is that my mind was quiet. I was comfortable, content. Not isolated, but cozy. And happy. Happy. HAPPY. First time since, really, October, that I felt carefree.  I never even paused to question whether or not I deserved it.  I did wonder what Karl would think when he came home, through the back door, to see the nest on the couch, me in jammies, still with bed head. That didn't bother me either. :o)

Naturally, the one day I retreated, I missed things that I used to do on Tuesdays, before the Odyssey, and I also missed a lunch date with friends. About six months ago, a friend turned me on to something called "Haikusday," during which everyone communicates in the structure of Haiku poetry. I have taken up the torch among my many friends and usually begin every Tuesday morning with a Haiku, and then we all geek speak in Haiku throughout the rest of the day.  We are all pretty good at it by now. So I missed this. Not a huge loss, but a marker that is usually part of my day.  I also missed both of my yoga classes. And then the lunch with my friends.  Had I logged on, as I usually do, I would have slid toward a regular Tuesday-0n-Sabbatical. With one small change, the whole day changed shape. I didn't skip anything purposely, the day just melted away. However, with this change, my heart was light for the first time in a long time. So, I'm not perfect. And my friends gave me shit for missing lunch, and of course, my evening yoga class was "orgasmic," as my friend put it.  That's okay. I can be perfectly imperfect.

Today was different. Sunny and definitely spring-like. But I stumbled around, getting caught up in movements that should not be challenging--I bumped into walls, spilled vitamins on the counter...just generally klutzy things that pissed me off.  And I saw the estate work I had to get done today, and just looked at it. Yup. Okay. Will do.  An email to the estate attorney with questions, correspondence with the real estate agent, more phone calls to investments... shit.  Hitting the shower, I knocked over almost all of the bottles on the ledge. Okay. Breathe, Catherine. This is not a portend of the day to come. I'd come to believe things like that determined my day, or that something bad was coming down the phone line from my father.  Okay. That's not possible.  As I got dressed, I noticed again how much weight I'd lost this fall/winter. Then my brain took me through that time, in super fast forward motion, everything that's happened. Those fucking boxes still staring at me. The sun didn't matter, the spring didn't matter, even my sweet little daffodil--my only one, so far--didn't matter.

I scurried out of the house as quickly as possible, vowing to make a change. Once I came back from errands and estate stuff, which I prefer to do in a coffee shop, I went upstairs and glared at my bedroom. Glared. UP came the clothes off the floor,  and into the laundry they went. Even into the dryer! Now, the BIG accomplishment will be folding and putting them away. Breaking the cycle of Grey Gardens. Maybe even getting real with the clothes I can't bear to wear. Someone will use them. I will give them away to a local charity, where no one has to pay for them. I'll say a brief blessing over them so that the sadness associated with them is lessened, and ask that they bring people joy in wearing them.  "The Shire has been saved, Sam, but not for me," Frodo said. That's kind of how I feel about these clothes.  I still have the dress I wore at my mother's funeral three years ago, and know I will never wear it again. That may have to go as well.

But, honestly, it's yesterday that stays with me. I had choreographed this huge Odyssey to cover much ground on many levels, and even added a touch of retreat at the end--I rented a house on Sanibel Island, Florida for a week of monastic-like solitude. It didn't work nearly as well as I'd hoped, because I had that damned Crackberry attached to me. (In my defense, I did create a photo diary of the whole Odyssey, of which I am very proud, and it was good to touch base with my husband a few times, too.)  But, Yesterday, the cardigan sweater grey day, at home under blankets, with my cats sleeping on the couch, and a good book, has been the best day I've had in many months. I wish that for everyone. And I didn't even plan it. And it was free. Hmm.  "The best laid plans...."

I'm struggling with the mental clutter that has become legitimate anxiety. Walking gingerly, slowly, in baby steps, seems the only way I'll get through this. If I let this happen in its own time, maybe I'll have more unexpected retreats. That would be good.

Monday, April 5, 2010

I haven't been able to sleep in my bedroom since November. There are a number of reasons for this. Well, firstly, it's a disaster, and that's the main reason, but it's an umbrella that arches over many other, more painful issues. All related to grief and grieving.

Let's set the table without the grief centerpiece. I am an insomniac; I have post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety (all being treated by prescribed meds taken responsibly, stress reduction techniques and daily exercise).  And, admittedly, I have the propensity to be a slob. My husband would call me a slob. I hate housework. I'm "too busy" to do it. Okay, so now that THAT'S out of the bag, I feel more comfortable talking about the bigger picture.

I have this habit of saying "long story LONGER...." but it's true! I try to truncate my stories, but I find so many details are essential to the telling of the story that I run off course.  Right, where was I? Ay.

Right, my bedroom. I call it the Grey Gardens. Seen the movie? You know then. Every time I've travelled in the past year I have never completely unpacked. I've done a lot of travelling, mostly involving trips to CT visiting my father. Coming back emotionally exhausted, and never really knowing where my head was, I'd unpack enough to find the dirty laundry and essential cosmetics......and that's about it. I knew I'd be on a plane again fairly soon, so why bother with the *whole* unpacking thing?  This has created indistinguishable clothing piles. I used to be able to keep track of which was clean, and not, and call it a messy bedroom. It's way, way, beyond that now.

I can't bear to touch the clothes I wore while my father was alive on our last visit. They sit in the boxes I mailed back to MN after the funeral because I had to stay on longer than of course I'd planned. I don't even want to touch the *boxes* that sit in the middle of the floor, as if they contain physical energy that will hurt me. There are piles of nebulously categorized clothes on my bed, so many that I sleep in a "nest." Reading this makes me sound like a hoarder.  What I really want to do is an old-fashioned "Do-Over:" chuck it all. Donate it all.  And it makes me realize I fortunate I am, that I have so many clothes.  Stuff I don't need, don't wear, can't bear to touch.  Then there's the fact that I've dropped a lot of weight since the fall, and things don't fit.

So there's the clothing bit. I could purge and purge big. This would help the overall Grey Gardens atmosphere.  However, I am so overwhelmed because I realize I've been hanging on to this stuff as if it's a connection and a crutch, and that putting things away means An End. See, this gets heavy, fast.

But then, holy crap, there are these other boxes, more recent ones, taking up residence in my bedroom, too, in purgatory along with my clothes, suitcases, and trunk. Long story short? Boxes of things from my dad's house, from the most recent trip--the 0h-my-god-my-dad's-dead-and-I-am-cleaning-out-his-house trip. The things my father saved that I am now saving. The sweater vest my Nonni knitted for my father that he never wore. My Poppi's glasses. My father's report cards, newspaper articles from his high school diving days. And most painfully, there are journals. These have kinetic energy that pull me in and then sucker punche me. I want to put all these things in a good space, a reverent space, but I don't know what that space looks like, or where it is. So they sit where my husband put them. I mailed them to him from CT.  I was gone, have been gone, essentially, since mid-December, with the exception of a few weeks home in February.  Now home, it's April, and I look at them, wait, get a little stronger, and a little closer...and shake my head no. Not yet.

But then, today, gingerly sifting carefully through one of these boxes, I found a journal I had given to my mother in 2005, a transcription of my own diary through the second of her three near death hospitalizations due to her alcoholism. I could not resist reading it, as if my own handwriting would be less painful. Wrong. Reading and re-living that experience caused me to grieve for her all over again.  It reaffirmed that I am not ready to deal with *anything* in the boxes, because I don't know what's in them, even though I was the one that packed them.  My father saved the journal I gave my mother. It must have caused him immense pain to have a transcription of what happened. How could I have been so cruel to either of them? Is this the action of a loving daughter? So tonight, I am spiralling into sadness; I realize I did not do it to hurt my parents but to make the experience tangible for us--as if living it were not enough. Alcoholism runs in families. I have the gene, as did my maternal grandparents, my maternal aunt, my sibling.  My mother's legacy, as I mentioned in an earlier post, was to free my family from the tyranny of alcoholism. Back in 2005, I saw myself heading down her path when she entered the hospital in October and I was angry at her for it.  I was also angry at myself: how could I possibly be leaning in a direction with such a visible destination? Took me a while, but I've figured it out. I don't have to head in that direction. But I am so sad I projected that on my mother and gave her something "out of love" that was very ugly. And now I am the owner of this document to my insensitivity, along with the things I mentioned above.

It's good I found it. It's good I read it. A reminder of lots of things. Como se dice?  The power of words; the visceral nature of personal items kept by one and passed on to another; the fear of unpacking; the need to surround myself with *stuff* in the presence of loss...that's a lot of lessons for one messy bedroom! My bedroom is a macrocosm of my mind, a physical manifestation of the messiness that life is for me right now.  If it's true that in grief we're supposed to allow our hearts and minds to be in whatever state they happen to be, do I have to tread as gingerly with my external stuff? Since I'm getting help for the internal, why not ask for help with the external. I think that's called "reaching out." Ah geez. Personal growth from Grey Gardens? Hell, yes.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Easing Back into My Life

A friend asked me how I was doing, getting back into my life. What a good question! My initial answer was "oh, fine, a little slow, but fine." When I think of it, however, I've got more to say. What WAS my life before mid-December? I look back and can barely see it. I can list the things I did, but it doesn't feel real. Did I actually have a daily routine that I enjoyed? It seems like another person's life.  A nice life. What I don't understand is why I don't want it back.

So, my routine. Maybe if I write it down, it will seem real, and I will want it back. I was really into yoga, daily, in fact, and feeling good--my depression was managed, I was eating healthy, sleeping fairly well (for an insomniac). Huh. And now, back in "my life" none of that seems possible. Or even interesting.  I say I want it, but then the moment arrives, and it seems foreign, and impossible. Must be the grief. It doesn't want me back in my life yet. My father would want me to be back in my life. And so I'm torn.

I feel isolated from my local friends, because they weren't there. It wasn't their fault, I don't blame them, but there's a difference now. I think it's because I'm different and they are the same. I miss the friends who were in Connecticut with me, who folded me into their lives, who let me stay with them and who cared for me.

Of course there's Karl, who's been with me all the way. He's the bridge between lives. I cling to him. I watch gentle movies, and QVC. Yoga seems a far away lifetime ago. I know it would help, getting me back into my life. It's just that my life feels so different now, without the cancer, without my father, without the fear and anxiety...wait a minute. Was I just *busy* before to distract myself from the reality?  Perhaps the "before" was just like an old fashioned movie set---you know, a town that looks like a town but is only a bunch of one dimensional things that are propped up...

And this, today, is the reality. I believe this is true. This morning, I realize, as I've skipped yoga, that I have to re-define my life. I am sure I'll get back into many of the elements that were there before, but I'm not putting a time limit on it. I think I want to reconnect with my local friends. That's up to me, I think, to do as I'm ready. I'm no good at segues. My tendency is to isolate, to protect myself from harm. What's out there now for me for which I need protection? Am I at the place where I may not need that anymore? Hmm. I don't have much to hide behind now, or hide from. I hope I'm that flower, that sits as a bud, soaking up sun and rain, just about to bloom.

Karl and I are going out on a date tonight, down to the cities to see Gilberto Gil, one of our favorite Brazilian musicians.  We'll have dinner, see the gig, and then stay in a hotel. Maybe I will bloom tonight!

Be well.


Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Clean Slate?

Today was a neutral day.  Neutral doesn't mean boring, like oatmeal or beige.  I don't have very many of those. After the drama of returning from a long and draining trip, and experiencing my dad's birthday ---the first of the "firsts" this year--I slept really well. Emotionally drained, as you can imagine.

This morning I went for coffee, and went over to the easter cards and it reminded me of the weekly cards I sent to my father for two years.  This has become a regimen for my happiness. So I bought two cards, one each for my niece and nephew. So the tradition will continue: I'll send weekly cards to them!  I hope they will, at some point, write me back or call me. They've not been raised with those sorts of manners, though.  At ages 8 and 6, they still have to be coached to say "thank you" and "please."

I did no estate work today; it was a crash and burn day. A wandering day, getting used to driving my car again. I found some great shadow boxes for the shell collection I amassed while hiding on Sanibel Island, FL. That felt nice, like a way to honor my trip with beautiful things....that were FREE, a gift from nature.  My father collected rocks from every place he visited, from as close as Cape Cod to Sri Lanka. My sister and I were also requested to bring back rocks from our travels. I've brought them back from Spain, Ireland, Chile, Germany, Switzerland, and France. I looked for one while on Sanibel...and realized the rock collection was complete. So I started collecting shells. I got the famous "Sanibel Stoop" while trolling for treasures. And I wish I could share them with my dad.

There were many blessed hours today during which I was separated from my crackberry.  I have set it on silent, which will become its default setting. This electronic stuff has to happen on my terms. As long as I'm still on sabbatical *I* am the master of the machines.  I just get to hit delete a lot. Which I do with an impish smile on my face.

Did I re-invest in my own life today? Not really. I did finish reading Little Bee (highly recommended) and looked briefly at the poetry I'd written after my dad died. There are possibilities there. Still haven't gotten around to singing. That kind of connection to my body's core is just not there yet. I'll be going to yoga again on Saturday mornings, a slow introduction into my old life, and then gradually getting back to my seven classes a week. Meaningful physical investment. Gets me off the couch when the sadness is tethering me to the couch.  I did cook dinner tonight, which is a major thing for my husband and I. I used to love to cook. Usually with a glass of wine at my side. The wine's gone, but I hope to get the fire back for cooking.

What to do with my own house? It is an utter disaster. I need a dumpster outside so I can do a real purge. It's time, especially after experiencing my father's house at the beginning of my Odyssey. It was a very clean house, but it was full of his living. We worked twelve hours a day for a week to prepare it to go on the market. And we did it! It depleted any small amount of energy I had, and went to bed each night in a daze. Was I thoughtful enough about his clothes--was that charity the right one? Did I save enough of the meaningful ones ...are they meaningful? The things I couldn't bear to throw out, I asked a beloved friend to help, while I was out of the house.

Back to my own house. It is beyond a simple housecleaning.  It needs a gutting of the gluttony I've acquired during the harrowing months of my father's illness. Since the his diagnosis, it's as if our house began grieving, too. We stopped cleaning, putting things away. We bought more stuff hoping for happy moments.  We stopped inviting friends over because it would take a herculean effort to prepare the house for visitors, even our closest friends. NOW,  It is time shed the things in which I'd been hiding myself for months. I want to get rid of many clothes and start over. It's not that I'm tired of the clothing, I want to get rid of the memories associated with them.  I woke with this desire to find a clean slate in my life. Just starting to wonder how pervasive this may turn out to be!  Luckily there are excellent charities in my city to whom donations make a difference.

Well, I guess a start could be a buying a big box of garbage bags. The need to simplify is overwhelming, and so this is where I'll start. With my own stuff.  Right, deal with your own shit first, because that's the only shit you have a right to deal with. True that. I think tomorrow I will attack my bedroom. Gently, I will thank my clothes for serving their time with me, and I'll pass them on, as I did with my father's.

Well, that it's for tonight. More anon. Any suggestions for this part of the journey will be greatly appreciated. Good night,  readers. I hope to hear some suggestions from wise women. <3