I'll check in next week.
My aunt and uncle aren't coming to town tomorrow, because my uncle is in the hospital. He has struggled with asthma all his life and he was admitted with severe respiratory congestion. It doesn't seem to be "serious," but anytime an 80YO is in the hospital -- anytime ANYONE is in the hospital, it can get serious very easily.
We've always said that we'll take things one day at a time with my mom, be grateful for each day that she wakes up feeling okay. Those days may be coming to an end. She is having more discomfort in her belly these days. She gets tired very quickly these days. She gets dizzy these days.
But she still wants to do things; she still WANTS to be well.
My brother's widow was visiting this past week; Mother pushed herself to be able to enjoy Elizabeth's visit. She was able to push herself, but she needed a lot more down time than she has before now. Her younger sister is coming into town for a few days this next week, and I know Mother will push herself again, because I know how very important it is for her. After that is our little trip to Santa Fe: We're flying up to Albuquerque, but I worry about how she'll do in the car between points A and B.
One of my nephews is getting married May 2. The bride had always wanted a fall wedding, but my mom told them that she couldn't guarantee being around for that, so they've moved it up. We can only hope that they moved it up far enough, that Mother is well enough to enjoy the wonderful day.
My family has learned that you can't take a single day for granted, so for now, we take each day with gratitude. Day by day.
Bazza is 53, forever single like me, forever sun-tanned unlike me, and forever rotund from years of eating family-sized packs of fish and chips. My cholesterol is a slightly elevated five-point-something; his is off the scale. Food aside, Bazza's obsession is tennis, and his regular forays to the tennis court are probably keeping him from having a heart attack.
I'm the captain of the Saturday doubles team but in name only. Bazza tells me well in advance who to pick for the team and I ignore his instructions at my peril. At the moment we're leading the competition by a healthy margin, an unprecedented situation for him and me alike, and he's desperate for our name to appear atop the final league table come April. All the scores are reported on the internet, a facility that he doesn't have, so he's constantly ringing me to find out the results of our nearest rivals. "Whangaparaoa got seven against Glenfield," I'll say. "Good, so that means," Bazza does some swift mental calculations, "if we get eight against Browns Bay on Saturday, we'll be eleven points clear, so long as Mairangi Bay don't win. Oh, and that's assuming Silverdale don't pick up nine or ten against Northcote, of course." "Of course Bazza," I'll say.
Remarkably, since my first match with Bazza back in 2004, we've only lost once together. Like me, his technique is all over the place, but he's incredibly determined and his concentration never wavers for a second. His favourite shot is the lob which he has perfected into an art form. Today it was blowing a gale, meaning Bazza was in his element. He put up high lobs into the wind, leaving our opponents clattering into the fence in vain attempts to retrieve them. We won the first set 6-4. After dropping the opening game of the second, it was my turn to serve. Despite holding both my service games of the first set comfortably he wanted to change the order because "if you lose your serve we'll be down 2-0". Thanks Bazza. For once I stood my ground and stepped up to the baseline. We quickly went up 40-love. On the next point I hit straight to the net man. 40-15. Then I missed my first serve. "Make sure you get the second one in." When he says that, my double fault probability skyrockets. Of course that's exactly what I did. Thankfully we won the next point on the way to a flattering 6-2 second-set win.
We won the mixed match 6-4 6-4. Neither of us was anywhere near our best. We both hit a few nice-looking winners, but the whole match, like most of my life at the moment, seemed to be in slow motion. I'm always so tired, my limbs feel so lifeless and everything takes on this dull, metallic quality. I just wish things could get back to normal again.
Playing number four in our team, I got the easiest ride against the second-placed side. Overall we won by five matches to three, a result which should keep Bazza happy for the next couple of weeks at least.
11. He is a pain-in-the-a$$ preteen.
10. He has no respect for his aged, decrepit mother.
9. He terrorizes his brother.
8. His room is a mess.
7. He is incapable of putting anything in a drawer.
6. He can't spell to save his life.
5. He is a gifted artist.
4. He has a fantastic eye for detail.
3. His brain makes fabulous connections and analyses.
2. He really WANTS to be a good boy.
1. His mother loves him beyond all telling.
But first ... I get to play hostess with the mostest to some of my favorite widows. Two good friends are coming in from California, and a bunch of the locals will be getting together. I'll take folks to the Desert Museum, open my home to everyone, and enjoy the company of friends of the heart. I'm even catering the evening at my place, so that I don't have to stress out about cooking or cleaning. Cleaning! Yikes! I really do have to have my house clean before E gets here.
But first ... My favorite aunt and uncle are coming to town for a few days next week. Jane and I have been rather peeved at our mother's sisters, because neither of them has made any effort to visit Mother since she moved here to Arizona, not even since her diagnosis. We are somewhat understanding of her older sister, because Aunt Gail lives in South Carolina and her husband died of prostate cancer just this past year. But Jane wrote Aunt Pami a pointed note in her Christmas card ... and two weeks later, Pami had made plans to come to Arizona. It will be good to sit with her and Uncle Walt. She's probably the nicest person in my extended family, and he's a big ol teddy bear.
But first ... HardPlace is turning 11 this Friday! I'm not sure how it happened, but the years have flown by. I gave him the choice of a party at home with six friends or going to the family fun park with three. He chose the latters, so he and his buddies will spend several hours on Saturday playing minigolf, riding go-carts and squirt boats, hunting each other in laser tag, and wasting tokens in the arcade. This is the first time I've ever agreed to an out-of-home birthday party, and I have to say I'm somewhat relieved.
But first ... My brother's widow is arriving in town tonight. Needless to say, she and I share a deep kinship of spirit, walking this terrible WidowRoad. We talk on the phone from time to time, but I haven't seen her since Lawrence's funeral. I'm really looking forward to being with her, but I suspect that it might also be somewhat draining.
But first ... The woman who's catering my widow evening is coming over to finalize menu choices, which means I have to get out of my chair and clean the kitchen.
Crazy, the good kind. So much more enjoyable than crazy, the wretched kind.
Much better day at work today. It's amazing how quickly things can change. I almost finished this task my boss expected me to have done nearly two weeks ago. When I finish it tomorrow (I will!) I'm going to bombard my boss with spreadsheets, macros, pivot tables, fancy-coloured graphs, you name it. Should be fun.
Is there something you want to do? Somewhere you want to go? Something you need to say?
Do it while you can.
Nick was in a coma less than 96 hours after his diagnosis. So many things unsaid.
My brother died of a heart attack as he was waking up one morning. So many things undone.
Do it while you can.
My sister was diagnosed with and appears to be recovering from stomach cancer. Her husband took a leave of absence from his dental practice and the two have been enjoying a "senior year abroad." Russia, France, Scotland, Sweden, Belgium, Peru, Chile, Antarctica, Argentina.
I am so glad they are doing it while they can.
My mother is starting to have uncomfortable symptoms from the beast in her belly. Her days are numbered, and her "good days" are precious.
I just spent the morning making reservations for my mom, my sister, and I to fly off to Santa Fe for 4 days. It will be beautiful, the time spent together will be treasured forever.
We have to do it while we can.
Went to the tennis club in the afternoon, but only played briefly. Wasn't a lot of fun. Anything white seemed blindingly bright while the sound of ball on racket appeared louder than normal. I was double-faulting all over the place and was generally hopeless. And I have to play interclub tomorrow. Heaven knows what will happen there.
St. Valentine was a priest from Rome who lived during the third century. During the reign of Emperor Claudius II, he was caught assisting Christians who were being persecuted. He was asked to renounce his faith but he remained steadfast and strong in his faith. He was arrested and imprisoned. The Emperor took a liking to Valentinus but when the priest tried to convert the Emperor, he was beaten with clubs. His Christian courage and faith made him receive the torture with humility and patience.
The Prefect of Rome, finding all tortures ineffectual, ordered the beheading of St. Valentine on February 14, 269. Over a century later, in 494 AD, February 14 was declared his feast day by Pope Gelasius.
Happy Feast Day!
My mood improved when I saw Andy for my first session of CBT (is it CBT? I get confused). He's an interesting bloke and I think I'll get on with him.
The majority of the Marketing department went to Ponsonby tonight for our ex-head of department's send-off dinner. I didn't go. For some reason I couldn't face being with people, let alone work people.
That I did always love
I bring thee Proof
That till I loved
I never lived -- Enough --
That I shall love alway --
I argue thee
That love is life --
And life hath Immortality --
This -- dost thou doubt -- Sweet --
Then have I
Nothing to show
But Calvary --c. 1862
We pat ourselves on the back for all our accomplishments, small and great.
We beam with pride as we watch the next generation strive, try, stretch, grow.
We look at our struggles and try to learn from them, try to rise above them, try to find meaning, direction, and purpose in them.
And then reality bites back, making you ask -- making me ask, anyway -- WTF?
My mom -- She told me yesterday that she's been having "disturbing symptoms." She feels fine, but she's uncomfortable a lot of the time, has difficulty completing her business, etc. She played it down, but when she said she wished Jane were back from her latest trip abroad, I knew how anxious she really is.
She's "fine" -- she still wants to go places and do things. We had a great getaway to a local art festival. She picks the boys up at school once or twice a week, because she wants to and because she can. She drives herself wherever she wants to go.
But she's "uncomfortable," she doesn't sleep well, she has a deep pain that comes and goes. We can't pretend that she's going to dodge this particular bullet, that she's going to beat the odds.
My friend -- Twenty minutes after the conversation with my mom, I started getting frantic text messages from my dear friend S. S is a fellow young widow who is rebuilding her life with the man of her new dreams. She's 8 months pregnant.
And yesterday, her new love, the father of her miracle baby was diagnosed with cancer; and from the little I know, the prognosis is not good. I am heartbroken for S, that barring a miracle -- please, God, please! -- she will have to endure another devastating death; I'm heartbroken for that little baby who will never know Daddy; I'm heartbroken for E, who is losing his life -- please, God, NO! -- at a time of such tremendous hope and promise.
We strive, we try, we stretch, we grow. We reach for the future, determined to make it better than the past. Why? Why bother? Someone tell me why.
My job at times drives me insane. I'm always having to follow some process or other. Today it was an 18-step procedure (each step was numbered) that involved pressing buttons in Access, the idea being that if you press the right buttons in the right order, the program should spit out something meaningful. However I failed to get anything meaningful to spit out and eventually I gave up. Eighteen is just too many things to go wrong I guess. It's also the number of years of education I had, and at times I wonder what the point of it all was. I had Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" in my head today, probably because of the line "twenty years of schooling and they put you on the day shift".
Last year we had this survey that tried, by a series of questions, to categorise us by our personalities and our work habits. My results were interesting. Four per cent of Australasians who completed the survey were more introverted than me. No surprises there. In fact I'm surprised it was that high. Just 9% worked in a more flexible, as opposed to a structured, manner than me. Again, I'm hopelessly unstructured and disorganised, so that was to be expected. The one that got me, however, was that only 16% of Australasians were less creative than me. But now I see it: the more I've been pushing buttons and following procedures, the more my creativity has been sapped from me.
I'm feeling better than I was the last time I blogged. Don't know why that is. Things seem to go in cycles. Getting exercise, eating well, sleeping well, not drinking, all those things help. Last night's "boot camp" tennis session, which basically involves hitting lots of balls and running around, but crucially no scoring, must have done me some good.
And maybe I'm feeling better because I'm not living in Victoria right now. The bushfires that have raged across that Australian state have now claimed at least 173 lives, possibly as many as 300. I can't even begin to imagine what some of these people must be going through, and the thought that some of the fires might have been lit deliberately is sickening.
I have to tell you that I tested your son this morning: He has a 7th-grade reading vocabulary and 5th-grade reading comprehension.
I smiled and nodded as I pulled away, trying to hear myself think over the boys' immediate clamors for McDonalds and complaints of He touched me! Eventually, what Mrs. P said started to sink in... You may think that what she said is perfectly reasonable: HardPlace is in 5th grade and is performing at grade level, but he's smart. Fine.
Except she was talking about Rock, my 1st grader. I saw Mrs. P in the school office this morning and asked what the heck I'm supposed to do with that kid. What DO you do with someone who has the vocabulary of a 7th grader, the comprehension of a 5th grader, but the attention span of ... well, of a 1st grader? She laughed and said that she's been giving Rock and the other advanced child writing assignments.
I just pulled one of Rock's paragraphs out of his bookbag...
I built a snowman on Saterday. It was made out of choclete cake and marshmelos and baken and eggs and chickin legs and turky legs and coco powder and choclete frosting. I ate it. Then I barfed.
A paragraph that only a mother could love. It made me smile from the inside out. And it shot down any nascent fantasies I may have had about the boy genius I'm sheltering.
I just got this message from the youngest of Nick's siblings:
On my wall is a tribute to the father of a close friend of mine. I wondered if this is something you would care to set up for Nick. In this way we could all add photos and memories and share his life with all.Never mind that this woman hasn't contacted me one time in the last 4.5 years.
Never mind that she never acknowledged my request for her phone number.
Never mind that she never acknowledged my request for family birthdates.
Never mind that she never contributed to the family tree that I tried to build.
Never mind that she never acknowledged my previous requests to share photos and stories of Nick.
Never mind that she never acknowledged a previous page to share photos and stories of the family in general.
Never mind that she hasn't commented on my CURRENT set of photos of Nick which I JUST put up on the same networking site where she wants me to build a special page for him.
Never mind that she never even went to LOOK at the page I set up for Nick 3.5 years ago.
Never mind. Just never mind.
So what am I supposed to do?
Tilt my head perkily to one side and say, "What a good idea! I wish I'd thought of it"?
Just build the page and say, "Here"?
Tell her that I've already built a blog with his story, that I've already put up lots of pictures, that I don't need to build more memorials to him?
Encourage HER to build it as an act of love for him, which is what my previous memorials were?
Just build it, because I can, because even though I don't NEED to build it -- and I don't even want to -- but maybe she is finally ready to HAVE it, to see it, to contribute to it?
If she'd shown one shred of decency toward me at ANY point in the last 17 years, I would just do it. But aside from anything else, she's pretty much always been rude and dismissive toward me. Doing this at her suggestion would feel so icky gross and artificial.
(Have I told y'all how much I dislike my in-laws?)
I've had a head cold for over a week. I have ZERO surplus energy. I have barely managed to keep the house clean. I couldn't think of an original thought to post here if my continued right to blog depended on it.
On Wednesday I was still struggling, badly. I locked myself in the loo, writhing around with my head in my hands. I sent Lucy, my mental health guru, a high-importance "URGENT!" email basically saying that I couldn't cope. When I get those sorts of emails at work I normally delete them instantly, though luckily Lucy didn't. She said I should arrange a meeting with my boss which I did. My boss was about to take her retro calculator from the eighties, which weighs about two pounds, to the meeting but I told her she wouldn't be needing it. "I know I haven't been performing lately," I said. "Haven't you?" she said. I then mentioned that I'd been taking anti-depressants since 2001 but none of that seemed to bother her. I then figured that there can't be many jobs where if you do your work nobody says anything and if you don't nobody says anything, so I should probably stay in my job a little while longer. The "meeting", if you could call it that, cheered me up, and even the "state of the nation" address later that afternoon - a bit like a school assembly - was relatively optimistic given the current economic situation.
Yesterday things seemed a lot better. I was still a bit sluggish, maybe working at about 60-70% of capacity, but compared to the previous couple of days I was racing along. I generally felt things were getting back on track, until ...
I was plunged into tennis hell. Unusually, we were playing indoors. The conditions inside were inhumanly hot and humid and I hated every minute of it. Sweat was pouring off me. I tried to conserve energy both during and between points while my opponent, who was quite a bit older than me, didn't seem to mind the humidity one bit. My forehand has gone to pieces in the last few weeks so I tried to hit backhands whenever I could. We ended up in a tie-break in the first set and I jumped out to a 6-1 lead. Five set points, bang-bang-bang-bang-bang. He hit clean winners early in the rally on the first two set points. I can't remember what happened on the next two (which would suggest that those two points were where I really lost it), but on the fifth we wound up in a rally that went for at least fifty strokes, possibly a hundred, and everybody on the two adjacent courts had stopped play to watch it. Suffice to say I lost it, and the next two points, to lose the tie-break 8-6. After such a shitty week I didn't deserve that. Worse was to come. The second game of the second set was the longest I've been involved in since the Hemingford junior club champs final in 1996. When I finally succumbed in that game, that was it. I remember thinking, it's OK for you mate, when you get home you can tell your wife and kids you've just won this match saving all these set points, then spend the next day on a boat or whatever with your mates and invite them all back home for a barbecue, while I haven't got a wife or kids or anyone else for that matter; all I've got are my pills and this tennis match. For all intents and purposes, I'd thrown in the towel, something I'd never done before on a tennis court. I was screaming, banging my racket against my head (I've still got a headache now from that) and blasting my second serves ("blast" is a relative term there), generally acting like a prat, and lost the second set 6-love. I was really upset when I got off the court, more because of how I'd behaved than because I'd lost. Then I had to play doubles with this 16-year-old kid who has technical skill in abundance. All I wanted to do was get home though so I just went through the motions. I had that "spacey" sense of detachment I used to get years ago, where I felt I was watching the match, or whatever else I happened to be doing, rather than actually being involved. I found myself focusing on the rivets in the joists attached to the ceiling, and things like that, rather than anything going on in the match. Most of the time I had no idea what the score was. Then to my surprise I heard someone say "four-all" and that brought me back into the moment a bit. We took out the first set 7-5, blowing a few set points along the way (as they came and went I thought I was involved in some bizarre comedy), but when we won that set I realised our opponents weren't actually that good, particularly the fat bloke who I didn't play in the singles, and it was a match that we should win with something to spare. I spent the whole of the second set thinking, hit to the fat bloke, hit to the fat bloke, which was as complicated as my thought processes could go. I hit to the fat bloke, constantly, while my partner hit booming aces and forehand winners. We won the set 6-1.
An aside - I'd played my singles opponent once before, about three years ago, when I had a lot more confidence, not just in my tennis shots but in everything else. I beat him in straight sets, saving three set points, bang-bang-bang, in the second set.
Despite the surprising doubles win, given my emotional state, I was shell-shocked when I came home. I spoke to my mum and dad on the phone and went to bed just after midnight. The next thing I knew, I heard the ferry announcements. It was 9:30. I'll spend the rest of the day trying to made inroads in my to-do list, of which writing this blog post was one item.
I look at the names of high school classmates and immediately find myself "back in that place again." From the numbers of "friends" some people have, I see that they haven't changed that much: They're out collecting names as though it's a contest of sorts. It's tempting, of course, to make contact with all those familiar names, but they are, in fact, just names. We weren't friends 30 years ago, why would we be friends now?
But I have reconnected with a few folks, and it's been good. Here's the summary of my life I gave to the first person who said, "Hey, what's been happening with you?"
I stayed in Chicago after graduating from Northwestern, working for an international human rights organization. I moved to Washington DC in 1985 to continue working on social justice causes. I gradually shifted directions and became a writer-editor, mostly of technical documents (because that's where the jobs were).
I finally found the man of my dreams in 1991, and we married in '92. He was a brilliant PhD physicist with a laugh that still echoes in my heart. We adopted two boys in 1998 and 2002. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2004 and died one week later. I don't remember much of the next two years...
My brother died of a heart attack in January 2007, and five days later my sister had her entire stomach removed, along with a grapefruit-sized tumor. I brought the boys to Arizona for the summer of 2007 (where my sister and mother were living), to claim whatever time she and I might have together. She's now doing amazingly well though and the beast seems to be at bay.
Three weeks after we went back to Maryland, my mom was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer. Six weeks after that, I had rented out my house in Maryland, moved to Arizona, and enrolled the boys in school here. My mom is "okay" for now, but she has said she won't take anymore treatments. We are celebrating every day that she wakes up feeling okay, because we know the day will come when she wakes up feeling NOT okay. And from there, it will be hell until it's over...
LOL ... we must really be friends, because that wasn't a conversation stopper. But now we talk about raising little boys (he's the only classmate I know whose kids are actually younger than mine) and being grammar geeks.
The next contact took a different tone. I wrote to a classmate who'd posted about the death of her son...
Your 25 things brought tears to my eyes. You wrote on my wall, "You look wonderful!." No, I don't. I look like hell, because I've been through hell.
I've buried my father. I've buried my husband. I've buried my brother.
I pray with every fiber of my being to every god in the universe that I never have to know the pain of burying one of my sons. And I am so very sorry that you are having to endure it.
I hope that you have people in your life who understand that you aren't "over it" just because it's been a year and a half. I wish you strength for the journey, my old friend, and all the peace you can find.
She and I have developed a kinship of sorts, as my widowed friends can understand. And here's how I answered the "what's been going on" question yesterday.
I'm actually doing better than a brief synopsis of my life would sound. [No, I did not give her the synopsis.] In spite of all the hellaciousness, I think I have a better attitude right now than at any time in my life, and I certainly don't feel nearly as sorry for myself as I once did. [as I did in high school, for example]
I think I have a better attitude right now than at any time in my life, and I certainly don't feel nearly as sorry for myself as I once did.
That, my friends, is an affirmation that bears repeating.
Life is good. MY life is good. And I walk in gratitude for that.
I was tired and completely lacking energy so had a bit of a doze in the park and a walk along the waterfront. Then remembered my next tennis match was only two days away - would I be in any fit state to play? - so I went to the club to hit against the wall. I needed the exercise. A kid was practising so for some reason I drove to Beresford Street where I lived a few years ago. When I got back the wall was free so I hit against it, getting more and more frustrated. What on earth has happened to my forehand?! In the last year it has gone to pieces and I can't figure out why. Eventually I snapped and slammed my racket against my head and then the metal pole which the netting was attached to. I then stood there for a few minutes, with a sore head, dumbstruck. My racket is still entirely usable, but that's hardly the point.
Figuring I could perhaps benefit from a different form of exercise I decided I'd go for a swim in the sea. After staring at the sand for a while, I got in. It had been a hot day and the water was a lovely temperature. I swam out to the yellow 5-knot buoy and back - quite a long way actually - and felt better for it. Though it was quite late I resisted the temptation to get a takeaway.
When I was in 6th grade, we had to read a book of poetry by the author our own choosing. I had grown up reading and re-reading a favorite anthology of poetry, but I really didn't know much about poets or poetry. I'm not sure I had ever heard of Emily Dickinson, but I picked up a paperback with this iconic image of her off the rotating metal rack in the school library and checked it out. And was forever changed.
I know I renewed the checkout at least twice, maybe even three times. I'd never read such poetry, never encountered such direct intensity, never read anything that came so close to my heart.
The first time I read the following poem, I was stunned. It took my breath away. I committed it to memory right then and there, where it still dwells with reverence.
There's a certain Slant of light
on Winter Afternoons --
That oppresses, like the Weight
of Cathedral Tunes
Heavenly Hurt it gives us --
We can find no Scar,
But internal difference,
Where the Meanings are.
None may teach it Anything
Tis the Seal Despair --
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air.
When it comes, the Landscape listens --
Shadows -- hold their breath --
When it goes, 'tis like the Distance
On the look of death.
Somewhere in my personal archives is a paper I wrote about this poem my senior year in college. I still remember the professor's comment (written by the underscored A): This paper doesn't really have a thesis, Alicia, but you write with such -- Love ... that it doesn't matter.
As an aside, I was (and am?) convinced that Paul Simon wrote "For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her" for my beloved Emily Dickinson.