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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.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A New Year Approaches

Friends, I have had a very quiet and peaceful holiday season. Now that Christmas is over, I've begun to have dreams of my parents again. They were silent leading up to the holiday.  I am sure they wanted me to have time to sort some more things out, figure out some ideas for future holidays. As I wrote a few days ago, my mind was blank and my heart was empty. I wished my parents had come to me as they often do, in dreams. I wouldn't mind their input! My mom was shy and my dad outgoing, so I'd get ideas from both personalities.

I realized that by cooking the Feast of the Seven Fishes, I was honoring not only my father, but my mother as well. She cooked as well as my Nonni and Ro-Ro. I grew up eating the most delicious food. In that way I was certainly spoiled by her. Funny, as an adult I love the magical realism in Mexican literature, "Like Water for Chocolate," a movie that espouses food contains the emotions of the one cooking it.  Relating that to my life, perhaps this was a way my mom showed us her love. Of course, I'd love to know THE answer, but I'd like to think I already know it.  As I unfold, I am seeing more and more of my mother in me. I am recognizing traits that I'd never seen in her or me. I feel like now that my mom's in her most pure form in the afterlife, I can see her true self more clearly. And it is much easier to see these things in myself, unobstructed by alcoholism, regret, jealousy, and diminished self-worth.  With the clouds clearing, I love many things about my mom; the things my father loved about her.  Her intelligence, her shyness, her desire to please people, her funny --though brief and far apart-- spurts of hilarity, her desire to look pretty, her desire to entertain and make people happy.  What sticks out the most to me is shyness: both hers and my own! It never occurred to me that she was a shy person. It has taken me many conversations with people who knew her and the artifacts from our house to divine her shyness. As far as my own goes, it's taken me my whole life to figure this out. And to accept it, to allow it to be my truth. All that partying I did was an attempt to compensate for something I felt was a weakness. Perhaps it was the same with my mother. I do not feel "less than" because I am shy. It is refreshing not to feel the weight of my costume!

I am a self-admitted fashion addict. I love to dress well and take pride in my appearance. I always thought it was to keep people from finding fault with me--I was not a fashionable kid, (but it was the late 60's early 70's!) I was very short (that hasn't changed) and had glasses (still do, but contact lenses, too). And lastly, I have my mother's blue eyes and love to play with make up.

It has taken me almost four years to sift through the wreckage of her late life and then her death, to find where she and I met; to see where I was like her. I love my mom's spirit, her heart; I was unable to see those things during the last years of her life. I craved her affection as a child and never got it. That was because she never learned how to give and receive affection by her family. Now I see it, I feel it. She felt trapped by getting pregnant; she had to leave college and then marry my father--I'll never know if she wanted to get married (although my father was crazy in love with her) and have kids.

I see who my dad fell in love with. This is a great gift. One of the greatest gifts I could receive.

As you can see, this time of year I begin to wax poetic, even more than usual. But through writing, I am finding myself, finally seeing my mother clearly, and loving my dad even more. And yet, they're not here.

And so, it is time to revive memories and savor them.  Think about what to include as 2012 approaches. Say goodbye and close the door on experiences and people that have served their purposes. Embrace old friends and welcome new ones.  Run toward the sunshine whenever possible.

My resolution: to laugh more. It's been too long!
Happy New Year, 2012.

Monday, December 26, 2011

It’s the second holiday season without my dad.  Last year, we ‘ignored’ Christmas by escaping to Key West. It was a good thing to do at the time. This year, it was time to face the holidays. My husband is a true gem, but even he wanted to celebrate, neither escape nor evade. 

Thanksgiving will always mark the beginning of the holiday season, but it also marks the beginning of my spiritual journey, my dad’s journey toward his death. This was the day he realized he could no longer live the way he wanted, and his ruse of “being fine” was officially over.  He could not lift the turkey from the bathtub (where it was defrosting in water, easier to access than the sink) to the roasting pan.  And then could not lower the roasting pan to the oven.  I say he “couldn’t,” but he did.  He called his sister and they brainstormed how he could do it with one arm. The other arm, the shoulder had a grapefruit-sized tumor on it, and was unable to bear any weight.  My sister and family came the next day, none the wiser, and they had a “really nice” Thanksgiving, my dad said. I’m sure it was.

There was no more pretending he was fine, as he asked us to do for the past two years—as he himself did to keep going, to keep positive.  The tone of my Sunday morning conversations with Dad changed. As always, I let him lead. Deeper things. His anger showed; he was not ready to leave, he did not want to leave. 

That was in 2009.

This year, 2011, I agreed to mark the holidays with Karl because he asked. I love him enough to let that kind of pain sting me.  And this pain is part of my grief, still tender. And I must keep walking toward it, to come out whole at the end.

I made a traditional meal, set a nice table, and I lit a candle to invite my dad to be with us. It was a very lonely, somber Thanksgiving. And even still I noted the many things for which I was grateful.

Before I knew it, it was the last week of classes.  Christmas began to shake its fist at me.  Karl asked if we could have decorations. It was fine with me—little did I know he expected ME to do it! Shithead. With each little tree I bought and decorated I became less engaged.  But I kept buying all different types of Christmas trees: ceramic, glass, beaded, tiny fake-looking, medium fake-looking, even a clear one whose internal lights reminded me of the aurora borealis.  Each is decorated differently in themes, harkening back to my mom’s beautiful themed trees. And there is a tree honoring my mother, father, and Karl’s father, all of who have died.  It’s not the most beautiful tree, but it is decorated with symbols: three angels, three birds, three snowflakes, and teardrop ornaments.  That’s it.  It makes sense to me that it's the most sparsely decorated, yet the most important. Every day I walk by that tree, all 14” of it, and smile.

It was suddenly final exam week, and while I was busy, I needed to be as busy as possible,  so I did all of my Christmas shopping in two days.  Packed it and mailed it in another two.  It was like I couldn’t get it done quickly enough, to get it out of my house fast enough.  In the stores, I lingered and wandered to find the cool gifts, which was the closest I felt to having fun, but there was a desperation to it that dimmed any happiness I felt.

I had done a pretty good job of looking like I was in the Christmas spirit; a decorated house, Christmas shopping done and mailed. Christmas cards done and mailed. But I felt blank inside.

Christmas Eve was busy, too. The Feast of the Seven Fishes, a great Italian Christmas Eve tradition.  I felt like a robot even while wearing silly reindeer antlers on my head.  Planned, cooked and served each course—just Karl and I—and the candle I lit at the table. I felt dead inside. Same is true on Christmas day. Made my calls to Ro- Ro and my sister. Ro and I talked about food, and both agreed to feeling “okay.” That was as far as either of us would go, simply because it was too painful to go any further, and would dig the hole deeper.   Called my sister, left a message, and haven’t heard back.

Unlike many other times, when the pain of my dad’s passing has been so deep I could barely breathe, this time, and now, I feel nothing. Not really sure what this is. Maybe this is the way it will be at Christmastime.  I feel completely disconnected from the spirit of it all.  Perhaps it’s not time yet for me to feel. Too much, still, to process. Maybe my soul is protecting my heart, or vice-versa.

The new year is approaching, and this brings me closer to the epicenter of pain; the anniversaries of both parents’ passing. January 4 and January 13. New Year’s Eve has been difficult since my mother was in the hospital. My dad had called us—we were at a friends’ house—and told us she was back in the hospital.  Happy Fucking New Year.  And then, just a blink of time later, I was sitting in my dad’s hospital room, staring out at the full moon, trying to take in the impending, deafening, shattering new year. A time that I am broken.

Today, there is anger welling up in me. I used to love the holidays, and now I don’t. This is the first time, writing this, that anger has consciously raised its flag since my parents’ deaths.  I’m angry that my parents were both so ill and then died right around the holidays.  It will be something I wrestle for the rest of my life.  My husband will have to live with my ambivalence.  I am bitter that I cannot feel joy during a time that embodies it.

As with all things, this too shall pass.  The anger that has recently surfaced will work its way up and out, I will birth it as I have the others, and see myself turned inside out once again.

I am curious about 2012 and the newest part of my journey. It is a year of karmic gifts, of shifting energies, and the year itself will be the result of internal searching, working, and renewing.  Another year of birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and celebrations. My wish is that I feel them all, that my heart is open and willing.

Here’s to a new year. xoxo

Thursday, November 24, 2011

It is Thanksgiving. GAH

I am grateful. Grateful. I gave in to Karl's need to celebrate holidays this year. It was very difficult for me to capitulate. In fact, that's all I did. Annnnnnd, I said I'd try. In that spirit, I shuffled around Target and TJ Maxx mostly, trying to find small things to whisper in the holidays. A nice, red felt snowflake with bells on the end is on my front door. No wreath, no outside lights. That is too much like it used to be.  For the first time in six years, I was looking for things to make our house "Christmas-y." We made a compromise--no big tree. So, instead I found lots of small trees, made of different fabrics, sequins, wire, glass, ceramic, and then a few fake-but-real-looking trees. I bought what looks like a broken down little shack and a tiny yard with snow. It lights up inside. Cute. To remind me of what my spirit needs, I put both my little Buddha and little Ganesh just outside the front door, to welcome me into this season. One of the trees is decorated with things in threes--my dad, my mom, and Karl's dad--three important people who have passed on. That we love. Three birds, three stars, three snowflakes. And teardrop ornaments. A propos. It's very simple and it's in a place I see it every day.

One of the little real-but-fake trees is decorated with nature things, mostly things near the sea. Birds, seashells, leaves, etc. A starfish is at the top. This is the only lighted tree, about 13 inches tall. What used to be my vacation tree, the one I decorated as we flew off to various family gatherings out east, is a fanciful thing; funny little angels, butterflies, handmade ornaments I've purchased here and there, starfish. My favorite ornament is a blue crescent moon with a small star at its southern tip, but the whole thing sits on my grandmother's buffet, new to my house this year. It has now become the largest tree in our house at about 24 inches high.

Candles. This year, all in jars, they are all white of various scents. Eclectic and comforting sitting on top of the bookcase, grouped together like a makeshift fireplace. Each scent mingles together in a harmony of freshness.

Pretty sure I"m done with the decorating. Let's talk turkey.

Karl and I can't even remember what we did or with whom we were last Thanksgiving. I am guessing I was partially comatose, hiding under my then constant companion the red down blanket. It's sitting next to me as a write. Earlier in the week I decided we'd have some kind of Thanksgiving here at the house.  A deux.

I spent most of the morning in the kitchen in my favorite flannel shirt and jeans, and made a glaze for the turkey breast we bought, made stuffing, mashed potatoes, salad, and also some italiano---tagliatelle pasta with artichokes and lemon. I am telling you that I cooked and I ate.  This is a Herculean effort towards a new normal.  I called my Ro-Ro, and of course we talked about my father; his last Thanksgiving, the last Christmas, the hospital. We both try to find the sweetness in it rather than the bone-searing pain we still experience. One thing she said will stick with me whenever I grieve: "Your father taught us how to live until he died."  You may know someone like that. He is the only one I know.  Working full time, spending weekends at my sister's to see his grandchildren, calling me at least once a day to say hello, talking with me on Sunday mornings (my favorite), and watching his favorite tv. And even near the end, he was going out to happy hour with his brothers. One time, they had to bring happy hour to him, which they did gladly. My father was embarrassed, but I know he was grateful. He never wanted anyone to see how sick he was. Ro Ro and I knew, but he knew more intimately than he even shared with us. His sister, his daughter.  My aunt says one of his gifts to us is that we were told not to focus or even really talk about his cancer with him. We all  honored that. Sometimes he called me to talk about it, and I was glad to listen. Of course, even though he never asked, he did really like the company when he went to chemo, or for a PET scan. But he wouldn't have asked us to come. He drove. I rode shotgun. And so for many months--almost two years--he created this bubble for everyone that it wasn't so bad; he was handling it (and he was), it was a fact, and we were all to go about our business, including his own. So for two years, none of us really talked about it--any of it.  When he gave in just after Christmas, and we all knew it was time, we had nothing to say. We'd finished watching a movie; he'd taken a shower (so he'd be his usual dignified, snappy self at the hospital). On the way to the hospital, what was there to say? The cost of his gift to us began to sting. I began to realize how costly it would be, not at that moment in the car, but after. I didn't know that I'd be paying for years after. None of us chose to let it in because he asked us not to; it helped him stay strong. I cannot tell you how damaging it has been, but we did it to honor his wishes, and his wishes were paramount. I don't regret it, even while it hurts.

My aunt talked about the cost of gifts, and I reminded her they are never free. "Well," she said, "This one was a whopper." Indeed.  So yes, we helped him stay strong during those two years, and fought for him in the hospital when he couldn't do it himself. And in a moment, the walls came down between my father and the world. And we talked openly. He talked openly with everyone of us there. It was freeing but terrifying. He told me, among other things that will live in my heart until my own death, that I will be fine. I'm strong. And smart. "You're a warrior, like me," he whispered as he grabbed my hand.  Gift.

Today, two years later, I am beginning to realize he was right. It's not that I didn't believe him. I could not feel an ounce of resilience left in me. First my mother, then my father. Imagine the very worst thing that could ever happen to you--the thing you'd never recover from.  The fear that coils in the deepest places.  And then it happens to you, not once, but twice. I lived through it, and I am beginning to be grateful. I mean, yes, I'm glad to be alive, (there were days I wasn't), but I say am I grateful to have been the person who received gifts beyond worth, paid for them with facing my greatest fear, and lived to tell you about it.  I am grateful and thankful. I have a different kind of strength than I had before. It's not resilience, I don't think. I don't know what it is. WILL, maybe. GRATITUDE, maybe.

I do a little more living these days, but my new normal is becoming clearer. I have different friends now than I did before.  I know things about myself I would never have learned. Resilience is not a renewable resource. There is a finite amount of it, and mine took a huge hit. I'm running on a small amount of resilience. Maybe what happens is that it's not renewable, but with experience we can live with the resilience we have left.  I cannot say I've bounced back; I have crawled back, and rested. And limped along, and rested. And conked out for two weeks and shut myself away. And today we had Thanksgiving.

So I carefully decorated. Not too much to overwhelm me--my father's furniture being here carries a lot of memory; to decorate like we used to would not be good for me. It's gentle decorating. After last year denying Christmas, this year, we'll celebrate gently. We'll see. Birthday's up next. I will probably look in the mailbox for a card from my dad, just like picking up the phone to call him.

So live gently my friends who are grieving. Honor any traditions in the way you can handle, and feel free to cry. The reality of our loss is settling in for good. That's worth a good cry. And when the sun comes up tomorrow, it will be beautiful. And bring you a gentle joy.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The holidays are approaching ...

....like the oncoming enemy. I used to love Christmas; my favorite holiday for most of my life. Thanksgiving, too, and the New Year. These holidays had certainties associated with them: my family. Times to look forward to, traditions to uphold and introduce to the little ones. Food and stockings, the big garbage bag and the particular fashion of disposing of w rapping paper. Kisses and hugs, thank yous, some pizza frite--either sauce or sugar--good strong coffee, and sneaky peeks toward the piles of gifts. The smell of garlic, frying in olive oil; coffee brewing, tomato sauce *with oregano* simmering. Oh, and grated romano cheese.

Both of my parents died just after Christmas, the New Year, three years apart. My mother died January 4th; my father January 13. These cast a pall over my holiday season, because the past was ready to sneak up on me and overtake the present. But what present? I am still trying to find joy in the holidays. I have none. They are the harbingers of the greatest pain I have ever felt.  Last year I ignored Christmas, and I asked my husband to ignore it with me. We escaped to Key West, FL. Had a neutral time. I was sedate but not the mess I thought I'd be.

Halloween is the first of the holidays that gets me. My father loved trick or treating with his grandkids, and I spent his last Halloween with him and them. He was pretty slow, but in it with pictures, smiles, and hugs. Even for his grown up daughters. Strong and long as always. ...the kind that made us feel supported, beloved, and special.  He gave mini versions of these to my tiny niece and nephew, grateful recipients.  My father was known for his hugs. I miss them greatly. The strength of his arms around me, kisses on my cheek. He was never the first to pull away. Ever. Although toward the end, it was we who tried to hang on to him the longest.

So here we are creeping up on Thanksgiving and my birthday.  Last year I tried to focus on what made me feel grateful, but it paled in comparison to what I'd lost. I said to my husband recently, that I didn't want to celebrate the holidays anymore, at least not now. Last year he was willing, this year he is not. The best I could tell him is that I would do my best to get excited for the holidays. Originally we'd decided to fly to Maryland with my aunt and uncle, but my husband's (stupid) job has him back to work on Dec 26th. No way out of it. So I am family-less once again. Only this time  I wanted family. To help reinvent a holiday for which I have only horrifying memories of bringing my dad to the hospital --the final trip.

I don't know if I can come through with the promise to my husband about Christmas. Not yet. It still seems too raw. The look on my dad's face when he decided it was time. His need to take a shower and shave before going in. Putting on his "good jeans" and a red turtleneck sweater. ...I can't go any further without breaking down in painful sobs. No, I am not ready for the holidays. Should I be? Doesn't matter. I am not. No gifts will be good enough, no food that I cook will suffice. No tv specials will get me into the Christmas spirit. Any tree will remind me of my dad going out into our property in the woods, cutting down a tree and bringing it into the house to decorate. Or that last Christmas when he was so weak, that Karl and I took down a fake tree from the attic and set it up, lights and all. He'd tell us to put ornaments in certain places, the ones we'd made earlier in the day. The ones I"d found that were symbols of us: the beach, hiking, birds,   and more ornaments I'd bought at a store's going out of business sale.  (Christmas ornaments that my mother used to hang were not asked to be on this tree). This was a very specific tree with ornaments decorated just for this tree. The last tree.

What to buy my dad for Christmas? It seemed a sick and morbid and sad thing to do. We went to Target and bought him copies of movies he loved that were now on DVD. He didn't give us presents that year. He wrote us each checks and said Merry Christmas on the envelopes. And then he wrote us each notes. I have the envelope with his handwriting on it. I have the cards and notes he wrote.

This is what I think about when the holidays start to roll around. It was the beginning of the end of my life with parents. How does this fade into a rekindled excitement of the time of year when both parents were dying?  I need more time, I guess. More time than a few years. My sister 'fakes' Christmas for the kids. I'm sure they know something's off, but my brother in law isn't the soulful person my sister is, so he's pretty much normal, and the kids love it.  They worry about their mother; I worry about my sister; I worry about my niece and nephew; I worry about myself.  I worry that I won't be able to recreate Christmas for my beautiful husband, whom I love so dearly.  I just don't know.

Like every person in mourning, I try to think what my father would want us to do in his absence: have fun, enjoy, love each other, spend time together. Did he really think we'd be able to do that with broken hearts?

I will try this year. I will dutifully send out Christmas cards, names only. No letters. I will buy gifts for my godchildren and surely have a moment or two of joy. Fleeting it may be, but I hope to god I recognize it for a tiny respite from the deep, deep sadness that the world is not the place in which I grew up; the world in which I grew up was as a child with my parents.  I hope someday, someday that I will figure out this new world and find moments to celebrate.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

MN to CT

How to begin. This day, the beginning of my trip to spend Halloween with my peepsters, and then sashay down to NYC, began last night. I did laundry, packed my layers of clothes (where my sister lives is in a damp valley), packed my chargers, phone, meds, and beauteous –creating items.
This morning I heard the alarm at 8am, and hit the snooze; something I never do. Hopped in the shower, and got ready—somehow more slowly than usual. After I got my Americano, a light in my car came on: icon for low air in a tire. (Which one? Who knows?) Stopped at two gas stations to see if they or I could put air in my tires. No can do. I breathed, looked at the beautiful blue day, and said, “What the hell. It’ll be fine.” And it was fine. I reached the Park N Fly, hopped right on a shuttle and got to the airport.  When I checked in at a kiosk, an innocuous question appeared: would you like to update to first class for $? I laughed out loud, and said out loud, “Hell, yes!” And so I did.
Getting on to the plane in seat 1A ---how many of you do THAT, huh? I was immediately asked if I wanted a beverage and a snack. Meanwhile, the great unwashed (whose masses usually contain me) shuffled by. I wasn’t the typical first class person, I guess. The shufflers gawped at me, my jeans, my clogs, and multi layered tops. I smiled as I sipped my coffee, enjoying the seat being sizable enough that I could sit in an open lotus position (“Indian style”) . This is going to be one sweet flight. Ah, sweetness went by all too quickly. Do you know that you can drink all the alcohol you want and eat all the snacks you want FOR FREE? While I didn’t have the alcohol, I did have a can of the Bloody Mary mix. 62% of the day’s sodium. I don’t care.  It was damn good. She gave me two bottles of vodka with one can of tomato juice. Whoa.  I gave them back, and then asked for more snacks. Sure!

OH! And this is after we had an irate passenger –who was close to getting thrown off the plane. He was irate that a person ‘threw’ his bag onto the planeside check in area. I didn’t know such fury could surge over such an innocent action.  Well anyway, he was pissed and calling people stupid. Apparently if he had sworn, he’d have been thrown off. People who could potentially cause a problem generally use language with a little more punch. Yeah.  So the rest of the flight was fine.

I call my sister while waiting for the next flight that will take me to her in Connecticut. I ask her how the weather is—first snow, a duzy—her husband says it’s fine, and he’ll meet me at the baggage claim at the airport. Okay, cool. I turned off my phone, and took a nap on the next flight.
BOOM! We land on a snowy runway, white, cotton candy like snow flying by us as we are slowing down. Turn on my phone. A missed call. I don’t want to know who called me. There was a text. Aw, god. Here we go. My sister and family were not coming to get me, and could they come tomorrow? Tomorrow? I immediately used my Crackberry to get the number of the hotel AT the airport. No rooms. Hmm. Went down stairs to the bank of hotels you can reach by speed-dialing them. No room; no vacancy; I’m sorry we’re full.
AND THEN MY FATHER’S ENERGY WENT RIGHT THROUGH ME. I heard the woman next to me successfully getting a room! I smiled and gently touched her elbow: “Would you get one for me, too?” She smiled and said, sure!  Power in numbers. It never hurts to ask. Now we had to get to the hotel. I’d forgotten to ask which one, so we kept waiting and waiting outside in the chilly snowstorm. 15, 20, 30, 45 minutes. No shuttle from the hotel. We made a group decision to call the hotel back to double check when the shuttle was coming. They were NOT coming, due to weather. Okay. Taxis were not running. Public transport was very limited. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh HA! MY DAD COMES TO ME AGAIN—he showed me the waiting Limo, which had been sitting as long as we’d been waiting. I grabbed my new friend, and said, “Come on!” Maybe my First Class Trip would end with a limo drive! The limo driver’s seat was empty. Bummer. However, Dad struck again, and showed me to a van. I was not afraid, which is unusual. It was an unmarked van, no company name. We looked in the passenger’s side window, and the man rolled it down. I said, “Are you waiting for someone?” Yes, he was waiting, but the clients were stuck on the tarmac. I smiled my dad’s smile, happy and optimistic, and asked if he could drive me and my friend to the hotel about 10 minutes from the airport. The window rolled up. I looked at my friend and told her “Why not ask? He could always say no.” Not once did I have any nerves or indicators of danger, as I have had in the past. The window rolled back down.
“I’ll take you for $30.”   My god, a bargain from where we stood. I asked if that was $30 each, and he said, “No, for the both of you.” My dad led us right to someone who could help. I’m not saying that either one of us women couldn’t have figured it out, but we were flabbergasted and tired, out of sorts,…but I am saying that women generally don’t look at a limo, ready to ask for a ride, and then find a white van, and ask its driver. My father pumped calm courage into me. I felt it with certainty. This delightful older gentleman drove us, carefully, to our hotel. I love his accent. Now that I’ve been in Minnesota for 10 years, I finally recognize Connecticut Salt has an accent. He was so lovely. He got our bags, we gave him twice what he’d asked, and gave him the Italian mille baci that scratched my cheek a little. My new friend gave him a hug. Cheekily he said, “Ladies, maybe I’ll come back tomorrow to get more of that!” Sly, cheeky man. He was heading back to the airport to pick up the people that were hopefully off the tarmac. It was 7.30pm. He was going to drive them to New York City, about 3 hours away, and then drive himself home.  I had a little crush on him. I also know my dad guided me to him. Someone to help me who was kind and trustworthy. Someone he could trust to help his daughter. I am as certain of this as I am my own name.

So here I am ensconced in my hotel room, toasty, watching National Geographic on TV, and full from a free dinner of instant macaroni and cheese, provided by the hotel. Restaurant was closed, many places around the area are without power.
Life is good. I am not alone. It’s easy to ask . I find it easier to do this kind of thing in CT and New England (New York, too) because these are my people. We can approach each other casually, with excitement or nerves, and we’re on the same level. Everyone was stressed out. But some of us worked together to achieve our goals. This is what I find so heartwarming. From the lady scoring us both hotel rooms, to our hero who got us to the hotel, and then the hotel staff allowing customers to pillage their little “market” of instant mac and cheese, chips, candy, cookies, beer, wine, and soda—for no cost.

I have no idea when my sister will pick me up tomorrow. She says nine. I’m thinking closer to 10. She’s not of this circle of incredible events. She backed out when she had the chance. But, since she did, I got to meet these interesting people, characters in a wintery blizzard.

The power has now gone out in our hotel. The light of the computer is all there is. Our refuge has finally succumbed to the storm.  I am getting tired, and with earplugs I should sleep just fine.  What’s hitting me over and over is the strong positive energy I felt within me throughout all of this day, especially when things got messy. If that limo driver had been in the car, I would have walked over, shaken his hand, and ask him if wasn’t busy could he take me and my friend to our hotel. In a million years I couldn’t have imagined I’d have the guts to do that, or approach the driver of the van.  It was my father, gently pushing me from behind (and beyond) to let people show me their best. Or at least, show MY best in a tough situation.  Ironically, the hotel at which I am staying is less than a mile from where my father worked.  I also do not feel angry at my sister.  Part of me would like to, but I’m just not there. I’ll be happy to see the kids, of course, say hello to my brother in law, and try to spend some real time with my sister at her bakery. I hope it is going to be a success. I want to hear all about it. I want to catch up on as much of her life as I can squeeze into these few days. I don’t know when I’ll hear from her again.
People say a lot of stupid things.  In the end it’s up to me.  That is really stupid.  The person who says that doesn’t trust people to complete tasks correctly or even have a history of fucking up. The person who feels it’s all up to me is not looking around, seeing all the good help to be found. In Minnesota, the culture is as frigid as the temperatures. I can’t imagine any of this happening there. Not a lot of genuine warmth.  But in my home state, where we speak the same language, it’s okay to ask, to joke with someone we don’t know, to make transportation plans with a stranger. To have a stranger make an extra hotel reservation for a stranger.  My body language is understood here, my mannerism is not considered brash or bossy; it’s how everyone is here, and people get along just fine. Better than fine. It’s okay to be weak here, or at least in need of assistance. Now I know I’m talking about something relatively minor, but I believe this culture would react the same in a more dire circumstance. Real people helping other real people. How blessed and comforted I feel by coming home. My father is with me, he wants me here with my sister, niece and nephew for Halloween. He helped me the whole way to get here. As far as was safe. I love you, Dad.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Hey it's not like I am unhappy in my marriage. It's just that as things change,  I need my environment to change to reflect it. Karl's nightly snoring/waking me up has got to stop. I may have to make the choice to head back to the shabby chic retreat of my bedroom. No snoring there. Man, I sound like a bitch tonight; it's been a stressful week of insults and anxiety, reminding me the part of academia I despise.  Crab, crab, crab.

I finally picked up the ring that was designed with the stones my father left me, Karl's engagement diamond, and the topaz my parents gave me on my 18th birthday. It's a very special piece. With the rest of the stones earrings will be made to complement the ring. To wear at Carnegie Hall.

My sister's bakery is opening this weekend, and I am taking some personal time (away from school) to fly out there to support and celebrate her. My parents would be beside themselves with pride: the little girl who never wanted to leave home, who called for hours each night just to talk to them...Here she is with her own bakery. Her own dream. And she's left everybody in the dust. Rejects all offers of assistance. It has taken me two weeks to get her to call me back and confirm that someone can come and get me at the airport. My friends who live in the area will be out of town. I was about to reserve a limo at about $200 to get myself to their place. Ah, now, don't question me: Due to the nature of the trip, I couldn't get a rental car, which I've always done.

This trip has more than one item to achieve. I wanted FOR SURE to be with K and TJ on Halloween. My dad loved it so much, and they loved having him,  that I've taken it up for as long as they'll let me. I even have a costume. Pictures will be posted. I am also looking forward to sitting at the bakery (I hope she has coffee), watching the world spin, and grading 300 assignments. Or, maybe I'll blow that of and play with the kids!

On all Saints Day, my wonderful friend Lori will be driving down from VT, picking me up and tooling down to Brooklyn. A girls' night in a nice hotel, good food, probably laughing, and crying--she and I lost our dads only a few months apart--and then she'll come with me to a very special appointment.

I am having a dress designed and built for me by designer Garo Sparo. This is the gown I will wear at Carnegie Hall. I don't feel intimidated or unworthy or anything like that. This has surprised people. My friends are veerrrrrry unsure about this, and they are not taking advantage of Mr. Sparo LOANING them garments for our concert.  Whatever! I don't know if it speaks more to my sense of adventure returning or their midwestern distrust of the edgy east coast.  Would my parents be as proud of this as my sister's bakery? Honestly, no. My grandfather was a butcher, and so my sister having a bakery is a natural-ish evolution for our family. I, however, and despite of a doctorate, am the creative willy-nilly. Not really doing anything for anyone else...that's old stuff creeping up. I know my mom would LOVE to see me have a dress custom made! In good times, she was a fashion plate.  I think my parents would have come to Carnegie Hall, perhaps out of duty, not excitement. The music I sing bored them both silly; especially foreign languages and avant -garde music: ALL of which are represented on this exciting program. In the past, I got lots of eye-rolling after the concert and digs about the "music" I was singing. I won't have that now, because I doubt my sister will be at the concert. Other extended family will be there, and though they may not understand some of the music, they would never speak ill of it, or brush it aside. Or downgrade the importance of a gig at Carnegie Hall.  I remembered my debut at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC in 1986. My aunt and uncle had to strong arm my parents to come. And my sister wasn't there. I am blessed to know many people who'll be attending and I will embrace them all. And send a big thank you up in to the ether---for their indifference helped me really take ownership of this craft and dig in to be the best possible singer. Long time coming.

How have I changed throughout all the years of my parents calling me snob, an intellectual, suggested I was "loose" because I was singing on the opera stage?

 I know the discipline it has taken me to get to this place, and I have done nothing about which I have been ashamed. I also know that it is OKAY that musicians perform as much for themselves as the audience. My parents thought that was the most selfish statement I'd ever made. I know if the performers don't love it, the audience will know it, and that would suck. It's not bad to love what one does, to acknowledge one is good at it. Again, their attitudes made me think for myself and form my own, and be firm in that belief, because I wasn't really getting it from them. Looking back, I 'm glad I got that lesson early, I got right on that train to self-discipline, self-soothing after a hard audition, and learning to bounce  back after a mediocre performance. My sister has never had to gain these skills. I feel bad for her. I think she is beginning to own herself now, although how she sustains slow business, the risks of a new business, I don't know.

I hope we both reach our new normal and somewhere, in the middle we have some common ground.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Romantic? It's a type of decor.

The past several days have opened a new chapter in my life. Is it new or newly re-discovered? Don't know, and don't really care. Through force of her spirit, my friend D drew me into this group of women for a fundraising project. One and done, I thought. I don't go out, not anymore, and need cave time to save up energy for a week of teaching. LOOOOOONG photo shoot for a terrific cause. Ups and downs, it comes to fruition. A preview party; (I missed it, had grading); launch party, big deal. Missed it; on vacation. These women somehow value me and I 'm confused. All I did was show up at this shoot and help out. They called me tonight after the event, and each one wanted to talk to me, they missed me. And I them.

What is this? People I normally wouldn't hang out with in my previous life--musicians, professors. I am finding personal comfort with these women after meeting them once. There's a dynamic that creates happy, positive, energy. LIFE. What I've been missing for so long. All busy professionals in their fields, all with complicated personal lives...making time for each other. It's beautiful. And they want me to be part of it, too. Again, I ask myself, why?

I missed the big launch party because my husband had planned a long weekend up north at a resort on Lake Superior. Planned it long before I'd gotten involved with this group of happymakers.  And so we're here. First we were in one bedroom, together: Karl watching sports (gah) talking to the television , humming to himself, and generally providing a one man show while I was trying to read. I left into the other bedroom where I could read in peace. The other room became quiet. The women called from the event, and I was suddenly energized and happy--my annoyance instantly abated.  Since our original bedroom seemed quieter, I came in with my book, and then the channel surfing started again, baseball, baseball, college football I, college football II...then some random old movie with awful 1940 american screen accents, and he was back to the filterless drivel he with which he has driven me crazy for 20 years. "Oh I have a cramp. Damn I should go back to the gym. Oh! Go Brewers! Hey did you konw michigan state is playing Michigan tomorrow? And on and on. And the television was on this dreadful old movie. The channel we agreed we wouldn't watch if I also had to watch sports.

So now we have switched bedrooms again; he is in the room without the television, but he is watching stuff on his computer.

This all speaks to the changes in how I see life, what "means" life.  I am too tired by life to do it all the time. I don't want a "romantic weekend that involves Karl watching sports or old movies all weekend. There is nothing else to do here. We're in a little tiny box of  two bedrooms. This is not romantic. I don't know what romantic means to me anymore. Thank god for that second bedroom. Life doesn't include romance for me any more, or at least not now. Not interested. I need alone time more than I ever knew. Trapped in a hotel room does not count. I don't want constant humming, filterless yammering, sports on television, whistling.  STOP. Be quiet. If this is supposed to be relaxing for me, let me relax! See what that looks like NOW, after everything we've experienced. I have changed. And it's not a phase, it is the new normal writers talk about in their books on grief. This idea of romantic weekend, at the moment, sounds like a 24-7 entanglement with very little silence. Romance to me is personal --giving myself the time I need to feel rested, enough solitude to spend time in my head, or with my journals, or on a bike ride. I am much, much quieter than I ever knew.  Drivel exhausts me. Annoys me. Repels me. It does not serve me. In my new normal, I cut out things that no longer serve the highest good. Unfettered sleep. A bed to myself. Romantic means a style of decoration, colors that soothe me, or make me happy.

Hope tomorrow's a more peaceful day. And flows as we each decide. Not stuck together at the hip. It's not like that anymore for me. I'm too busy in my head, making sure my root chakra needs are being met. I feel like only I can do that.

Friday, October 7, 2011

A string of good days

My week has been a succession of good days. I have given up trying to solve the fatigue issue. I think it is with me to stay; it's either the last part of depression that meds can't fix, or it's the fibromyalgia that always saps my energy. The week, though, has been relatively stress-free, and in fact, somewhat exciting. I will share more plans later as they become concrete, but I am making the trip to CT to see my sister's bakery open, and then spend Halloween with my niece and nephew. I've no idea if they are, at 10 and 8, even still INTO Halloween; for me it is a sacred holiday: my mother was first found, near death, on Oct 31st. My grandparents were married in Italy October 31st. The last three Halloween's of my dad's life I was there, and we took the Peepsters trick or treating. That was a big deal for Poppi, who was much sicker than we knew. I feel like I want to take that mantel and wrap it around me. A super Auntie that can try to fill Poppi's shoes....at least a little, as well as I can. If it's an annual trip to spend Halloween with them, I'll do it.  Their lives will grow up so fast, and I 'd like to try and be there for them as much as I can. They have neither their Mimi nor Poppi but they do have Auntie Catherine. Maybe I need a superhero cape or something like that. I write them letters, about what I am doing in school, asking them questions about how their sports are going, or their friendships, and what their favorite classes are. My Kassie writes me often; TJ never does, but that's okay. It's that *I* do it that makes me so happy.

I recently self-published this blog to send to my aunt, the one who gets me and I her. I wonder if it will drag her back to the moments of our greatest pain. I wanted to see it in book form--what could a book of mine look like? It is pretty cool. I recently showed some of my introduction to another writer friend. She said to me, "Oh, you're a memoirist." This never occurred to me. I never write about the history of aprons in County B, or about the history of a building. While I like reading about these things, I could never conjure a scrap of writing to do the subject justice. I need to write for me. About me in the world, and how the world effects me. Some would call that "indulgent' (someone already has); I think of it as writing about something I know. I can't claim to know much, and really, researching the history of a church clock does not move me to write. 

What I have experienced this week is a feeling of calm; it's unusual, but I know I have been taking very good care of myself. No extra nonsense; no things that don't involve me; no interactions with people who aren't good for me. And then the excitement of rehearsing toward a big concert in New York in March. On a whim, I contacted a designer whose work I admire, and asked about an appointment; I'm interested in having a concert dress designed for me for this big concert coming up. Garo Sparo, the designer I contacted (via Facebook, mind you!) he was lovely and excitedly accepted. I've spent the week in email conversations with one of his assistants who gathers information and sets up appointments,  I am beyond words. It is a price I can afford, and it will be made FOR ME. My pianist friend, also joining the Trio in concert, is considering the same thing. Hope she does it.  These good days string out, and I find myself asking to visit my sister on the opening of her bakery and to hang with the kids on Halloween. All of this is wonderful.And then I told a friend my plan, and asked her if she was interested in taking  a girly road trip. She said YES! and she as hotel points for a very nice hotel in NY. Suddenly this trip has taken shape, all through kindness, friendship, and love. I will be wearing a couture gown in March. And my friend will be there at the beginning with me. No one I'd rather be with for this experience.  

This trip has one foot in nostalgia and the other in the future.  I think it's okay. I hope it will be okay. It seems like things feel into place Veeeeeeeeery easily. but I haven't yet made the flight reservations!!!
Wish me well as I take another step forward into My Life.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

We are Slowly Approaching the Holidays, and I want them GONE.

Been a while, or at least it feels like it. Today would have been my mother's birthday. Today is also the birthday of a close friend, which brings present happiness in to the equation of past sadness. I can't imagine what my mother would be like, look like, if she had lived....probably not good. It is well she has passed on to peace, contentment, and health. She deserves that after such a hard life.

I went to my first writer's group meeting last week. It was interesting, and sadly, was exactly what I thought it would be like. I hope the dynamic changes at the next meeting and the next. Otherwise it won't be for me. Very nice people that write in a variety of styles, but I don't know how much criticism they'll offer. I want to be better, to entice a publisher.

I've recently went through one of the worst bouts of depression: two weeks of it. Called my doctor, my therapist, and they told me to ride it out unless I felt suicidal, which I did not.

Karl and I are thinking about our fathers a lot lately. This brings him down. His dad's birthday was early in September, and has gotten Karl thinking, and then me thinking about my dad. Let's just say it's been a little sombre around here of late.

My sister is moving like crazy to get her bakery opened, and I am so impressed with her--her spirit, her stick-to-it-iveness, her skill. I hope Karl and I can fly out for the opening. I also have another trip to New Work coming up that should be very exciting; I contacted a clothing designer I really admire and may go out to discuss him creating something for me for the Carnegie Hall gig.  I am hearing my father saying: what the hell do you need that for? Too extravagant! I feel like, after looking at the past seven years of my life, that this may represent the new normal; and what better way than through clothes? God knows the cost...figure it out.

I am so melancholy at the change of seasons. When my dad was alive, I was out there for three Halloweens with him, my sister, and the kidlets. i made shirts for everyone with puffy paint.  POPPI was over his chest.  That was his connection to the holiday. The real connection was with the little ones running around, yelling, 'trick or treat!' Seeing us all there, wrapped in the swaddle of love, to pull out every bit of happiness there was to find. Living through those Halloweens has ruined them for me, for now. I don't want to deal with Halloween anymore. Thanksgiving either. The story of my father, one handed, trying to lift a 20lb turkey into the oven (because his other arm had a huge tumor on it, and he couldn't use it). He put the whole dinner together, with my sister bringing some of the side dishes. I wanted to be there. How could I known? Maybe I was in denial. And then there was Christmas. We all tried to focus our energies on the kids showering them with love, especially my father, because HE KNEW how close he was. After Christmas Day, the kids left, but my sister stayed, I think because she knew, too. So we all kept watch, trying to be humorous but tip-toeing around the breakthrough pain, trying to manage it, and seeing how carefully he kept records. He made the decision to go to the hospital, and as you know, we made the silent drive, thirty minutes to the hospital, where he ended up in the hospice wing. The rest of this is all documented at the beginning of this blog in March 2010. But what I say is that Christmas means only painful memories right now, and I've no interest in it. I don't know if I'll always be like this, needing to let holidays flow by me, without me, but still wanting to see my remaining family. I need to get a sense of what my sister is doing; with the bakery she may not be going anywhere; in that case, we'd go to CT, against my husband's wishes. I'd love to have Christmas with my RoRo. And Karl wants to spend it with his family; his mom recently widowed. How thin can we spread our sadness to "celebrate" the holidays? I just run to run off again, where Christmas isn't so important. Starting with Halloween, until my dad's death on January 13, is the darkest time of the year for me. Decline, pain, oxygen tanks, pain meds that don't help, visible bone tumors with no pain relief, his fear that things are coming to an end. It gives a preciousness to everything we did, and more worthy of remembering. But today, the sadness is overwhelming, and just want to run away. I am not ready to join the holidays yet.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mumbo JUmbo

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to have my blog printed, a copy for myself and a copy for my Ro-Ro.Worlds moving, changing, and through a photo shoot for a Breast Cancer Fundraiser, I learned of a writing group who might be interested in having me. I went, and, it was very low key. I don't know if it will end up being the place that works for me. I bring my writing forward for criticism, not kudos for how great my writing already is .   I want to explore the place writing will occupy; it's a natural as breathing to me. My blog is taking a new diversion on the path. After so much purging, I am feeling a little dried up. Perahps what will happen is crafting the blog in to a book. And beg some people to publish it.

I am feeling able to talk about my parents' passings with more detachment...they are people I loved, but my memories are ar now truly mine. This makes me said. Tears come and go as they wish; I have given myself over to tears when they come, and my newest friends are comfortable with my newer, vulnerable self. That is very cool. My old friends seem very uncomfortable with the last few years of my life. If I am waxingpoetic, perhaps their time in my life is done, as we continue moving on our own separate journeys.

Very, very tired after this week. Still tired, will be hitting bed early, so I can get a headstart in this busy week. Mondays are the roughest of the week.  Wish me luck with treating former friends as acquaintence but still monotorig myself/

Beautiful day, Lauren. You're somone I hope to get to know you better.
Must sign off to tryin disconnecting


Monday, August 29, 2011

And Now, Meet My Mom

This blog has centered around me and my dad. And how much I miss him. And how I have reclaimed living after he passed away. Throughout the process of the last year and a half, I've written a great deal about him, and me. There are obviously others, too, that have come into this picture, like my sister and her family, my husband, friends, and my mother. She has been lost in this blog, and I think I know why.

I had to get through one death before I could start dealing with another.

Granted, my mom died (the word "died" is hard to write...) before my father; in fact, three years before, to the month. Everything about my mom was complicated: anything that related to a relationship was tied up, balled up, big and sad. Her relationships with people were complicated, but even more so was the one she had with herself.

Grieving my father's death has been a devastating process, but in a way it has been UNcomplicated. It's been raw, overwhelming, life changing, heart breaking. I cannot say it is a SIMPLE process; when I think of my mom, her death, and my grief over losing her I feel conflicted, confused, confounded. This is called complicated grief. "AND HOW!" my maternal grandfather used to say.

Lots can be said about my mother and the circumstances that surrounded her death. If I scrolled back over this blog, I am sure I've said quite a bit. She and I did not speak the last year and a half of her life.  You think that was an easy decision, or quickly reached? It was the culmination of therapy, support groups for families of alcoholics, frank discussions with my husband, and lots of soul-searching.  She'd become toxic in body, mind and spirit, and I could not help her.  She would not be helped, and this speaks to the depth of her disease and the relationship she had within her own soul.

But my father loved her until the day she died, and this is no overstatement. Sure, he was angry, too, but it hurt him deeply to talk about her after she died. He actually wouldn't. Except this once, during the semester I lived with him, about a year after she died. There was a silly, romantic movie on, where a young protagonist did outrageous things to be with his sweet beloved. "I used to walk nine miles each way, just to spend a little time with your mom while we were dating."   That was my father speaking. About her, out of the blue. I was stunned. I wanted to ask questions, a million of them, but all I dared was a casual "No kidding? That's true love."  His reply was curt but so full of emotion. And that was the end of that conversation.

My mother was in the hospital for the sixth or seventh time. Karl and I had not been there for Christmas; it was the year to be with his family. My father encouraged us to see Karl's family. I was torn but relieved. And Karl deserved it, too, after a couple of hellish years, flying out to my mom in a moment's notice, missing holidays with his family. But still, my mom was in the hospital.

New Year's Eve, Karl and I were with friends. I was planning to do my usual midnight call to my parents, but my father called much earlier in the evening, telling us she was failing, getting worse. Should we come? He said, no--we'd been at this precipice so many times-- but we would keep in close touch. When she died, a few days later, Karl and I flew out, helped as my dad would let us, and began my first real journey of grief. No map, no guide, but an example provided by my father. A few days later  my father left for Sri Lanka and I left for Chile. Life, you know. It seemed the grown up thing to do, right? I was in my early forties, had a husband, a house, a career. I hadn't lost many people, and didn't see people grieving, either, anywhere. So I went on, thinking I was doing the responsible thing, by "keeping on." My father was my role model and I followed his lead. And my fragile mom was gone.

Fragile is a perfect description of her, in all ways, except for her stubbornness. That was world class, hard core. But if I had to pick something that could represent her, it would be a hibiscus (sp). Beautiful, big flower, brightly colored, but paper thin. Must be in perfect environment to thrive. I think of her when I see them. They are big and colorful but not garish. My mom always wanted to be a big personality to match my dad's but it cost her so much. It was work, and it wasn't authentic. The soil wasn't right, or the light.

Fragility is something I inherited from her. I guard my heart like she did. The shyness I hide was her shyness. My ability to breakdown a recipe by tasting it is from my mother. For many years, my mother was Well Put Together--she dressed beautifully, did her make up and hair every day, and cared how she looked. I think my desire to be stylish is from her, although our styles are very different. Karl says that he had many great conversations in her kitchen over the years, and that she loved talking to him. Well, we have that in common, too.

In some ways, I have brought to fruition in my life some of the things she dreamed about doing: finishing college, a master's degree and a doctorate. I have peace within me, and in general, a joy about being alive. I am fairly free, not having kids, so we up and go places. And I don't drink. At all. This is not to sting her memory, but to highlight it. She couldn't stop, and we lost her. I would not let this happen to me. And so the grieving for my mother has begun, four years after she's died. I feel prepared for this journey, the one put off four years ago as I boarded that plane to Chile. After grieving simply and completely for my father. I know how to grieve now. And it's time to untie the knots, wash away the acid, throw away the nasty letters, and start bathing those last terrible memories with love. And see what my heart does next.

Friday, August 19, 2011

His Watch, A Talisman

My dad's watch stopped ticking August 11, 2011 at 7.40 am. I have been dreading this moment since I received the watch at the funeral home. For some reason, at the time, I expected it to stop ticking when he died. Childish, I know.  Time did stop for him, and it sure did for me. For over a year, I checked it every day, to make sure it was still working. I needed to know it was still working. There was something comforting about it still working. I feared how I'd feel when it stopped. Afraid of the finality--this watch, that was on my father's wrist every day for years, the last time on December 27, 2009 as he went into the hospital--as long as the watch was ticking, I was still somehow connected to him. It is really hard to give this the right words. He was alive--the watch was working. There's an obvious representation there that I cannot see clearly, meaning I can't forge the words to really talk about it with anyone. As long as the watch worked, I had some working, pulsing, thing that worked while he was alive.  I checked it every day for over a year. Over a year and a half.

Very recently, I decided it would work forever (yet another Childish moment), so I brought it to the jeweler to take some links off the bracelet so I could wear it. I wore it for a few days, but it distracted me. It reminded me of all the times I'd seen him wear it, and too, when I saw it on my wrist was reminded why I had it. I took it off that afternoon, and put it in my jewelry box.  But it still worked, so that was something, right?

Yesterday I picked up the watch after the realization a few weeks ago. I was so convinced it would be working.  I had to double check the time. I didn't think it was 7.40 am.  My heart believed the watch knew better. For a split second, I was ready to believe it was 7.40.  Why not?  It *was* morning. It *was* a Thursday. Why not?

Silly girl. It's 11.30, near noon. You woke up at 7.40.

A sign? Was that a sign? I've had a few, and this wasn't one. Or, at least the universe was a week late. To the day, to the hour.

Why brush it off? Okay, it was a sign. But of what? I know my father's watching over me, is with me. Maybe some signs take time to reach us.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Month of Healing

Just checked my last entry: June, 11th.  A month since I last wrote. Seems strange for me, for I have processed what happens to me through writing. If I write it, it somehow becomes easier to understand. Well, it is one way to process. A solitary, often lonely way. A valid way.

Today I write to tell about another way of processing. I write to *relay* rather than to process. Visiting my therapist recently, he suggested, for the second time, that I try to clean the clutter in my house, and that would help my grieving process. And I, incredulously--for the second time--asked the question, " And this doesn *what* for my grief?" He smiled, and I capitulated. "Routine: shower, coffee, and address one pile of clutter."  FINE.... I'LL DO IT.

On one particularly difficult day I called my husband at work, sobbing. I felt too much, it was too hard, I couldn't understand why I was so debilitated by grief. (Un) fortunately he couldn't talk, and suggested I called someone, (which of course I could not do as an isolator). Five minutes later, my dear friend M called. Apparently my husband had texted her, worried for me. M calls, tells me, and I sob to her for the next hour. Beautiful friend she is, she gently lead me out of the hole and back into the light. I felt so much better.  A week later, my other dear friend, H, called, "just to talk." We don't phone each other just to talk. But it was lovely, and I love her. She is fighting her own battles, as is M. I love them both. I felt better.

Perhaps that same night, or a few nights later, again out of desperation to figure out where people go after they die, and missing my father terribly,  I posted a question or really posed a subject for discussion: "What is your definition of a soul?" Wow, friends popped in from all over, giving me their takes on this concept! It was wonderful. I felt better.

A friend messaged me privately and asked if I'd like to meet for coffee to talk further. What did I have to lose? Okay. We talked for a couple of hours that Saturday, over coffee and lunch; talked about soul, where people go when they die, and her particular faith's beliefs. I cried, spoke my childish wishes, desires about heaven. She, this wise young woman in her twenties, had so much to offer, and apparently she was grieving too, over a loss in her family.  I felt better.

All the while, I'd been following my therapist's advice: shower, coffee, one pile of clutter. I realized that it was becoming not just one pile of clutter, but several. And then I realized I wanted to call a dumpster company---we had a lot of things we could let go. I felt great seeing that dumpster filled.

And the riskiest thing I did was contact a sensitive -- a person who can contact the dead -- to get a general reading about me (we'd never met) and then to find out what SHE gets from the word soul, or if even she got a message from my dad, or someone in my family who had passed away.  She gave me validation of things bubbling under the surface in my life, bubbling, brewing, preparing me for a big change. And she said other things, too, that reminded me who I am--not who I am in grief, but Who I Am. And then she shared things from the other side that convinced me there IS an "other side." I wept , I thanked her. My dad said, "Go and live your life! You freed me, now go!"  I felt better. Better than better.

Another new friend called and suggested we get together to talk about life. I said Sure, Why Not? And we talked for two hours, not so much about my sadness, my questions, but about her and her life. I felt better after that, too.  Having it not about me, but about something important to my friend.

My house is clean. Almost ready for visitors clean. Almost ready for a party clean. Stupid how that worked, because I feel better.  And all these personal interactions, my open vulnerability with people who knew I was vulnerable worked--I've heard it's called "reaching out"--  has also been of incredible help. However, I am exhausted!

I feel like I have one solid foot back in the world, after this past month. I am no longer teetering but neither am I fully planted.  Writing has it's benefits, and wow, have I learned that replacing that awful hole with honest work,  accepting the reaching out of friends and reaching out myself...I am finally healing. xo

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Quotes with power to help me see things clearer (annotated)

These are all quotes I've captured here and there--the ones that have spoken to me over the course of my father's illness and then his passing.  If you don't know me on Facebook, or where to find these quotes, I share them with you, and hope they inspire you. Peace.

“When it gets dark enough, you can see the stars.”
-Charles A. Beard

What I get from this quote is that I should not be afraid of the dark. There is mystery and wonder in it. I need to trust in the dark, that it is not a place a fear but a place of peace and beauty.

Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave.
-Rainer Maria Rilke
This says to me we must rise to the challenge and face it. The dragon in my life was my father's failing health. He needed me to be brave for him.  I hope my bravery made me beautiful in his eyes, but than can only be his call now, sadly.

I want to unfold,
I don't want to stay folded anywhere,
because where I am folded,
there I am a lie....
~ Rainer Maria Rilk

For many years, in and out of my life at home with my parents, I was folded. My parents desired a certain product from me, or so I thought. I stayed folded around them for many years. And I never felt comfortable or acceptable around them in this "folded" state.  When I "unfolded" during the year with my father, I found acceptance, love, and strength. I am glad I had the balls to do it. 

"In every life, no matter how full or empty one's purse, there is tragedy. It is the one promise life always fulfills. Thus, happiness is a gift, and the trick is not to expect it but to delight in it when it comes; and to add to other people's store of it.
What happens if, too early, we lose a parent, that party on whom we rely for only...everything? What did these people do when their families shrank?

They cried their tears.

But then they did the vital thing: they built a new family person by person. They came to see that family need not be defined merely as those with whom they share blood, but as those for whom they would give their blood."
~Nicholas Nickelby/Charles Dickens

I love this snapshot of Dickens' Nicholas Nickelby.  "They built a new family person by person." Inspiring, these words, but hard to do. Many of my friends shrank away when this  double tragedy (losing both my parents) happened. Not part of my new family.  Friends who were willing to take me as I was; empty, afraid, often crying. These are my new family.  I also keep in closer contact with my remaining family: sister, aunt and uncle. 
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in.
~Leonard Cohen

As a perfectionist, I gave myself shit for everything--I lived too far away from my father; I wasn't there enough for my father; I didn't advocate for him enough as he was dying; I tried to be the perfect daughter/companion for my father in this process. This Cohen quote says it so beautifully--the crack in something lets the light in.  What a beautiful concept. It took a lot of the pressure off, and allowed us to be ourselves as my dad and I got closer.

There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.
~Louis L'Amour

I found this quote...I don't remember where, only that it spoke to me at a very deep level. Imagining there could be a beginning after the death of my father. This was very painful, but as I've gone through the grieving process, I understand better the comfort of this beautiful statement.

For here we are not afraid to follow the truth wherever it leads.
~ Thomas Jefferson

This was our motto, my dad's and mine, when we started on this journey, ultimately, to his death. Neither of us wanted to be placated, or told soft-versions of what was happening. The truth gave us the strength to follow it. We both found there was no use in deluding ourselves or pretending the journey's end was going to be something other than it was. 

"Absorbed in this world, you've made it your burden. Rise above this world. There is another vision. All your life you've paid attention to your experiences, but never to your Self. Are you searching for your Soul? Then come out of your prison. Leave the stream and join the river that flows into the Ocean. It will not lead you astray. Let the beauty you seek be what you do." - Rumi

This came to me while my father was still alive, but I've continued to read it after. At a certain point in my father's illness, in hospice at the hospital, he started seeing things we could not. Looking for things we could not know. We knew he was nearing the end, the prison of this malicious disease. At some point, early that morning, he "joined the river that flows into the ocean."


We both loved chocolate.

Being but men, we walked into the trees
Afraid, letting our syllables be soft
For fear of waking the rooks,
For fear of coming
Noiselessly into a world of wings and cries.
If we were children we might climb,
Catch the rooks sleeping, and break no twig,
And, after the soft ascent,
Thrust out our heads above the branches
To wonder at the unfailing stars.
Out of confusion, as the way is,
And the wonder, that man knows,
Out of the chaos would come bliss.
That, then, is loveliness, we said,
Children in wonder watching the stars,
Is the aim in the end.
Being but men, we walked into the trees.
~Dylan Thomas

This has very deep significance for me. The cycle of life, our awareness of life, and how, at the end, we become like children "in wonder watching the stars" as we leave this life. This comforted me enormously after my father died.

"Ever'thing there is but lovin' leaves a rust on yo' soul." ~Langston Hughes

There is stunning truth in Mr. Hughes' one line poem. Life is so fucking short. Shit doesn't matter. Love matters. Let the other stuff go. You don't have to storm the world. Love what you do. Have a good life.  Discard stuff and people that don't serve you. Find your crew. 
Do you have any quotes you want to share? I'd love to have them. <3

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Who am I now that my parents are gone?

Was I social before they died? Was it me breaking out of my shell at conservatory? When did it become alcohol-fueled social "skills"? I lost these "skills" and the false confidence once I stopped drinking. I am back to the awkward---well, wait--I have, now, what I refer to as the 'dog and pony show' for public consumption. It's not a masquerade at all. It's just me, as a caricature of myself, revved up and excited to teach the class, or meet parents, or ....whatever. What I don't know yet about myself in my personal social life is how to be normal. My normal. Am I shy? Am I asocial? Am I more of a listener than a talker?   When I drank I remember the feeling of great doors swinging open, releasing my social beast. I could talk about anything to anyone.  (What is in doubt is the quality of the conversation, my ability to listen, and then to remember.)

I don't get that feeling now; what I feel before a social event is a slight twisting of my stomach, and a fear that I wont' be able to get myself into a conversation. These years of death, and grief, have temporarily taken away my ability to find the right word for the thing I"m trying to talk about. I endlessly search for words. In my past life, I was loquacious, having a large and creative vocabulary that I used with ease. WHERE has it gone? Surely, my intelligence is not locked behind the bar.  But now, in conversation, I listen, see, watch, eyes, body language--research in a way--before I'd step into a conversation. I sometimes speak awkwardly, scramble for generically appropriate language to use in this particular company.  I have been known to stutter. I am very careful, I am on alert, and I am exhausted after what most people consider "down" time with their friends.

This kind of exhaustion happens at the end of the 'dog and pony show' too.

I want you to know that I am still struggling with the eating disorder, so I"m sure that contributes to the exhaustion happening at the end of every day.  But really, it's trying to figure who I really am that is wearing me out. My father would always tell me I was a little hard edged, brilliant, articulate, strong-willed, stubborn. And I became those things. My mother told me I should wear make up because "other people had to look at me." And so I did that, too. I literally tried to become the person each of my parents wanted. It is been evident I made it quite a distance on this presumption. I became an accomplished person, dressed myself attractively, and was considered by most a successful person.  Never the words "likeable" or "well-liked" part of those forming years. I liked to read, and so I was a loner. I was a singer in drama class, so I was artsy.  Labels swirled around me during my time at home, the place of my development . All through college, I thought I was remarkably together: focused, articulate, strong, brilliant (at times).  Through grad school, same deal, all the way through my doctorate. I was the person my parents raised me to be, although they weren't thrilled with the outcome that I'd used their language to develop myself in to a classical singer. Suddenly I became foreign to them, and I breathed life into that person.

As a professional, there are standards and practices that one learns along the way that helps in preparing for a career. One achieves those, and concerts start rolling in. Gigs roll in.  Always the late night dinner and drinking parties afterward. This is what I became, because my parents now expected it.

As a professor, I donned all that I should, hence the 'dog and pony show" was born. My personal social life roared, fueled by bottle after bottle of wine. My father noticed this and said something. I became very aware of it, (especially because my mother had died of alcoholism-related organ failure) and I stopped.

Once my father died, the depth of grief pulled me back from all of life except the necessary. For the first year, I tried to be the self my parents and I had created. It failed miserably because that, in concert with the daily 'dog and pony show' was wiping me out. Everything was automatic, which should be easier, but it was SO hard, because my grief was so deep.

I became a hermit outside of the classroom. I could keep the 'dog and pony show' going if I did nothing else with people. Socializing was work, I had trapped myself in a cave of grief, and I had nothing to contribute to conversations around the table. And I didn't plan to drink again, so all those things committed me to my house, evenings and weekends. Luckily I had a great deal of work to do in the evenings, so this was not a sacrifice, but Friday-Sunday, I spent in the safe-zone of my house.

This does not sound like the brave strong woman I was created to be. This is not the woman who understood that make up was for other people (have) to look at you. This was not the outlandish life of the party who, at 35, was drinking and puking like a college kid. Where was I if not manifested in these pre-ordained roles?

Since my mother died (2007) I have shed a lot of the negative talk she used to give me about myself. I wear make up, daily, because I like to. It's fun and creative. And frankly, I think I look better with it than without it. But I do think there's an inner attractiveness to me that doesn't need make up.

When my father died (2010) it was clear I was strong enough to handle what needed to be done as he lay dying in the hospital. But my heart was breaking, and becoming weaker by the day. The only strength I had left was a push from the Universe and when that ran out, I landed in a cottage down in Florida to rest (March 2010). It was then I started to wonder: who am I without my parents? If I were to create myself, what would I be like? Where is my organic self? It is the organic self that I want to become.

Searching for this has been challenging with so much grief still, and my enormous teaching load.

I can say this, today: I am learning that I am a bit shy with people I don't know; I will choose not to engage someone I do not like; I am effusive with my peeps, and easy going. I am my organic self with M and T and H, and my husband. I see and feel it. I am not really laid back, but I'm very happy to listen to people; I reach a point and my time with people is done. I recharge alone. I used to think I recharged by being around people, like my husband. And I am socially awkward--slightly--without alcohol smoothing the way.

My parents, I don't think they ever considered what the impacts of their deaths would have on me. I can't speak for my sister. I don't blame them for never thinking about this. Although I have elements of my parents' desires for me, I have, since their deaths, found some of my own. There are growing pains involved, and awkward conversations, and some stammering, and often in class I will not be able to find the right words for something I'm trying to say.  I have a little "absent-minded professor" in me.
But I am strong, beautiful. I can be funny, especially when I'm around people with whom I'm comfortable. I don't like social scenes like bars--they tire me out; I'd rather be home early, in my loungewear, petting the cats, watching television or reading. I also believe I am an "acquired taste" type of personality.

Still working on the rest of it.

Friday, May 20, 2011

I asked the Universe for a little respite...

...a little respite from the grief of losing my dad. I asked the Universe for a little break before the next life-changing thing shoots down from the heavens. And I got it. Yesterday, I closed my father's estate, officially. A sigh of relief, some tears, a rest.

This morning we are awakened by a phone call to get to GB as quickly as possible; my father-in-law was on a respirator and his vital signs were very low. Once we got "The Call" (you all know and fear this call), we jumped into action, packing quickly, including funeral clothes, extra underwear and meds, scooped up the kitties and boarded them and were on the six hour drive. At one point in the drive, we get another call from a sister-in-law: "We think we're going to pull him off the respirator, and he might not make it. Do you want us to wait for you to get here?"  K and I both thought back to the exact moment in my father's war with death--his anguish, agitation, disorientation.--and K felt it better to let his siblings do what they thought was best.  Van was off the respirator. And no call. And no call. Three hours left to the drive, and no call.  We were afraid we wouldn't make it before he passed away. We talked about it a little bit, and what that would mean to K.

We arrived to the hospital and found my father-in-law's room. There he was, looking like he'd been to hell and back, but awake. Off the respirator; just getting a little help with nasal canula (sp). We had made it, and the look of relief on K's face was so beautiful. We spent this afternoon listening to Van talk nonsense all day "Where's the paint? We have to paint the church?" Some times he was laughing at something he hadn't said, but perhaps seen or heard in his head.  He hasn't had much to drink --more than a sip or two of water, and no food.  My mother-in-law needs a warrior to step in, but I don't know if should be me. If she asks I am all hers. If she doesn't ask, I may try to feed Karl the questions....Being through this so recently has brought back some of the fear, the memories...but it also brings back the warrior I was for my father. Van, my father-in-law deserves a warrior too.

All of Karl's many siblings are doing their own things right now; two are at the hospital, we're here, in a hotel around the corner; two other siblings are at their homes, sleeping in their beds; my mother-in-law is also home, I hope sleeping soundly in her bed. Two siblings are out having a drink, to talk.

There was talk of "shifts" today to be with Van; my family did this with my father, so that he'd have someone with him all the time. That time was sacred, reverent.  Van's room is loud, with lots of people talking over him as he grows more confused and agitated. They want to keep his spirits up, the want to respond to him, even to his nonsense. But it's loud. This man is already on his journey; "Elle a la mer; nous au tombeau"....

It doesn't help that I don't really know what kind of care he's getting. This I will clear up in the morning. Is it palliative care? Are we talking about a hospice setting here in the hospital? Is your plan to release him to a hospice if all you are giving him is O2? What exactly is his diagnosis? Why is the nursing staff so slow to respond to requests? What exactly is the outcome? Are we waiting for his death? Are we waiting for him to stabilize so he can go to a nursing facility?  His wife has utter, almost blind, faith in the doctor. You don't question the doctor. Oh, boy. If I can sneak in a meeting with someone tomorrow, I will. Maybe it's only selfish, but I'm uncomfortable with so little knowledge. And I want the best care possible for my wonderful father-in-law. And I want his family to have all the details and ask all the questions they want.  If I can facilitate this, I would be honored.  It's a lesson learned that I am ready to pass on.   Peace, Van. Sleep well, and if the angels open a door, go with them.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

I am Carolyn's Daughter

It's almost Mother's Day. And my parents' anniversary. And college graduation day. A lot of emotions all wrapped up in one freaking 24 hour period. But that's okay. I will have my tissues on hand, and my heart open, to see what happens. 

But first, I am Carolyn's daughter.  She was a complicated person, a conflicted person, and carried a lot of baggage with her until she passed in 2007.  And it's taken me until 2011 to want to talk about her.  The more I allow myself to remember, I see how similar we are. Some good, some destructive. Self-destructive.

My mother and I had an awkward relationship from the time I was born. She wasn't ready for me; she, a young, newly married woman at age 20, was "gifted" a baby with colic and a husband who was so dedicated to being a family man he worked two jobs. She was stuck with me, alone, most of the time. I remember her telling me, "If you hadn't been so cute, we would have taken you back."  Most of the time she was joking, but, I know there were times when she wished it could have been possible.

We began butting heads when I started talking at age 2. My dad used to say he'd come home from his teaching job, hear two voices yelling, and didn't know who was the kid and who was the mom.  This didn't change much through the years.

But she had the most beautiful blue eyes, and when she smiled she revealed the shyness she was desperately trying to hide.

She loved to cook, and was very, very good at it. Her meals are legendary in my family, our friends, and beyond. She brought lavish food to celebrate my recitals at conservatory. These receptions were unprecedented.  She cooked the entire week before my wedding for all the friends and family wandering in and out of the house. The post reception party. The wedding breakfast. Countless, gorgeously homemade food.  

She loved to shop. She always had a present or two in the house--if we wanted to give our teacher one, or last minute gift exchange occurred. She always wanted to have something nice in the house "just in case."  The most poignant memory I have of my mother shopping is actually an amalgam of many shopping days. We'd need school clothes or bathing suits or something, and she'd quietly add a pretty blouse for herself, or a dress, or a sweet tchotchke...We'd wander around the store, looking at pretty things, and then at some point, we'd wander again, tracing our steps as my mom put back all the things for herself. I cried about his for years. Until I found myself doing the same thing. Dreamshopping, I guess--picking anything I wanted, and wandered around with it until I decided if I needed it or not.  My sister also has this affliction. 

My mom loved her grandchildren. She was so proud to be the "Mimi" of these tiny toe-headed beauties. But even they could not prevent her drinking from escalating, leading to several hospitalizations, failed attempts at rehab, failed attempts at death, until one finally succeeded four years ago. 

I had stopped talking to my mother about a year and a half before her death. She had, because of her alcoholism, become toxic--writing me cruel letters, asking for gifts back; calling me on the phone to tell me I'd ruined our family...It was killing me and I had to distance myself from her.  It hurt my father that I did this. It hurt me, too. I never realized it had any impact on my mother until after she died. She had begun to write a letter of apology to me but never finished. We found a box in her bedroom, addressed to me.  I had my husband open it, overwhelmed. It was pair of diamond earrings my father had given her. "You are your father's daughter," she'd written in the letter we found. I don't know what she meant by yet another potent statement in a long line of them. 

I don't have memories of physical or even gentle affection from her. She was prickly, uncomfortable with intimacy. She was a private person, who could not, or chose not, to share herself with many people.   I, too, struggle with this kind of thing. There is a wall around me that stays firmly in place until I feel my own natural shyness recede. Or I decide you are not worthy of who I am, and the wall remains up, intentionally. But I thank god there is no alcohol that makes the decision. 

I wish my shy, beautiful mother had known how worthy she was to receive love and affection. 

I love you, Mom, for your kind heart. The rest will inevitably come to me, now that I'm free from the fat, evil trolls that kept you from me.  Happy Mother's Day.