Why I won’t vote this year -thank you Dad. 

Last Sunday I lost my dad suddenly and the pain is profound. I can’t even write much about it all yet. I still feel as if this is all just a horrible dream. 

I’m really worn out. I’ve had chronic pain issues over the last few years after breast cancer treatment. It hit high levels this summer and I had surgery on Oct 12 – on that day we hadn’t been able my to reach my dad and not the day before either- which was very unusual. Eventually he was found on the floor of his condo the next day Oct 13. He was rushed to ER which began a journey of ups and downs that ended in his unexpected death ten days later. 

It’s all been too much for me. The last there years – the cancer – the pain – financial trouble- the loss of my father in law – trying to find doctors to help me – moving my frail mother in law to assisted living – worrying about newly widowed mom living alone and in pain in PA. – finally having some complex nerve  surgery that seems to have helped some of my problems but maybe not all  (BC I’m still healing) -but then the icing on the cake is the loss of my father. Sometimes I just think I can’t face another second of this life. I’m so tired and beaten down. I’ve yet to figure out what I’m supposed to learn from all this. Maybe it’s resiliency but now it feels like shit. 

My Heart is cracked open. And if you’ve had that happen and most of us have – sometimes there are no words to really express what we feel. And sometimes we just don’t want to share those raw bits and pieces. But I’m a writer and I eventually will need to get out the things I feel. Now there are too many questions. Too much sadness and anger.  Just too much. 

I am as close to my breaking point as I’ve ever been. Sometimes I just want to follow my daddy to the other side. But my dad was not one to give up and neither am I. But lord I’m so tired in so many ways. 

In these last few days I’ve yet again been reminded that the very most imperically important thing is In this world is love. LOVE.  

And that’s why I’m not voting.  All I’ve seen in the last few months as I’ve layed in bed in pain -is anger and hate. And I’ll admit I’ve had a lot  of anger on my own I didnt need to feed off of more of it from other sources.  

 Anger and hate have lashed out over this crazy dance we call running for president -and it’s really not the election and really not politics. These forums just bring out the anger and hurt that’s in our world. It magnifies it. It’s shows the opposite of love.  Its just one of the focal Hate cancers that permeate our society. And I can’t bring myself to vote In a system that magnifies hate from it. It might just be too soul crushing for me. And I need things to enlighten my soul right now. Not things that poison it. 

When my dad lay dying in the hospital we formed a circle of love around him.  Most family unable to get there because it all happened so fast. My brother at his side in the ICU of a hospital in Florida along with his friend Jeff by his side – I was here in Maryland on the phone with Jeff which he held next to my fathers ear  -and Kevin and my kids were in the room with me and my brother had his family on his phone. We surrounded my dad with love as we said goodbye and prayed and told him how much he was loved. Later my brother sat with just me on the phone in that quiet ICU while we waited for my dad to take his last breath. I was holding my brother’s hand metaphorically as he held that phone -and in the opposite hand held my dads hand in his.  I spoke prayers and verses I found on the internet. The nurse removed his breathing tube -We prayed that God would lift him up – We cried – and my brother and I waited for our dads soul to rise into eternity – our hearts breaking.

 My friends this is love. 

And this is where I belong. In the realms of love  Not in the hatred of this world. My fragile soul was born into a world of such love but where there are cancers of hatred. I can no longer bring myself to be part of that sickness.

My soul seeks so much of a different path.  

My dad who loved politics and who loved to tell me often and in detail of his dislike of the candidate he planned on not voting for -would be appalled at me for not voting. I think I told him that one year many years ago  I wrote in my dog as my choice for president. Now thinking back I may never have told him that. He may have stopped speaking to me. Well dad- if you can read in heaven – I voted for Gator my greyhound and I chose Jay Jay Star his greyhound friend as be his Vice President. Sorry. But it’s what I had to do. 

And this year I won’t be voting and  I am not voting ever again if all that permeates from an election is hatred. I don’t expect profound love coming from any competitive race but what I expect is respect and decency.  Not venom from candidates which lathers people who watch with that venom and then It begins to spread. Friends hate friends for opposing views. Slinging barbs to someone they once would have never considered saying those things to. It’s a cancer. 

I know my dad would have given me many reasons why my vote matters and what a priveledge it is that we have such a system in our country.  But sadly his death made me drive my stake in the sand even more.  “Not gonna do it.” If I can paraphrase  Dana Carvey who used to parody former President Bush. 

I wish people would remember  that the nucleus of humanity is love. We see it come out sometimes when we least expect it.  We humans can really rally when shit hits the fan. And love really does win.  But it’s our human condition that seems to so easily allow us to gravitate to the cancers of hate. Why do we forget we are all worthy of compassion and respect? 

I don’t feel strong enough anymore to spend my time among hate. I’m not sure it’s from my wisdom where this comes – I think it’s just a worn spirit that knows from where it needs to get its water – the clean spring bringing waters of love. Not the dirty one bringing waters from sewage of hate. 

Sometimes I wonder if I’m supposed to be here on this earth. Like maybe there is another planet I was supposed to be on. Like my soul got delivered to the wrong place. Maybe the only such place I dream of only exists in heaven -on the other side of this place called earth.    

 In my own humanness I’ve had anger issues of my own. I’ve lashed out at my kids when they’ve hurt me or frustrated me. I held some anger for my own dad for years. Most of my anger comes from hurt or fear. Once you can see where it comes from you can try to work on it. And I’ve found as I’ve aged that I just need to try to step away from my fear and move very far away from hatred machines as best I can. 

In that moment when I knew I was saying goodbye to my daddy for a final time until I will -God Willing- see him again – all that I felt was love for this man. And in that sterile ICU –that I could only see in my imagination – all that exuded was love. And then it’s so obvious to me – in that moment of pain and sorrow that it’s all that matters in this world is Love. Why is that so hard  for humans to live each day by?  The answer is because we are human. 

If I only get to go through this journey of life on earth once I’m going to stand away from things that permeate hate.  And this includes this thing we know as an election – -it can unfold all on its own.

 I’m out.  

And I don’t even care anymore. My heart is ripped open and all I want to put into it now is love and as best as I can I want the output to be love – for as long as I live. 

My vote is for LOVE. 

“Love one another” –Jesus Christ. 

“I hope you Dance “-Lee Ann Womack 

Surrounded by Dogs


It’s not often that I don’t have a dog or two -or 5- near me. One could say they must follow me because I have food -and I sometimes do but I often don’t and I don’t share all the time. I also am not the person who feeds them most of the time.  My husband and my kids do that job. But our dogs (my dogs) are my comrades. Lemon our yellow Lab prefers the company of my son -Luke- and I am her second choice when he’s not home -I love their love for eachother.  The other pups -my boys-are my shadows much of the time. One might move to a cooler place on the floor in the hallway outside my office or bedroom- but they are always near me. Is it because I’m their leader? Am I their leader? I don’t know what they think. I’ve always had a comfort being around animals especially dogs.  But my husband always is amazed that they follow me around like the I am the Pied Piper. 

It’s something that I don’t take for granted -this affection – but it is something that I’ve come to be used to in my daily life that I don’t always notice it. They are just there. And I need them to be there.  Dogs have been a calming force much of my life. When I felt alone or scared at times in my life there was a dog there to comfort me. They were my PTSD dogs long before there were such a thing. 

We usually are all quiet as we sit in our spaces either in my office or in my bedroom –  Unless the UPS man comes. Then it gets a little wild. 

In the last couple of months I’ve been out of sorts. My spirit is down and my physical body is in pain. I’ve waxed cranky and sad and sometimes downright angry. There have been days where I felt like there was just too much dog near me. I felt crowded impatient and claustrophobic. I’d shoo them out of my space.  It really wasn’t them at all – but yet in my angst I’d push them away.  

 I’d shoo them away -but they never went very far from me. They might lay in the hall or go sit by my husband or ask to be let out. 

 My old English sheepy -Ridley just doesn’t understand cranky or mad. Or the word shoo or off. He doesn’t leave when asked and in fact comes closer to offer his head for pats. Rudy is like glue to me. He doesn’t shoo he just curls himself a little further away to give me space. 


When I’d get back to my work or stop wallowing in my crankiness I’d notice later the dogs had moved back in closer. And I realized that I didn’t feel claustrophobic any longer. I’d feel a sense of calmness and I felt cared for.  Loved. 

This pattern has continued and as I looked around me today I realized that they may know what I need better than I do myself sometimes. 

It’s what comrades do for eachother…..

UPS?

Bee stings and love

I got stung by a bee today on my foot.  It wasn’t the bee’s fault – it just got caught up in my flip flop. I felt awful for the bee. I should have had boots on but maybe I would have squished it anyway but I would have avoided the sting. 

As I was jumping around freaking out about the sting – and calling to my sons and husband  for some help – I began to cry.  

I was scared. I’ve alway been afraid of bee stings. I have a fear that I will get allergy to the sting. I don’t have one I’m just afraid I will become allergic. 

I was so afraid of bees as a kid I would put myself in perilous situations just to flee from them. Once I nearly made our bus driver crash as I ran up the aisle of the bus screaming BC a bee was buzzing somewhere in the back. The driver slammed on the brakes of the bus and I went down flying head first into the seat. She was steamed at me. She didn’t care that I hit my head. She just yelled at me to sit down. So I did trying to hide my tears and my shame.

 I remember getting out of the bus and holding a little terrarium that I had made in art. We used layers of colored sand and placed a little succulent inside and put a top on. I was so excited about that terrarium and when I got off the bus I was finally able to compose  myself BC I was away from the bee and the embarrassment. I began to take inventory of the damage to myself and my belongings. My head throbbed but I was ok. I held up the terrarium and all the insides lay in ruin. The layers of sand were mostly blended together and the little succulent was unrooted from the sand. 

The tears began again. I cried a lot when I was a kid. I think some people became immune to my tears. But not my mom.  I took myself and my broken artwork into the house and tried to explain in choked words to my mother what happened. I can’t recall exactly what she did but I know she cured the tears that fell and the terrarium was fixed enough so the little plant was rerooted. I remember that terrarium sitting with all its imperfection in our kitchen.  My mother hated to see me sad. 

These days I’m not so scared of bees that I run from them. I even will catch them if they get into the house so I can free them into the wild.  If I find a bee in the house it’s their lucky day. 

We did have some of those bees that burrow into the siding of the house and somehow they began making their way inside. They didn’t meet as kind an end. They were nasty and they came in by the dozens. It took an exterminator and my husband a number of attempts to get rid of them.  We still have blobs of spray foam  bulging from holes in the siding of the house. We haven’t had a swarm in two years. I hope they don’t return- they deliver a nasty sting.  I don’t know what the purpose of those bees are but I know they aren’t good like honeybees. 

Speaking of stings – the one I got yesterday hurt! I began crying out of fear and pain and as I sat wimpering on my porch waiting for my kids to grab some ice and baking soda I wondered if today was the day I’d be allergic to bees and have to be rushed away to the hospital. It would be bad timing BC my husband had to take one son to an encampment that was over an hour away. If I had to go to the hospital I would ruin that. 

It turns out that my sting didn’t even swell much. Maybe she didn’t get much venom in as I pulled my foot up fast when I felt the bite. I saw her in the grass and felt badly for  her.  My fear of bees has grown into a respect of nature ( unless nature is living in the walls if my home). 

But I wonder where those tears come from. Well the tears I think I get. They are from frustration and fear. The frustration BC I haven’t been able to catch a break lately. I am dealing with chronic nerve pain from the cancer surgery and though it’s been two and a half years since surgery I am still dealing with this issue. It’s been worse in the cancer aftermath than the actual treatments were. My life quality of late has been less than subpar and I know those tears wait on the edge to come. All it takes is a little bee sting and a dose of frustration and fear and the dam breaks. 

It’s funny or odd how an old fear can take hold of us and wash over us in an instant. I knew in my brain I was most likely not allergic to bees but the fear was seperate from the rational thought. I just had to let it wash over me. It would pass in time. 

I was a fearful kid – every week I had a new fear. Fear of germs , fear of touching boys ( my parents must have loved that -but it definitely was gone by the time I hit puberty), fear of ticks. So many fears. 

Some of the fear followed me into adulthood and I developed a pretty major anxiety disorder in my 30s that I try hard to stomp on as best as I can. Some new fears arose that I learned had a fancy name called phobias. The phobias that remain aren’t life altering. I don’t eat shellfish BC I’m scarred of allergic reactions. Though I ate shellfish to the gills (pun intended) when I lived in Boston. But one day somewhere back in my 30s -maybe- I just cut off the shellfish eating out of fear. It’s not a big deal and I actually don’t miss not eating it except once in a while I’ll see my hubby eating shrimp or a crab cake and want a bite. Hubby always is willing to share and I am sure often wonders why I have this fear. But he loves me warts and all. 

I am warty. But we all are aren’t we? Or is that a delusion I convince myself of?  It’s taken years for me to love myself for the whole person that I am. And some days I fail at that. 

As I sat on that porch with my husband who was trying to comfort me as my mom did so many years ago – he made me feel safe. I knew I was being a little silly but I found the tears cleansing and maybe I just needed that cry. For an instant the child in me took over- the one who had so many fears. She may have been fearful but she was a good girl and had a loving  heart. She still does. 

After a bit I told my husband he could get back to the million things that he was working on. I picked  myself up and went inside to wash my face off and put on some socks and boots. 

I saw my kids who had seen me crying and had tended to me as I sat  on the porch and I wondered had I been comforting enough to them when they got stung? I probably tried not to show my fear to them when they were the ones hurt. I never wanted my kids to be fearful the way I was. I knew that the fear can hold you back and can stigmatize a kid. But was I too stoic with them? Did I make them feel safe? I hope I have. 

Even now as teens they act like they don’t need me but they do. I’m the tough one – the strong one. I get stuff done. But over the last couple years they’ve seen me at my worst – on my knees asking for Gods mercy. Do they think less of me? 

I hope not. I hope they see a human. One that stands tall for them but one that can fail and one that can cry in the face of fear. We are all a combination of feelings. We have to let them out and embrace each one because that is the essence of who we are and we need to love ourselves. 

As I saw each teen in the aftermath of the bee incident I said “I just get scared that I’m allergic to bees for some reason.  I know it’s silly”.  Each one in there own way said they knew and it was ok. Each one said they hated bee stings too.  Each one asked me if I was ok. Some sweetness from often seemingly uncaring teens. It’s in there. 

I went back to the chicken area to finish what I was doing before I got stung. The sting was still a bit painful but I had myself fairly convinced that I would be ok. I turned to see my husband looking at me. 

“What’s up?”

” I’m just making sure you are ok.” 

“I’m ok I think. I just hope I’m not allergic. ”

” If you were allergic you’d know by now” 

“I know it’s silly to be scared like that.” 

“It’s how you feel and that’s ok.”  

He gets me and he loves me. My kids try to get me but they love me as only a teen can love. That’s comfort, love,and safety all rolled up into the messy thing called family. 

And I’m ok. I’ll wear boots next time. Sorry bees. 

Little visits from beyond?

The first time it happened was in the grocery store about 3 weeks ago. Kevin walked over to me as I stood in one of the aisles. I had left him a couple minutes before perusing snacks one aisle over.  I forget now what I was even searching for but when Kevin caught up with me he asked me if I had been calling him. I shook my head no and asked him why. He had a puzzled look on his face and he said “I heard someone whispering my name..they said ‘Kevin, Kevin’. ”

“It wasn’t me.” I said. “And nobody was near you?”  He shook his head no.

“It was like someone was standing near me whispering.”

Then the thought popped in my head and came out of my mouth in a flash. “It was your dad!” I said. “It was dad!”

We went on to discuss this possibility as we perused the shelves of that grocery store. I think it gave Kevin some comfort in the wondering if his dad was somehow trying to reach out.

We know he is around or at least we believe him to be. Every night since he passed last December he has been sleeping with my mother-in-law. After 68 years of marriage I can certainly understand why he might not want to leave his bride. I believe he is there- if you knew my mother-in-law she is very lucid and she would not talk about it unless she felt something was happening. She says she knows it sounds crazy but she  “feels” him there at night and she feels his breathe. I also believe it because I believe there is thin veil between here and there(where we go after we die). We just cannot see past it- but sometimes little things happen that remind us that the here and there are closely connected.

This past weekend Kevin and I foolishly decided to build a chicken coop (more on that later) -we were doing work outside on the covered patio that leads into the gym section of our barn. I left Kevin with my son Zach who was helping him- as I had to pick up my other son from work. When I returned we got back to work and out of the blue Kevin said ” I saw my Dad today.”

“What? Where?!!!” I asked rather astonished.

“Out of the corner of my eye sitting on that chair. I saw him twice” He was pointing to our plastic adirondack chair that we pulled out for rest breaks.

“What did he look like? Did he say anything?” I was excited and stunned all at once. And kind of jealous because I wanted to see him too.

“He looked younger…like when he was our age.” (which is 50ish) ” He didn’t say anything. I just saw him there.”

I asked him if that upset him, or scared him. Kevin said it didn’t and he said it actually brought him comfort.

Kevin's dad made this some years ago. It hangs over the workbench in our garage.

Kevin’s dad made this some years ago. It hangs over the workbench in our garage.

I am not surprised Dad showed up when Kevin was building something. Kevin’s dad loved to build things. He finished their family homes entire basement and created a cool buffet area that houses the TV but had a built in sink. He made bookshelves for his home. For us he made a toy chest and a table that detached from it’s base so you could turn the leg structure around and that would change the height of the table as my kids grew. He had that sort of mind. He liked making things that served a purpose but they would have this twist of engineering. He was a master at acrostic puzzles and sudoku – at least up until the foe dementia took away his mind.

In time my kids outgrew these items so they now reside with great- grandkids and hopefully they will continue to be passed down through the family. Maybe they will make their way back to live at with my future grands we might have. I am sure each of Dad’s sons can list off items that dad lovingly made for his family. Mom joked he always cut himself every time he made something.

“He is probably here to help you along.” I told Kevin. “For moral support”.  Kevin laughed. Kevin is not a natural do-it-yourselfer.  He has had to become more self-reliant since we moved to this farm. There is always something that needs to be done and sometimes those things cost lots of money if you get others to do them. So Kevin has learned along the way to do a number of things.  This coop is our first major build. But thanks to good plans and maybe a little mojo from Kevin’s dad, we are chugging along.

Last evening Kevin wanted to build two more walls for the coop. It was a nice evening and I looked forward to getting outside and helping him. I mostly read the plans and tell him the measurements of the cuts and the stud placements. I also occasionally measure stuff.

When we got down to the barn I told Kevin that I hoped his Dad would show up. I told him he had to be around because he couldn’t stay away from a project. I had just reminisced the day before with my mother-in-law about the time he came over to our old home and helped us put up a play set for our then young kids. Kevin still says that it was only because his dad pitched in that that set was put up the right way!

Kevin making cuts to the wood for the coop wall.

Kevin making cuts to the wood for the coop wall.

At one point last evening Kevin’s drill bit was starting to strip. I asked him if he had more and he said yes. Except we didn’t have any down at the barn with us they were up at the house in the garage. I suggested to Kevin that maybe we could text our son, Luke, and ask him to grab one and bring it down.  Yes we were feeling that lazy!  I was about to do that except all of a sudden Kevin looked down where he was kneeling at the end of the wall he was building. “What’s this?” He said as he reached down for something.

“What..Oh my God..” I said as I registered what he was now holding in his hand.

“How did this get there?” he wondered as he held up a drill bit- just the one he needed for his screws.

We looked at each other. “Your Dad did that.” I said. I sat there thinking it through. Kevin had just loaded material onto the patio the night before and he was working at building a side wall which he had laying on top of the t1-11 boards that would eventually be the siding of the coop. Kevin had been kneeling there for like ten minutes and he had not seen that bit there. I had been standing nearby and we measured for square and Kevin would have had his face right where that drill bit was – but it wasn’t there then. A few minutes later it was just laying there near his knee.

“Wow – that is amazing.” Is all I could say.  I got up and walked into the gym to grab something and when inside I just stood there in amazement at what had just happened. “Thank you Dad” I said to the air.

And I swear I felt him near me.

At lunch today Kevin and I chatted about the drill bit “incident” again. He told me he finds all these little signs very comforting.  I am glad he finds peace in that. I know how much he misses his dad. I know how much I miss him.

My son Zach said after he heard that his dad saw his grandfather  “We see what we want to see”. Ever the skeptic I suppose.  Perhaps that is true. Maybe hurt hearts want to believe in signs from those that have gone through that thin veil before them. Or just maybe that when we are open enough to really “see”, that veil opens up just enough so someone we love on that side can let us know they aren’t far away.

Thats what I believe…

Thanks Dad – you are welcome anytime…and maybe keep helping us with this coop.. we need it  ….luv u….always…

 

Breakfast in bed 

I have breakfast in bed almost everyday.  But there is a story around it. There is always a story. 

About the time I was diagnosed with cancer in August of 2013 -we had another big Change in our family. My children who were now young teens -the boys about 13 and my daughter about 15- started public school and they took a bus. Prior to that my husband-Kevin- or I would drive them to private school and pick them up. Often we did this together as my husband had a flexible schedule being in sales and/or personal training (often he as had more than one job at a time. ) 

When the kids began public school the bus was a blessing as I had been just diagnosed with cancer and getting up in the morning got hard for me. After surgery i was sore and then radiation kind of slams you into a perpetual tiredness that took months to wane after the treatment was over. 

I will go on recorded to say I have  never been a morning person. Ever -not even as a teen.  I have forced myself up at early hours in the past to take shots of sunrises (I prefer sunsets!) and also to drive myself to my various jobs but as the years began to open up opportunities for people to work flex schedules I took advantage opting to come in later to work in the morning and to stay later at night. For years now I’ve worked from home running a company we own so the 5:45 am alarm for me was gone. In fact I stopped sleeping with an alarm clock by my bed years before we could tell Siri on our phones to wake us at a certain time. I felt it was such a luxury not to be told when to get up. 

We moved to our little farm over five years ago and in the beginning i got  up every morning to do chores. But Kevin begangetting up earlier to train clients in our gym and he began to do the morning  farm chores. It was too early for me and after cancer treatments I had physical issues that precluded me from doing the chores alone.   That kinda was a bummer even though I wasn’t missing getting up -I missed being able to do some of the things I did before.  And mornings are so pretty here. Maybe not the early Kevin mornings but an hour later is still really nice. But since I couldn’t do much I stopped getting up for morning  chores.  Sometimes I miss those mornings and I do get up and walk outside and do the chores that I can do and enjoy the peace of the morning. But more often I linger in bed. 

There was a time when I was in my early 20s that I became ill. It was a weird thing. I felt tired like I had the flu all the time. I would sleep so deeply only to wake up in the morning to be tired again after being up only an hour. A lot had gone in around that time for me health wise – I had had a surgery for ovarian cysts but I recall that I was feeling the fatigue prior to the surgery. I wasn’t able  to work full time. At the time I was living with my grandmother (Nana) and she was diagnosed with cancer and died a short time after my surgery.   I was wrecked from losing her. I ended a long relationship at that time and I was going to have to move from my grandmothers apartment and find another place to live.  I also began to date a new person who I would date for the next five years. That relationship was probably not something I should have started then  but I was so lonely.  Perhaps it did help me to get better as well as it made me stay active going  out on dates and trying to appear like I felt well.  Fake it until you make it. 

I struggled so hard feel better and after my dad read an article on Epstein Barr virus he suggested I ask my doctor for a blood test. And there it was. The diagnosis. But nobody knew how to get rid of it.  

I remember praying to God to help me. One day I had lugged my bicycle down the steps from my nanas apartment after she died but before I had to move out and I was determined to ride someplace. I had fallen in love with cycling when I lived in Boston the year before and I could ride some huge hills in Vermont and New Hampshire. Cycling up heartbreak hill in bean town was nothing- but that day in front of my grandmothers apartment I could hardly bike around the block. So I prayed hard for God to heal me and I vowed that if that vast tiredness would go away and  I could function like a normal person I would never waste a moment of time again in my life laying around. 

I had secured a full time job by then and everyday I got up early and though I felt bad much of the time I put in a full day’s work. I made a habit of going to bed early and within a few months I began to feel better.  I can say I have probably never felt as well since that diagnosis thirty years ago than I had prior to getting Ill but I felt much better than I did while I had it so I just moved on.  And since then have come to read a lot more about that virus and the effects it has in the body.  Some of it explains my anxiety disorder but that is another story. 

But I stayed true to my vow for years and got up early each day vowing not to waste time lingering in laziness – I got my life back after all. 

But as I got closer to 40 I began to hate getting up really early and by that time I was working from home so I had some flexibility but I had little kids so there was no lingering in bed. 

My kids came to me though adoption so I only had one baby who did wake us many nights after he came home at 8 months and he had early morning feedings and needs so early was a given. After I became a mom at 37 I was never so shell shocked and so tired.i still wasn’t  a morning person then either but someone else came first. So up I went. It was quite overwhelming and so very wonderful at the same time. 

For years , I did get up early to drive my kids to school, to assemble lunches or to make breakfast for the kids. Actually Kevin did the breakfasts more than I did -now that I think of it. He is an early morning person – the chipper kind after a cup of coffee.  I got up in the morning -but took longer to get downstairs as I wanted to be dressed for the day if I was going to take the kids to school. It was just a thing I had to do.  So Kevin had my bagel ready for me every morning so I could have it in the car on the way to school. 

Their school began at a reasonable hour in private school. In public school they have to get up at the crack of dawn to get their high school bus.  Too early for me. 

And since I was going through cancer treatments and was not feeling well I opted to parent from bed. At first I did get up to eat breakfast while they were readying themselves for school. I wanted life to appear normal even though I didn’t feel well.  But that became stressful as I would just get nervous if they were dilly dallying and I would begin nagging – stressing them out.  So at some point I began to parent from bed yelling or texting my questions from the comfort of bed “is Luke up?” Or “let the dogs in ” ” don’t forget you (insert item name here)”.  Things seemed to go better for everyone most of the time with this system and Kevin was there if he wasn’t training a client   

After my cancer treatments were over  I was so tired and depressed that I began to linger in bed more. I was awake but I just didn’t want to get up    This time I didn’t vow not to waste time. This time I decided to enjoy the rest. I had lived frantically much of my life and still do some BC having teens -well it’s busy. I needed that time to linger in bed in the morning to just be. I had to heal mentally and physically. 

 I began getting up after they left for school. I would have my husband prepared breakfast in the kitchen area ( our kitchen is an area out in the open) with Kevin or alone in the solitude of a house that is void of kids for six hours. Sometimes that’s glorious -that emptiness -and sometimes it’s so lonely. 

Typically Kevin -still an early riser -will get up to train clients in the morning ( he still has multiple jobs – just less of them now) and each morning he makes my breakfast (a fresh egg from our hens and a piece of bread of some sort) and for a good while he would leave it the microwave. I would go out when I was ready and heat it up and sit at the counter. But after a few months of that I decided to take it into my room and eat in bed. It was luxury for me. 

I suppose Kevin caught on to this and he began to ask if I wanted to eat in bed and and now on most mornings he brings me my breakfast in bed.  It’s just a thing a thing he does.  Kindness and caring are in his DNA. He was with me every single day of my cancer battle. Friends said they’d take me to radiation so he could work but he went to every one.  Never complained -he just loved me through  it.  Even in my darkest hours and there were many. 

He doesn’t have to do it- the breakfast thing. He just does. We balance each other well I think. I may not do the same for him -If he were the late riser. I may not make him breakfast in bed everyday. . But I do other things to show I care and to keep the wheels turning in our little family. But he’s a gem and I know it. I’m not trading him in -he is stuck with me I tell him often. He doesn’t seem to mind. 

It occurs to me that I need to start getting up  earlier. Not the crack of dawn but earlier because the lingering in bed has become longer and longer and I’m getting less productive. Some of that is ok but some isn’t because I still have a job and though the business can run some on its own and it has slowed down a lot – I still need to work on it. ( I’m really ready to retire from that job but that’s yet another post). I have gotten into some more creative things like furniture painting  and I find I am turning to those things first when I get my day started late and then I’m flustered later trying to catch up on the work stuff. I see where my priorities are and maybe they need a shift. 

But back to the breakfasts in bed…if I rise earlier will I miss them? Of course! But it’s not really about the getting the food in bed it’s about having a partner in life that is willing to meet you where you are in a loving way and let you know you are good even if you want to linger in bed every morning or scream and cry on a bad day or run in a manic way on one of those crazed days where the mind never quite focuses at all. That person says you are good – you are loved. It’s as simple as an egg and a piece of toast..
    

Nanas Desk 

 

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Before

I tackled another piece of furniture this past couple weeks. My grandmother’s (aka Nana) desk is one of my heart pieces of furniture. It sat in my Nana’s apartment for years- I recall when she bought it- from Sloane’s furniture in Bethesda, MD.

She placed it on the wall in the living room that contained the kitchen on the other side. When you opened the door into her apartment the desk was one of the first pieces you would see. I often saw her sitting there writing checks to pay the bills. I remember her stuffing the envelopes and licking both the envelope closed and the stamp to place on the envelope. This was before the days where we had self adhesive stamps. I can picture this as if it was just yesterday.

I loved that desk. I marveled over it. A small secretary desk that didn’t take up much space but seemed to hold so much.  When my Nana passed away in 1987 I was 23 and living with her at the time. I was dealing with a chronic illness and I was not working.   I was profoundly sad at losing her. She was my best friend. I had never lost anyone I loved before to death. It was on the whole a very hard time in my life.

A couple months after she passed I found out her condo was being sold by the relative that had bought it for Nana to live in years before. I asked my dad to buy it and rent it to me after the relative said they only wanted to sell it.  My dad didn’t want to buy it – and that may have been the biggest blessing for me- bc to live there was living in memories so thick that I was drowning in sorrow. So I had to move. I needed to live my life.

My dad decided to sell and give away some of her furniture. He offered a bedroom set to me knowing i didn’t have one. I had just rented a room in a house from a friend and had just found a job that would actually lead me in an odd route to my career as a software engineer. I didn’t take him up on the old ornate dresser he offered – in hindsight I wish I had. I told him I wanted my nana’s buffet, her gate leg table and her desk.

Well, he knew I didn’t have room for any of that where I was going.  So he took the pieces and placed them in his own home. They would follow him through a couple moves. After the loss of his wife a few years later he moved to an interim apartment while he built a home in Florida. When that move happened I was finally settled in an condo that I owned and the gate leg table and hutch came to me. Dad must have loved that desk too because it mades its way to Florida with him. That was ok, I knew I would have it someday.

Someday came sooner than I thought. My dad became tired of living in a big Floridian house and he decided to downsize into a condo. He asked me if I wanted some furniture and part of that booty was my Nana’s desk. Finally it would become mine.

By this time I was married and living in a a home in Mount Airy, MD. My Nana had been gone almost 15 years. I remember the desk was delivered in a box with its legs detached. It survived a long trip from Florida well.

We unpacked it and placed it upstairs on our open landing. You could see it when you opened the door if you looked up. I could see it from my bed if our door was open as it often was because we had little kids. I would sometimes look at that desk and I would see Nana sitting there on the old chair reading over something- and I would smile.

That desk survived the move to our farm and was placed again right where you could see it when the front door opened. When we moved in the owner of the home had an old grandfather clock in the space where Nana’s desk was going to go.  He asked if I would like to keep the clock. I said “No I already have plans for that space.”  I had placed that desk there in my mind before we even moved in.

We have been here over five years and that desk has sat majestically in that spot- but it was getting a bit worn. I never thought I would take paint to that desk but the desk wasn’t an antique really – but the wood top had finish that was splitting – and it was saying boring to me – it never had before but now it was. I waited a while on painting this piece – but once I tackled my Nana’s side board I knew it was only a matter of time before I painted the desk.

So a couple weeks ago I walked up to the desk with a paintbrush full of white chalk paint. And I looked at the desk and I swiped it with paint. I felt ok. I removed the jade lamp (also from my Nana) and the other odds and ends that sat on the top- we pulled it from the wall and the painting commenced.

I changed my mind on the color and then wanted to add patina. I added too much..the desk and I fought for a while. I was scaring myself that I had really messed this one up and to a piece that I loved. I  panicked a little – but in the end I think the struggles were worth it. I love the end result. And yet again I learned much.

I did not paint the inside yet. I wanted to leave some of the original finish uncovered for now- I didn’t want to cover up all the surfaces that Nana had touched just yet. I might paint the inside gray later and add a chalkboard finish on the desk when its it open.

I plan on this piece following me to my next home and there it will have a prominent spot- maybe even a place where you it can be seen right when you walk in the front door.

Painting Process-

All Paints Maison Blanche

  • Began with white paint on one side and changed my mind
  • Began again with Jolie Blonde – 3 coats.
  • Tried a glaze on the back and nope not good.
  • Used Organza Creme (leaves a metallic sheen kind of) in Pewter and I used too much and hated the effect.
  • Panicked!
  • So I went back over the piece with some of the yellow paint and kept working with it (painting it on and wiping off if needed) until I got the effect I wanted.
  • I painted the drawer hurricane grey and I added a stencil in the Organza Pewter
  • I distressed desk and drawer as needed
  • Used three coats of light brown wax (2 coats on legs) and when dry I buffed with a #0000 steel wool.
  • I “antiqued” the hardware by painting over it and then painting with a glaze in coal tar color.

Here is the gallery- :

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Back in time – memories of life

Sometimes when I least expect it a memory from my past will pop into my head like a little bubble. Sometimes the memory is fleeting and it’s gone in a second. More flashback than memory. But other times there are the memories that come front and center into my thought. They wind their way into my brain slowly unfolding a story from my past.

Some are bittersweet and some sad some make me cringe wishing I could go back in time and change them.  Change what I did or said. I wonder if I did the opposite if I would be where I am now – married to Kevin, mom of three adopted kids, living on a little farm in Maryland…would I have had breast cancer if I had done something in my past differently. Would that small change have sent me on a separate life trajectory than I am now on?

It’s interesting to think about I suppose but we can’t change the past. And if changing one thing back then would change who I am married to or who my kids are or would mean I wouldn’t have the sweet dog that sits by me while I write -well then I guess I don’t want to change a thing even the regrets -except if there was anything I could change to not have had cancer maybe I would have done that. And there we go again- to change that one thing might have changed many things not just the cancer avoidance.

But some memories I would never change and when they pop into my head I run through them as best as I can trying to pull all the moments into my brain -trying to feel like I felt in that moment.

…I am in Cape May NJ with my Nana -I’m 5 or 6. We are out for our evening fun after having dinner in the hotel dining room. She puts me on a little ride in a tiny amusement park that we frequent most nights. The ride is a set of little boats that float in a little pool. They go around and around. I love that ride.  Nana smiles and when the ride is over she takes my hand and walks me across the street to the boardwalk and we get ice cream or candy. The smells of Morrows Nut House permeate the air. I love that smell to this day. The beeps and blips of the nearby arcade call to me. She takes me in to play a couple games of Skee Ball. She plays Joker Poker and I watch -trying to understand the game. We walk back to the hotel along the boardwalk that front the ocean and I smell the salty air, I am tired. We cross the road back to our hotel -she helps me get ready for bed, tucks me in,  and kisses me goodnight. I feel loved and safe.

Those beach memories with Nana go on for years. As I got older my younger brother joined us as well as childhood friends, Nana would sit outside the arcade and patiently wait while we played for hours. Sometimes she would come in and play a bit and then retreat for then retreat to sit back outside. In later years, she would stay at the hotel and sit with friends she knew from 30 years of staying at the same hotel – and let us go out alone with a curfew that we never broke.

Even as a teen when my girlfriend and I would head out to the arcade but would instead meet up with some boys we had met at the beach earlier and the would proceeded to spend a little quiet time on the beach we got back in time so as not to make nana upset. I can remember that beach night so well..hiding behind an overturned light boat on the dark beach lit up by the moon – kissing a boy who smelled like mint gum.

Nana taught me manners she told me her rules on life and she would sometimes gossip to me about people. She was a huge part of my life until I was 23 -the year she passed -1987.. There isn’t a day that has gone by since that I haven’t thought of her. There is not one memory I have of my time spent with her that I would ever change-even the times she got mad at me- which was rare but you don’t get an Irish woman mad..it can be brutal -especially the silent treatment – that could go on for days. But I can pull those memories in and live them again with her. I still miss her.

…Then there is the first time I rode a horse -I was 11- I fell in love. I can’t remember the horses name but I spent years going to that farm – I rode a bus out to a big farm in the country every Saturday with my best friend -Eileen- and we would spend much of the day learning to ride and we also took a barn class where we learned about the care of horses. We would buy candy for the bus ride home. That was back when I didn’t care about my weight yet – I was a chubby girl but could ignore the comments of mean peers- it was before my battle with my body image began. I loved that candy on that bus.

One Saturday Eileen got to bring home a young dog that had been found on the farm. Her parents said yes to letting her have the dog – they named her Duchess. I was jealous- I remember- but we had a dog -I just wanted more. A feeling I’ve had all my life and a dream I have made come true in my adulthood.

I remember sitting on the bus with Duchess up front and Eileen petting her head in assurance. I remember getting off the bus and Duchess jumped into the blue station wagin to begin her new life in the suburbs. Duchess was part of our backdrop until she became old and gray and her job was done. What a memory. Eileen is still my friend – the longest friendship  i have had -of about 48 years- more like a sisterhood. There are so many memories with her in them.

…A Tom Petty song came on the other day and the memories washed over me.. I was back in high school. I was in a Ford pickup truck four-wheeling with one boyfriend in the fields that surrounded our town that are now giant homes or shopping centers. Then I am with first real love in high school in his Datsun, then we are sitting on the beach after prom with our close friends Debbi and Chris – we are drinking some beer and fighting about something. I liked fighting with boyfriends back then.

Then another memory…  I’m in the car coming home from a REO speed wagon concert with four girlfriends and we flash our bras at some truck driving by. I remember closing my eyes and laughing in embarrassment and I recall the crazy freeing feeling of it.

…I remember meeting Kevin – my now husband- in 1981 when I was a freshman in college.  We wouldn’t date or marry until 17 years later but I remember that first meeting and thinking he was kind of annoying. Never would I have given him a chance in 1981. So I am glad life to us on different paths until we both matured and I was ready to let a nice and solid human into my life.

…There is my wedding day where my hair looked awful. Surely if I could go back and make myself look better on that day I wouldn’t change the trajectory of my future too much would it?  I was such a wreck that day. Kevin and I both not loving being the center of attention even in the small crowd that we had gather for the event.  I woke in the middle after the wedding and ate some of,our wedding cake that  the staff left in our room. I  was really wishing I had said yes to some sandwiches that were offered in addition to the cake. In all my nervous anxiety I didn’t eat much during the reception. No wonder so many brides and sometimes grooms pass out on their wedding day. I was 35 and I couldn’t believe I was actually a Mrs. I never thought I would marry but always wanted to if the right person came along- and there was my new husband sitting up with me munching on cake at 3 am – a match made in heaven.

…Then there are the memories of adopting my kids. The first time I met them. There starting school, their soccer games , and school presentations. The years at the beach just being a family – the beach as an elixir for so much. We’ve marched so quickly to present day. There are so many  mom do-overs I wish I could  do. Parenting is hard and you do your best but I definitely have moments I’d like to take back and get another take.

For many years I went to therapy for my anxIety disorder.  Early on I lived by my bad memories. I was so negative and I lamented about the hurts of my past. Things I wished I could change but couldn’t. I don’t like to say it but I did had a bit of a victim mentality back then. One day my therapist did some regression therapy on me. Kind of a hypnosis and we went back to grab some memories out of my past and as we went along memories of my Nana would pop up. All good memories that would leave me with a lifted heart when I came up from the hypnosis. I realized the that I actually had great memories from my past and I could pull those up as easily as the bad ones.  As I practiced this over the years – on focusing on the good memories that came up and skimming over the bad ones I find I can’t recall as many bad memories anymore -especially the ones I held onto as a victim-the ones that held me back – the ones that even if I could go back in time and try to change them,  it would be very hard to do bc it was the work of others that caused the pain.

I still have my plenty of cringeworthy memories where I made the bad choice -dating someone bad for me- saying something mean to someone – the ones that I wish I could change. But I’ve learned that it’s better to focus on the memories that lift the heart. Even the sad ones. …The day I said goodbye to Nana, the day we filed bankruptcy , the day my son was cut from baseball with only one other kid (that happened yesterday). Those memories are sad but they are peppered with love and learning . I am so blessed to have had a grandmother that meant so much to me to this day, I learned a lot from the bankruptcy and how strong my marriage is, and well maybe holding my teen sons hand while we both wept about his being cut from the team -maybe that moment is sad and sweet at the same time.

So when Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” or ACDC’s “Dirty Deeds” comes on the radio I am sure to have memory pop into my head that I will grab onto and try to feel that moment just for a minute.  …I am with my friends at the pool where one friend is working as a lifeguard for the summer- we are laughing and smoking cigarettes and basking in the sun and the freedom of the summer -playing the radio too loud and annoying people around us. The radio echoing against the building that surround the pool. … Im singing at the top of my lungs with my husband and kids in the car as we drive somewhere. The kids used to bop along, then later they just cringed at our antics ..now they have earbuds in their ears listening to their own tunes.

I love living in the present but I admit that I am sentimental about my past because my memories hold so much joy along with some pain. It’s all in what you let in I suppose.

Not long ago we found a music toy that was given to us 15 years ago by a woman who cared for our son Luke when he was a baby -it hung on the crib so he could push the button and make the music play. I picked up the toy and it began to play (amazing batteries) and I was almost 15 year back in Luke’s nursery rubbing his leg as he was trying to get to sleep, then I was in our bedroom listening on the monitor as he talked to himself in his baby babble and hit the buttons on that toy and giggled as the music played and played.  Nope – not a memory I would ever want to change and I am so grateful for the moment of being pulled back into those moments again to hug the feeling close again. The smell of baby and the memory of the simpleness of that time even with the fatigue and cluelessness of being a new mom to an 8 month old baby.

To me many of memories are a gift. Even the ones I’d like to change. They are the part of the threads that makes up my life. It is My story good parts and bad.  I think I’m going to put on some Madonna or some Foreigner– or maybe some Kansas – oh those memories that the song “Dust in the wind” can conjure up.

tpetty

 

Don’t Forget Fido!

 

If you read my blog you know I am a crazy animal lover. I am especially partial or partially nuts about dogs. Dogs have been an important part of my existence ever since my childhood– they loved me unconditionally when I needed it. Dogs were and still are my solace.

I had a friend that I once used as a rescue referral that told the rescue “ If I was a dog, I would want to be a dog who lived with the Sweeney’s”. I considered that a compliment. When you are a dog at my house you are part of the family.

My pets are spoiled- pets in America today have it good. I know from the ads on TV that the pet supply industry is big business. Americans spent $56 billion on their pets last year (info on that here) and I helped build that number. I should be proud! Does everyone get gifts for their pets? Probably not, but I know many who do. I have my limits on my spoiling but I am definitely among those that love to indulge their pets from time to time with toys and other sundries.

When it came to holidays and pets I haven’t always bought them gifts for Christmas. I figured they got special treats and gifts all year long and, really, they have no idea it’s Christmas anyway. They just act excited on that day because they pick up the kid’s vibes- and mine -but it is so cute!

I know they don’t need these things. I just like to think they need these things but that’s my own issue – but I say -who cares! – they seem to like getting gifts and it makes me happy to give them stuff.

For the last two years we began to do Secret Santa for the humans in our home. I am not sure who it was (probably me) that decided it might be nice to add the dogs to the Secret Santa game. We each pick a pet name – we keep it a secret- and go and shop for something for the dog and they get it on Christmas day – they might even get a wrapped gift if their “Santa” wants to wrap it.

I can picture their faces when they get their gift. They may not know what Christmas is but they know a dog toy when they see one!

This year we almost didn’t do the Secret Santa thing for the dogs. I almost nixed it (I know – scrooge) because we each already picked a person in the family to buy a special gift for – with a $30 limit. I guess I didn’t want to stick anyone with having to buy another gift.

It turns out that my son, Luke, really wanted to do the Secret Santa – The Dog Version and he’s as cute as my dogs and has those eyes that melt my heart so we put the dog’s names in a bowl and picked the dogs names. We had quite a laugh that we were keeping this a secret from each other! Would we spill the beans to the dogs if we knew whom we each had?!

Ok so what was the limit going to be? I asked.

Luke said $30.

Really? $30 – per dog?

I felt that to be a bit excessive especially since I would essentially be the one buying the gift my son’s would be giving their dog. It’s easy to set a limit when you aren’t ponying up the cash!

The limit was set at $10.

I chose bandannas for my pick – Ridley – our newest dog. I have become big into dog embellishing. Not dressing up per se but I like a dog in a nice bandana or fun collar.

Ridley is one big giant fur ball(I just saw Star Wars and am thinking of renaming him Chewy) of an Old English Sheepdog and he is quite pleased wearing bandanas. The other dogs (excluding my perfect dog Rudy) think bandanas suck and they try to rip them off the dog wearing them. Rudy is also a bandana wearer and many of his have been found in the yard in shreds. Hate is ugly.

So I asked the humans in my family for purposes of this very important blog to tell me who they chose for their Secret Santa – The Dog Version – and what they got there dogs and why. I promised not to tell their chosen dog.

Luke had Lemon our witchy and super smart yellow lab – and he bought her that new yellow Frisbee. They are very close –those two—“she would have asked for that if she could speak” He said (I am so glad she can’t speak to be honest- she would not ever shut up). Lemon is quite the Frisbee dog. But she will eat the Frisbee if you leave her alone with it. I give it a week until its in shreds.

Kamilla chose Pierce our collie/shepherd mix. She got him treats because she thought, “he would enjoy them”. Yes you had him at T-R-E-A-T. He can spell. Those treats will be gone in 30 , 15, 10, 5 seconds.

Anyway – where was I? Suki – my mom’s Corgi mix. She is a little fiery spark plug and she already has a mountain -and I kid you not a mountain- of stuffed toys. When we visit my mom’s home there are always new stuffed animals – around but she has her favorites – her birthday cake, and her banana, and she has a kangaroo that has a baby in the mom’s pouch. I don’t understand that one at all – and I am wondering if my mom didn’t get that off of the Discovery Channel website and is trying to pass it off as a dog toy.

Suki isn’t a stuffy destroyer – which my dogs are – and my dog, Rudy, often goes with me to visit my mom and he has tried to de-stuff Suki’s stuffy’s many times but for such a small dog she packs a wicked snarl and Rudy has only managed to steal and gut one toy from her.

Kevin drew Suki’s name. I asked him today what he chose and why. He chose…a stuffy(another one?)… it’s an elephant. So why did Kevin choose the elephant I asked…”It was cheap- it was in the $3.99 bin” he said. Well I burst out laughing at that one. I don’t know why I was expecting a much deeper answer. It’s a dog toy- he wasn’t going to put much thought into it.

My son has Rudy our Golden and he bought Rudy a Bandana. Why I asked- “because you told me to get him that.” Well he is right I did give him that gift idea. I am excited to see what he chose for him. Rudy looks so good in bandanas!

Have I gone through all six dogs yet? Nope — I missed Reese our pit mix. Well he’s one lucky guy because my mom chose him, and Kevin also bought him a new Washington Redskins collar yesterday. Hey we are contenders this year- in a terrible division but we are in the mix so a new collar showing our support was perfect. And Reese just likes anything – well except for getting his nails clipped.

My mom- who officially chose Reese – had already gotten all the dogs gifts well before we picked names and I forgot to ask her what she got them. It didn’t occur to me until now that the gifts she bought for them would have been enough and we could have saved the money and not bought them anything else- but what fun would that be? Zero fun. I vote for fun.

Yesterday, I went out shopping for some last minute human gifts but don’t you know when I was in Home Goods. They have grown a once very small pet section into a small pet store inside their store. Wouldn’t you know that I found a huge deal on a huge orthopedic pet bed. It was way over the $10 budget we set but I had to get it for Ridley who is old and would appreciate (at least I thought he should appreciate) such a bed and maybe he wouldn’t need to sleep on the couch all the time. If it doesn’t work out for him – and it might not because he really loves couches – I think it could be a decent guest bed.

I got caught up in the fun of it and my pets deserve it because they make me happy. Giving to them makes me happy. I like happy. Lately I have needed some extra happy. They don’t have be able to pick a name to give a human a gift -they give their gift of love everyday. Well the dogs do – and the cats do sometimes when they feel like it – and my horses give some love on Mondays and Fridays only because horses are like that -and the Chickens and ducks never give us love but they give us eggs so all in all it is win/win with our little group of critters here in our farm.

PostScript: Ridley got his new bed. He looked at it, stood on it, circled around on it, sat on it, got up and went over to the couch got on it and went to sleep. I had a good giggle over that. I laughed harder when Pierce ate all his treats in a nano-second and Rudy attempted to eat the package the treats came in. Every single dollar spent was worth it- these guys make me smile everyday!

Merry Christmas to you and yours….

 

  

    
    
  

Goodbyes and love  – Ball of sad

On Sunday, we took two of our three teens –my daughter and one of my sons- to Casey Hospice House in Rockville, MD to say goodbye to their grandfather -my father-in-law. We pulled up to a well-manicured building that looked pretty new. I could see in the summer the grounds would be quite beautiful.

I had given my three children – my boys, age 15, and my daughter, age 17, the choice of going to see him or to stay home. It’s a personal choice and I told them it was ok whatever they chose. Two of them felt like they wanted to say goodbye. One of my sons didn’t feel like he could handle seeing his grandfather. I could tell that he was anxious about it and I told him it was ok that whatever he decided was the right choice for him and there was no pressure for him to go.

It’s one of those things you don’t want your kids to have to face but I also know death is as much a part of life as living is. If they felt ready to see it then I was ok with that.

I don’t do well with death. I have lost a number of people in my life and it has never gotten easier but I have learned that the more I open myself to feeling the sadness and grief instead of running from it the more I am able to face it.

We had been losing Dad for a number of years to Alzheimer’s.  His condition has gotten much worse over the last 6 months. He is now in what is called late-stage Alzheimer’s. Last week he lost the ability to walk, eat on his own, and communicate clearly. He didn’t know his home anymore and became agitated and would try to ask if someone could take him home.

Dad and my mother-in-law have been being cared for at home by my brother-in -law who made their care his full time job 3 years ago. He gets relief from 2 other brothers regularly and the rest of us try to pitch in when we can. It has been a blessing that he has been able to be home for so long. Recently in home hospice care had also started at their primary doctors recommendation so they had a number of nurses, aides, and social workers coming in as well.

With six sons it has been possible for Dad to have home care until this past week when he took the big turn downward and the social worker that visited them a couple times a week recommended he go to a hospice house to be evaluated to see if he should be moved to a nursing facility or if he could go back home with 24 hour nursing care. Sadly, in hospice he began declining and it looks like he will be leaving us soon.

This was my first time in a hospice house and I was nervous wondering what it might be like.  Would my kids be freaked out? Would I? But I found the place comforting and warm. There was a big fireplace and sitting area. There were quite a few people sitting on comfortable looking couches by the fire. The staff was very nice and before we went into the room they updated Kevin on his fathers condition. She said he was declining but couldn’t give a timeframe of when he might pass.

We walked into a nice private room with a lounge chair and a window bench. My eyes went to the bed where the man I’ve know as Dad for 18 years lay sleeping soundly. He looked peaceful but that’s when reality hit me that he was really going to leave us soon and the tears began.

Though we had been saying goodbye to him for so long as his memory slipped away we still had his body- now we were really going to lose all of him. It is so final.  I wanted to hide my tears from my kids. But I couldn’t and I realized it was ok. Kevin and I could show our grief because that is part of life too.

I think in some ways I am relieved that he will be released from the clutches of Alzheimer’s that has taken away much of his quality of life. But the other part of me wants to keep him here because I love him so much and I am crushed by the reality that he will be physically gone. I also am so sad for my mother-in-law because she is losing the man she has been married to for 68 years.

My father-in-law was resting peacefully thanks to medication. Gone was the agitated and confused man from a few days before when he didn’t know his home was home anymore. I was glad my kids saw him like this – peaceful. I think seeing him upset would have been harder.

I leaned over and rubbed his warm shoulder and prayed for a bit and then I began talking out loud to him. I wanted my kids to feel free to speak to him if they felt like it- but they didn’t have to do anything. This was the first time they had ever been to a care facility such as this. I was worried they would be afraid. I wanted to somehow put them at ease but they were handling it ok.

We left my husband to be alone with his dad for a while. My kids and I sat together on old rocking chairs in the hallway- we cried and we talked.  I kept asking if they were ok. My son said he was shaken because he “hadn’t done anything like this before”- (saying goodbye to someone he knew that was going to die). He and my daughter both said they were glad they came to say their goodbyes but that it was very hard.

When Kevin came out of the room to get us I asked the kids if they wanted to go back in and they both said yes. I’m glad they wanted to – I think they’ll always know they got to say goodbye. I think it is closure for them.

I leaned over the man that has loved me like a daughter and whispered a few things in his ear – then I kissed his head.

I thanked him for loving me like his own child. I thanked him for raising the most wonderful son. I told him I would take care of Kevin, and I asked Dad to visit me in my dreams to let me know he is ok.

My son hugged him – tears flowing. He is my sensitive kid and I worried he would hold it all in. I’ll try to talk with him often over the next week. My heart hurts for my kid’s pain.

My daughter stood crying in the doorway – I can tell she was scared but didn’t want to be. She was faced looking into the hall and she would turn and look at Dad and then turn away and try not to cry but it wasn’t working. She’s pretty tough and I think this tug at her emotions threw her off a bit. She doesn’t like to cry but she let the tears come and I think this was good for her. It hurt me to see her so saddened but for her to let that out is a big deal.

We went to leave and my heart dropped. This may be the final goodbye. I could hardly step from the room. I kissed him again and I walked out – my heart breaking and my eyes zooming in on the exit door. I needed to get out before the dam broke.

I pushed out of the door and the sobs came. I turned around and looked at the rest of my family and realized we were all crying too. When we got back to the car we sat there for a little while trying to get it together. We were one ball of sad – but we were sad together.

I didn’t feel like going home right away and I felt like doing something happy. So we drove to see a big Christmas light display in a park not far away.

I think it lightened my kids’ mood and it did lighten mine. Kevin seemed glad for the distraction.

Sometimes the blend of sadness and happy and grief and joy that can exist in one day astounds me. They all exist at each second of the day. When we are sad and grieving we want life to stop and wait because we are so consumed with it but the world still throws some happiness and joy in there. Sometimes we experience them all in one day – it’s quite amazing.

I think Dad would have liked those lights. I remember when we all went to walk through a Christmas light display when we had just one small baby boy.  Dad picked our little son up and walked through the light displays reliving the wonder through a little boy’s eyes.

I’ll miss that man.

I told my kids that this is one of the hard parts of life – the part that we often want to avoid. But really this sadness is also a gift. This sadness comes because we loved someone so much. Love is a true blessing and when we feel grief it’s because we opened ourselves to connection and love.  The grief is hard  -but how great was that love. The pain is worth it.

 

  
  

The sad under the happy 

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We checked into the Marriott on a balmy December Saturday. It was unseasonably warm for a Christmas celebration weekend in Baltimore, MD. My husband Kevin and I were there to see the Christmas Parade in the harbor. We splurged on the hotel – we were celebrating my 52nd birthday a little early as my birthday falls three days before Christmas and it is often very busy around that week that any getaway would not work.

There was a beautiful Christmas tree in the lobby and the hotel bustled with visitors. There was a doorman and valet parking and a bellman. The room with a view of Baltimore Harbor did not disappoint. It felt a little decadent- a little too much- but it felt really good to be able to splurge like this. The last two years had been really, really hard. Serious illness and then debt from the medical bills, another home that we had been renting out but losing money on was on the market but wouldn’t sell, and loss of income for various reasons from our jobs left us in bad financial shape.

We had tried various ways to dig out but it just seemed like things were getting worse. Finally for many reasons we decided to file bankruptcy. It was tough but in light of having faced cancer it wasn’t as scary as it may have been otherwise. Then just when we thought things were looking up – our other house had a contract for sale on it – the bank decided to foreclose. It really was a stressful time.

So here we were five months later in a hotel in Baltimore celebrating and splurging a bit. Kevin began a new job in October with better pay. Things are going better. We have a little room to breath.

We had a nice time tooling around the harbor and Fells point each time we go I see something new. Each time I get a better feel for the city and its charms.

This time there was quite a celebration going on in Fells Point. There were bands and vendors in the square. Some vendors had hot libations like spiked eggnog and cider, and some had clothing, others jewelry. I had to stop and photograph the dogs – there were so many dogs. The Fells Point area is very dog friendly. A fun looking band was taking a break promising to start up again soon.

Kevin and I hustled and bustled our way through some bars and some appetizers. We felt the holiday buzz. We watched the boats in the harbor from our room – not the fanfare I thought it would be but the boats that participated were done up nicely. I can hear people cheering for them from our room with the harbor view.

It was fun and one could get caught up in this great place and how perfect it all is. And it is wonderful. I love it there but each time I go I also see the other side. The sad side. The sad under the happy.

I see the homeless person on the corner asking for a dollar or two. I see the hustlers in the crowd doing their thing angling for money.  I read the warnings in flyer that said to watch out for people dressed in character suits asking for money as they aren’t part of this event or that. The flyer warns that they are just trying to get your cash. In the evening I see a man alone on a set of dark building steps head in his hands. We quicken our steps but I don’t think we need to fear for ourselves. Part of me wants to see what’s wrong.

Some social workers and even non-professionals say it is unhealthy to give money to the homeless because they may use it to buy drugs and alcohol. I decided long ago that this may be true but I don’t really care. I feel good giving them money and it is not my job to judge. It is my job to love and to show compassion.

I feel badly that I can’t help them all. I feel badly saying no – but sometimes you have to. Sometimes it’s as simple as having run out of cash in your own pocket.

I think my guilt over splurging on the weekend and having to say no to the needy sometimes comes from way back.

When I was young I grew up in Potomac, MD an affluent area outside of Washington, DC. I didn’t realize it was affluent until I was maybe 10 or 11. Perhaps that is the age that differences dawn on you in your awareness. I remember going to the Redskins games on Sundays. We always had season tickets and sometimes we would park outside the stadium on someone’s lawn for a small fee. We had done it for years but at some point I realized these city kids in their worn clothes in front of their worn homes lived very differently than I did. I was kind of embarrassed by that.

Later when I started college my best friend and I were attending the same school. When we went to orientation some other freshman asked us where we lived. When we said Potomac, MD they gave us a hard time. They joked that we were rich kids and I really didn’t like it. So I began to say I was from Rockville, MD (affluent now but then more regular middle class).

I was never comfortable with the label. I was never comfortable with wealth for that matter. I am sure it is because it represented more negative things to me than positive. I grew up where money was over- valued and I spent much of my life not valuing it enough. I was not a saver and I spent and spent – rejecting what had been drilled in me from youth. I think there was a happy medium and maybe I am just beginning to understand it.

I still carry the guilt of being some “rich” kid (though we weren’t rich by todays standards). In my world money did not bring happiness – for me giving away money or spending it did. I feel badly sometimes when I indulge on myself and if I can’t give to everyone I meet on the street. I need to let go of that and I am working on it. I deserve to splurge sometimes and celebrate.

After the boat parade, we head to Mustang Alley’s a bar and bowling Alley (cool right?) for a little bite to eat. In a bar there are two holiday parties going on and people are exchanging gifts – doing that elephant exchange thing- all laughing at the silly gifts. I watch as one woman takes the gift from her officemate. Though I can’t see what the gift is I know it was something everyone wanted just by the groans. The place is full of cheer. We head back to the hotel for dessert in the hotel restaurant. I just want to eat there because it feels good to sit in the pretty restaurant and sip coffee and have dessert.

I am so drawn to Baltimore – the happy and the sad. My connection runs so deep that sometimes I dream about buying a small studio for weekend getaways. Kevin and talk about how great that would be to have a little place in the city.

There has been unrest in Baltimore lately. The news of the riots saddened me. But it doesn’t take away from my love of the place. It is the reality of a city. There are problems – just like anywhere but more magnified because you have more people in a city thus more diversity – and thus more differences and some of those differences lead to anger and unhappiness. Maybe if I lived there I would feel differently about it all. Maybe the charm would leave me. But right now it is a place I love to visit.

I am not a city person by nature. I grew up in the burbs and now I live in the country. I love the country and have been drawn to nature and the outdoors my entire life. The city is such the opposite of where I live. The energy and the pace are so awakening.

When I was 22 I lived for a year in Boston. I was fresh out of college and moved there on a whim (ok I followed a boy) and I was taken by the juxtaposition of the wealth and the poverty. I remember one morning leaving my apartment and a homeless man was asleep in the entry of the building. The stench of liquor was pretty fierce. My boyfriend was disgusted that this man was in the vestibule. I felt happy he was able to find a semi-warm place to sleep.

I rode the subway to work and had a bit of a walk to my building everyday and I had “my” homeless person that I took care of each day. A number of my coworkers did the same. A few cigarettes here and a few dollars there- a muffin or a coffee some mornings- it was the best we could do I suppose. By the time we left for the day our homeless charges had moved on and were replaced by others. But we knew ours would be back in the morning.

It became part of the scenery. We would see guys in the common hustling the tourists with their card games or the ball and cup game. We would watch. It wasn’t the haves and the have-nots anymore when you lived there it was just all part of the city.

On the way out of Baltimore, I see the stadiums that sit next to a neighborhood where children who grow under their shadows. They hear the games but may never be able to go BC their parents can’t afford it.

As we drive onto the freeway, I see a small wooden fort next to the a creek – there are some plastic chairs sitting out front right – it is next to the fancy new Horseshoe casino. Does anyone know who lives there? Does anyone check? I wonder. It’s gone as fast as I see it. But I can still see it in my mind.

I’m actually grateful to notice these things. This is reality. This is what makes life bittersweet. Poverty is everywhere- it is just magnified in the backdrop of the city. I want to fix it but I realize I can’t – I can only do what I can do. The guilt may be something I am always working on.