Where the light peeks through

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Everything is relative and perspective is what makes the difference. My mother dislikes sunny days. I love them. She likes cold weather, the hotter the better for me. I read fiction, mostly. I have a friend who reads non-fiction almost exclusively. Cats for me, dogs for a friend.

We’re all different and what matters to me may or may not matter to you. Doesn’t mean either of us is more or less than the other, just that we’re not the same. Though different, we’re all deserving of love and consideration. What matters is that we remain true to ourselves and do what’s right and best for us in our own lives.

You can’t see life from my perspective, and I can’t see it from yours. You are upset about the wind. I’m rejoicing in the moonlight. I can say to you, “Forget about the wind! Look at the moon!” You say to me, “Are you crazy? Who cares about the moon? I’m freezing!”

Both things are present; both are true. Which is the “best” way to think about that situation?

It’s all in the perspective. We are each of us entitled to our view of the world. No one sees things in exactly the same way I do. I can tell you what I think and feel, and you can share your perspective with me, but neither of us can get inside the other’s head and really know what the view is like from there.

This is something I’ve struggled with all of my life, especially with my mother. When I was young, I simply adopted her view of the world in order to be accepted. I learned early on that she wasn’t at all interested in my view, and if I made the mistake of sharing my thoughts or feelings about anything, she was quick to explain all the ways in which my view was incorrect. Period.

I was just wrong. All the time. So I simply dissolved into an extension of her. It took a long time and therapy to distinguish myself finally from her, and to believe that the way in which I perceived things, including myself, was equally as true as her view. I’m not wrong, just different.

We’re not the same person. She’s not wrong, and neither am I.

Living with her again these last 7 years has certainly put this principle to the test. It’s a challenge everyday for each of us to accept the other as she is. There is lots of common ground, and we meet there and enjoy each other’s company most of the time.

Every so often, though, we unintentionally prod old bruises and one of us is tempted to think of the other as the villain and lash out in retaliation. Suddenly I’m 6 years old again, only now I’m not afraid to speak up for myself. I have to remember, though, that she’s not a villain; she is simply a human being doing the best she knows how to do – always was – and that ultimately she wants the same things I do: to be loved, to feel safe, and to be happy.

When I see her that way, with compassion, everything changes and we’re back on common ground again. We are the same, and we are different. Both things are true.

Nobody’s wrong, and no one is to blame. We’re different, and we’re both okay as we are.

We’re all okay, just as we are. I feel the wind, you see the moon.

It’s all good.

My lucky day

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Yesterday I was at our Annual All-Staff Meeting, an all-day affair held at a resort nearby, with a speaker and catered lunch and awards and activities. The speaker was really good. He did magic tricks, and told jokes while educating us (roughly 150 people) about communicating. He made us laugh and we learned something – most of it we all know, but it’s always good to be reminded. Communicating with people is the heart and soul of what we do here at Acme Health Services, so it can’t be stressed enough.

The meeting was okay – I won a gift card (!), and the self-defense class was really cool. We had pictures taken (my hair looked like rats spit on it, of course), and the admin staff said really nice things about the work we do and the difference we make in our communities. Yay us!

But the best part was after the meeting when the real communicating and magic took place. As we do every year, a select group of us sashayed across the snow and took up most of the seats in a small bar at the resort. We drank and ate and laughed and just had so much fun. We’ve all known each other and worked together for a long time, and that’s our one opportunity a year to all be together.

We have 5 office locations, so many of the people I work with daily via email and phone – some of whom I have worked with for the last 18 years – I only see on that one day. Not to mention the retirees, most of whom were my friends before they left work. It’s like the best kind of a reunion, and it does my heart good. Every year I am able to set aside all my worries on that one day and just revel in fun and laughter with people I like and care about. I’m out of town, and I don’t have my car, so even if something happened at home, I wouldn’t be able to deal with it. I’m not responsible for taking care of whatever might be going on at home and the office is closed. On that one day, I’m free.

We all are. It’s more of a day off than a weekend or vacation day, in fact, cuz we’re required to be away from home, but we’re not working. I had told mom I would be home to make her dinner, but then as the afternoon progressed it was clear I wasn’t going to be. I wasn’t driving, so even if I wanted to leave (I didn’t) I couldn’t.

So I called her around 5 and told her I thought I would be home around 7 and if she wanted me to make her dinner then I’d be happy to, and then I gently suggested if she didn’t want to wait for me she could make her own dinner, which she is capable of now and again, certainly. It doesn’t take a lot of thought or energy to do baked potatoes in the microwave, after all. And I said I’d do the dishes when I got home.

I didn’t feel guilty as I don’t leave her on her own like that often, and she didn’t try to make me feel guilty, either, which was just amazing, really. That felt like more magic! Even a year ago, she would have done the full martyr act and tried to ruin my day. The last 5 years on meeting day I simply made arrangements to be home in time for dinner, because I didn’t want to deal with all that. Yesterday, though, she simply said, “Okay, I’ll decide. Be safe and come when you can.”

Wow! Who was that masked woman? Who are you and what have you done with my mother? When I got home she was pleasant and asked about the meeting and was happy I’d had such a great day. I made dinner for both of us, did the dishes and we watched a movie together before I went to bed.

This is the mother I have been waiting for my whole life. She set aside her own agenda so that I could do something that made me happy. Folks, that hasn’t happened in the almost 57 years I’ve known that woman, and it’s no small thing, I’ll tell you. I feel like I won the lottery or something. Winning that gift card was cool, but it pales in comparison to the other prize I got yesterday – a mother who is on my side, interested in my happiness, not just hers, and willing to compromise so we can both be happy.

Stunning, really, and I can’t explain the change, and it may not last, but I’m not going to question it. What a wonderful thing. Makes me feel that these last 6 years have not only served the purpose of keeping my mother in her home and as healthy as possible, but have also served to repair our relationship, and that’s a gift that is beyond any I’ve ever hoped for. It makes this whole experience feel less like a trial and more like an opportunity, and for that I’m very grateful.

Life is just so amazing – lows so low you think you’ll never rise again, and highs so high you’re flying. It’s all part of the same beautiful thing, though. Right now I wouldn’t give up any of it. Days like yesterday make all the bad days fade in memory. They’ll be back, of course, but I’ll hang on to this feeling for as long as I can and it’ll soften the blow of whatever harsh blow life has in store in the coming days, weeks, and years.

Now…what am I going to spend that gift card on?!

 

Growing pain

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I had a revelation about my personality last night, thanks to the pretty little girl above, Clare. Well, not exactly because of her; it was really more her claws. Her needle-sharp, very long claws.

She sets up camp on my legs in the evening when I’m watching TV. I have my feet up on an ottoman, and that provides her with the perfect platform. This is fine with me. Grace is not often snuggly, so Clare’s propensity to contact is and has always been welcome. She’s a “person” cat. She is either sitting with (or on) me or mom if we are stationary. She’s warm, and silky soft and she purrs so loudly I’m sure the neighbors can hear her. She’s my baby and I adore her.

Less welcome are her claws, which she uses to “knead” my legs when she’s getting settled. A common enough cat thing – every cat I’ve had it has done it, though Clare is the first cat I’ve had that does it on me. It hurts. Really. I try to encourage her gently not to use her claws, and sometimes when I say “soft paws,” she pulls her claws in and then no worries. But that happens rarely; mostly it’s full-claw massage/torture.

Did I mention it hurts? Not a big thing, but not a small thing, either. I don’t make her get down because I love having her sit with me. But it hurts, and leaves marks. I just endure it. I’m clear about why I allow it to happen: because I love that she wants to sit with me. So the pain is worth it.

The revelation I had was about how I allow people to hurt me, and for the same reason. I like to have friends. So, for much of my life, to my mind, that was the price of admission. If you’re going to have people in your life, you’re going to get hurt. Hopefully not a lot, and not seriously, but sooner or later it will happen. Right?

Yes, sometimes. The problem is when it happens all the time, and the relationship is not worth the pain. I’m getting better at recognizing those relationships, and ending them or making an attempt to change the dynamic by letting the person know what’s bothering me. In recent years, I’ve also developed a Spidey-sense about the kind of person who is likely to treat me as less than I deserve and I avoid those relationships from the start. So that’s all good.

My revelation was about the past:

I just wanted people to like me, and I thought if I made it hard for them by complaining about how they treated me, they would leave me.

Easy, right? Duh. I mean really: DUH. Abandonment. Major button for me – for lots of people. Not weakness. Not a character flaw or moral failing.

Here’s what amazes me most about that revelation: I was in therapy for 3 years, and I don’t remember ever understanding that part of me so clearly or in those terms. It must have come up, but I didn’t really get it, I guess. I certainly didn’t see that it was so simple. To me, now, having that understanding seems like a big piece of the puzzle that is me fell into place.

It is now, and has always been, my choice. Just as putting up with the way my mother treated me when I was younger and occasionally treats me now – I choose to overlook it and do the right thing by her because I can. I wouldn’t allow a friend to treat me that way, but she’s my mother, so she gets a pass. She struggles with her own demons – it’s not about me. That is something I got from therapy. I’m clear about that. So I’m strong enough now and sure enough about who I am that I can look past the hurt and just get on with it.

I’ve been patting myself on the back this morning over what I perceive as growth and maturity and insight – all those wonderful “adult” words. Such a nice thing – out of the blue. Not even something I was thinking or puzzling about particularly. I love it when that happens!

Do we ever get all the answers? Figure it all out? When we die, does someone hand us the answer key to the test? I certainly hope so.

Seems only fair.

Much ado about nothing

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Thanksgiving was really nice. Mom and I felt like we had reclaimed the holiday (one of my favorites) after the last two years were disappointing, to say the least. Turkey sandwich for lunch yesterday, then a walk downtown to do some shopping and see the holiday parade and the tree-lighting in the park. Santa was there! Flew in from New York yesterday, apparently.  The parade was short – this is a very small town – but just as well as this is northern Michigan and it was cold. Not too bad though, considering Thanksgiving morning for the Turkey Trot it was 5°,  and there was hot chocolate and cookies to warm everyone up. Spirits were high, and  I was glad I went.

Today the resting begins. I have no plans to get dressed. We’re doing the day in the key of low, and probably tomorrow, too. To my mind, this is the best part of this weekend. I usually take this whole week off – 9 days off in a row for the price of only 3 vacation days! – but I didn’t this year, cuz I’m saving my leave time in case mom gets really ill again and I have to stay home with her for a while like last Spring. So this year I’m doing 2 days of LOTS OF THINGS! and 2 days of NOTHING!, and that’ll be good enough.

And the Nothing has started! Yay! Reading and lounging and I don’t know what else, but whatever it is it will not involve wearing pants or shoes. I will probably put up our little Christmas tree and put new batteries in the outside twinkle lights, but that’s the extent of my ambition for this dark November day. Perfect day for pancakes and a cup of tea, then soft music and reading.

That’s the plan, anyway. When mom gets up that plan could be scuttled, depending on how she feels. She has good days and bad days, and one of the hardest things for me to come to terms with in this situation is that when she has a bad day it changes everything, including whatever I had planned, and there just isn’t any  way around that. I grew up in a household controlled entirely by my mother’s health issues and here I am again.

I’m an adult now, though. I get it’s not all about me, and I’m pretty clear that I’m here for my mother and not for me. So her needs take precedence, and I just try not to hang on too tightly to my expectations, so I’m not disppointed all the time like I was when I was little. In fact, I try not to have expectations in the first place, but that’s easier said than done, for sure. I knew a guy once who was a pessimist and he said the benefit of always expecting the worse was that he was almost never disappointed and sometimes he was pleasantly surprised. 🙂

I am fundamentally an optimist, though, so I’m afraid I can’t easily stop my battered brain from hoping, but I try hard to keep an open mind and heart and just go with the flow. Not necessarily without disappointment, but without resentment, and that has made the difference. Resentment will eat you up and spit you out if you let it, and I let it for a long time, I’m sad to say. I’m older and wiser now, though, and I avoid the R-word at all costs. Therapy helped me recognize it and banish it, and I’m so deeply grateful for that. Now meditation helps keep it from sneaking up on me.

So I’ll hope that the NOTHING plan comes off without a hitch today, but if not, well, I’ll do what needs to be done. Whatever it is. That’s what I signed up for, and that’s just the way it is right now. It won’t be this way forever. Who knows where or with whom I’ll be next  Thanksgiving? There’s always the chance that this is the last Thanksgiving for my mom, or for me, for that matter. The future is not meant to be known. If it was, we wouldn’t be able to go on, would we?

Holidays mark time. Among all the non-descript days in the year they stand out in our memories. I know exactly where I was on Thanksgiving day last year, and the year before that, the years my dad and grandma were with us, and the year I had 12 people at card tables in my little kitchen and we played Uno after dinner. Unlike most of the rest of the days that just glide by in the busy-ness, holidays are special. Friends and family gather and we celebrate our human life and each other and all that’s good in the world. We witness the changes in each other in the last year, and remember those who are no longer with us.

Hopefully we spare a thought for those who are alone or homeless or who’ve suffered tragedy in the last year, too. Because holidays mark the bad years, too, sadly. They are guideposts through the year, marking our passage through the Grand Turn, our trip around the sun, for better or worse. This year we’re good, other years less so. All part of our lives, the good and the bad. There’s no avoiding either.

So Thanksgiving is over and now on to Christmas, which I’m less inclined to look forward to, but still, there are good things, and it serves as an opportunity to take stock, give thanks and celebrate life and love and the return of the Light. I’m not a Christian per se, anymore, but I’m all about the light and the Solstice and the turning of the year. When I was a practicing Episcopalian, Advent was my favorite time of year. The anticipation of light’s (and life’s) return is especially meaningful to us in the northern realms, where light and growth is scarce for much of the year.

Whatever holiday you celebrate, in whatever way you give thanks and mark time, I wish you well and I wish you much more of whatever it is you long for.

For myself today and tomorrow I’m wishing and hoping for nothing. For rest and restoration. Renewed strength for the way forward.

In my pajamas! Onward ho.

It’s not just about the turkey

Happy Thanksgiving, American friends!

Yesterday I was speaking to a co-worker whose mom passed from cancer a couple of months ago. She’s trying to wrap her head and her heart around her first holiday without her mother, and I remember that sadness and confusion well, after my dad died in 2012. He passed on November 14th, and a week later, my mom and I were alone for Thanksgiving. It was weird and it was hard that year, and for a while after, but it has stopped being weird or hard 6 years later, and I didn’t really realize that had happened until I was talking to Amy about her mom yesterday.

It happened while I wasn’t paying attention, I guess. While I was just living and getting through the days. In fact, the anniversary of his death snuck up on me this year, too. Suddenly it was November 14th and I had the thought a couple of times in the morning that the date was somehow significant – someone’s birthday, maybe? – but it didn’t really register with me until later in the day:

Ah, that was the day my father left this earth.

I had a fleeting feeling of guilt that I’d forgotten, but then I saw it in a different light: I’m living in the here and now and that’s a good thing. I’m present to my life these days, no longer dredging up the past and the Litany of Loss periodically and plunging into depression as I once did. I simply don’t have time. I miss my dad, my Nana, lots of friends, pets, even some of my younger selves, but I don’t have the luxury of wallowing in loss anymore, and I’m lucky that my brain seems to be onboard the wellness train now thanks to medication and therapy years ago, and meditation recently, so it doesn’t go there as often on its own anymore, either.

I can control what I think about for the most part, and lately I try to think about what’s right in front of me. Right now. What needs to be done? Which thing on the list of things to do at home and at work needs my attention this minute? How are the people I care about in my life right now? I don’t think so much about what (or whom) I’ve lost. I think about all that I have. Not all the time, but as much as possible, and certainly more than in the past. I try not to think about what (or who) is not present in my life right now, and focus on what and who is and what I can do for them and for myself to make things a little better.

My Litany of Loss is long. So is yours. Human life is HARD, and our emotional and mental wellbeing ultimately comes down to how well we process and carry those losses: whether we go forward, slowly at first, but always gaining ground, until at last, some of our burdens can be safely left behind, or we are so weighed down by them that we can’t go on and life in the present seems impossible.

As we age, those losses mount up, and that burden is too much to bear unless you set some (or all) of it down. I remember lots of things about my dad – good things. Lots of holidays (he loved Christmas and Halloween more than anyone I’ve ever known!), his dry sense of humor, his beautiful singing voice, love of music, and the joy he found in entertaining people. I remember how much he loved me. Those are the things that matter, and I’m grateful that I can think of him and those things without pain. In fact, that I can think about all of the losses most days without tumbling into an abyss of sadness and for that I’m deeply, deeply grateful. That change was a long time coming.

Time heals if we let it. If we just let it flow – not try to stop it or slow it down – it will wash the pain away gently and leave behind gratitude and joy. Gratitude for the experience, joy in having gained the strength to move on, to be in the moment, open to what (and who) is here for us now.

Like waves in the ocean (or Lake Michigan) – let it flow. Life is beautiful, but loss is inevitable in this human existence. We are tested over and over, learning to let go, until it is our own life we are forced to release. Until then, in the immortal words of Dory:

Just keep swimming.



 


The life I’m not living

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This is the family I don’t have – my birthmother, Linda, in the middle, with my brothers and sisters (l to r) Robert, Julie, Betsy, and Andy around her. The man in the back is Linda’s husband. This picture was taken this summer at the get-together they have every year with all of their families at their cottage on the lake up north.

I don’t know my siblings, and they don’t even know I exist. My birthmother knows who I am and where I am, but wants nothing to do with me.

I think they’re probably an average upper middle-class family, with their ups and downs like everyone else. They’ve done well financially thanks to the start given them by my grandparents and the business they built and handed on to my bmom, who handed it on to my sisters when she and her husband retired several years ago.

They go to church in their small town and are very involved in it. Bmom and hubby are involved in the community volunteering, clubs, etc., as are my two sisters, who still live in that town. My brothers are in two different states far away. All my siblings have children – lots of them – and I’m sure all of their families are nice, but with their joys and sorrows, too. Betsy, for example, is divorced, and I’m sure that’s been hard.

I don’t imagine I have a single thing in common with any of them. I might have, if I’d been raised with them. I would have been the oldest; one of 5 children, rather than an only child. My whole life would have been very different, and I think about that a lot.

I think about the moment that changed my bmom’s and bdad’s lives, and sent my life hurtling in a completely different direction than the one I might have experienced. There was a moment in the summer of 1961 when Linda told Richard (Dick) she was pregnant, and he walked away and left her on her own to “solve the problem.” In the space of an instant following her telling, and before his response, my life balanced precariously between What Will Be and What Could Have Been.

The moment in which he turned his back on her was the moment I became a different person than I was just seconds before. Instead of Linda and Richard’s daughter, I became Byron and Colleen’s daughter. In that instant I became the only child of an uncomfortable mother and a wonderful but weak father, destined for a lonely, difficult life marred by depression. My bmom went on with her life, my bdad on with his – my life simply a footnote in theirs. A blip on the screen that maybe sent a little pang of sadness through them in later years, perhaps.

Linda married someone else, had four more children and has lived a comfortable (from the outside it looks really good) life. Dick was a Vietnam veteran and (when he came back) an alcoholic and died young. Whatever. They had choices. They made them and went on.

I had no choice. I had a troubled childhood, but that may have been my lot anyway. If Linda had married Dick and I had grown up with them, I may have had a difficult childhood living with an alcoholic and/or experienced a “broken” family if they had divorced. If Linda had made the choice to keep me in spite of Dick’s abandonment, I might have been in that family photo above as the oldest sister, or she may have faltered as a single mother and we would have both suffered in poverty. Or she might have married someone else completely and who knows then what our lives would have been like?

It’s all What If.

There are a lot of What If moments in everybody’s lives. I have a bunch and I have regrets, but this is the one that haunts me. I think what bothers me about it is that it isn’t my What If. I think about it all the time. It might have been different. I might have been different, but it wasn’t my choice. I look at that photo (and the ones from other years) and I think how lucky my brothers and sisters are to have each other and to have their own families, and to have grown up with young fun parents who had enough money to have a vacation cottage and to give their kids a good start in life with college paid for and a ready-made successful business to hand them.

None of that happened for me, but as I said, it might not have anyway. Life is a web – break one string and the others vibrate and change shape. I grew up with a wonderful father and a grandmother who was everything to me, and for that I’m very grateful. I’m too old now to blame my failures (or my successes) on my childhood anyway. It happened the way it did and that’s just the way it is. It’s water under the bridge, and it’s only hard for me to remember that now because I’m so unhappy in my current circumstances and the thought of a different life seems appealing. I could have made choices in my life that had led me down a different path, too, so I take responsibility for where I find myself now.

That’s not what this is about. There are times when I can’t help but think about that moment, and the life I’m not living and the family I don’t have. And sometimes it makes me feel better for a short time to think that it’s not fair and it’s not my fault.

But…of course it is.

It’s just what happened and all any of us has to work with is this moment and what’s happening now. The rest is gone.

Frankly, even If I could make it so, I’m not sure I would change any of it. I do not believe that things happen for a reason, and I don’t believe in destiny or divine providence or anything remotely like that. But I do believe in karma and I don’t believe you can avoid the lessons you were meant to have in this life. I think I’m probably living exactly the way I was meant to live and most of it is my fault. My choices, my consequences.

Happy belated birthday, Linda. I wish you and your family well.

 

My wild, messy heart

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I’ve been thinking a lot about connection and belonging, since listening to this TED talk by Brene Brown a few days ago. Belonging is not something I’m particularly good at, proven over and over throughout my life. I almost always feel more comfortable on my own. I was an only child, so entertaining and comforting myself were skills I learned early on.

I also learned early on that when you are connected to people, family especially, their problems are your problems and you can get caught up in the chaos forever. I discovered young, too, that if people think there’s something different about you or if they think you may need help, they will shy away. Having spent much of my life experiencing major depressive episodes 2 or 3 times a year, I found it was best to have fewer connections so that I could slip in and out of my life as necessary without losing too much each time. So, while friendly, I kept most people at arm’s length.

Depression made belonging to a group or club difficult, too, as there were times I couldn’t go to meetings or complete an assigned task on time. I usually ended up quitting fairly quickly, even if I enjoyed the people and the club, and finally I just stopped joining things. Ditto friends and lovers. Hard to maintain a relationship when you can’t be counted on to be the same person everyday.

Now my mother consumes my time, not depression, but the effect is the same. I have very few connections now. The ones I have are solid, but not usually a part of my daily life. They are busy people, too, and it’s hard to keep in touch or get together. That will probably not always be true, especially for me after my mother is gone, so those connections will remain and get stronger, I’m sure, and for that I’m grateful.

But then the question becomes where will I belong? Really the only group I’ve ever felt fully a part of is my family – my mom, dad, and grandma. For better or worse, I belonged to those people. I belong with my mom, now, just the two of us left. I know that’s where I’m supposed to be and that she is my “home.” Our family was not always a refuge for me, but it was always where I knew who and how to be and that I was loved. They took care of me and I took care of them, and continue to take care of my mom, and that’s what connection and belonging is all about.

Commitment. That’s really what it boils down to. Shared commitment to each other. Shared interests, common viewpoints, similar, if not completely shared, goals. I see you, you see me, we are the same. In order to have that kind of connection, you have to be clear about who you are and what you want, and you have to be willing and able to show that to others.

Vulnerability.

For me, and for most people, that’s a very scary word. Without it, though, you can’t really connect with another person, and you can’t really belong. At least, not authentically. If you can’t let people see the real you, then that connection doesn’t really have much meaning and it will break fairly easily. That’s what I’ve experienced most of my life, as I was mostly hiding, not living fully, and not connecting fully – or at all – in most cases.

That’s not me now, though, so the question becomes where do I find “my people?” After the last of my family is gone – my mother – where will I belong?

I think Ms. Brown has the answer in the quote above:

True belonging is not something we achieve, accomplish, or negotiate with others – it’s something we carry in our hearts.

I belong to me, first and foremost. I belong to the universe and the stars, the Earth, and the human race. I belong to my ancestors, and to my family as long as they live in my memory. I belong to my friends – the people I love and the people who love me – and to all the people I don’t know personally who have helped me on my path.

I know and love who I am – messy heart – and all, and I’m not hiding anymore. Here I am, all of me, ready to rejoin the world, life.

I belong.

How do you mend a broken heart?

This has been a pretty intense week. All about life and death, really, nothing less.

On Monday my mom had an episode of some kind – I’m not sure if it was a stroke or a seizure – and she fainted. She was out cold for 2-3 minutes. She stopped breathing twice, and for several seconds I thought she was dead. She woke up, though, and over the course of that day came fully back to herself, though she felt a little like she had been hit by a truck. By Tuesday evening, though, you would never know it had happened.

On Wednesday I went to have an echocardiogram, cuz when I was at the doc for a physical last week she thought she heard a murmur, and was concerned that maybe I have a partially blocked artery. I had high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and in the past 2 years or so I’ve managed to control both with exercise and diet, and bring those numbers down. So I thought I was in pretty good shape, and honestly, I’m not that worried about something that’s going to kill me in 30 years. Cancer is what concerns me. I’ve had 2 middle-aged friends die in the past 2 weeks from cancer, not heart disease. I don’t know anyone who has died from heart disease, in fact; everyone I know died from cancer.

Laying there listening to the blood whoosh through my heart was sobering, though. I had a psychic tell me a long time ago that I had a broken heart; that’s what I was thinking about while the friendly young women was moving the sensor around my chest. Could there really be something wrong? Is my heart broken? I’m only 56. How could I be having heart trouble? I don’t have the results of the test yet, but I’m hopeful that it was nothing and that I’m as healthy as I think I am.

Then yesterday, I got word via Facebook that a friend who has been battling cancer for a few years had taken a turn for the worse and the doctors had sent her home to die. She was only 50, a recent grandmother, a bright spot in our little community – just a beautiful soul. Last night she died, with her very large family around her, and I just feel so bad about that. I will miss her, even though I didn’t know her very well. She always made me smile.

So near-death, worrying about death, and actual death in the space of 5 days. My head is spinning a little and my heart is breaking (figuratively) for Leslie and her family and friends. Through it all I’ve really been trying to just take it all in, let it be, and then let it go. So much sadness and loss in the last 2 weeks; but life goes on. My mom will die, people I care about will die, and I will die. That’s the reality of this Life, and there’s no getting around it.

Don’t take a minute for granted.

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Leslie Anne Miller Knoop 1967-2018

Rest in peace.

Truth be told

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Some of the most difficult things I’ve had to come to terms with over the years are:

  1. Life isn’t fair.
  2. You can still fail, no matter how hard you try.
  3. Not every problem can be solved.

Like most children, I learned the first one pretty early on. I wasn’t happy about it, and I’m still not, but I certainly know it’s true. Over the years and into adulthood, it led directly to a distrust of the idea of the Christian God, or any god worth believing in, cuz in my mind, what would be the purpose of a god if not to make life fair?

I was drawn to Buddhism, and more simply, mindfulness, because it starts out by telling you that life is hard. Period. No illusion. No Santa Claus god. No notions of good and evil, fair or unjust. There is only us, here now, and this life and being kind. Embracing everything and then letting go, cuz none of it matters ultimately. It’s all in the past. There is only what is, not what should be. Not only what’s fair, but what isn’t. All of it. Everything.

The second one hit me square in the gut almost 20 years ago when I lost my business and had to get a job and file for bankruptcy. Like most American kids, I was raised with the idea that if you worked hard enough, you could achieve anything. The American Dream! I was living exactly the life I wanted, the one I had worked for, for a while, and then BAM! It was gone. I was stunned. I had been so determined. I had worked so hard and I wanted it so much, surely that would make it so.

Nope. I fell to earth and landed on my butt with a resounding and painful thud. It took me a long time to come to terms that what I had been told and what I believed to be true all of my life to that point was not true. There it was again: Life is not fair. Add to that: It doesn’t matter how hard you try, you can’t make it so.

Ouch.

Even though I had struggled with depression since I was a teenager, that event and finally realizing that fundamental truth about life was the thing that made me decide I couldn’t go on. Prior to that I believed the I was the problem, Not life. That I was doing something wrong. I had hope that someday I would get it right and then life would be what I hoped it would be, what I thought it could be. What I thought it was supposed to be.

I always knew that people suffered horrible lives, especially in other countries and in other times. I was an avid reader and some of the books I read were about really difficult lives, but I guess I always thought they were just unlucky or they didn’t work hard enough, or something. I don’t know what I thought. Maybe I didn’t really think about it, or maybe I just thought that it would be different for me because…I don’t know.

I was absolutely convinced growing up that despite all evidence to the contrary, I would have a wonderful life once I got to be an adult and could take control of my life. I was raised in the Christian church and I fell for all those stories in Sunday school about right and wrong and God helping good people and punishing bad people. I believed all the stuff in school, too, about the American Dream and Manifest Destiny, George Washington never telling a lie, and Abraham Lincoln walking through the snow for 1000 miles to return a book cuz it was the right thing to do.

I had fought through the depression over and over again because I believed that I could have the life I wanted if I just worked for it. Then, suddenly that was all a lie and I felt betrayed and stupid and that there was just no point in going on with this ridiculous unfair life – in which bad people thrived and good people got screwed. Knowing that there was nothing I could do to change that – no matter how hard I tried – was more than I could take for a long time. It took 10 years of medication and 3 years of therapy to get me past it.

The third thing – that for some problems there are no solutions – was the last bastion of earlier life to fall. Living again with my mother and her health problems finally beat that one down. Not only are some of her medical challenges baffling, even to her doctors, but more simply, the challenge of living with her and caring for her has become less of a problem to be solved, and more of a truth to be accepted.

It just is.

She’s not a problem to be solved. She’s a person. My difficulty at times with this situation can’t be solved, either, it is just part of my life, something I have to embrace and then let go of, just like everything else. It’s another step on the path for both of us. We’re traveling together on this journey.

Life.

Not a problem, not fair or unfair, not good or bad, just what’s happening now and no matter how hard I try, I can’t solve it all for her, or for me, or for anyone. We celebrate the good things and mourn the losses, but ultimately it’s all the same. What is, and what was, and what will be.

Us. In it together. All of us just doing the best we can to accept the truth.

Life is hard. And beautiful. And painful. And amazing. So big sometimes it crushes us, and other times lifts us to great heights. It’s everything and nothing.

And that’s the truth.

Loud and clear

The universe seems determined to show me all the ways in which I don’t measure up this week. There are a lot of them, and I’m painfully aware of them all, but I try to look past them and just do the best I can with what I’ve got. This week, however, I keep running into those walls at every turn and I’m a little bruised.

Those obstacles are people-related, mostly, with a few work failures thrown in. As I said, nothing I’m not aware of, and if you know me, chances are that you’re aware of them, too. The work troubles are new, the people thing, not new at all. I’ve tripped over myself coming and going over that one all the time, all my life.

I don’t know why. I like people, and I’m friendly. It seems to be that like some snakes or toads that have markings to let you know they’re dangerous, I send out some kind of signal that folks pick up sooner or later that lets them know that I’m different in some way. With two notable exceptions, I have trouble keeping friends, and consequently, I’m lonely and feel left out sometimes.

It’s something I’ve come to terms with for the most part, though, and luckily I enjoy my own company. Most of the things I like to do are solitary pursuits, so not a big deal most of the time. Every now and again, though, I hit that wall hard and this week I’ve run into it multiple times.

As for work, I seem to have outlived my skills. I was not wildly talented at what I do to begin with and now 25 years later, the expectations have outpaced my creative ability and my skills in some cases. The young people who run things now have no patience and no respect for experience; they have their own ideas about how things should look and be done, and they’re not interested at all in what I think. I think that’s probably as it should be, but it’s hard to take being treated as if you have no value after working so hard at something for so long.

So that’s really what it comes down to – being treated as if I have no value. I tell myself over and over that I am fine, doing the best I can, and that I’m worthwhile. The message I get over and over from other people in most areas of my life repeatedly, however, is different. This week that message has been particularly loud. And clear. It’s been hard to take.

Ironically, though, when I go home to my mother I’m reminded that I have a lot of value in her eyes. That hasn’t always been true, but it is now, and that’s a good thing. So the hardest part of my life has been the best part this week. Maybe that’s the message I’m supposed to be getting from the universe – that I’m where I’m supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to be doing, and the rest of it isn’t important.

Maybe.