Monthly Archives: July 2016

Back to Reality, It’s Normal

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It’s normal.  I am back in my (new) reality.  I woke up with an early to-do list and accomplished three errands before the start of the 11:00 a.m. -2:00 p.m. window allotted for my donation pick-up.  I was so excited to finally be able to donate the 7 bags of clothing (mostly mine) and linens and the 2 boxes and 2 bags of books.  My dining room will be back to “normal.”  The real excitement came from my anticipation of the donation of 2 no longer needed patio sets and a doghouse that was never used by our dog.  I am trying to condense without dealing with anything too emotional…

It’s normal.  The nice guys showed up just after 11:00 a.m. and looked at the patio sets (they are too worn) and the doghouse (we don’t take dog houses).  My dreams were shattered!  I think the steep steps up the side of the house-the only way to get things up to street level, might have had something to do with it, but it could just be that they look worse that I thought they did.  I showed them the bags and boxes, which they quickly took out to the truck.  They gave me my itemized tax receipt and off they went.  It was only after the truck drove off, that I remembered I hadn’t given them the items in the garage!  I totally forgot about it even though I had made a list so I wouldn’t forget.  I forget about the list.

It’s normal.  This is my new reality.  Fleeting thoughts, absent-mindedness, moments of extreme energy followed by the inability to move at all are now my normal.  Looking for distractions and the desire to be anywhere but where I am.  Every book I read says that it is normal, after going through a loss, trauma, when trying to function, to be forgetful, to act in ways other than one’s usual manner, but for someone who has functioned as a pretty organized person for most of her life, this doesn’t really feel comfortable and I crave my old normal.  Meanwhile, I have a 2-drawer file cabinet, 2 used patio sets, some plastic outdoor chairs and a cool doghouse up for grabs!

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Solo

My first solo trip, I am in the Bay, San Francisco and Berkeley to be exact, and I’ll be honest, I am not totally alone, staying with my cousin and visiting my daughter, but I flew here and am navigating the cities myself. I have used Lyft, Uber and BART. What started out, as a scary unknown has become a familiar luxury, and an interesting adventure.

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These amazing sunflowers were taller than me!

 

The Lyft and Uber drivers have been pleasant for the most part and some have been really interesting. I have been able to view the city without worrying about navigating it myself so I have seen amazing architecture, bustling streets, people walking, biking, taking dogs for a stroll and the many homeless people here.

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BART is like a ride at Disneyland complete with the voice announcing incoming trains and the stops along the way. Interacting with the other riders is pleasant and people aren’t afraid to strike up a conversation. It is so different from the solitude car culture of L.A. that I am used to.

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Walking around Berkeley is relaxing and the homes and gardens charming. The climate brings out the best in both vegetables and flowers. The front gardens are sometimes tame but usually haphazard, with a variety of flowers and whimsical decorations. Walking gives me time to think and I don’t distract myself by talking on the phone, or listening to music. I want to hear the world around me and notice everything.

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This first solo trip gave me a lot of anxiety as it was approaching, but I feel like I have crossed a hurdle and can relax a little, at least in this one new experience, and hopefully in the other new solo areas of my life.

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Surviving with Battle Scars Wrapped in Love

It is not the strongest of the species that survive,

nor the most intelligent,

but the one most responsive to change.

~Charles Darwin

 

I looked at the calendar on July 10th are realized that it had been three-month since I took Gary to the Emergency Room that Sunday night, April 10th. That Sunday was the last day we would spend together, but I didn’t know that then. That evening, though he wasn’t feeling well, we sat together watching TV. While I worried, he tried to reassure me that some days were harder than others during his post cancer-surgery recovery. When we talked to my cousin, who is a doctor, and he talked to Gary, listening to him struggle to get a good breath, we were told to go to the ER, now. He was diagnosed with sepsis. What followed was the last- minute strong fight through surgery (once again), two procedures and the gradual slipping away from this world, to another.

 

It’s been three months, but the days are long and complicated. Complicated by changing moods, a million decisions small and large, new routines, and the empty vast space of departure. I never know if I will wake up sad or mad and tear bursts are unpredictable and often have terrible timing. I don’t want to scare people away with my sadness, which is not always in my control, and I need people. I find myself with a lot of time alone and am reading, looking for answers in the experiences of others brave enough to write about their survival, their journeys and those who share their expertise:

Martha Whitmore Hickman’s Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations for Working Through Grief

Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking

Brook Noel & Pamela D. Blair, Ph.D.’s I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye

Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.’s Healing A Spouse’s Grieving Heart

Genevieve Davis Ginsburg, M.S.’s Widow to Widow

 

It’s been three months since we last spoke, and as he was wheeled to the OR, morphine comfortable, with scared eyes resigned to fate, I made him promise to fight and stay strong, something I had said often during trying times over the past 37 years we shared. The doctors were amazed by his strength saying most people would not have survived the sepsis surgery, amazed that he had been joking around in the morning, talking about Porsches, describing his on order to arrive in June. After surgery, he was kept sedated awaiting the following procedures to complete closure. We never got closure with each other because we never spoke again. We never even shared another glance.

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I became an expert at signs. Signs on the monitors, signs of pain, signs of fluid levels, breathing, heart rate and the more difficult to read signs in the faces of the nursing staff as they changed shifts and gave updates to the next nurse on duty. I learned to decode the medical jargon during rounds, each morning, listening for encouraging signs. Stable is good. Sitting in the dark room, illuminated only by numbers on machines and blinking horizontal lines, I looked at my husband knowing something had shifted and he was leaving. I didn’t say this, because I hang onto the belief that I have some control and thoughts become things, so why would I jinx it? I didn’t say it, but I felt it. I felt Gary in the room, but not necessarily in his body.

 

I went home at 11:00 p.m. on April 20th. It happened in 14 seconds. His heart stopped at 2:59 a.m. I was called at 3:14 a.m. They performed (mandatory) resuscitation for 30 minutes. I arrived at 3:30 a.m. Time of Death is listed at 3:29 a.m. Since then I have been looking for signs. Signs I missed. Signs the doctors missed. Signs the nurses missed. There are really no answers. It seems this is a common reaction, trying to make sense of that which makes no sense, as if finding the missed sign could trigger a rewind. If only.

 

I am looking for signs now, the common ones of the folklore told to me, when the clock shows 11:11 (a message from one on “the other side”), visiting birds (like those that sit on the wire watching me, air-brushed clouds, a song on the radio or a small paper message found in a file. I am looking for a sign to let me know he is OK somehow, happier maybe, with long-lost friends and family. As time goes on, that day, April 10th gets further away and I struggle to hold on to feelings, his voice, that life before. I look for signs that I will be OK. A restful night’s sleep, a nice, helpful voice on the telephone, figuring out how to take care of this business of moving on, and glimmers of a meaningful future.

 

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Back on the Mat

 

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This was the week. My Hay House calendar for Tuesday said “Today is the beginning of a positive turning point for me.” I decided to take that seriously and get up and go out into the world of my former life. I went for a 2 mile walk and felt pretty accomplished, a little out of shape, but happier. I considered it a meditation walk, contemplating the houses, trees, birds, dogs out for their morning walks and listening to the sounds in the neighborhood and in my head.

Wednesday I decided to take the big step and return to yoga. I haven’t been since early March, unable to face the introspection and solitude on my yoga mat, but my body craved the stretch, the familiar asanas and the quiet reward of the savasana at the end of class. I walked into the studio and was asked if I had cancelled my membership. No, I’ve just been gone for a while. I’ve had some stuff going on. I have seen the payment going out of my account each month. No problem. Walking into the room I run into a teacher I know who is a member of my community. She knows everything and gives me a hug and encouragement, “It will be good, just what you need, really.” I hope so.

Laying out my mat, I assemble the familiar props, foam blocks, blankets and a strap; I lay down, breathing in the calm. The teacher is smiling and positive, speaking slowly and demonstrating every new posture and walking around the room helping to make small adjustments. The bamboo floor is smooth and lovely, the blue walls are tranquil and the view out the windows is of children playing on a leafy climbing structure. I breathe, arms circling up and folding forward, then fingertips to shins stretching out and folding down again. Stepping back into plank, the most difficult for me, I breathe into the rigidity of the pose and then down, chaturanga dandasana, pushing slightly up to a low cobra and elevating into downward facing dog. Stepping forward on my mat, arms circling, reaching up, I look up at my hands and then bring them to my heart center. There is nowhere else to look, except in my heart.

Today I went to yoga, the second day back was not as dramatic, no questions, just smiles and hellos by name. I settled in and welcomed the calm, the warmth of the room and the returning familiarity of sun salutations. Today we work on balance. Triangle pose and preparation for half-moon, standing on one leg, lifting the other straight out and up using the foam block for support. I need practice on balancing, my leg wobbles and I am glad for the support of the block but it still doesn’t guarantee an easy balance. It still takes work, repositioning and focusing on the breathing through it all.

 

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Holding On-On Hold

FullSizeRenderToday is the third day in a row I have waited on hold with the Social Security office. I have received different information from every person I have spoken to and all insist I must talk to the original clams specialist with whom I met at my office appointment. The problem is that person omitted information, which caused me to file a claim incorrectly. It’s a moot point though since she will not pick up her line when I am transferred to it, answer messages from the interoffice system sent by the kind lady who answers the phone for questions, or return my calls from voice messages I leave or from the messages sent by the nice phone lady. The claims specialist’s mistake could potentially cost me thousands of dollars. I have sent in the needed paperwork but haven’t received confirmation of their receipt.

This is the 10th week I have spent making phone calls, being placed on hold, inadvertently (or perhaps purposefully) being disconnected and speaking to endless bureaucratic workers who really have no interest in me, my confusion or my grief. As the weeks slip by, I’ve memorized the music played by each institution as I wait on hold. I’ve been listening to the same music now for 25 minutes, but I know it oh so well from the many previous sessions.

This is the 50th day (not including weekends of course) I have spent wading through paperwork, trying to understand things I don’t understand easily and those I don’t want to have to understand. I am unraveling a life entwined and trying to get a grip on how to survive on hold.

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Independence

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It’s Independence Day and I am practicing. I started the day with family in my nest and as they flew off in different directions, I found myself sitting alone in the moment. The day loomed before me, hours of nothing and my mind filled with lists of things to get done. The tasks are really mine alone and though I can ask for opinions and assistance I am draining my resources.

Today’s theme reminds me to try to think of things I can do by myself so I start with laundry, my old standby. I tidy up from a weekend of the hustle and bustle of busy family to the sound of the old Kit Cat Clock, getting everything restored to its original status. Beds made, bathrooms restocked with fresh towels, leftovers disposed of and those hours are still there.

I decide to take care of business so I log on and file a luckily purchased insurance claim to get a refund for the tickets to a concert hopefully purchased back in March. The claim requires documentation to support the needed refund so I attach the death certificate. That should suffice and I am notified by email that I should hear something within 10 days.

I’ve been Independent for a couple of hours when I hear the familiar ring tone of my sister calling. She provides a much-needed pep talk filled with good suggestions and experienced advice, the kind sisters know how to dose out, with measured understanding and sympathy. There is no time limit and I relax into the comfort of our conversation, the kind you can have with someone you’ve known for almost your entire life and have shared parents, childhood bedrooms and the majority of the firsts in your life with.

I hang up and feel better, ready to step into Independence again and take a hard look at the living room bookcase. I am kind, but ruthless to the departing companions. They have been read, pages turned and information absorbed. It’s time for them to be shared and knowing they will have a new life allows me to feel less sad filling the bag, as long as I repeat that over and over in my head. New life, new life, new life…

It occurs to me that is what I wish for myself as I practice my Independence, a new life, a chance to feel some peace and some calm without waiting for shoes to drop. A life with some hopefulness, healthy habits, creative hobbies, a family circle with a different configuration but love as strong as always and friendships old and new.

With planes flying love overhead and the promise of fireworks approaching, the sky seems filled with celebration, recognition of hard-fought freedoms. I look up at the pink tinged turquoise sky (my mom used to call it sky-blue-pink) and look for a sign of Gary; birds resting on the wires, hawks circling, bats coming out to feast, the first stars twinkling but like the new moon, almost invisible, he hides somewhere, making my Independence the only thing to hold on to tonight.

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Comfortable Books

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The books are comfortable on their shelves. They are organized in the semi-haphazard way that works for me and since I feel comfortable surrounded by books, every room in my house (with the exception of the bathroom, which has a basket) has at least one bookcase. I grew up surrounded by books, being read to from birth, maybe even before, and I still have some of my original books, Goodnight Moon, Moy Moy (signed by Leo Politi with a water-color flair), The Umbrella, Lucy McLockett, The Birthday Party by Ruth Krauss, Harold and the Purple Crayon, and a collection of Beatrix Potter stories. I am not even sure that all of these books are still in print. They are on the top shelf as the crown jewels to my extensive children’s book collection.FullSizeRenderMost are too dear to part with and I can remember reading each one to my daughters during our traditional “three books before bed” story time each night. Of course, books were read during the day too, and kept in baskets, tubs and bookcases around the house for easy access. My mother managed a children’s bookstore for twenty years after she retired from teaching English and creative writing and found it impossible to visit my daughters without bringing a book for each one of them.  Leo Politi

 

 

The books are comfortable on their shelves. The dining room houses two tall bookcases filled with more mature memories, books belonging to my mother, then in her late 20’s and friends with Ray Bradbury, Norman Cousins (who was my godfather) and other young emerging writers of the time, those from my reading past and on a top shelf, the biographies of musicians that could suck Gary into reading. There are books with beautiful photography of Yosemite and hopeful gardening books for someday.FullSizeRender_2

The shelves of books are organized thematically: one bookcase holds the spiritual books, a bible from Gary’s bar mitzvah, and books seeking to answer the questions that seem to have no answers.  FullSizeRender_1

 

The books are comfortable on their shelves. The living room bookcase holds books more current, books about finances, organizing and an entire shelf devoted to books on writing. Most books here have been recommended by people I hold in high regard and whose opinions I respect, and though some have only been half-read, my stopping point noted by a bookmark, all have been started. The writing books have been read more than once and their exercises practiced to lend motivation during the times when I felt stuck or that I needed to expand. Some books here arrived as gifts of distraction, comedic books and popular books from the bestseller list to even out the fiction/non-fiction aspect of the bookcase.IMG_2049

The books are comfortable on their shelves. The small bedroom bookcase next to my bed holds treasured books, books that must reside close by, books with meditations to reflect on nightly and a few I need to look at just to regain a sense of composure and that feeling that friends are close by. Some stand tall and others rest on their sides, nestled together like long time family members who have lived together so long they take each other for granted. I don’t take them for granted and when I hold them, I remember when and why each one came into my life and take comfort in the special place they hold in my heart.FullSizeRender_3

The books are comfortable on their shelves. I was comfortable too, but now I find that I have to downsize, begin to purge or at least to sort through the lifetime accumulation of possessions in residence. I thought books would be the easiest things to start with, easier than say, clothes or mementos, but these books have personalities and they are so comfortable on their shelves. They look back at me and I find it hard to pick them up off the shelf and put them in a box. It’s just hard sometimes to say goodbye.

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Filed under books, change, Life thoughts, reading

Learning to Eat

Everything is unfamiliar. My husband of 34 years, Gary, died on April 21st and I find myself drifting, falling continually no longer sure of my life.  I know who I am, but who am I now as half of my marriage?  The huge, gaping hole is everywhere; in my living room, in the kitchen, in the bathroom, in the bedroom and sadly in Gary’s “drum room,” his sacred space of music and memories.  There is one car in the driveway and a closet half-filled with clothes that will never be worn by him again.  I don’t know what to do with these unnecessary spaces. I sit on my side of the couch, sleep on my side of the bed and use my sink in the bathroom.  There is too much emptiness.

Everything is unfamiliar.  I have to learn to eat again but eating at home requires shopping for food in the stores we used to frequent.  I find myself going to new markets void of memories, buying small amounts of food; two nectarines, three bananas, two individual containers of yogurt, almond milk for my coffee.  That should last a couple of days.  Other meals are eaten out or brought in.  I haven’t cooked in two months because cooking for myself doesn’t make sense.  Eating at our family kitchen table, the table that needed six chairs for many years because we were a family of six, including my mom, sharing conversations and meals, feels like I am merely giving my body fuel.  Our specialties:  taco night, huge salads, sautéed vegetables, linguine and clams, chili, delicious barbecue (Gary’s specialty), my mother’s family recipes of chicken, pot roast, brisket and of course latkes, now seem like distant memories.  I find myself wondering why I need a fully stocked kitchen.

Everything is unfamiliar.  The bookends of my day, the good mornings and good nights, have vanished and the stillness of a quiet house is louder than I ever could have imagined.  There is endless space and it is energetically empty.  Half-finished books and others waiting to be read and gathering dust are finding their way to the “give away” box.  Those are the easy things to part with and I tackle them first.  Anything that has no particular memory attached to it is easier to let go of.  Papers are the best because so many are unneeded and so easy to shred.  I am seeking lightness and this helps.

Everything is unfamiliar.  I find myself evaluating my own clothes and books.  What do I really need?  Will I ever read that book again?  Do those clothes make me feel good or are they just around because they are still wearable and I feel guilty getting rid of perfectly good clothes?  I need to feel good, feel pretty, and feel like I am somehow still the me I have always known.  I need to feel that all of my possessions have a meaning, are beautiful or serve a purpose and that there is somehow an order in this chaos of my life.

Everything is unfamiliar.  Learning to eat is sometimes easier while on the couch watching TV.  Making plans with friends at the end of the day is a way to have something to look forward to.  I am falling, with moments of touching down on new experiences thankfully providing moments of distraction before I begin to fall again.  I am drifting from task to task, unable to focus very long on any one thing before I am overwhelmed with sadness, or sometimes lately, anger at the unfairness of it all.  I make lists each day of things I need to do, have to do, or want to accomplish and long for list-free days filled with fun and adventure. I daydream of a new, familiar life that will allow me to breath deeply and relax with an exhale. I will learn to eat again, at restaurants with friends, at my daughters’ houses, on the couch watching TV, maybe at the kitchen table enjoying a cooked meal.

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