Poof! Gone.

I’ve never written about the day my sister died. Not in a journal, not in a workshop, not for this blog.

She jumped out of a small plane on June 10, 1972. Her parachute didn’t open. Neither did the reserve. She was almost 19. I was 20.

Her death played out in my mind over and over last week. I don’t know what triggered it. The retired man I live with said I moaned in my sleep a couple of nights. It was time to write and let go of something. What?

I decided to write it as the 1st chapter of a memoir. I opened a new blank Word document and started typing.

I never really learned to type and now my hands are damaged by my arthritis so I am a two-index-finger writer. The other fingers just sort of hang there. It works for me. Usually.

I typed 4 1/2 pages. I came back from going to the bathroom, sat down at the computer and looked at a blank page.

All my writing was gone. I felt sick, but didn’t panic. I figured one of my wandering fingers had hit something. Surely I could recapture it.

And I could have, had I saved any of it.

I DIDN’T SAVE. Any of it.

I write this blog on the WordPress website and it automatically saves every so often. I don’t have to remember to save. So I never thought to save while I dug deep into the narrative of my sister’s death.

I called my daughter who knows more computer than I do. I’d already done the things she suggested. I tried everything I could find in the Word Help menu.

It was gone. Poof. Out into the universe.

I sat and stared at the blank document.

And I laughed.

Last Saturday at my women’s AA meeting we discussed acceptance. AA’s Big Book includes this paragraph:

And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation — some fact of my life — unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.

“Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.

What if writing the story of when my sister died was enough?

What if the process mattered more than the product?

What if letting go and acceptance mattered the most?

 

 

Published in: on August 23, 2016 at 10:28 am  Comments (13)  
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A Buddhist Nun Told Me To Chill

Pain in my feet might help.

I had foot surgery a little over a week ago.  General anesthesia, both feet, outpatient surgery.  The hope was to repair or modify some of the damage from 26 years of rheumatoid arthritis so I can walk better.

The challenge is not walking on them now.  Since the first couple of days I’ve had no pain so I was up and moving around.  I saw drainage on one of the bandages four days after surgery, went to see the doctor and was told to stop walking on my feet so they could heal.  To the bathroom or to get something to eat is okay.  Sitting with feet up on the ottoman is good.  Lying on the couch is better.  For the next week and a half.

I started a 3-year-term on a non-profit’s board of directors this month.  Triad Health Project provides HIV/AIDS services, education and support to those infected and affected by the virus.  I got involved as a volunteer in the mid-90’s.  You know that Bucket List thing?  I always wanted to say, “I’m on a Board of Directors.”

Last month, I missed the social get-to-know-each-other gathering at a wine bar because I had horrible back spasms.  Now this month, the first for-real meeting, I have healing feet so I can’t go again.

With all my free time, I am reading Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change by Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun.  This morning I read about how we get caught up in 8 worldly concerns:  pleasure and pain, gain and loss, fame and disgrace, praise and blame.  While I was reading, the other track in my brain was struggling with whether/how to get to the 5:30 THP board meeting.  (It gets busy inside my head.)

I am used to being the good kid.  I generally follow through on commitments and am pleasant and helpful to have around.  My reputation matters to me.  A lot.

I do not like that my disease may shape others’ first impression of me.  I want to be seen as competent.  Not needy, not vulnerable, not disabled.

Pema Chodron says, “If we don’t act on our craving for pleasure or our fear of pain, we’re left in the wide-open, unpredictable middle.  The instruction is to rest in that vulnerable place, to rest in that in-between state, to not hunker down and stay fixed in our belief systems but to take a fresh look with a wider perspective.  The truth is we’re always in some kind of in-between state, always in process…When we’re present with the dynamic quality of our lives, we’re also present with impermanence, uncertainty and change.”

I think that means I’m not in control.

She describes three commitments or vows Buddhists take.  First, the commitment to cause no harm.  Second, the commitment to take care of one another.  Third, the commitment to embrace the world just as it is.

I emailed the THP director and told her I would not be at the meeting.  (Do no harm to myself.)  I want to be able to help with the big fundraiser in early Dec. If I let my feet heal, I’ll help more. (Take care of one another.)  As my brother used to say, “It is what it is.”  (Embrace the world just as it is.)

I will be present to the discomfort that washes over me every time I imagine my empty chair at the THP conference table.

Sometimes doing the right thing doesn’t feel good.

I ‘tuck.

I’m stuck.  Or as Adaline used to say, “I ‘tuck.”  I’ve been ‘tuck for weeks.  Not able to write.  Not able to plan much beyond today.  Wondering what I am supposed to be doing and how to get to the point of doing…anything.

I know that sounds like depression, but this time I felt more lost than depressed.  I asked God for some kind of sign or message.  Nothing.  Besides feeling stuck.

Slowly, the light started to go on inside my brain.  I spend a lot of my time waiting for the next disaster/crisis/time of need.  On hold. Stuck. ‘Tuck.

Last year, in 2012, I lived that way.  We quickly went from one grandchild to three.  Maggie was born in January, 90 minutes away, to Stephanie and Will, and had 2 open-heart heart surgeries by the time she was 9 months old.   Adaline turned 2 in February and welcomed (?) baby brother, Atticus, in April. With Kristin and Josh, their parents, they moved 30 minutes away a few months later.

Our daughters took turns with disaster/crisis/time of need.  I gave up hope of planning anything more than a day or two in the future.  The retired man I live with and I turned 61 and 60.  We tried to spread ourselves, like a spoonful of peanut butter on bread, as far as possible, but we got thinned out at the edges.

2013–they are all healthy and well!  Or at least living in a normal state of sleep-deprivation with joy and wonder, colds and ear infections, crawling and walking, eating solids, talking, tantrums,  toilet training, and sibling rivalry.

I still live each day with hyper-vigilance and concern.  Ok, worry.  I am stuck, waiting for trouble or need.

You know what, I don’t have to live like this anymore!

On May 9, 2013, I celebrate 26 years of sobriety.  26 years, one day at a time, of no alcohol or inappropriate drugs.  Today I am a recovering, not cured, alcoholic and I’ve learned a few things:

I am a beloved Child of God.  And therefore, I have worth.

God and AA  and Al Anon help me stay sober.

I can’t control anything except my thoughts and actions.

Everyone I cross paths with is also a beloved Child of God, doing the best they can.  They each have a Higher Power who watches over them.  That Higher Power is not and never will be me.

There’s freedom in letting go of protecting others from pain and hard stuff that I can’t stop anyway.  I learned how to deal with pain and hard stuff one step at a time, one day at a time, asking for help from God and family and friends.  I can’t stop the pain and hard stuff in my daughters’ lives.  I hate that, but they have their own lessons to learn, if I stay out of the way.

I’m writing now.  I have ideas for how to use my freed-up time.

God says, “Go for it.  They will be okay.”

I Better Live a Long Time

I must possess at least 6-7 books about how to be organized.  If I ever purge, sort and organize my books into  categories, I’ll know for sure and be able to list the titles and authors.  Hasn’t happened yet.

I worked on my office this afternoon.  I emptied two big baskets (left from another attempt to organize) full of books and magazines and paper.  Don’t use baskets.  As my organizer-friend, Beth, pointed out one time, out of sight is out of mind.  But it’s still there.

I sorted and purged and filed.  I re-shelved books.  And I didn’t move from those baskets to sorting and purging my books.  I controlled my low-grade ADD.

In one of the baskets, I found this book:  Organizing From the Inside Out: The Foolproff System for Organizing Your Home, Your Office, and Your Life by Julie Morgenstern.  She had me at the title.  I flipped through it.  Page corners are turned down.  That means I was reading without a pen to underline with, probably in bed.  A bookmark stuck out of the middle–I guess I never finished studying it.

Believe me when I tell you, I already KNOW this stuff.  All the books come down to the same thing:

Get rid of the majority of my shit.

Find a place for things I love.

Don’t buy anything new unless I give something away.

Put my shit away in its designated place (labeled?) every day.

I get it.

And I also get that it feels good to see my cleaned out corner off to my right and all the paper in my recycling trashcan.  I stacked paper that was only printed on one side on top of my (broken) printer  to use for printing rough drafts.

The problem is what’s left.  I start an organizing project well.  I control my need to do the whole room straight through until it’s done.  I don’t have the desire or the stamina to work that hard anymore. anyway.

Today fear kicked me into gear.  Did those baskets hold something important that I should have taken care of weeks ago?  The paper breathed on me every time i sat down at my desk.  I couldn’t write.  I couldn’t work on a project for church.

Now, my desk is clear.  For me anyway.  The (very) few papers that need attention are in a nice wooden inbox behind my laptop.  So I know they are there, but they’re not breathing so loud anymore.  And I am writing.

I feel good.

The retired man I live with came upstairs,  looked around the room, and said “Doesn’t look any better to me.”

Did I ask?

I think I’ll have a Hershey’s kiss and go down to the basement where piles of laundry wait patiently.  You know, if got rid of some of my clothes, I wouldn’t be able to ignore laundry for so long because I would run out of clothes.  Instead I wear all the stuff I don’t love and then have to wash them before I can get rid of them.

I’ll never be finished.  I’m afraid that when I die my poor daughters will be left to deal with my clutter.  Because I’m damn sure not putting this house on the market and moving.

In July, 2010, I wrote a blog post titled “I’m Workin’ On It”  about my friend’s idea to make buttons for all of us to flash when questioned by others about progress on tasks.  In bright letters big enough to see easily my button would say “I’m workin’ on it.”

So, dear daughters–

I’m workin’ on it. Pray I live a long time.

Published in: on March 21, 2013 at 6:27 pm  Comments (11)  
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Does It Matter?

Human bodies are complex and mysterious and keep on changing.

Some of the early stuff I expected–periods and cramps (and sometimes being glad when they appeared), groping of various parts by others, and complexion issues like pimples and eventually laugh lines.

As I passed 40 and 50 and approached and passed 60, surprises popped up.

During the time I colored my hair brown, I started seeing grey hairs in my eyebrows.  I used Just for Men Mustache and Beard dye to color them, even though the box said not to.  Now, with grey hair on my head, I can see some brown.  But I didn’t know my eyebrow hairs would get sparse.  I don’t know what to do about that, other than not look at them.

A couple of years ago I read in a women’s magazine about all the things plastic surgery can fix.  One was saggy eyelids.  That day I looked in the mirror–I had saggy eyelids!  Now I notice every time I put on mascara.

I’ve always known about cellulite on the backs of my thighs.  Everyone deals with that, right?  I didn’t know that my leg skin would sag.  I laugh and blame it on gravity, but really I am fascinated and horrified each time I look in the mirror in my underwear.  Do I think it might go away while I sleep?

Then we get to the whole menopause transition thing.  My 1st hot flash hit on a hot August day while I helped my youngest child pack for her first semester of college.  Not the last time I saw a connection to emotional stress.  They lasted for years.

For about 3 years during that time, I exhibited intermittent, long-lasting PMS symptoms.  My husband said I was nuts and I thought for a long time he made it up or at least exaggerated.  He was right.  I was an emotional bomb that could go off at any moment.  It helped to have friends going through the same stuff.  After a hysterectomy, the passage of time and some estrogen therapy, I settled back into my normal level of volatility and drama.

My 90-year-old aunt is here visiting us.  She flew–alone–from Iowa to NC.  She calls it “the trip from hell.”  She had a delay on the first leg, a missed connection in Detroit, a later flight that sat 2 hours on the tarmac because they couldn’t unhook some tether, and a twenty-minute wait for a parking spot at the Raleigh airport.  Original arrival time was 7:30 pm.  We finally saw her come up the hall toward us about 11:30 pm.  We got to our house after 1:00 am.  She was in better shape than either of us.  (We were up way past our bedtime!)

All the way home, she told us about the nice people she met along the way who helped her and talked with her.  She believes that there is something of God in each of us (she is a lifelong Quaker) and that most people are basically good.  And with that attitude, they are.  Her life, like all of us, has had tragedies and difficulties and challenges.  She sees the glass as half-full and each day as full of possibilities.

Acceptance of things as they are is a life-long challenge.  The older I get the easier it is to laugh and surrender my need to control.  Maybe by 90, I’ll get the hang of it.

I’ve had a cancer scare.  Saggy eyelids and leg skin and sparse eyebrows are irrelevant.  I’m here and I’m glad.  And I’ve got to quit looking in mirrors with my glasses on.

Published in: on February 28, 2013 at 5:06 pm  Comments (6)  
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We Loved Lucy

The retired man I live with and I fell in love with her.  We loved her enough to let her go.

Lucy had a respiratory infection at the shelter, which they had treated with an antibiotic.  She coughed some the first night, Wednesday,  so we took her to our vet the next morning.  Dr. Syska said it was pneumonia and prescribed a much stronger antibiotic.  Lucy was pretty droopy all day Thursday but would go outside and pee when we took her.  She was no better on Friday and spent most of the day with her head on my lap. She didn’t want to eat or drink any water.

Saturday morning she was worse and struggling to breathe.  We took her back to our vet, who was visibly concerned.  We decided to take her to the emergency specialty animal hospital to talk about admitting her for IV antibiotics and fluids.  We saw her lung x-ray compared to a normal one.  Both lungs were almost full of fluid.

We talked with the vet about possible outcomes, looked at each other, and I said “I think it’s time.”  Deciding to treat her in the hospital felt like agreeing to torture her, with no assurance that she would ever really be well.  The vet told us we were doing an unselfish thing.  Doing the right thing sometimes feels awful.

Lucy was lying on a fluffy, soft, blue rug on the exam table.  I wrapped my arms around her as the vet started the injection.  Her body relaxed, finally, and she was gone.  No more gasping for breath.  She was at rest.

We loved her, even if it was only 3 1/2 days.  We believe she is in heaven, happy, healthy, running and playing.  And waiting for us to come play.

Published in: on February 17, 2013 at 9:15 am  Comments (15)  
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The Journey

by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice —
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life you could save.

She Did What??

Gramma Reaugh liked the boys (my brother and two cousins) better than the girls (my sister and me).  Especially my brother.  I remember crying one time, asking my mom why Gramma was like that.  I doubt if she had a good answer.

Gramma used to give my brother Coke in a baby bottle long after he was a baby.  My sister and I got Coke in cups.

Mom never let us have soda pop so I wonder now if Gramma did it just to annoy my mother.  That would make that stupid bottle even more wrong.

My cousins probably resented my brother.  They lived in the same small Iowa town that Gramma lived in.  She saw them all the time.  We always lived far away and dropped into their lives twice a year.  So, not only was my brother a boy, he wasn’t around enough to bore or annoy Gramma.

My brother and I talked recently about her favoritism.  He just grinned when he told me this:

Gramma let my brother pee in a can she kept in the kitchen so he didn’t have to go upstairs to the one bathroom!

Are you kidding me?

He was old enough to run up and down the stairs.

What did she do with the pee??

And how long did this last?  Did all the boys get to do this?

I am now a grandmother.  I remember how it felt to be neglected by Gramma.  And I saw one of my daughters favored by a grandmother.  With only one grandchild, it has been easy.  She is the unquestioned star!

Now both daughters are pregnant.  One is due in the next few weeks.  Adaline’s brother is due in early April.

Can we give attention to two more grandchildren without breaking Adaline’s heart?

I’m damn sure I will try.

Published in: on January 3, 2012 at 5:46 pm  Comments (6)  
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Are You in Control of Anything?

God will keep giving us opportunities to learn we are not in control.  I read that in a book this morning.  You know it’s true, don’t you?

I’m getting better about not-so-significant stuff, like lines and being on hold and the whole health insurance mess.  But the big stuff still gets me in the pit of my stomach.  You know that cold, dark, heavy spot in your gut when you know one of your kids is in trouble or really struggling?  (It is one of the few things that can kill my desire to eat.)  That’s when you know you’re not in control and are powerless.  What’s left at that point but anger and prayer and tears?

The retired man I live with struggles with this more than I do, I think.  Yesterday morning plugs in the wall of our house that faces the street stopped working.  Adaline was coming for the day and the tree lights wouldn’t go on.  To him, a major issue.  And, I have to say, a bit unnerving in a 55-year-old house.  No circuits were off so it was kind of weird.

The retired man I live with called an electrician.  They can send someone Monday.  (Yesterday was Thursday.)  So he called my brother who lives 3 hours away but knows a lot about electrician stuff.  For hours they tried to troubleshoot the wiring in that wall.  I told the retired man I live with that I would kill him if I had to call an ambulance for him while Adaline was at our house. He kept at it.

It’s not fixed.  We have no Christmas lights.  He is unhappy.  And not a whole lot of fun to be around.

God keeps giving us chances to learn we are not in control.

Published in: on December 16, 2011 at 8:19 pm  Comments (14)  
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So What Do You Expect?

(an excerpt from Sacred Healing by Janet Davis)

Though most of my friends and acquaintances experience me as a positive person, I’ve come to recognize that I’m really not.  I am quite the pessimist, always expecting and preparing for the worst.

Such “negative thinking” is, at least in part, simply the overuse of a positive penchant for planning.  A critical part of effectual planning is anticipating bad things and arranging life so that you can avoid those hazards.

I, however, take this to the extreme, seeking to banish all grief and pain, loss and harm from my life and the lives of those I love.  With that goal in mind, I am disproportionately aware of hazards around me.  And there are many.  Thus, the pessimism…

God wants me to expect goodness and abundance rather than evil, abandonment, and scarcity.  Even in the midst of pain and loss, to expect grace, comfort, and provision.

Now, I don’t think God is interested in the power of positive thinking as much as reshaping what I believe about the God I serve.

My negativity says that ultimately I do not trust God’s ever mindful, ever effectual love to be very loving or to be very good.

Will I ever grow up?  Will I ever learn to trust this God who has carried me every step of the way?   Will I ever begin to expect goodness and abundance?