Today is World AIDS Day

Did you know that?

There is a giant red ribbon hanging on the front porch of the White House today.

December 1 is still World AIDS Day.  There still is no cure.  People still get sick and die because of AIDS.

People are also living much longer and are taking medicines that really do help slow the progress of the disease.

The drugs that work are very expensive and state and federal programs that help pay for them are in danger of being cut.

Sometimes the side effects and the dosing schedule are so difficult and intolerable that folks stop taking the drugs.

I spend a lot of time helping out at Higher Ground, a day center for people who are HIV positive.   It is a free-standing program of Triad Health Project, the local AIDS service organization.  Three days a week, every week, local churches and other groups provide lunch for 25-40 hungry clients and volunteers and the one paid staff person who tends the souls and cleans the toilets for all who come through the doors.

Higher Ground is a place of acceptance for many who have been turned away by family, churches, and friends.  Believe me when I say, God is in this place and miracles do happen here.  Like crack addicts who are able to stay clean and have their own apartments for the first time in their adult lives thanks to case managers at Triad Health Project and the support and love of peers at Higher Ground.  Or men like my friend Bill who has been HIV positive since the 1980’s.  He had a leg amputated above the knee a while back because of HIV complications and was back at “The House” a few weeks later, smiling.  Many volunteers over the years, from high school students to those of us with gray hair, have been profoundly touched by the courage and faith of the men and women who pass through Higher Ground.

Did you know all this was still happening?

Today, there is much more hope.  But AIDS is not gone.  If you can, please donate your time and/or money to a local AIDS service organization.  They still need you.

Triad Health Project’s vision statement:

We will stand together for as long as it takes until HIV/AIDS is no more, promoting enlightenment, dignity, acceptance, understanding, and love; demonstrating that we are not only enduring this epidemic, but also prevailing over it.

Still.

(I first wrote this in 2010. I re-post it every year. It’s all true. Still.)

 

Published in: on December 1, 2019 at 9:19 am  Comments (2)  
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Last One Standing

(After reading this, the retired man I live with reminded me that October 31-November 2 is the Day of the Dead [more information] celebration in Mexican culture. Today is November 2, 2019.)

I drove past my sister’s cemetery in Raleigh earlier today. She died when she was almost 19. Her parachute didn’t open. Neither did the reserve chute.

It was June 10, 1972. She had just finished her freshman year at UNC. I was 20 and had just finished my sophomore year. Our brother was 16 and had just finished his sophomore year in high school. We lived in North Hills in Raleigh.

I never know what to say when people ask if my sister and I were close. We were 16 months apart in age, We moved a lot growing up. 4 elementary schools, 1 junior high, and 2 high schools for me; 3 elementary schools, a junior high, a middle school and 1 high school for her. Each time we moved, we only knew each other so we had to stick together, at least until we made new friends. We loved each other and stuck up for each other, but, boy, could we bicker and argue.

We were very different. The older we got, the more different we got.

She had (natural) fiery red hair. Mine was somewhere between dirty blond and brown. In high school, I was in the Honor Society and a senior class officer. She acted in a play at NC State University about the Marquis de Sade, known as the father of written eroticism.(click here for more information) I went to her play, was uncomfortable and slightly embarrassed and couldn’t understand what it was about. I don’t think she understood most of my my choices, either. Like having a thing for football players at Carolina.

She was a risk-taker. I was a play-it-safe rule-follower. She tried LSD in high school and told me I shouldn’t. I never did and didn’t drink until I was legal.

When she was 17, she asked our parents to sign a permission form  so she could legally try parachuting with her college-age boyfriend.  They told me later they signed because they knew she’d do it either way (she would have) and they wanted to know what she was planning.

She LOVED it.

She invited me to go with them. I thought she was nuts and said so. My stomach would flip every time I thought about it. Still does.

The day she died, I remember the retired man I live with now picking me up early from my shift in the fabric department at Sears. He had met my parents for the first time that afternoon (we’d been together a couple of months). He was at our house when my parents found out she’d died and he came to get me. He wouldn’t tell me why, just that I had to come home.

I remember Mom and Dad meeting me at the front door. I remember screaming “Nooooo!” I remember my dad crying. I remember waiting a couple of hours for my brother to get home from an away baseball game. I don’t think we ever ate dinner.

I remember my brother and I went with Mom and Dad the next day to pick a grave site. I remember laughing at some things my dad said. Better to make silly (probably inappropriate) jokes rather than cry, I guess. I remember wondering what the cemetery guy thought of us.

We picked a quiet spot on a hillside overlooking a pond. Over the years, the pond disappeared and became a road. I suppose it doesn’t really matter.

My parents and my brother have all died now.  My sister is in Raleigh, my parents are buried together in a cemetery in Greensboro, where I live. Part of my brother’s ashes went in a creek in the NC mountains and my daughters and I took the rest of his ashes to the ocean on the NC coast.

I don’t visit the cemeteries. I never really have. I didn’t stop when I drove past my sister’s today. She’s not there. And Mom and Dad aren’t in the one in my town, either. I do think about all of them. I have conversations sometimes.

I wonder what my sister would have been like at 66–impossible to imagine!–and I wonder what she’d think of my life at 67.

I often hear my brother say, in his deep southern drawl, “It is what it is, Rob.”

I am the last one standing.

I miss them all.

 

 

 

 

Published in: on November 2, 2019 at 5:26 pm  Comments (12)  
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What have you missed?

“Be in today.”

“Be in the moment.”

“Be where your feet are.”

I heard those words in a book discussion about gratitude at my church. (We read Grateful by Diana Butler Bass.)

I heard them at a retreat for women in recovery.

And as part of a discussion about living life on life’s terms.

So I decided to try it.

Over pizza with 2 grandchildren at The Best Pizza In Town place (that’s what they call it), I learned from Adaline, then 8 and starting 3rd grade, that geckos can lick their eyes. You know the little guy on Geico commercials? That’s a gecko. Here’s a picture.  No, I’m not sure how she knows that, but her mom used to be a zookeeper and they talk about animals a lot, so I believe her. I love hearing the thoughts that go through the minds of my grandchildren.  If I’m “in the moment” I don’t miss anything.

I spent 4 years at UNC Chapel Hill. I walked past a statue of a guy with a gun called Silent Sam dozens if not hundreds of times. All I ever knew about the statue was what I was told at orientation–he fires his gun if a virgin walks by. (It was the early 1970’s. We thought that was funny. I have evolved.)

I didn’t know until Confederate statues became a news item that Silent Sam was erected in 1913 in honor of UNC alumni who died in the Civil War. The dedication speech was given by Julian Carr, a prominent industrialist, UNC alumnus, former Confederate soldier, and the largest single donor towards the construction of the monument. He urged his audience “to devote themselves to the maintenance of white supremacy with the same vigor that their Confederate ancestors had defended slavery.”

How could I not know that?? I never stopped to notice. Or ask.

When Adaline started kindergarten 4 years ago, I was so excited for her. I loved school. I felt safe and i enjoyed learning. I wished for her the same. I was horrified a few weeks later when her mother described the active shooter drill her class practiced that day. Adaline had her own special cupboard to climb into and hide in. All of my grandchildren are in elementary school now. I guess all three of them have active shooter drills just like they have fire drills. I wonder what the teachers call those active shooter drills.

I read about Kevlar book bags. Kevlar is what they use to make bullet-proof vests for police officers. This company, Bullet Blocker, makes “School Safety Solutions.” My first thought was, “Wouldn’t that be heavy?” My second thought was to be shocked that I wasn’t shocked. I can’t imagine explaining to a 6 or 8 year old child the need for a heavy, bullet-proof backpack.

How do we teach a child who is fascinated by a gecko’s long tongue about the world she lives in?

One moment at a time, I think.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in: on October 18, 2019 at 6:24 pm  Comments (4)  
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Overdose?

I keep hearing about people dying. Not the regular kind of dying I’d expect at 67 with friends well into their 70’s. No, these are other kinds of dying. Some end the life of the body. Some just slowly kill the soul.

A woman who was a member of AA for years started drinking again and died from alcohol poisoning.

Another woman who had years of sobriety drank again while caring for her dying parent and is going back to treatment.

A 60-year-old man struggled for years to stay sober. He started drinking again. He was taken from the bank to the ER and then admitted for an apparent stroke. He’s having trouble talking and walking.

A woman with grandchildren starts prescription pain medicine after a knee replacement. When the prescription runs out, she looks for other sources. She finds an opioid laced with fentanyl. It doesn’t end well.

A young woman with anorexia died because she was too weak to survive necessary surgery.

A man committed suicide after a long stretch of untreated depression mixed with a lot of alcohol and a gun in his house.

A woman dropped out of Social Work because she couldn’t leave her troubled clients behind at the end of the day.

A man is forced to retire from stressful, lucrative work because he has heart disease and unmanageable diabetes.

An 8-year-old overweight child is teased and bullied at school. Her mother gives her cookies after hearing her story saying, “These will help you feel better.”

A young woman becomes consumed by what’s in the news and what is wrong with her world. She doesn’t see how she can make a difference.

A husband with a young daughter gets hooked on internet porn. His wife asks him to leave.

An older woman whose kids and grandchildren have moved away starts to miss purpose, a reason to get up in the morning. She dwindles, begins to fade away.

Overdoses?

I say “Yes.”

An AA friend says we are all feel-good junkies, just wanting to feel better. Or not feel anything at all.

So we drink. We eat (or not). We misuse drugs. We stay busy. We become focused on sex or online porn. We care for others. We work. We just stop caring.  And because they work for a while, we do these things more and more until they start to do us harm.

Money or lack of it doesn’t seem to matter. It happens to people in good health and to those who with chronic illnesses. To those with families who love them and those who are truly alone. Some may appear happy and content.  Others may obviously feel bad.

Maybe the difference is being able to ask for or accept help. These holes are hard to climb out of alone. Love and support from others are good things, but enabling self-destructive behavior is not good. What all enablers have in common: they love someone who is out of control, and they find themselves taking more responsibility for the actions of that person than the person is taking for themselves. A woman once said at an Al Anon meeting, “Help is the sunny side of control.” Think about that for a minute.

So what do we do?

When one of my grown daughters was going through a hard time, a friend told me, “All you can do is love her and pray for her.” It didn’t feel like enough.

I think we also need to keep talking and writing, with friends and more publicly, about our own experiences with addiction and mental health issues. We have to lessen the shame.

And we need to listen mindfully and lovingly, without judgment, without trying to fix them, when others trust us enough to share their hard stuff.

And my friend was right. We need to love them and pray for them.

 

 

 

 

Published in: on October 9, 2019 at 12:32 pm  Comments (3)  
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What do you want for the rest of your life?

I want to be present wherever I am. Not checked out. Not shut down. Not drifting by.

I want to feel the feelings that surface through the day. I want to know what I’m feeling. I want to feel fully.

I want to have enough energy to do the things that help me be present: enough to exercise, enough to complete tasks, enough to be creative, enough to feed myself–nutritionally, spiritually and emotionally.

I want to stay connected to my daughters–not interfering and not staying too detached.

I want to have fun with my grandchildren, I want to be present every moment I’m with them. I want them to know me and want to be with me.

I want to remember gratitude.

I want to be healthy enough to be present to other people, to be able to listen to them. Listening, really listening, is a gift I can give.

I want to remember that God is always present, that I am never alone.

 

 

 

 

Published in: on September 27, 2019 at 11:13 am  Comments (2)  
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A Family Disease

Addiction is a mean, nasty brain disease.

Sometimes people die.

Last week a 39 year old husband and father, married to a girl my kids grew up with, committed suicide in a very public way. A recovery friend said, “Addiction had him around the neck and destroyed his life.”

We hear a lot these days about the opioid epidemic. Many more struggle with alcohol. It, too, can be an addictive drug. Mental illness and addiction may both be present.

In the last couple of years, I’ve known at least 3 women my age who have had to bury GRANDchildren due to addiction/suicide. More have lost sons and daughters. I heard about another young woman recently who struggled to stay sober who fell out of bed, broke her neck, and died.

Death can be sudden or slow and painful.

Years ago, one of my daughters asked me why some people stay sober and others don’t. “You have to be able to tolerate some discomfort,” I told her. More in the beginning, then it can get better. Cravings ease. You’re left with Feelings. And Life on Life’s terms, as they say in AA. With nothing to numb you.

When I got sober, I had no idea how to do “Big Feelings,” as my granddaughter calls them. My family didn’t do feelings; we stuffed them. And the adults drank to make the day go away. My first therapist gave me a list of feeling words, a whole page of them!

I’ve been sober 32 years, thanks to a Higher Power, the love of my husband and my daughters and grandchildren, a lot of AA meetings, several sponsors, healthy and balanced friends, a great therapist, and never forgetting that I can’t drink.

Slowly but surely, I learned how to do “Big Feelings.”

Chances are you know an addict or someone who loves one. It is a family disease.

There is hope. Sobriety is possible. Help is available.

The young woman whose husband died asked on Facebook today for any video friends have of Tyson. His little son wants to hear his dad’s voice again.

Please find help if you need it.

For more information:

Alcoholics Anonymous

Narcotics Anonymous

Al Anon (for friends and family of alcoholics)

Nar Anon (for friends and family of drug addicts)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in: on May 21, 2019 at 5:31 pm  Comments (6)  
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What Kitchen Tool Am I?

(The title was a writing group prompt.)

When I looked around the kitchen I realized most of the tools are made to change stuff. They are the movers and shakers of food world. The potato masher smashes. The whisk stirs things up. The mixer combines. The different spoons stir and serve. Nothing ends up like it started.

I’m not a potato smasher. Too violent.

The mixer, maybe. I do like to combine people in groups.

Not the whisk. I try not to stir things up. I’m more a peacemaker.

I’m an ingredient rather than a tool.

An ingredient is “a component part of something.” (dictionary.com) It add taste and spice and color. Without ingredients, you have nothing to cook and serve.

I am a component part of several communities: my family, my friends, my church, AA, Triad Health Project. Sometimes I’m the spice. Sometimes I’m the humor. Sometimes I’m the quiet presence.

Each group I participate in has changed me. I’ve tasted new ideas, laughed and cried, and gotten to know people I would probably never have met otherwise. I am not the same as when I started.

Without me, those groups would be different. Something would be missing. They would be incomplete. Because I joined with them, they are not the same as when they started.

We all are part of God’s creation. Each of us is an essential ingredient. We each add a unique taste or spice or color.

Moment by moment, we are co-creating God’s world.

 

Published in: on May 8, 2019 at 2:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Thanksgiving Thought

 

What if you woke up tomorrow

and all you had

was what you thanked God for today?

From a man named Jim

who was HIV positive for many years

and died of cancer a few years ago

 

Published in: on November 21, 2018 at 9:23 am  Leave a Comment  

HOPE IN AN ARABESQUE

I live in the South, in a medium-size city in the central part of North Carolina. We’re 2-3 hours from the Appalachian Mountains and 3 1/2 hours from the beach. We have long, hot, humid summers and mild winters.

I grew up in the Midwest and we moved to North Carolina in 1968, when I was a sophomore in high school. I missed the worst of blatant segregation. The “Colored” and “White” signs were gone from water fountains and bathrooms. But the first time we drove east from Raleigh to go to the beach we drove past a billboard in the county next to ours that said “Welcome to Klan Kountry.”

50 years (!!) later, things are different. My city has been a haven for immigrants for years and we often hear other languages at the grocery store. We have a gay woman on the City Council and a Newcomers School for the kids of recent immigrants. At street festivals and concerts in the park we all come together peacefully–whites, African Americans, Asians and others from all over the world.

The other day, I went to our nationally known Aquatic Center for water exercise. While I bobbed and marched and skipped back and forth in a lane, I watched several instructors giving swim lessons to little kids. The kids’ parents and siblings sat together on some bleachers. Some were African American, some were white, some looked to be Indian or Pakistani and some were Asian. The instructors were white and African American, male and female.

One pairing especially caught my eye. The instructor for this one-on-one lesson was a massive African American man who looked like he had been a lineman on a college football team. The student was a little bitty white girl in a bright pink suit with a bright pink swim cap and bright pink goggles.  She reminded me of my granddaughter. She was reluctant to go in the water so he coaxed her down the long ramp for wheelchairs. She took a few steps into 6 inches of water and went into an arabesque ballet pose.

So did he.

They took a few more steps. Now the water was about a foot deep. She held the bar beside her and arabesqued again.

So did he.

After one more arabesque, they made it down the ramp and the lesson began. Today, two days later, I saw them again. They entered the water down the ramp the same ballet-ic way as before. When they got all the way into the pool, she was put her face in, kicked, and moved her arms to do freestyle and then tried backstroke. She trusted him to hold her up as she floated on her back. I think they were both having fun She hugged him when the lesson was over.

After she left, I had a chance to tell him how much I enjoyed watching them. He told me she was 3 years old and adamantly refused the first 2 days to get near the water. The day of the poses was her third day. I told him they were the best thing I’d seen all week.

Don’t give up, my friends.

We are making progress. It just doesn’t make the news.

Published in: on August 9, 2018 at 1:57 pm  Comments (2)  
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I Love Being Amma

I last posted original writing on this blog a year and a half ago. In that year and a half I had one medical issue after another–surgeries, infection, medication side effects, changes in my arthritis treatment, depression, and midway through all of it we downsized from our big house to a 3 bedroom apartment. Now I have days with little pain, no stairs and plenty of energy.

I am grateful.

And ready to focus on the world around me, not on myself.

My grandchildren, Adaline, Maggie, and Atticus have kept me going through all this time. They are 8, 6, and 6 (cousins, not twins). They’re all in public school  and thriving.

Let me tell you a story that shows why they could make me laugh (SUCH good medicine) when nothing much could.

One day last year, they were all here at our place with Adaline and Atticus’s mom. Atticus was in the living room playing with these discs you build stuff with (Brain Flakes) and the girls asked if they could go back in the guest room and play on the computer. The retired man I live with got them going and we adults were able to sit and converse for a while.

The girls were giggling–how nice they were having fun together! They called Atticus back to see something. Even nicer, right? They were all laughing in a way that caught my daughter’s and my attention. “Maybe we should check on them, she said.” She went back and called to us.

We all 6 huddled around the computer. I started giggling along with the kids. Adaline and Atticus’s mom tried not to. Grandpa Mike was kind of horrified but laughing at the same time.

Adaline, who was 7 and in 1st grade was learning to spell phonetically. So she googled “poop,” a favorite topic of conversation for all 3 kids. They found “The Poopy Song” on You Tube. (click The Poopy Song.)

I guess I have a very immature sense of humor. I thought it was hilarious. My daughter tried to get them to stop it. I wanted to hear the whole thing. 2 more of their parents came in shortly after. Maggie’s dad is much more proper than the rest rest of us. We all took them back to see it.

Now 8 of us huddled around the computer and watched it. Maggie’s mom didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, I think, and kept checking for Maggie’s dad’s reaction. I’m not sure he could breathe. He really was appalled, but realized he was outnumbered and left the room.

I LOVE being a grandparent.

(Update 7-27-2018: At our house today they found another giggle-inducing song about farting. Let One Go, based on the Frozen song “Let It Go.” They could be finding worse.)

Published in: on July 27, 2018 at 9:50 am  Comments (2)  
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