Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Death of My Father

Wednesday night while I sat at the airport, waiting for my sister to pick me up and take me to the hospital where my father lay dying, my father’s heart stopped for the very last time.

My timing is often off, but this is a new level of inept, even for me.
My father and I had our differences, though I think he was unaware of them. Okay, so I had my issues. The last time we talked on the phone he’d called me, which was unusual because he usually waited for me to call so he could complain about how long it’d been since he’d heard from me. But he needed to talk, and I heard from him a deeper level of sadness than I’d heard before. He was tired, he was sick, he had outlived his siblings, and he was, as far as I could tell, just waiting.

He’d been waiting for years. He didn’t expect to live to the age of 83, so when he did, he didn’t know what to do with himself. Around thirty years ago I was told I’d better get home for Christmas that year, because he wasn’t expected to live much longer. His heart was going. He’d had a stroke, a heart attack, lost a kidney, and he was, according to his doctors, a walking time bomb.

So I traveled from Europe to be there for Christmas, and can you believe it? He kept on living. I didn’t mind so much. It was a relief to have him still around.

We expect our parents to just keep going, to always be there because they always have been, and then suddenly they’re not, and it’s as if they’ve abandoned us. This is because they have abandoned us. The nerve of them.

During our last phone conversation I let him talk, as I always did, because he did love to talk. Mostly about himself of course – his world had become so small that all he really knew about was himself, and so he talked and he talked and he talked, and I’d interject the appropriate comments when needed. He was insistent on staying in his own apartment, though it wasn’t feasible. He couldn’t walk, he couldn’t take care of himself, but he didn’t want to go in a facility, and he didn’t want to pay anyone to take care of him. I told him we just wanted what was best for him, because we only wanted what was best for him. My sister was at his beck and call for years, and he counted on her to keep him in his own place for . . . ever.

Last week he went into the hospital. He had an infection, he wasn’t well, and they talked of sending him home in a few days, but not home, to a rehab facility, perhaps assisted living after that, but he kept getting worse instead of better, and suddenly decisions had to be made. He never wanted to talk about his wishes, just that he was going to die in his own apartment, thank you very much, though he never shared with us how he saw that happening. Perhaps he would go to sleep one night and not wake up. Perhaps he kept finding himself alive each morning and wondered “what the . . . ?”

He thought about what would happen afterwards, and he prepaid for his cremation. When his wife died, suddenly and unexpectedly of a massive heart attack (she who thought she was going to outlive him and had planned her life for after dad), he had no money, and we, his four kids, paid for what needed to be paid for. We were glad to do it, and one of us was her child too. He didn’t want that to happen again, and so he made sure it wouldn’t. But he didn’t plan for up to that point because how could he? How can you plan for something when it can happen so many different ways?

Maybe he would die quietly one night, his once frail heart giving up, the ticking time bomb finally going off. Perhaps he would die in a car accident. Maybe he’d be stricken with an illness and go slowly. Who knew?

Years ago he had cancer. This was long after his heart attack and his stroke and the loss of his kidney. Or was it two heart attacks? Two strokes or one? No matter. After his wife died he lived alone, and then, one day, he was diagnosed with bladder cancer. He went into the hospital, they removed his bladder, and he had a long and difficult recovery. But he recovered, cancer free, and after recovery he was moved into an apartment close to my sister.

I was there when we packed up his old apartment, up at Big Bear where he’d lived for years. His move to this apartment had left with fewer possessions, and this next move would leave him fewer still. He didn’t much.

But it seemed like no matter what happened to try to kill him, he’d just slough it off and keep going. And then he has the nerve to not even wait an extra hour for me to get from the airport to the hospital. Can you believe that? I got here as fast as I could. I made plane reservations, packed, got to the airport, made it through security in record time, even trying out the new scanner thingy, made it to my gate when they were doing last call, and got on the plane. Gosh darn it, I was going to be there to be with him!

I’m good with dying people. I’m good at sitting with them and holding a hand, or listening to them if they can or want to talk, and I’m good at being a calming influence. I can sit for hours next to their bed, just in case they need me. I can tell them what they need to hear, and I can reassure them. I can make sure they’re not alone. (It’s the living I have a problem with. The dying are easy.) He had no appreciation for any of my other talents, but this was one that I could use, and then he dies before I can swing into action.

Possibly the only thing I could have ever given him, other than the annual slippers he liked for Christmas, and he leaves before I can be useful. I could have been a better daughter, but I wasn’t, and there’s no going back. But that’s okay. We only do what we can when we’re doing it, and there aren’t any do-overs. If there were, so many of us would be doing over we’d never get anywhere at all. Besides, it took me a long time to accept myself the way I am, and damned if I’ll feel guilty now.

He was my dad, and I’ll always remember how hard he tried to take care of us when he was on his own, between wives, a single dad who kept us fed and clothed and secure, and how he gave me some fabulous siblings who I love very much. He produced some awesome human beings (not me, but the others), so he deserves a lot of credit for that. He was stubborn, often difficult, self-centered, and not very imaginative. But so what? I wanted so much to help him – I didn’t want him to suffer, or be in pain, or be sad and alone. And at the end, he had my sister, as he had for years, and she and my brothers, were there for him, and with him. And three out of four ain’t bad, is it? But he knew I was coming, they told him so, and so I expect he knew we all wanted the best for him, whatever form it took. I like to think he was happy at the end. Let’s go with that theory, since there’s no way to know for sure. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Better Pain

There’s worse pain, and there’s better pain, and I’m currently experiencing better pain, though it sounds worse than it is. Or does it sound better? Less pain, that’s what I mean. I’m not trying to say that I’m a masochist and the quality of the pain is suiting me nicely, thank you very much. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’m totally on your side if you’re into pain. I won’t be inflicting the pain because I’m not a sadist either, but yeah, whatever makes you happy.

After a weekend wherein both legs decided it would be fitting to punish me for my lack of attention to their needs (whatever those might be) I’m quite happy to have less pain now. As if the fibromyalgia by itself isn’t bad enough, one knee is also inflamed and has been for weeks. I think the anti-inflammatories are starting to kick in though, just in time for the Thanksgiving Marathon.

This isn’t a real marathon, in case you were wondering where to sign up. It’s the standing in the kitchen type of marathon.

 I wonder how people with real pain, as opposed to my whiny, self-indulgent pain, deal with it. I can well imagine how frustrating and annoying it must be, as well as painful. For weeks I’ve been consigned to keeping off my bad knee, keeping my legs elevated when possible, and cutting down on my trips up and down the stairs. I went to Las Vegas in this condition, knowing it was a bad idea, but committed to a work conference I didn’t want to miss. When I returned home three days later my right knee was twice the size of my left, but the conference was worth it.

Since then, my efforts to keep up the appearance of occasionally taking care of my house have been stymied. I’m fortunate that I have 1) a desk job, and 2) a desk job in my own house, so I can keep the traveling to a minimum. How do people not as lucky as me deal with it? If I had to go to a job every day I’m pretty sure I’d be damn bitchy about it.

Yes. I’m pretty bitchy anyway. It’s always “me, me, me, ow! My legs hurt!” like anyone cares. And really, how bad can it be?

I am extremely lucky in my pain. I may wonder when it will ever end, if it will ever end, because sometimes it seems to go on forever, but that passes, and each day I decide that the next day will be a better pain day, and that I will wake up cured.

Over the weekend, when it was at its worst, I really missed running. I haven’t run in years, and I don’t really wish to return to it now, but the idea of it sounded very appealing, and that’s because, no doubt, I couldn’t do it at all. I used to run, and once, when I was quite a bit younger, I was even fast. I’m no longer fast, and I hobble more than I walk.

We’re often like that, I think. When we can’t do something we weren’t that interested in to begin with, we wish we could do it. It’s the possibility of it that we miss more than anything else.

I don’t, however, wish I could date again. I’m so happy to never have to go through that again. And high school. There’s something I’d never want to repeat. Talk about pain. But running? That wasn’t painful, and while I wasn’t thrilled about it overly much after high school, I could, and did, do it. Wishing I could again isn’t because I miss running, it’s because if I could run, that would mean my legs weren’t all washed up, and if my legs weren’t all washed up, I could do a lot of other things that are hard for me now. Like exercising – I’ve had to stay off the recumbent bike for a few weeks so it sits there in the corner of my office, all sad and forlorn, and I’m thinking that in the next few days I’ll give it a shot again. It misses me so, after all.

To everyone who has pain, I wish you less of it, whether it be physical, mental, or emotional. Whether you have pain or not, I ask that you not inflict any pain on yourself or others. Life has enough pain in it all by itself that we don’t need to make more of it. Everyone gets their share, fair or not, and if there’s anything I could do to alleviate yours, I would. Not to get all sentimental on you or anything, but you often don’t know what pain others are in, so keep that in mind.

Let’s avoid causing pain of any sort, because there’s certainly enough to go around already. Instead, let’s see if we can alleviate pain. It may not make it all better, or any better, but at least we won’t make a bad situation worse.

Anyway, we’ve got Congress for that.

Sorry. I had to slip that one in there. I could just use the generic term government though. All the same to me.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Happy Veterans Day. Really.

We love us our veterans, don’t we? As a peacetime veteran, I’m all about Veterans Day. I didn’t spend several years of my life hanging out in a uniform so I could get a day off once a year, which was just as well since it was many years before I had Veterans Day off. And I wasn’t in when there were conflicts and wars, only pretend let’s-get-ready-just-in-case practices. It was no big deal for me, because I am lucky.

But here it is Veterans Day again, as it rolls around each year, and I want to thank everyone who served. So there you go.

Last week I was in Portland, and on my way home. One of the freeway entrances that I frequent often has people on the corner. Cardboard signs abound, pleas for help, and sometimes cardboard artwork. The clientele differs. Sometimes they’re young and healthy looking, and I wish they had other options than to stand on a corner and wait for people to hand them money.

I know, I’ve been told many times that “they” make more than I do, that “they” could work if they wanted to, and that “they” will just spend any handouts frivolously. I don’t hand out money, but that’s mostly because I never carry cash. And I don’t carry cash because I probably would hand it out. And then there would be none left for me. I wouldn’t hand it out to everyone, but there are times when I see someone and I think, “I wish I could give that person something.” But I can’t do everything I want to do.

On this one day there was only one person on that corner, and he was old, and thin, and his sign said he was a veteran, and he was homeless. He couldn’t move very well, but there he stood, with his cardboard sign, inviting anyone to stop.

Was it true? As far as I know. People have said I should be more suspicious of others, but I’m not, and that’s just the way it’s going to be. He looked like a veteran, worn out and used, and then discarded because, well, he’s no longer much use to us, is he? He can’t be sent overseas to fight, and he can’t be put to good use, so there he is, on the street corner.

“He doesn’t have to be homeless,” people say, but I don’t know. I do know that many are homeless, and many have problems that aren’t addressed because there isn’t enough money to take care of them all, and we easily assume that their problems are because of who they are, not because we’ve let them down.

He reminded me of Fred, my once hospice patient who was also a veteran, until he retired. He went to war, he came home with health issues, and as he was dying he was still awaiting word on whether his exposure to Agent Orange qualified him for disability. He was dying from a respiratory disorder, but the VA said it wasn’t their fault – it was his own fault for smoking.

Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. I don’t know.

I’m not nearly as knowledgeable as I would like to be. I don’t have answers, only questions.

On this one day I had a ten dollar bill in my wallet. This happens very infrequently. I pressed the little button on my fancy car that tells the window to roll down, and the man with the sign hobbled over to me. I handed him the ten dollar bill, and then he grasped my hand firmly in his, and told me to enjoy the day, for it was sunny, the sky a clear bright blue. I told him to enjoy the day also, and he smiled, and then the light changed. He hobbled back to his spot, and I drove onto the freeway, lighter for the loss of ten dollars.

Sometimes being lighter is the best thing that can happen to us.

People will say, “He’ll only spend it on booze, you should never give them money,” but I don’t really care. Get this: I don’t even care what he spends it on. That’s his business, not mine. I’m not his mommy, I’m not even a social agency. I gave him a gift of ten bucks, and what he does with it is up to him.

What we do speaks volumes about what we think of our veterans, and no matter what we say, it’s our actions that tell the truth, not platitudes.

My nephew recently came home from war. I want to thank him, and tell him I love him, and I hope he never needs to rely upon the government, for it may let him down. But that doesn’t mean people will. The government is one thing. People are another.

People are what I still have faith in. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Living On The Edge

Despite my current occupation, I’m a daredevil at heart. Accountants get a lot of bad press, and I’m not sure why. After all, engaging in mortal combat with the IRS isn’t for the faint of heart, is it?

But it’s more than that. It’s a reckless disregard for my personal safety, a willingness to go right to the edge of propriety, a longing for just a bit of almost danger, all while avoiding the IRS because we’re not, y’know, besties or anything.

Today I outdid myself, and I removed all the privacy settings on my Facebook account. I KNOW! I’m courting disaster and I feel all energized!

Since that worked so well for me (though there hasn’t been time yet for my new settings to put me in danger, though I’m sure by nightfall I’ll be totally sorry), I’m also going out to lunch without a knee brace or a patella strap. It’s all about living on the edge, though being unable to get either of those on underneath my jeans helps.

I’m considering having a milkshake on my way home. A totally milk-based product! If that’s not living on the edge, I don’t know what is. (And I’m not just referring to the edge of the toilet seat that’s probably in my future, if I should carry out this plan.)

I may leave my driver’s license at home today. How’s that for potential danger? What if I get pulled over for going 25 in a 45 zone? “License and registration,” the mean cop will say, and I’ll come back with, “Ha! Left my license at home! Now what are you going to do?” I really have no idea. I’ve never done anything as dangerous as this.

I’m just getting started here. I could write myself a really large check, more than I have in my account, and deposit it into another account, hoping I get more checks in the mail today! Well, wait, that’s a little too daredevilish even for me, so we’ll skip that one.

How about this one? I’m not going to floss tonight. Nope. No flossing tonight. Am I courting potential tooth decay and loss of teeth? YES!

I’ll check in later and let you know how it went. If I end up in jail, I’ll be calling for bail money. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

“It’s Like Going to War”

I heard this on a commercial the other day, maybe for The Next Iron Chef. You know, where chefs compete to become television stars, if they aren’t already, by participating in cooking contests. I love a good cooking contest as well as the next person, so don’t get me wrong. Cooking competitions are fun. But apparently for chefs, it’s like going to war.

Really? Are people shooting at them while they’re cooking? Are bombs going off around them? Are IED’s littering the countertops? When they’re done with the competition will they return home with PTSD and an overwhelming urge to assimilate while being unsure how? Will they suffer bouts of anger, depression, and ennui? Or do they run the risk of not returning home at all when one of the competitors decides to Take The Competition Seriously and stabs them with a boning knife?

Okay, it’s true that I have no actual war experience myself. When I was in the military we were, nominally, at peace, and though we played at war for practice, there’s no way it could have been anything like actual war. I was aware of that when I was told to please lay on the body bag and then climb up into the truck myself, because if they’d zipped me up into the bag I’d 1) be unable to breathe, and then 2) gotten hurt when they’d throw my body bag up in into the truck, which is what would have happened if we’d been at war. Also, at the end of the day I got to leave the morgue and go back to . . . work. There’s nothing like a real war to show us that indeed, there’s nothing like war.

War is messy and icky and painful, and at the end the people who do get to come home don’t get awarded with a starring role in a television show. Though that’s not a bad idea, is it?

“It’s like going to war,” except it isn’t. But hey, who am I to say?

We love to exaggerate. Personally, I love to throw things in my writing like, “There’s absolutely nothing worse than . . . “ because, in real life, there are many worse things than whatever I’m saying, and while I’m not sure everyone else gets the irony, I do, so what else matters?

We love to appropriate inappropriate words and use them in a different context, especially if they’re powerful words. A favorite of mine is rape. “I’ve been raped by the government!” “I’ve been raped by big business!” “I’ve been raped by society!”

Whatever. When I hear this I immediately disregard whatever else the speaker is trying to say. If that’s the best they can do to describe what’s happening to them, I’m not inclined to hear any more. Maybe they’re right, and maybe they are being raped by amorphous entities who are holding them down and threatening their lives while . . . well, you know. Rape is a sexual assault. Maybe we should create a new word to describe what people think is rape, but isn’t. You go first. I’ll pick up on it later and find fault with it, if I can.

It’s what I do.

I’m going to work now, which is much like playing at war, in that I get to sit in a comfy office and get paid. At least that’s how I play war, I don’t know about you.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Cupcake Deficit Disorder: Symptoms and Treatment

Let’s talk about cupcakes. I only say this because I am suffering from Cupcake Deficit Disorder. I’m not allowed many cupcakes because they have sugar in them, and I’m supposed to be avoiding the stuff. And no, I don’t want to know about any sugar free cupcakes. If I’m going to eat empty carbs, at least let them have sugar.

Cupcake Deficit Disorder, or CDD as we call it around here, can, if left untreated, affect the central nervous system. It can also increase crankiness and decrease libido (so I hear), as well as turn a completely normal day into a day of darkness, despair, and deceit. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is something we all need to avoid, isn’t it? Unless you’re into that sort of thing.

Which I’m not. As anyone who knows me can tell you, I’m the exact opposite of darkness and despair. And deceit. Though I am not unfamiliar with conceit and am actually quite well acquainted with it. The mere act of assuming anyone wants to read what I have to say on cupcakes proves that.

But back to CDD.

CDD has only one treatment that has been proven, in clinical trials, to be successful. And by clinical trials, I mean this is what I’ve determined works. And that is: Cupcakes.

Yes! The treatment for CDD is cupcakes!

There are several ways you can test this out for yourself, should you suffer from CDD. And how do you know if you suffer from it? There are several very clear indicators, among them:
  • Are you cranky first thing in the morning?
  • Do you find yourself daydreaming about butter cream frosting on a dark chocolate cake?
  • Do you find yourself making excuses to go by Cupcake Royale (or any similar cupcake shop) when you really didn’t need to be on that side of town at all?
  • Do you snap at your children, your husband, your wife, or your pets? (This is a very clear indicator.)
  • Do you dream of cupcakes when you sleep?
  • Do you lie awake at night counting cupcakes in an attempt to get to sleep?
  • Do you find yourself planning parties solely to have an excuse to have cupcakes?
  • Have you looked up the nutritional value of cupcakes hoping to find that they’re somehow good for you? (They’re not, so you might as well not even look.)
  • To pass time on the subway, do you imagine all the different cupcake and frosting combinations you can, and then write them down on a list that you later transcribe?
  • Do you have the iPad Cupcake app which tells you where the nearest cupcake shop is, wherever you might be? (This is the absolute best reason for owning an iPad, by the way.)

If you have any of the above symptoms, you just might have CDD. Or you may be naturally cranky. The only way to tell is to try treating CDD and see if that helps.
When treating yourself for CDD, or a loved one (sometimes loved ones don’t know they need treatment, so it’s quite all right if you force them to eat cupcakes since you’re doing it out of love), it’s important to remember that quality trumps quantity. You can either make them yourself, if you’re into that sort of thing, or you can go to a Specialty Cupcake Shop. I prefer the second method, since the idea of me baking sort of takes all the fun out of it.

(I love to cook, but baking isn’t cooking. Not only that, but then I end up with way too many cupcakes, and then I’d have to eat said cupcakes, and then you’d all have to come to my funeral after I’ve lapsed into a diabetic coma and died.)

When deciding on what sort of cupcake to treat yourself with (treat yourself with! It’s a play on words!) remember that quality comes first. To do it properly, make sure you know exactly what kind of cupcake you really need. Or cupcakes, if you’re going to be consuming more than one at a time. Fortunately there’s a wide variety of available flavors and types and combinations, so you should be able to find just the thing.

You may want to call ahead to make sure the cupcakes you want have just been baked. There is absolutely nothing worse than showing up at the Specialty Cupcake Shop only to find out that there is no chocolate raspberry left, and that you’ll have to wait until tomorrow. (If this happens, you may want to try throwing a tantrum. Perhaps the Specialty Cupcake Shop will be so in awe of your tantrum that they’ll make more just for you.)

When consuming your cupcake, you have to be in the right frame of mind. You have to WANT to get better. If you consume the cupcake(s) not really caring if you recover from CDD or not you’ll just want more cupcakes and be no closer to recovery. You will, however, be momentarily satisfied until you crave the next cupcake (which may take place in ten minutes, an hour, or three days).  

I’m going to treat my CCD now, and in short order my charming husband will be relieved to see me stress and despair free. Your results may vary.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Vacation Continues

As we drive home from Kalispell, the setting sun behind us, the sky in the east turns from blue to grey, the sort of end-of-the-day color that heralds the moon high in the sky. The mountains to the east, part of Glacier National Park, grow dim, as if behind tracing paper, the sort of thing we used to make a picture on top of a picture, for those of us who had no art skills. Geese swirl overhead, and it’s so peaceful that none of us speaks.

Or maybe we just have nothing to say. We’ve been to the Winchester Steakhouse, where my stepdad, Jerry, meant to buy us dinner on our last night. But instead we insisted on paying, for his birthday we told him, which is Friday, when we won’t be here. He doesn’t think it’s fair, but charming husband has given the waitress his card before Jerry could do anything about it, so it’s too bad for him.

I haven’t accomplished much during this visit, by which I mean, I haven’t gone through any more of Mom’s drawers, I haven’t winnowed out the discards from the keeps, I haven’t sorted the pictures. Underneath the table is a big plastic box, full of pictures, that I put there on a previous visit, but there’s a  drawer in the desk that Jerry points out to me that is more important to him. “There’s cards and pictures in there, and I don’t know what to do with them.”

“I’ll go through them,” I tell him, and he pulls open the drawer to reveal the folders from the mortuary, the cemetery, the probate papers, and underneath, cards and pictures.

“I want to keep those,” he says, indicating the death documents, “Just in case.”

The next day I go back to this drawer, and I look at the cards and pictures underneath. They’re cards and pictures that someone put away less than two years ago, and they’re pictures of, mostly, the funeral, and the after party (whose idea was it to have an after party anyway?), and the cards are sympathy cards. I put them in a neat pile to take home with me.

I also take possession of my grandfather’s old camera, and I go through some software for the computer, most of which I discard. It’s old and useless. I pick up a few of the small hard disks that were so prevalent just a few years ago (or so it seems) and on them my mother had printed “pictures,” and I wonder what to do with them. I don’t want to get rid of them in case the pictures are ones that should be kept, but how can I tell? My mom’s computer, now Jerry’s, doesn’t have one of those drives, and neither do any of my computers at home. I’ll keep them though, and figure that out later.
Other than that, I’m not productive this visit. Charming husband and I go for long drives and visit Glacier National Park, Jerry takes us for drives and shows us the buffalo down the street, the river that’s perfect for floating, the Canadian geese in a nearby pond, and at night we sit in the living room and we watch baseball. I’m calling these few days a vacation, and so I’m living them as a vacation.

Eventually I’ll have to deal with the big giant box of pictures, unless someone else gets to them first. I’m not sure what to do with them. I don’t know many of the people in the pictures. I know my side of the family, mostly, though not always, and I know fragments of Jerry’s family, but there are so many kids and grandkids and great grandkids and friends and strangers and there’s a past that I don’t even know about.

My mother had a life without me, and there’s so much of it I don’t know about. I was my mother’s oldest, but I wasn’t her favorite, and except for a few of the early years, I lived apart from her while growing up. She loved me, but we had separate lives, and while our lives intersected enough for us to have a relationship, I’m not sure we ever understood each other.

That’s okay. We just did the best we could with what we had. I feel like an intruder, rummaging through the remnants of her life. On previous visits I emptied her closet and her drawers, I took possession of the correspondence she’d saved all her life, and I sorted through the files and labeled them so Jerry could find anything he needed. I showed him where the bills to be paid were, and what he needed to do. I took home a few items of clothing, the last unfinished afghan she’d been working on, a box my uncle, long deceased, had made.

The photo albums sit on the shelves still, the framed photos on the upper shelves. I’ve looked through some of the albums, but I can’t bear to do anything with them, much. I do find a newspaper clipping in one album, a story in which I was featured many years ago when I was an NCOIC in the Air Force. I removed that one and kept it, because it was funny. But the rest? I don’t know. There are many pictures of my mother to be found in these albums, and I don’t want to lose those, but I don’t want to cannibalize the albums either. Neither do I want to take them. They’re not mine.

I can barely keep together the pieces of my own life, much less the pieces of someone else’s. The boxes of correspondence she kept all her life I have now, but I haven’t looked at them, other than when I looked at them to pack them up. They’re not to me, though some of it is from me. But much of it is from other people, perhaps people who don’t want me reading the letters they sent to my mother long ago. Some of them are dead now too.

There’s so much past here. Tomorrow we leave, back to our own lives, and I’ll come back again someday, and maybe then I’ll have a plan. I doubt it though. I’m not much for planning. Maybe someone else will get to the albums and the big box of pictures first. But probably not. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tilt A Whirl Hell

Our vacation got off to a smooth start, by which I mean: we managed to take the dogs to the kennel and then leave on the same day we intended to. It’s important to appreciate the small achievements as well as the big ones.

We drove throughout the day, or, I should say, the charming husband drove throughout the day and I played with my iPad, napped, read random road signs, provided a running commentary on the landscape, and did my very best to make charming husband’s vacation a delightful journey. He may scoff at that description, but since I’m the one writing, I get to say what I want.

We stopped in Spokane for the night, mostly because it’s a convenient place to stop.
Let me back up. Here’s the thing. I’ve been meaning to schedule a trip to Montana to visit my stepfather, but since I have a history of eventful journeys I was a bit hesitant. For three of the last four trips the following has happened: I ran into a deer, crippling it and making me cry; I blew a tire in Spokane, on the freeway, on a Sunday when nothing was open; and so on the last trip I took the train, figuring I’d at least be safe that way.

And so the last trip my knee went completely bonkers, and I was unable to walk without pain.

This time, charming husband said he’d come along, and we’d make a vacation out of it. He acts all nice and everything, but I know he just didn’t want to come get me out of the hospital or jail this trip.

Anyway. So we stopped in Spokane without incident, and the next day we went to Silverwood, a theme park in Idaho.

Charming husband loves theme parks. Disneyland is his favorite of course, but Silverwood has roller coasters and is on the way to Montana, so it fit our needs well.

After our last trip to Silverwood I swore off roller coasters, but I’m happy to wander around while he amuses himself on them.

It was a beautiful day in Idaho. Sunny blue skies, warm but not overly hot, slightly breezy, just the kind of Labor Day weekend we always hope for but never get. Shortly after arriving at Silverwood, before we’d done anything other than wander around, we came upon the Tilt A Whirl.

I grew up on Tilt A Whirls. Every year there was a carnival in the local park, and the Tilt A Whirl was a standard, as it has been for many years in many places. When asked, I said, 

“Sure, let’s go on it.”

We stood in line underneath the warm sun, watching the little kids get more and more excited the closer they got to getting on the ride, and even though I felt a twinge of trepidation, I decided it was silly, and at last it was our turn. (It wasn’t that long of a wait, but I’m trying to inject some suspense.) I joked with the attendant that I was escorting charming husband so he could go on the ride. Poor husband puts up with a lot from me.

We sat in our car, and the ride started, and wasn’t that fun? Just like the Tilt A Whirl of yore, back when I was smaller and lithe and not on enough medications to kill a horse, if one wanted to kill a horse by overmedicating said horse. Not that I’m overmedicated, but I’m certainly well medicated.

And as we spun around I started to feel something other than nostalgia start up in my stomach. Innocent harmless butterflies at first, the sudden empty feeling that lets me know that trouble is headed my way, and then, as we kept circling and spinning and whizzing around, I prayed for the ride to stop. Despite my normally heathen nature, despite times call for desperate measures.

It didn’t stop, it just kept going around and around, and the butterflies turned into moths, and then into dragons, and if you’ve never had dragons roaring through your stomach, lucky you, and I hope you never do. I put my hand over my mouth in what I knew would be a futile attempt at containing what was coming up, but I had to try, didn’t I? I kept my hand stuck over my mouth, and as my mouth filled with what had earlier been breakfast (I assume), we kept spinning.

As we whipped past the attendant she asked if I was okay. Or so I’ve been told, I was focused on not spilling my guts as we whirled because that would definitely be a disaster. I could picture it, as I held it in, vomit spewing in slow motion as we continued to spin, a toxic waste dump that could contaminate everyone we flew by, or past, or anyone who followed.

The Tilt A Whirl, that demon ride, started to slow, and as it started to slow I started to retch, and as it came to a stop I threw up everything in my mouth into my hands, making a special effort not to get any on myself.

So there I was, vomit in my hands, and on me, and feeling like I could do it again, easily, with no provocation at all, and the attendant gave us a disposable towel, something they probably keep on hand for those riders who underestimate their abilities, and I emptied my hands into it. Everyone else was off the ride by the time I managed to stand up and wobble to the exit, where I promptly bent over so I could retch into the pretty foliage.
Poor charming husband, trying to take care of me, so worried.

“I need a restroom,” I said, “And I need it now.”

Or, alternatively, “Get me the hell out of here.”

I don’t really remember.

After I cleaned myself up and got some water, I told charming husband to go ride some coasters, and I would sit on the grass in the shade under the trees, and then I insisted he go, since I hadn’t gone through all this only for him to miss the roller coasters, since he was focused on how I felt instead of what he was supposed to focus on, which was Having Fun.

So he went, and I laid down on the grass, at the top of a grassy knoll, where I could have a good view of anyone coming my way, and I closed my eyes.

I stayed that way for a long time. I moved to get up once, but my stomach didn’t want to come along, so I stayed until I felt human again.

It happens eventually, the returning to a human state.

I don’t know if it’s the massive quantities of meds I’m currently taking, but charming husband is leaning in that direction. Could be – I used to never throw up, and I’m starting to make a habit of it. (By which I  mean, that was the second time this year, and we still have the last part of the year to go.)I once had a vomit free streak of like 10 years, and not that I was proud of it, but I never ever throw up. So I used to say. I think my stomach has just had enough of a lifetime of abuse and has decided to fight back.

Whatever it is, the Tilt A Whirl has taken on the patina of a demon, and I shall never get on one again.

We continued our vacation, and since then it’s proceeding as it should, by which I mean, there has been no more public vomiting. Yay me!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Walking Past Dragons

At 4 this morning, which is not a time I typically associate with morning, but more with middle-of-the-night, my dog Ash decided he needed to go outside. He communicates this to me by standing by my side of the bed and making a very slight whimpering noise, the kind of noise no one else can hear, particularly my charming husband, who keeps sleeping. But I, I always hear the whimpering of the Ash. I opened one eye and looked at him, which wasn’t easy in the dark, since he’s black and the room was, at 4 am, black, but I could make out two intent eyes looking at me and waiting for a response.

He only does this when he really needs to go out. He’s not a difficult dog otherwise, normally sleeping all night through like a rock, or a log, or some other inanimate object used to express the idea.

“All right, I’m coming,” I said, and I climbed out of the security of my comfortable bed and the two of us stumbled downstairs, me stumbling more than he, and I let him out into the backyard.

I don’t know what he does out there at 4 am, though I can guess, but the truth is, I don’t really care, as long as he’s quiet about it.

He came back to the door, I let him in, and we stumbled back up the stairs. I headed straight for bed, and had just gotten myself all comfy when Ash was there again, at the side of the bed, with a whimper, and I said, “Now what?”

He whimpered again. This isn’t rocket science, figuring out what a whimpering dog is saying. The only other thing it could be was the dragon in the bathroom.

The dragon in the bathroom is a perennial issue with Ash the Wonder Dog. During the daytime we refer to her as Honey, the Chow Golden Retriever who is also Ash’s best buddy, the older dog he doesn’t hesitate to jump on when he wants to play. But during the night, when she’s sleeping, or anytime she’s between him and something he wants, whether it’s water or a ball or me, she’s an immovable scary object.

“Okay, I’m coming,” I told him, and I climbed out of my, yes, comfortable bed and we walked into the bathroom so I could escort him past the sleeping dragon. Honey, the dragon, didn’t move. Now that she’s half deaf she doesn’t hear us approaching, which means I must be extra careful not to startle her. She doesn’t like being startled. Would you?

But we walked past her carefully, and she stirred enough to almost lift her head, but that was all. It’s not as if she cares if Ash wanders by and has some water. She’s pretty okay with him doing what he wants to do, but he still thinks that she really CARES and would object, even though she has never once attacked him for walking by her. Not once! Occasionally, just because she can, she’ll give out a tiny little growl, as if she would do more if she really cared, if she weren’t so darn lazy, and so he believes his concern is justified.

I do that with my own dragons. They don’t care if I walk by them to get to where I’m going, but I keep thinking they’re going to reach out and snap my head off, or cut me down to size (whatever that means) or somehow make me sorry I ever bothered. They’re not even fearsome dragons! But still, I let them control me.

After Ash drinks his fill I escort him back past the dragon, who has gone back to sleep, or at least seems to be unconcerned with the people and dogs traipsing past her.

I get back in my comfortable bed, and so does Ash, who decides to sleep on the extra pillow I keep above my head for him. He falls right to sleep while I ponder dragons, and how they mostly don’t care what we do. Yet we, or me in particular, for I don’t know your dragons, look at them as if they’re large immovable annoying objects, sent to bedevil me and stop my progress, here to stop me from doing whatever it is I want to do. All I really need to do is walk past the damn things and get on with it.

Ash needs an escort to get past his dragon. And I have escorts to get past mine. There are people who help me with my dragons, who guide me past them in ways I couldn’t imagine. Sometimes I’ll walk right past a dragon all on my own, because I’m learning that it’s possible and that my head won’t explode if I do.

I do try to avoid heads exploding at all times. It’s messy and irritates bystanders.

We all have dragons, though they often turn out to be no more than elderly furry half-deaf dogs who don’t care that we go tromping past them in the dark of night. Or something similar. We can get past them with the help of our friends, and we can get past them all on our own. We don’t need to slay the dragon, unless it’s breathing fire and ready to eat us, we can just walk past them on our way to somewhere else.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Looking at Mental Illness from THEIR POV

Just read another story from someone with a loved one with mental illness, and again I hear the same story: His illness is no excuse to act the way he does, nor to treat people badly.

Of course it isn’t. But I always wonder, did anyone take the time to ask HIM about his point of view?

Too often I see the mentally ill told to straighten up, do what society expects, stop acting all crazy, and could you please, while you’re at it, be nice? These are all reasonable requests, as long as we refrain from defining “acting all crazy,” since it can cover a wide variety of things, some of which even the sanest of us participate in.

Buying bottled water, for example. It’s crazy, when you think about it, and when you know that tap water can be better for you, and cost a lot less, but we do it anyway. At least some of us.

I’ve come to the realization that I’m one of the sanest people you’ll ever meet. However, that doesn’t mean that when I’m talking to someone who’s mentally ill I’ll proclaim my superior sanity and tell them to just act like me. Instead, I’ll ask them what they think. I’ll want them to tell me about their delusions, though I won’t call them delusions, and I’ll want to know how they see things.

With my ex-Stew-who-was-mentally-ill (for those of you who haven’t followed the story and haven’t read the book yet), I talked to him. I didn’t just tell him what was going on in the real world, but I asked him about what was going on in his world. I treated his views, as irrational as they seemed to me, as if they were real. Because you know what? To him, that was reality. Telling him to join me in my reality didn’t mean anything to him because he couldn’t see it.

I don’t mean buy into their world. You can’t follow them down that path, at least not far. It doesn’t help them, and it doesn’t help you understand them. And sometimes no matter how much you ask, it won’t make sense to you. It can’t, anymore than what you see can make sense to them. But that’s not the most important thing. The most important thing is that you are relating to them on a level that’s equal. By asking about their world, you let them know you care what goes on in it.

I’ve met people who don’t want to know what’s going on in someone else’s world. “It’s not real, they just need to snap out of it.” Always helpful advice, the just-snap-out-of-it. It’s like telling someone with a broken leg to just walk on the damn thing and they’ll be fine in no time.

But often it matters to them. It matters that someone cares enough to ask. With Stew, we could have these sorts of dialogues, so he could tell me what was going on and I would take it seriously, but I could also remind him that, “You remember, don’t you, that we talked about how only you can see this, and no one else?” And he could remember, usually (not always, I’m not a miracle worker) that his world view was not necessarily the world view I had, or anyone else had. It was distinctly his, but he was welcome to talk about all he wanted, because if you can’t talk about your crazy world with anyone, you’re going to hold onto it even tighter so you don’t lose it.

Even if it’s a sad dark world, it’s still the only world you have, and why give that up? How can you when you can’t see anything else?

Maybe, just maybe, if you take them seriously, instead of insisting they conform to a standard they don’t understand, they might take you seriously. They might come to understand that you’re not the enemy, at least not all the time. Sometimes you’ll still be the enemy, but perhaps just by listening you can become safe, someone they don’t have to fear is going to tell them, yet again, that they’re crazy and could they just listen to reason?

And maybe not. Maybe it’s all for nothing. Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to disengage. Sometimes, though, if you try, you can find that disengaging isn’t necessary after all. I tried with Stew. I tried with everything I had, and I was rewarded with his lasting friendship and his support, which are no small things. I was also rewarded with being able to talk him off the ledge when he was on it, which happened more than I would have thought possible. He listened to me even when the voices in his head were telling him not to, because he knew I was listening to him, and not just talking at him. I knew his fears, and I knew his hopes, and I knew, usually, how best to reach him.

Not always. But enough.

Sometimes enough is the best we can do.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Honey Has Been Healed!

Last night we attended a church revival down by the railroad tracks. Crowds of people were clamoring to see the prophet, as were we. I have a fondness for prophets. It was a noisy crowd, but Honey was unfazed, since she couldn't hear them anyway. She did appear to be considering the possibility of biting those closest to us, but whatever. We sat through two sermons, one by a 10 year old child preacher who admonished us to tithe freely in order to secure our eternal salvation, three intermissions so we could buy hot dogs and popcorn, and two interludes of a 12 year old soprano singing first Amazing Grace and then The Battle Hymn of the Republic. The first was okay, the second was wretched.

At last the prophet himself appeared, and said, "I am here to heal the sick, comfort the sick at heart, and collect your money!" This was all in a loud booming voice, except by the end the crowd was screaming hysterically to be saved and most of them may have missed the money part. We had to wait our turn of course. This healing thing is apparently a sort of individual process. If the prophet is as powerful as he would like us to believe, couldn't he just wave his fairy wand over the crowd and say, "There, all done." But no, we were given a number, for which we paid a donation, and made to stand in line behind the makeshift stage.

The first healing was a 42 year old accountant who was complaining of bunions. "You are healed!" the prophet said, and smacked him in the head, causing said accountant to fall backward, where he then hit his head and was knocked unconscious. Guys in black t-shirts rushed on stage and carted him off, and then the next, a clown who was sad. And by clown, I mean a clown, in full clown regalia, with a sad drawn on face and the barest hint of rum on his person. "You are healed!" said the prophet, knocking the clown to the ground, and the clown's sad drawn on face didn't change at all, but I'm pretty sure he was no longer sad. Or would be, once he regained
consciousness. Then a scullery maid, who was suffering from steam burns, who was also knocked unconscious, no doubt so her burns could heal. This went on for half an hour, or an hour, or some period of time that lost all meaning.

Then it was Honey's turn. "If you smack my dog I'll kill you," I said to the prophet. "Just fix her hearing."

"It'll cost you extra," the prophet said, "If I can't smack her. That, and she's a dog, if you haven't noticed."

"Really?" I responded. "I knew there was something different about her. Just get on with it, will ya?"

"If I must," he said, "But I must insist on cash or a cashiers check first. Or Visa. Or MasterCard. We minister to those of all faiths."

"Fine," I grumbled, as I handed over my last few dollars.

"We'll bill you for the rest then. This isn't nearly enough."

I have a mailing address I use for these purposes, so I gave him that. Said mailing address is halfway to Timbuktu, and there's no address there, much less a there there, so I imagine a pile of mail has been collecting there for quite a while. Another bill or two wouldn't matter much.

"Dog, you are healed!" the prophet bellowed, and Honey snapped at him.

Wouldn't you, if a prophet was bellowing at you? Well, true, Honey couldn't hear him, but she got the general idea.

We left the stage as a midget desiring to be tall entered from stage left, but we didn't hang around to see what would happen next. 

After we got home I said to Honey, "Honey? Can you hear me?"

I could tell she couldn't because she made no sign of hearing me. Which is not to say my dog can sign. That'd just be weird.

But this morning she came into my office, and was snapping at me, which is her way of saying, "Can you let me outside now please?"

I turned around in my comfy desk chair and said to her, "Do you want to go outside?"

She responded by barking and jumping up and down, if a dog can jump up and down. Then Ash, who'd been loitering in the doorway, started barking and jumping up and down.

I kept talking to her, and she kept responding as if she could hear what I was saying. Then again, it's hard to tell with a dog. We went into the hallway and I had Andrew call her, and she looked at him, then went to him.

The dog can hear.

After I let them outside I went back upstairs and called out the back upstairs window to Honey. She stopped what she was doing, which was sniffing grass, and looked up, then around. She wasn't quite sure where I was calling her from, but she knew someone was calling her.

I could have just said that the vet had said she might regain some of her hearing once the infection cleared up and the ear gunk was cleaned out from the drops he'd had us giving her, but that doesn't make for such a good
story, does it?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Good Holiday

You can tell I've had a good holiday when my burns are only first degree.

Fortunately I'm only a danger to myself. Others are safe around me, unless I trip and fall on them, but even then, there's usually a pretty good chance said others can jump out of the way before my full weight descends on them like a ton of bricks. The burns, on the top of my fingers of my left hand, are only slight red marks now, and the swelling isn't bad at all.

Not bad at all. This is my mantra for getting through things like scalding myself, cutting myself, and in general doing damage to myself. I have never broken a bone, but I'm thinking that's only because they're made of rubber.

So other than the whole burning thing, which was only a slight inconvenience and allowed me the opportunity to sit on the couch with my hand wrapped in ice and later aloe while charming husband put together the rest of dinner, life is good. Painful, at times, but what isn't that's worthwhile? (This is another of my mantras that I use to console myself with.)

Last night, which just happened to be some sort of holiday, I started to wonder when we'd moved to a war zone. It must have happened when I wasn't looking, because when looking for a house, I'm pretty sure I checked the option to be out of a war zone. Since I've never been in an actual war zone, only pretend ones, I have no idea what one sounds like, but I'm pretty sure I heard mortars going off, and air strikes, and explosions. I was also not aware that there are so many people around here. There must be, for all that noise to be going on. That, or we invited several other neighborhoods to join us for the festivities.

I'm hoping the fatalities were kept to a minimum.

Used to be, fireworks were a cause for concern around here. Honey does not like them. They hurt her ears, and it makes her upset. I'd be upset too if my ears hurt. But now that she's mostly deaf, she really doesn't care. Occasionally, when the racket was loud and long, she'd bark at it, as if to say, "Shut the hell up, will ya? I'm trying to sleep!" But it wasn't with the former panic she'd have when she was a hearing dog. It's not as if she could hear it all that well. And Ash, he doesn't care much, except for a particularly loud one that'll cause his head to pop up. He likes to sit next to me and burrow into me just in case though. Then again, he likes to do what when there's no sign of fireworks too, so I'm not sure it means anything.

I do have the best life. It's not just on holidays that I notice, but on holidays, no matter the reason, I give myself permission to slack off and do whatever I want, the sort of permission I'm loathe to give myself any other time. If you ask me, I should be doing something useful and productive all the time. Not that I do all the time, but I do heap guilt upon myself if I'm not productive. Not on holidays though. On holidays there's none of that.

Of course, I did do some work anyway yesterday, but it wasn't much, a couple of hours altogether. This was before the burn incident, when I could still move my fingers.

And today I can move them just fine again, so I better get back to work.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

We're All Aging

Just some of us are doing it faster than others. Not me, of course. I retain the mind of a child, and no, I’m not going to follow that up with “in a jar on my desk,” though I’m sorely tempted. That should give one indication that I’m not aging gracefully.

One of my dogs, Honey, the charming half chow half retriever I’ve had for what seems like forever, is aging. So far, she’s been rather graceful about it. As graceful as a dog can be, anyway. Like me, she likes her sleep, and, also like me, she still likes to play. Ash, the four year old dog, can run circles around her, and me, but she doesn’t mind so much. She’ll wait until he’s exhausted himself and then pounce on him. She’s still the lead dog, the head honcho, the big kahuna, despite him now being slightly taller. In the middle of the night Ash will wake me up (by staring at me intently) so I can escort him past the big scary lump of dog standing between him and the water bowl. In the morning, as they rush down the stairs together, he jumps all over her, attempting to impede her progress and start play time, but when she’s between him and his food or water, he dares not cross her.

Yesterday when I got up I found Honey, as usual, sound asleep in the bathroom. She falls asleep on her dog bed at night, then during the night she decides the bathroom floor is a better place and moves. Sometimes after this happens Ash then gets off the bed, sometimes off the pillow we share since he’s lately decided he’d rather sleep at my head than my feet, and takes possession of the dog bed, but never while Honey’s around to see him do it.

And yes, I know, what kind of person lets a 60 pound dog sleep on their pillow? Well, now you know.

Honey wasn’t moving much, even when I called her name. No movement. I got closer. “Honey?”

Still nothing.



So I reached down to pet her, and scared the crap out of her.

Not literally, obviously.

We’ve been testing her hearing ever since, and it’s sort of not there, at least not on one side. One day we have a perfectly healthy dog and the next day she’s deaf. She’s on antibiotics for an abscess in one ear flap and is getting twice a day ear drops, which she’s had before, but she’s never been so . . . deaf.
How can I keep telling my dog how wonderful she is if she can’t hear me? I do it anyway, because I’m not sure what she can hear and what she can’t, and I’m not taking any chances. I used to be able to say her name and her tail would wag, even if the rest of her wouldn’t move, but now, not so much.

This morning she raced downstairs with Ash, out to her favorite place, the back yard, where she could run around and lay in the grass, which is her favorite hobby. She acts like she’s fine, but when I went out to give her another antibiotic I had to go find her around the corner instead of calling her. She seemed to hear me when I got close, but it’s hard to tell when she’s not speaking to me.

Just for the record, my dog has never spoken to me, so this is nothing new.

She’s pretty healthy, overall, for a dog her age. Just two weeks ago the vet said so. Nothing wrong with her, other than that ear thing. I’m hoping to delay her aging process for a long time. Getting her a puppy four years ago helped – I’m certain she got younger when she had a puppy to keep up with.

(Perhaps as we age we should get younger companions since keeping up with them will keep us active? I covered that already by marrying my husband.)

We shower her with love and affection and play time. And in return, she doesn’t bite me when I startle her because she didn’t hear me coming. It’s a fair exchange. Beyond that, we don’t think about it. We’ve got too much present going on to think about the future.