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.

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.