Saturday, June 8, 2019

All The Life We Cannot See

How much did you miss seeing today? Perhaps you were looking at your phone. Or driving and talking. Or running errands and talking.

We seem to be on our phones a lot. I know I can be. I have all my work emails and texts and work apps on there. So there is no 9-5 anymore. I also have social media and texts from friends, etc. And I know you do, too.

We seem to always be easily distracted now. Or bored.  I never see people just reading a book or chatting while waiting for their flight. Or just sitting enjoying that warm cup of coffee or tea. Literally everyone is just on their phone.

I know. Maybe they are reading a book on their phone or doing work or reading the news. But do we really need this 24/7? I even see people at the hospital visiting sick loved ones who are constantly looking at their phones. It is so common now that we don't even notice we are doing it. The patient was doing it too!

So, I ask you, what did you miss today?

You most likely didn't miss the latest notifications from Twitter or Facebook or Instagram. You didn't miss the latest viral video or Snapchat.  You know all the headlines.

But what did the sky look like today. I know your weather app said rain. But was there a rainbow? Did the clouds part suddenly and allow a beautiful clear sky to shine through? Were there bright puddles with reflections. Were kids jumping in them.

Did you see that cute puppy? No, not the one on your phone. The one you just passed while you were on the phone. The one that stopped to look at you or get a pat on the head. But you just walked on by.

Did you see the look on that woman's face? You know, the one ringing you up and the one bagging your groceries as you ignore them while talking on your phone. You never even looked up.

The flowers are in bloom now. The lilacs. Have you stopped to smell them? It is like a bit of heaven.

Did you see the elderly man sitting on the bench? The one sitting quietly, holding his cane with two hands, looking down. Did you see the look of anguish on his face? You know, his wife died last year. And he is in pain. But no one even glances his way. Or says hello. What a lonely existence we all have when there is so much to share.

If only we would stop and look.  Just stop and really see. Smell the air. Feel the breeze. Smile at someone. Say hello. Pet the dog walking by. Noticing people.  Acknowledging them. Thanking them for holding that door.  Or bagging your things.

What did your daughter look like today? Was she smiling and funny? Was your son sad? Did you notice the haggard look on your husband or wife's face when they got home from work? Did you hug anyone today? Did you share a laugh with a co-worker? Did you see the plants rising up through the dirt in the garden? Did you notice the new floral display at the grocery store? You know, the one you ran past. Someone stayed extra hours yesterday to make it beautiful for you to see. Did you see her? She was standing right there as you bustled by.

I have been asking myself these questions lately. A lot. I miss things, too. But not anymore. I am making a real effort to really see things. See the beauty. The nuances. The ugly. The sad. The happy.
It makes my life better. I leave my phone in my purse. Or at home when I go on a walk now. There is nothing that cannot wait. Remember when there were no cellphones? No answering machines? No internet? I saw more then. Real life. Right in front of me.

It's in front of you, too. Don't miss it. (You may be reading this on your phone or tablet. But put it down now and look around. Really see)

"The key to nature's therapy is feeling like a tiny part of it, not a master over it. There's amazing pride in seeing a bee land on a flower you planted-but that's not your act of creation, it's your act of joining in." ~ Victoria Coren Mitchell

"You can become blind by seeing each day as a similar one. Each day is a different one, each day brings a miracle of its own. It's just a matter of paying attention to this miracle." ~ Paul Coelho

"I love walking down the street and seeing faces and drama and happiness and sadness and dirt and cleanliness." ~ Rick Ocasek

"The world is the true classroom. The most rewarding and important type of learning is through experience, seeing something with our own eyes." ~ Jack Hanna

"When was the last time you spent a quiet moment just doing nothing ~ just sitting and looking at the sea, or watching the wind blowing the tree limbs, or waves rippling on a pond, a flickering candle or children playing in the park?" ~ Ralph Marston

Life is short. Don't miss it.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The Hurt We Hide Is Killing Us

I meet so many wonderful people each and every day. Unfortunately, I meet many of  them in the worst of circumstances. You have probably met them too. But you never know their pain, their sorrow. They keep it hidden, often asking you how you are doing. And when you respond in kind, they most likely will answer, I am doing well, thank you.

But they are not doing well. They wear a fake mask, trying to hold it all together.  It is exhausting for them. They swirl in a mass of conflicting priorities; the young mom with a sick child but two others seeking attention, the co-worker who is caring for a sick loved one but cannot miss another day of work or a paycheck, the teacher of your child who has just received a cancer diagnosis, the neighbor whose spouse died suddenly and without warning but must now maintain a home and do not have the capacity to even try.

We walk among these folks every day. We may be one of them. We nod, we say hi, but we never really know the sorrow that is deep inside. We hide it. They hide it. It is all so isolating.

When I meet with the bereaved I am often told of their isolation. They feel that people don't want to know about their sadness. They stop getting invited to events and parties. No one brings up the deceased. They are too afraid to open wounds. They prefer the stoic presumption of bravery. They like saying, you have moved on, things are getting better, oh good for you. They like to believe that because they don't want to really know. They want to see that you are doing 'fine'. They need that so that if a similar situation befalls them, they see that all will be ok.

They are easily fooled.

It is never really okay. People have no choice but to soldier on with open, gaping wounds and sorrow. They must "hold it together". People are depending on them. No, they don't talk about it. But at night, all alone, the facade can be put aside. They can lose themselves in sleep or TV or exercise or crying. They can take off that mask they wear for you and embrace their loss, their pain. Until tomorrow, when they put on that heavy mask once again.

This is why we need compassion. To show it to people. To hug. We need more than sad face emojis. We need to reach out to one another. Touch.  Start listening. Start asking questions. Start sharing our pain. Just sitting quietly. Just being present.

The isolation is literally killing us. Pills and drinks and elicit drugs are sweeping our communities. People are anesthetizing themselves. Those walls we build are tombs. We must find ways to break them down.

A first step would be to acknowledge someone's pain. Don't ask, do. Send a text. Make a call. Send a card that says I know you are going through hell, but know I love you. Ring someone's doorbell and bring them some flowers or some treats. No words needed.

Reach out.  Reach out.  Just reach out in small ways.

It could literally save your life and others', too.

"Spread love everywhere you go.  Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier" ~ Mother Teresa

"Look for a way to lift someone up.  And if that's all you do, that's enough." ~ Elizabeth Lesser

" Instead of putting others in their place, put yourself in their place."  ~Anonymous

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Some Grief Haiku by Janice Badger Nelson

On the grayest  day/
Nothing Takes my pain away/
So I keep walking. 

Sadness envelopes/
All of my waking hours/
Missing you is hell. 

No one understands/
The deep depth of my despair/
Because you aren't there.  

Why did you leave me/
I guess you can't quite answer/ 
Silence is your prayer. 

In the end I will/
Keep on walking each day/
In my mind with you. 


Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Good Grief

I have been reading twitter lately. I usually do not like that social media forum, but have been drawn to it more in recent months. It could be because of my curiosity to read what other people think about certain events. Especially movie reviews and that type of thing. People are crazy on there and say crazy things. It can be entertaining.

Anyway, I have read some tweets from Meghan McCain. No political statement there. Her father, as you may know, Senator John McCain, recently passed away from a horrible brain cancer called Glioblastoma. It is always a death sentence. My own sister in law and an Uncle both died from this. It is insidious and sneaks up on you. People usually die within a year or so. It is awful.  And not a death I would wish on anyone. It is particularly hard on the caregivers. To watch this fast decline. It is cruel. As a hospice nurse, it is a diagnosis we all dread.

Getting back to Meghan. She tweets about her dad a lot. Apparently she also talks about him frequently on a show called The View. I don't watch much TV, and have never watched the show, but people comment to her that she talks about him too much. Like she should be over it by now. That other people have lost loved ones but they don't talk about it incessantly like she does.

I call that grief shaming.

It is like people expect you to wrap it up and put it away about 3-6 months after someone dies. It doesn't matter if it is a parent or sibling or spouse. Or even a child. They talk about closure. They say talking about it only makes you sad. They say to get out more. Don't think about it. Let it go.

They say all sorts of stupid things. And it is hurtful. And totally unnecessary.

Most times people have to hide their grief. They stop talking about it at all. They bury their feelings. They cry in the shower. When they are alone in the car. They numb themselves with alcohol or drugs. They may try to distract themselves. Sometimes it creeps up on them like a big wave of despair and they feel like they are drowning.

And then sometimes it is gone.

But not for long and not forever.

I think my grief over losing my father and mother and pets gets worse when I see something or someone that reminds me of them. Holidays are particularly difficult. And it has been decades since my mom died. I still have all her handwritten recipes. And sometimes I bring them out and read them and remember. And yes it does make me sad. But also it fills my heart with the love I felt. And that is healing.

We will never fully stop missing someone who is gone from this world. No way. And it is okay to talk about them. To keep loving them. To stay connected with memories and pictures and videos and treasures we kept from them. Life is short. We are who we are because of the people in our lives. Past and present. We do not have to forsake the past to live in the present. We can celebrate their life and honor them until the day we die. And we have to let people know that. If they grief shame you, tell them that. If they persist, just walk away.

It is so hard for the bereaved.  But we are all bereaved at some point in our lives.  And we all deal with it individually. And in our time and space. And some may choose to talk. And others to stay silent. Some write beautiful poetry. Some visit a grave every week. Some talk in prayers to loved ones. Some cry themselves to sleep every single night.

And it is all ok. It is okay to miss someone. It is okay to feel sad.

We are not allowed to own our feelings anymore. If we say we are sad, we are labeled as depressed. And given a drug for that. Awful.

Instead we need more hugs. We need to allow grief and sadness. We need to lean into our grief. Feel it. It will never really let us fall. And it is the one thing we all share at one time or another. If only we were not so isolated in our grief. If only we didn't feel the need to build walls around it. If only we could just be allowed to miss those we lost loud and clear.

 It would be so much better.

For all of you out there hurting, it is okay. You should hurt. It hurts. But it does get better. Never forgotten, but better. The timing is just different for all of us. Know that and accept your grief.  It has it's own timetable. It is so hard but keep remembering that it is part of our human experience. Keep loving yourself.

Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.
...Edna St. Vincent Millary 

Monday, February 19, 2018

Sudden traumatic death vs lingering death. They both stink.

Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell. 
~Edna St Vincent Millay

So, as you know, I have seen a lot of death. And, as you also know, I have been and continue to work in hospice. But when I was a younger nurse, I worked in the ICU and the ER for a few years. I saw less death than in hospice, but I saw a different side to death.

The unexpected.

A lot of people tell me, when I say hospice, that they would rather die suddenly, or in their sleep, rather than have a lingering death. Most have neither experience with losing someone in either way. Or some have lost someone to cancer or another debilitating long term disease such as Alzheimer's. None have lost someone unexpectedly or traumatically.

Because those survivors would never say that.

Time is a gift. It may not feel that way initially; it is very hard to watch someone decline. But it still remains a gift. The dying get to say goodbye. They can tie up loose ends. They can make amends. They can die on their own terms. If lucky.

 They leave behind the bereaved, and while you can never really prepare for a death, it is more of a gentle wave than a sudden storm.

But the sudden deaths.  Those haunt the most.

One afternoon, many decades ago when I was in my 20's and working in the ER,  a call came in from an ambulance with a 2 minute ETA. They had on board a 15 year old. In full cardiac arrest. We had to question them. 15? Yes, 15 came the response.

The ambulance pulled up.  The team ran out and brought the young boy in. He had on gym clothes and white Nike high tops. He was intubated and being bagged. When we put him on the monitor, it showed asystole. But we worked on him, for over an hour. Finally, exhausted, we reluctantly called the code. This young boy was dead.

A nurse came in and got me. She told me his mom was here.

The ER doctor and I went out. She was in the hall anxiously awaiting seeing him.

"The school called me and told me Matt was injured in gym class." She was looking at her watch, she was a bit annoyed actually. We had called her away from her work to come in.

"Please come with me" I said. And we guided her to the family sitting room. Once there, she looked confused. "Is he in x-ray now?  I really must get back to work. His father will come pick him up."

The doctor and I looked at each other.

The doctor laid his hand on her shoulder and encouraged her to sit down.

He then said, in a very soft voice, "we did all we could."

She looked at me, confused. Then she asked the doctor, clearly annoyed, "What are you talking about? Did he break his leg? Sprain an ankle? Oh no, did he hurt his head?"

And then, after clearing his voice, and in a matter-of-fact way, the doctor said kindly, "No, your son died."

And then, just like that, all the oxygen exited the room. There was silence for a moment. There was a loud, guttural gasping sound.

  Then, laughter.

The woman stared blankly at the doctor. Then at me.

"You two are idiots. My son was hurt in gym class. The school said so. Honestly, you have me mixed up with someone else."

Then, suddenly, the door opened. A volunteer had a crying man with her. It was the gym teacher.

"Oh my God, he just collapsed during running drills. We started CPR right away. I am so sorry." He ran to her and hugged her briefly.

Then all hell broke loose.

It was like a huge wave came out of nowhere, sweeping up everyone and everything. Palpable anguish. Loud screams. Hell.

The mom collapsed on the floor. We helped her up and asked if she were okay.

" I will never be okay again."

And that is true.

All death stinks. We lose someone and the heartache is eternal. But when you had dropped someone off at school in the morning, with your mind on not being late for a meeting, and maybe even yelling at your son because he made you late, it is unimaginable. People return to that last moment time and time again. They want a re-do. They want to say I love you. They want to have that chance again to let them know that they are the world to them. That anguish is relived every day. On holidays and birthdays and when they see his friends reaching lifetime milestones.

 And sometimes, just for no reason at all. Like a huge rogue wave that rolls out of nowhere.

This past week, 17 people went to a school and never came home.
Replicate that by thousands.

 There are so many unfinished lives out there. Not just for those who died, but for the survivors. They had a life unfolding with people that were center to that life. And now the world is off that axis. Now the world has this huge hole in it. Some people fill it with anger. Some with silent retreat. Some with a cause to fight. Some with absolutely nothing. They go through their days like ghosts.

Life is a gift. So is time.

Use it wisely.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

I have not written on my blog in some time. Why? I do not know. Perhaps because I have felt I have nothing to say.

But I returned to it today, and, like an old friend I have not seen in years, fell back in love.  Like I never missed a beat. Like I have always been writing; just in my head.

I am still involved in hospice. These days, I am tasked with organizing care for patients and families, instead of being the clinical visit nurse. In some ways, this is harder. I am usually the one who first speaks the unspeakable. Death.

I cause distress, but also relief. They know. They always knew. But no one told them. Not directly. Now they can face it. Head on. Some choose not to. And that is fine as well.  Death is something that we think happens to other people. When we are faced with it, it is cruel and surprising.

I think about death every single day. Not in a morose or sad way. On the contrary, I find it helps me to make better life choices. Not by trying to avoid death by healthy eating and exercising. I know many of those folks who did all that, but died young anyway. No, the choices are about what I am leaving behind in my life's wake. To the people I love. That is our legacy. But most of us rarely think about it.

How will you be remembered by your kids? Your siblings? Your co-worker?  Some say, who cares.  Well, you should. Your life impacts more people than you could ever imagine. Give more thought to those you interact with every day. Think about how their death would impact you. It will give you a better perspective on your own life.

Our daughter is now in college.  She is abroad, far away. But I am happy she is seeking her own life, apart from me. Still, I worry. I worry about her daily. Her impact on my life is and always will be the most powerful force imaginable. But she is her own person and I am my own person and though we are intertwined by blood, I must respect that. And it is hard. But it is not a death, and I am not grieving. It is simply life. And we should celebrate that.

A friend from high school recently lost her young brave son. I never met him, but like others, got to know him through his mother. I cannot imagine the depth of her loss. The excruciating moment she wakes up each morning and remembers she cannot hug him, or speak to him or watch him grow up. And that is why I am not sad I am an empty nester. Because I still am allowed to marvel at my daughter's life each and every day. I can look forward, while my friend can only look back.

Life is a gift we squander often. We hold onto petty things that are meaningless. We let them divide us. Keep us apart from people who we love and hold dear. People who mean the most. I know the
hurt. I know the anger. But as I watch families torn apart from squabbling, I, very often, also see the glimmer of love they hold that is so buried that they cannot feel it anymore. It is scarred over and numb.

Forgiveness is hard, but we must try. At the end of life, I do see people, a lot of people, making attempts to bridge the gap. But too much time has passed, too much scar tissue remains.

So do it now, while you are very much alive.

While you can still look forward.

"The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new." Socrates

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Things I Want my Daughter to Know

I am the Mother of one daughter, Catherine. She was born on a lovely March day after many years of infertility, miscarriages, and dashed hopes and dreams. It was clearly the best day of my life.

But I am a mother just like you. I have other things I do with my day. I am busy running errands, cleaning up messes, dealing with laundry and sometimes trying to read. I am also preoccupied with many other, seemingly unimportant things and I am certainly not perfect. I do try to be a good mom, but I know that sometimes I fall short of that mark as well. But my life is full and happy, and for that I am grateful.

One of the ways that I fill my life, besides being a mother and wife, is by being a hospice nurse. I did not actively seek out this job, it sort of found me. I have been a nurse, in one form or another, for 30 years now. I had never worked in the hospice field before, but it had touched my life. My own mother had hospice in 1997 when she died, as did my young cousin, who died much too young in 2001.

So I became a hospice nurse. Most of my patients are seniors. The ending of their lives has touched me for sure, although they seem to follow the normal course of the universe.  Many had full lives and were well loved. I was saddened, but felt that I was helping them and their families cope and I could go home and continue my life without too much distress. Things were ok. Then one day, I received the name of a patient to see at a large teaching hospital in Boston. When I looked at the chart, I did not see just a new patient to admit. I only saw myself.  A woman, age 42 at the time. The mother of a 4-year-old daughter. She had struggled for years with infertility and this child was a gift. She was diagnosed with cancer during her pregnancy, but refused treatment as not to harm her child. She fought hard against the disease. But in the end, it had won.

I went to see her with a feeling of dread. This is one of my worst fears, to leave my daughter. As I entered the room, I could sense her full presence. Her daughter was playing in the room, talking to her, like any normal child would. Her unresponsive mother could not respond verbally, but I definitely sensed a charge in the room, a warmth. I cannot describe it, but it was there. When the patient’s sister came to take the child to lunch, all that energy left with her.

I sat there with the patient, she was comatose. I told her what a beautiful daughter she had and how proud she must be of her. It was hard for me to be there, I wanted to run away. I held back my tears until I got to my car, then I couldn’t stop crying. I cry now still, years after her death, as I write this.

I had to see her many more times, as we see patients who are hospitalized every day. Each day was difficult for me, but I had to remember that I am the one having the good day. There is no reason for me to feel sorry for myself. All my energy needs to be directed to the patient and the family.

I brought the patient’s daughter some princess stickers at one visit. She proceeded to place them all over her “sleeping” mother. The mother looked ethereal lying there. She still had all her wonderful, beautiful thick and flowing red hair. The floor nurses had lovingly brushed it. She did not look as though she were ill. She did indeed look as though she were only sleeping.

I stayed longer than my normal visits when I went to see her. I sat in the chair next to her and talked.  I talked about her daughter, how she was the same age as my daughter.  I talked about her sister and mother who would be raising her daughter, how wonderful they were.  How I wish I still had my mom.  How I had always had wished for a sister.

I talked to her about my own daughter.  I talked as though we were friends just chatting. Her sister and mother were sometimes in the room when I came, and we all sat around the bed like old friends.  They told me how my talks with her seemed to calm her.  The nurses would call me when she was agitated and I would try to come, even on my time off. 

When I returned home after these visits, I would see my daughter, but with new eyes.  I thought about what I needed to share with her now that was truly important.  We all think we have so much time.  But we don’t.  So I took the time to read the story.  I listened more patiently when she told me a story.  I hugged her more.  I smelled her hair.  We went for longer walks.  I pushed her longer on the swing.

I saw her thorough my patient’s eyes, and my eyes opened more than I could have ever imagined.   

This lovely patient, who taught me so much, without ever speaking a word, died quietly a few days later. I read about it in the paper and heard it in report.  She died at midnight on the cusp of spring, a day before my birthday.

Months, years have passed since then. But I still, to this day, think about her. She has, without knowing, made me a better wife, mother and nurse.

 I thank her.


Monday, June 8, 2015

No longer one of the boys....

Okay. So I have not written on my blog since January and I was even spotty prior to that.  I could blame it on a lot of things, but the bottom line is that I have simply not been inspired to write.

I have had enough of death.  A high school friend died recently, suddenly, without warning.  A young 41 year old mom, with three kids, recently diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.  The list is long and I will not bore you, but it became, over time, overwhelming for me. 

 I know there is no escaping bad news. Beheadings in the paper, massive flooding reported on TV and all sorts of unjustified shootings. Just too much to take. 

I finally just turned off the news once and for all. 

I like reading about tea. So that became my go to read. Teatime magazine has the loveliest pictures on-line of beautiful table settings and wonderful recipes.  I indulged in that when not working or cleaning or shopping or walking in nature or taking care of my new chickens and ducks. I started to feel better.  And I kept ignoring the real news as much as I possibly could.

But one headline kept screaming at me.  Bruce Jenner.  Caitlyn Jenner.  I see it everywhere. It is hard to ignore.

People are talking about it. A lot.  Perhaps that is a good thing.  At least she is using her fame to bring to light a subject many once thought taboo.

People are posting her magazine cover on facebook.  Some of the comments are cruel.  Some, not so bad.  Most of my friends have not posted.  I know I have not.  But still, I thought about it often.

I know a few transgender people. I like them. They are good people. They did not feel like they were men (they were both male at birth) and finally decided not to hide their true selves anymore and became outwardly female.  They were always female inside.

I thought, I could not imagine living like that.  Hiding something because of fear or shame or insecurity.  Afraid of ridicule. 

But then I thought more about that and decided, most of us do this all the time. I know I do.

Very few of us show our true selves to the world.  We think we are too fat.  This is not possibly me we say when we see a picture of ourselves.  I was always the skinny girl. That is my true self, not this tub!  Or we lose our hair.  Or our stamina   We go grey. 

So what do we do?  We try to fix it.  We try to become more our "real" selves.  The picture we have in our heads and hearts of who we truly are. 

So, how is this different from Caitlyn? Or any other transgender person?  They just want to live as their real selves, too.  Why do we find this so amusing and entertaining? This is someones real life.  Why is it so hard for us to accept change?

We are also most likely never going to be on the cover of a magazine and we are certainly not getting a reality TV show. We are not famous.  But the famous are going to be hounded and photographed and written about regardless how discreet they try to be.  "Gotcha" is the way society is entertained now.  So I am sure it was empowering for Caitlyn to take that power away and give it to herself and present herself in a way that made her feel beautiful and special. 

I wish we could all do that.  I hope her family responds in kind and embraces her. Society will not. That is hard enough, but loved ones turning away, that is a heartbreak I wish on no one.

I  remember a hospice patient I was asked to see years ago.  She was a lovely lady with end stage pancreatic cancer who wanted to die at home.  I went to the address I was given and was told her son  would be there.  But when I rang the bell, the door was opened by a woman.

Hi, I am Jane, she said.

She a looked a bit like a man, five o'clock shadow with a rather large protruding adam's apple that bobbed up and down as she talked.  She wore longish blond hair and a too tight shirt with a flowing checkered skirt.  Her voice was deep and strong.  She had beautiful, long red acrylic nails. 

Good afternoon, I said.  Is your mom Nancy here?

Right this way she said.

Her mother was in a lavishly decorated bedroom wearing a white flowing nightgown and robe.  She was reclining on the bed looking regal and thin, but comfortable and calm.

Come in she said.

Her husband, Ed, sat nervously in the corner. 

I came home to die and I want you to go over all my medications with James so that I am not in pain.

Jane, mom.  Not James anymore.

Oh, right dear.  Sorry.

I could feel the tension in the room.  It was palpable. 

Ed got up and walked away.

I stayed for over two hours.  I reviewed everything that Jane needed to do to keep her mom comfortable.  There was so much left unsaid in that room. You could feel it hovering like a cloud before the storm.  But I said nothing.

Then I left them and walked out to speak to Ed.

He was sitting in the kitchen reading the Boston Globe.

He looked up.

Do you have any questions I asked.

Yeah.  Why did my son do this now?  Why could he not have waited until after she was gone?  I just don't get it.  James is our only child.  He was James until last month.  It sickens me to the core. I do not know what to do.  He is no longer my boy.

I sat down with Ed. I did not know what to say.

We sat in silence for a few minutes, then I heard a loud commotion in the bedroom. 

Come on Ed, come with me.  Let's see what Nancy needs. 

Ed followed me as we hurriedly entered the bedroom.

On the bed we saw Nancy.  Lying next to her was Jane.  They were looking at old family pictures in an album and laughing.  The loud commotion was laughter.  They sat close lying against a sea of pillows touching shoulders. 

Come Ed, join us said Nancy. 

But Ed left instead. 

I followed.

He went back to the kitchen, sat down and cried.

I am losing my wife and I lost my son.  It is almost too much for a man to take.

But you have not lost your son I said.  You have to forge a new relationship with Jane. 

Jane, shmane.  I will never get used to that.  It is humiliating.  Do you know he went to Harvard?  Played sports. We went to football games and played golf.  He left his investment firm.  He is living this weird life.  I am so ashamed. 

As Ed said this I looked up to find Nancy standing there. 

Ed, she said.  He looked up.

We have been married 53 years.  James is still our son.  But he lived a lie for us.  He wanted me to know the true person before I died. He wanted to be with me as he truly is. As she truly is. As she has truly been all her life. Of course, I knew about this for a long time.  I hid it from you.  I knew you would not be able to take it.  I encouraged her to move forward faster, before I was gone.  I wanted us to be a family before I go.  I wanted you to know her.  She is all you have.  And she is the same, loving person we raised.  Inside.  I hope you can embrace that.  It is my dying wish.

Ed looked at her.  It was silent for what seemed a very long time.  I asked if I should go.  Ed said no. 

I have known also, said Ed. I want to love her.  But I love him. All my life I wanted a son. I cannot face the humiliation.  I built a life on a lie.  Everything is falling apart.

Ed got up, hugged his wife, grabbed his keys and was gone. 

I followed this patient for quite some time.  Most of the time Jane was there and Nancy's friends and sister.  Ed was always working or out somewhere.

One day I called Ed to see if might come home early.

Nancy is taking a turn for the worse I told him.

I was there when Nancy died.  She had a peaceful death.  Jane was there and so was Ed.  They both cried over what they had lost.

Not only Nancy, but each other.

I often think of them.  I had heard that Jane moved away from Boston to California.  Then one day I read an obituary about Ed.

 In it, James was listed as the surviving son.

Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live. ~Norman Cousins

What is the opposite of two?  A lonely me, a lonely you. ~Richard Wilbur

Your absence has gone through me like thread through a needle. Everything I do is stitched with its color. ~W.S. Merwin

Thursday, January 1, 2015

And so it goes......

Happy New Year.

I have heard that now from several friends and family members, be it through social media, a text or a phone call. And I say it back.  I truly hope for happiness for all. I am looking forward to a new year and do feel happy and hopeful. It is nice to be free to feel that way, a blessing really.

But last night, on New Year's Eve, my work phone rang.  Now, I had taken vacation time and we had a wonderful holiday in Italy the past 10 days.  My cellphone voicemail said that I would return after the New Year and so I thought about just letting it go.  But our furnace had a problem and I thought it might be the repairman as they had my work phone on file.  So I answered.

It was not the furnace repairman.

It was a discharge planner from a hospital I know well. She needed help.  A patient needed discharged to home and she did not know who to call after hours on a holiday night. 

The patient, she described, was a young mother with three children and a husband, who had an evil brain cancer that had worsened and she just wanted to go home to die.  As the discharge planner described the case to me in more detail, my heart sank.  It hit close to home as she had a daughter the same age as my own.

And so it goes. Life ends. It does. Not the happy reflection I had hoped to have on this New Year's Eve.  But an important one none-the-less.

It makes mindless resolutions seem silly.

So here are some resolutions that I am going to follow this year and that I have tried to follow always, but sometimes fall short.  The beginning of a year is always a good reminder to try harder.

1. Reach out to people you meet and be kind, even if they are not.  You have no idea what they are going through.  Have blind compassion.

2. Be patient with people.  They do not have to live up to your standards, your schedule or your agenda.

3. Hug your kids more. Even teens who snarl. They need it most.

4. Never ignore a homeless person.  If you do not want to give them money, at least acknowledge their presence.

5. Do something nice for someone, it does not matter who.  Do it when you are feeling like no one cares about  you.  That is the best time.

6.  Remember that you will die.  We all will.  But what we leave behind, in thoughts and memories, is important.  So think before you speak.  Someone may remember that the rest of their lives. 

7.  Try not to take yourself or others so seriously.  But do not diminish other's thoughts or feelings.  Why be a cloud in someone else's parade?  Why do that?  Just don't.

And so it goes.....Another year to hopefully be safe, happy and a bit wiser. 

Peace to all. 

A good character is the best tombstone. Those who loved you and were helped by you will remember you when forget-me-nots have withered. Carve your name on hearts, not on marble.
~Charles H. Spurgeon

Approach the New Year with resolve to find the opportunities hidden in each new day. ~Michael Josephson

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Missing my Mom

I hate Mother's Day.  Even though I am a mother, this day is incredibly hard for me.

I hate seeing the advertising that screams, "Call your MOM!" and "Mom's Special Day."  It doesn't seem directed to me as much as it seems like a direct hit to my soul.  I have no mom anymore.  I have no one to call.  I know I am a mom, but still. 

I miss my mom.  There is no other way to describe it.  I simply miss her. She died two months after learning she had cancer. I was there when she died.  The hole that was left is still there. She died in October 1997. I remember every single moment. 

My daughter was born in March of 1999.  I missed my mom the whole time as I went through infertility treatments, through each month of my pregnancy, and of course, each year; no, each day of my daughter's life.  There is something missing from my daughter's life.  And it is my mom.

My mother would know what to say to her now, as a teen going through teen things.  She would advise me what to do.  She would hug us and tell us we were fine.  I need those words so badly. I really do. I don't feel fine. I need her so much.

My mom was not perfect.  No mom is.  But the love, when real and raw, can be perfect, if only in hindsight.

I hope my daughter misses me when I am gone.  My hearts breaks for all those girls, and are we not just all girls, no matter how old we get? Anyway, my heart bleeds for all those girls who have a mother to see, but who cannot be touched.

So what are we to do, the unmothered?  None of us are totally motherless, otherwise we would not be here.  But so many of us are unmothered.  Either because of death or something like a living death.  It is all heartbreaking.

Sometimes I look at old pictures of my mom.  I wonder what she was thinking, who she was inspired by, who she hated, who she revered.  I never thought to ask those questions, always seemingly caught up in my own world, looking inward at myself.  And always thinking there would be more time.

I wish I knew then to ask.  So many regrets.  So much time I thought we would have together.

But then time ran out.

It makes me think of my own daughter, lost in her own world as well.  I am much more demonstrative with her, more open, spend much more time with her than my own mother ever did with me.  But that was not out of any lack of love or understanding. It was just the way it was back then.  And it is just the way I am now.  No accusations.  No, not at all.  I am who I am because of her. 

Anyway, to all you moms who no longer have moms, I wish you a very Happy Mother's Day.  You are not alone.  We all grieve and celebrate and move on.

It is what our mothers would have wanted. 

Happy Mother's Day Mom.

A little girl, asked where her home was, replied, "where mother is."
~Keith L. Brooks

Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.
~Edna St Vincent Millay