Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Year 1: How I wish, how I wish you were here

Dear Mama,

Yesterday last year I thought you would come home from the hospital.

Today last year, very early in the morning, you were admitted to the ICU.

And it became increasingly clear that you would not.

Yesterday last year was Mother's Day, and it was terrible.

Mother's Day this year was brutal. 

Sarah posted this poem for Candy, and it resonated so deeply.

Since you left, I've felt, I don't know, less in this world. And after I read this, I realized that what I felt was untethered. 

Not homeless exactly. Not quite lost.

But kind of.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, the calculations I started doing were about my kids.

I love my life, but the math was like this: if I have 10 more years, the kids will at least be in their 20s. 20 more, and that will get them to their 30s. And so forth, by 10s.

I was 53, and still, I wasn't ready to lose my mom. I needed you. I still need you.

I feel like so much of what made me me was connected to you. 

I'm not suggesting this is how it is for my kids. But I do know that people go on needing their moms, and I want to be here for them for as long as I can be.

You were gone, and suddenly, I wasn't a daughter. 

I wasn't your caretaker. Your advocate. Your protector.

I wasn't the fittest person you knew. Or the funniest person you knew. Your favorite writer.

Your anything.

I was just me. Without you.

My calendar was suddenly wide open, because I would no longer drive you to Sibley every other week, swearing at other drivers and making you laugh.

You were my first home. And because we moved so much, our family, rather than a specific location, was my home.

You were my first home, and our house was your last home. 

When I feel very sad, like today, I try to remind myself that you had a comfortable and loving home with us. And you were so, so loved.

One year ago on this date, while you were firmly physically affixed to your hospital bed, I saw you recede as the day wore on. You were just less and less there.

The only thing I feel good about is that you made the choice. When we asked you if you wanted further intervention, and you said no, and we asked you if you knew what your decision meant—and you so clearly did—you didn't hesitate.

The fact that it's the same day Dad left us, now 15 years ago, underlines for me that it was your choice.

Not a coincidence.

At some point too many of your systems were failing, and rather than fight the inevitable, you decided you were done with your tiny, frail earthly body. You were done with the pain. You were already more there than here, wherever there is.

You know, the doctors told us that it could be hours, or it could be days. They said once they stop intervention, you don't actually know what people are going to do, how long they will live.

But you'd made your decision, and you left.

By this time tonight, last year, you'd left us, and, after our allotted two hours, we left you. By this time Nick and I had come home, and India had met us at the back door, asking, why, WHY did we have Nana's things?

And then she knew. 

Recently she said she didn't know when she hugged you in the hospital, it was going to be for the last time. When she said goodbye to you, it was going to be the last one.

It's true that you know first times, but last times can sneak up on you. 

Leaving that hospital room was one of the hardest things I've ever done. Even though you weren't there anymore. I was holding your hand, and one moment you were there, and the next, you were gone.

Where'd you go?

This morning, I got my annual text from my friend Vik, saying *hugs*. May 15 has been a hard date for me for the last 15 years.

Losing Dad was devastating. For a long time, I think it was impossible to separate the loss of him from the trauma of the circumstances.

He'd disappeared so many times, but this time, it was somehow forever. How was that possible?

But of course I'd thought about a world without Dad in it, because I'd been confronted with the possibility. The likelihood.

Losing Dad was horrendously painful. But my world without you in it was unimaginable.

I loved you and Dad equally, but differently. You, you were always my safe harbor. The side of the bed I'd run to when I had a bad dream. The person I'd call heartbroken and sobbing, well into my 30s.

The person who loved me most in the whole entire world. 

I remember you saying you loved going home to Grandma Lillian's, because you were never judged. And it's everything to be loved unconditionally. 

How many people love us this way?

When you decided, it didn't feel like you were scared at all. You were relieved. You were tired, and you were ready.

Our friend Alexa, who was checking in on you energetically throughout the day, texted me to say your hospital room was full of loved ones. She didn't know you were leaving then, but she knew who was there waiting for you.

And then you were gone.

And I coudln't believe it. I mean, I was there. I saw it. But how did I suddenly not have my mom anymore?

I know this is all about me, because you're fine; it's the people left behind who hurt and hurt.

It's a terrible club to be in, this one. My motherless friends know. It's different, and it's awful.

I've survived a year that I couldn't actually imagine surviving.

I have to admit that I don't remember large chunks of last year. Kind of like how I don't remember much of college. I know facts, I made friends, but there are big blank spaces. I'm not searching for them.

Anyway, here we are. It's been a year.

I love you and I miss you and I miss you and I miss you.

Love,

Lisa

Wednesday, May 01, 2024

Do not go gentle into that Teams meeting

Every Christmas of my childhood and beyond, we listened to a record of Dylan Thomas reading "A Child's Christmas in Wales." 

It's a short and charming tale, if you're not familiar with it, and the way he reads it is marvelous.

But some Christmas Days, probably at the surly teenage ages and up, we just wanted to read our new books or play with our new toys or just retreat to our corners and not all sit in the living room together next to the record player hearing each other breathe.

Did we eventually have it on tape? CD? We must have. I just found it on YouTube.

Christmases were hard for my dad, and he was always melancholy, but because we weren't allowed to talk about it I don't know if it was family trauma, or abuse by Catholic priests when he was an altar boy, or Vietnam, or seasonal depression or regular depression or possibly bipolar disorder. 

I feel the weight of these less and less as I heal, but so often I have questions I'd like to ask...and there's nobody to ask.

My Uncle Jack passed away a few weeks ago. He was the last of that generation on both sides of the family, for me. 

I didn't know him growing up, but I'd gotten to know him a little as an adult. Donna, his partner after his wife passed away, was a dear childhood friend of my dad's, and they and my parents would get together.

A year or two before my dad died, he and Donna decided to go skydiving. Something he'd always wanted to do. He was delighted to have a partner with equal enthusiasm.

My mom and Uncle Jack stayed on the ground, while Dad and Donna soared.

But losing Jack felt like losing my mom all over again. She was the only person in my family who would keenly feel this loss.

Grief is endlessly surprising.

Anyway, from teen years to medicated years, for ol' Dylan Thomas, I was fully in the throes of seasonal affective disorderexcept when we had Christmases south of the equator in heat and sunshine, which in my opinion is the way to go.

So surely I was rage raging against the dying of the light and it had nothing to do with my family or Thomaswho I adore as a poet and storyteller and as such, feel a little guilty for bastardizing his beautiful lines.

But clearly not guilty enough!

I don't know much of anything about the Welsh, except that Wales looks so beautiful and Fiona studied there and the Welsh were very fierce though unsuccessful in their uprisings. 

And also, after watching Doc Martin, I really want to go to Cornwall.

If you like the British murder villages but get tired of death, I highly recommend Doc Martin. 

I do realize they're not interchangeable. But apparently the Cornish were problematically fierce for the English as well.

Anyway, the main point of this story is that I had to be on a Teams meeting with Jordan's school.

Microsoft Teams hates me. The feeling is mutual.

If I try to attend on my phone, it says I have to download the app. But I deleted the app, because I never had the correct login information. So I thought I could get around it by getting rid of it.

No.

It knows that you're on a phone, and you can just go to the app store. So it's like, bitch, get the app and then come talk to me.

So now I make sure I'm on a laptop. But it has to be my mom's laptop, because the sound on mine is broken.

So I logged in 45 minutes ahead, just so that I knew I could. Like getting to your gate at the airport to make sure it's there, and then you can get a snack and use the bathroom.

Teams meetings derail my entire day up to the point where I successfully (or not) connect.

When we had meetings with India's teachers, I did everything right—right time, right laptop, right linkexcept it was a link for a teacher whose class she no longer has.

So then Nick called and I said, "I went to the fucking link they sent us but it's a link to the Chinese teacher and why do we fucking have to use fucking Teams I hate Teams so fucking much..."

And he said, "Dear, we've started the conference and I've got you on speaker, and two of India's teachers are on the line."

I apologized profusely for the profanity. They both laughed (I think) and said no children were present.

Apparently a couple minutes before they'd asked if they should wait for me to start the conference and Nick said the odds were I was struggling with Teams, and I'd be along shortly swearing about the platform. 

Which just confirms what I've long believed: people don't change as they age. 

They just become more so.

This was, you understand, prior to my Tabarnac Era. Also, my friend Brian recently reminded me of my interest in "What the Dickens?"

But Teams gets the full extent of my profane wrath.

Which is to say that on the whole I'm fine, and in this photo, I was in Puerto Rico with my children for spring break.

The day we got there, I was inhaling humid tropical air, and reveling in the foliage of my childhood. Bougainvillea always makes me happy.

Sometimes I think things but am not sure if I said them out loud, and so I ask if I said something out loud and people will tell me I did or didn't.

But in this case, I said, "When you guys are gone, I'm moving to the tropics." And my kids were all, WHAT? 

And I was all, oh did I say that out loud?

I said it out loud.

And so then I was like, OK, not really, haha I just love tropical weather. 

And now it's 90 in DC, thank goodness, because I was pretty sure it was going to be cold here for the rest of my born days.

All good. Carry on.

Just don't make me attend a Teams meeting.

Thursday, April 04, 2024

A shark smile in a yellow van

Two days ago I got this sweet message: I do so hope you are alright.  I miss you. Please come back.

I owe the writer such thanks.

Because I couldn’t have said what I needed to start writing again—because I missed this place, but didn't know where to start—but it was exactly what I needed.

In the summer in DC, when our doors swell with humidity, we have to give them an extra push or pull to open them.

I’m so grateful for that kind and gentle check-in. The lovely sentiment. 

I just realized that I’ve been sad, like desperately, scraped-raw sad, for coming up on a year. I’ve been some level of scared for nearly that long.

I haven’t been alright, though I look like it from the outside.

I just needed some help recognizing it.

I've said before that I so badly wanted to be back to normal.

Normal. Ha. But you know what I mean.

I only started really processing the magnitude of all of the everything quite recently.

Somehow the time between the night of May 2, when my mom fell, and this February was just so, I don’t know, frenzied is maybe the word.

Betty left us on May 15. Her days in the hospital were brutal. And I'm dreading Mother's Day. I don't think I'll celebrate it again.

Weeks after her death, I had a high school reunion to host. I couldn't cancel. Friends had bought international plane tickets. And it would feel so good to see everyone.

Which it did, of course it did. We remembered Betty and cried together. And laughed. And danced.

I had a houseful of friends staying. (Those same friends would return in September to surround me with love.)

And then a couple weeks later I drove the kids to Maine. And drove home. And got on a plane.

And flew for 25 hours to Bali, where I spent all day in yoga teacher training and also went out and sobbed in the rice paddy at least once a day.

Sometimes people noticed me leaving class, and someone would escort me, or quietly come sit with me. Sometimes talking, sometimes just sitting.

One lovely, lovely woman told me on the last day that she’d avoided me for much of the course because I just had so much strong emotion.

She didn’t say it was overwhelming, but I imagine it was. 

I imagine I was.

I remember not knowing I was intense until I was in my 30s, and someone told me and I was surprised.

So whatever I am in the moment, I think I am very much of it.

I went to Bali to escape. 

Yes, I was already signed up to do yoga teacher training. But mainly in that time, I desperately wanted to be away from our house. Away from the place my mom fell. Away from home where, everywhere I turned, there she used to be.

Grief streamed from my eyes. My mouth. My pores. I sweated grief. 

Grief surely swirled and crackled around me like static electricity.

If grief had a smell, I think it would be lightening. Apparently the smell is ozone, which is way less poetic but probably easier to rhyme.

Even when I was laughing—and we laughed a lot—the base note was grief.

I’ve said before that uproarious laughter and hysterical sobbing are millimeters, instants apart.

Two sides of the same coin. Maybe closer, even. The warp and weft of fabric.

I learned on the last day of training, and was embarrassed to know, that my classmates heard me sobbing in the rice paddy.

I cried so hard it physically hurt. I was so desperately sad, it didn’t even occur to me.

And then I came home. And then we got the kids, and went to family camp.

And then I had my biopsy, surely nothing, let’s just check.

And then I had cancer.

Suddenly, I went from I just have to get through my mom’s memorial service before I can breathebefore I can make plans, before I can resume lifeto getting through her service, and then my operation, and then my recovery.

And then I’d be able to breathe. Plan. Resume.

Nicole, my god what would I have done without Nicole, came for two weeks to take care of me, as you know.

Nicole is a force of nature. Nicole is an event.

Then suddenly it was Thanksgiving. Then our family went to England for Christmas, to avoid the memories we hang on the tree and the sticky buns Betty is no longer here to make. The perfectly wrapped packages she’ll never wrap again. The stockings she was always excited to fill.

It was better, but grief still found us in Hyde Park. India and I hugged and cried while Nick and Jordan looked at the ducks.

But nothing stops. And I kept moving. 

And then Nicole came back, so Nick and I could go to the fancy event in Oxford. I’d never been in my life, then twice in a month.

So fun! So extravagant! So lovely!

Nick asked, and Nicole said she’d come take care of the kids if she could stay two weeks. And then Maude said, well, if Nicole’s coming, then I want to as well.

It was as wonderful as one might think. We chatted and we laughed and we wept. Maude brought starter from Denver and taught me how to make sourdough.

And then.

Then they left. And the house was very quiet.

Valentine’s Day, I think, is when I really started falling apart. But inwardly.

Inwardly apart. Apartedly inward.

Imploding?

We once went to a carefully orchestrated demolition. All these explosions were placed and timed such that the building would cave in on itself. It didn’t even seem violent. 

Emotionally like that.

Not that I didn’t cry regularly before then, because I did. But like a shark, I kept moving, moving, moving.

Water over the gills to keep breathing.

Apparently, this isn't every type of shark. I looked it up. So, hashtag notallsharks. The ones that need to do this are called obligate ram ventilators.

ANYway.

You can’t outrun yourself. I guess this is one of those lessons I seem to have to learn over and over.

I wasn’t seeing my therapist, because though I love her, it just felt too hard.

One of my yoga friends noticed. She looked me in the eye after class one day and said, “How are you?”

I started to explain about the physical, and she said, “No. You. How are you?”

I started to cry, right there in the gym. I was not fine. I was not remotely OK. In fact, I was barely even breathing. 

On the outside, I look strong. Healthy. Healed.

I’d been cut open and sewn up by world-class experts. At this point I have delicate scars. I’ve got high grade silicon implants that are my personal forever science experiment.

I think about how the rest of my body seems to be degrading at an accelerated pace, but these are fairly static. 

Like, one day I'll die, and my body will hollow, which I know firsthand happens. And still, barring previous calamity, I'll have these two youthful silicone shapes, pretending to be part of me.

You know me. I’ve long had anxieties about a whole lot of things. Mainly like plane crashes and raccoons and rabies and sink holes.

Somehow breast cancer was not on my fear list.

Also: the more I learn about neurodivergence, the more it explains my life. Not ever human picks one topic to obsess about endlessly until the next topic catches their eye.

But I digress. Because when do I not?

Suddenly there it was, top of my fear list, its own circle in the Venn diagram of my life. The bold heading of one of the now-myriad clubs to which I never wanted to belong. 

I picture my Venn diagram more like a chrysanthemum, because I like them. I don't care about the factuality.

So, I just had my six-month oncology checkup. I have my surgery checkup next week.

I thought they’d take blood, analyze the results, and be like, yep, you’re good, see ya in three months.

But it doesn’t work like that. They don’t know.

You just have to keep living and hoping for the best. There are no for sure answers.

Although I guess that’s really all of life.

The day of my checkup, I also had an infusion for my bones, because the medication I’m on can cause osteoporosis.

A common (78%, I googled) side effect of the infusion is feeling like you have the flu.

I taught a yoga class the next morning and thought maybe I was in the lucky 22%.

By that afternoon, I could barely walk.

And for a day and a half, I felt like hell. I knew I wasn’t sick, but I also couldn’t get out of bed.

It was reminiscent of post-surgery, which I’ve kind of forgotten, but which wasn’t that long ago, after all.

It’s surreal, honestly. For two weeks I had tubes coming out of my body, attached to silicone bags I had to empty every day. I know this is true. But I don’t remember it.

I couldn’t take care of my family. I couldn’t fully take care of myself.

In bed with the not-flu, I read a Louise Penny book. I intend to start using “tabarnac” as a swear.

But then, I also intend to swear less, and I can’t say that’s going well.

Tabarnac!

At this juncture, it feels like it’s been cold and rainy my entire life, though I know that’s a factual impossibility.

I took the photo above about a month ago. My hair was clean. I was wearing makeup. I liked my outfit. 

Ever since Nicole visited, donning something fabulous daily, if only to hang out and walk to CVS, I’ve had the goal of wearing real, non-gym friendly clothes every day.

I probably accomplish this about 50% of the time. Or maybe 25%? I am, after all, a person who asked for something to be mixed 60-30.

Not most of the past week, but today I'm wearing jeans. Jeans count as real.

Anyway, I’m here.

I’m not very alright, but probably more so than not. 60-30. Anyway, I believe I will be.

Love and hugs,

Lisa

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

That Love is all there is, Is all we know of Love

Today caught me off guard. Not the fact that it's Valentine's Day. India had already had a class party and a Galentine's party. I knew the date.

What sneakily walloped me was grief.

In the media and in the greeting card aisle, the focus of Valentine's Day is hearts and roses and chocolates and romance.

Once I was out of grade school, where if you gave a Valentine to one person, you had to give one to everyone, Valentine's Day was stressful.

Either I was dating someone, and there was so much pressure, or—more oftenI wasn't dating anyone, and Valentine's Day was proof that I was a big lonesome loser.

When honestly, I've always, always been surrounded by a tremendous amount of love. 

I just didn't recognize it.

What I realized today was that my mom showered us all with Valentine love. 

I was talking to Maude, who was here last week. She was out getting chocolates for her family. I said I never did that. And then I realized I never did it because I didn't have to.

My mom had it covered. 

She was with us from my first baby on. And she loved getting fun stuff for the holidays. Valentine's heart chocolates. Easter baskets. Christmas stockings.

She was all about it.

Me, I sent the kids to school with cards or candy or cookies for the class. 

But Nana was the one who bought the family sweet cards and boxes of heart-shaped candy.

India and I just had a big cry about this. She said she thought Nana would at least be with us until Jordan graduated from high school, or maybe even when she did.

His 8th grade graduation gutted me.

But back to the matter at hand. Although all of it is about love.

I was, if I'm being honest, pretty terrible at romantic relationships until around the time I met Nick.

Which is not to say that Nick was the magic ticket, or whatever the phrase might be.

I mean, OF COURSE he was the magic ticket. I fell in love with him. And we suit each other in many, many ways. 

One of the most important being that we make each other laugh really hard.

But also: I'd had enough therapy to be able to behave like a person who both merited love and kindness and was able to reciprocate for more than a short time. I was finally healthy enough to remain in a long-term commitment.

This ability was and was not about love.

I now understand that my behavior was mainly about insecurity and fear of abandonment. 

It truly felt like betrayal when I got to the point in therapy where I was like, my parents' behavior was not necessarily helpful to me, and was sometimes downright unhelpful. They loved me, but I don't think they were always taking my well-being into account.

It felt awful to admit this. They're your parents, after all. 

But as we all contain multitudes, these things can be true. And it is also true that they loved me, and I loved them.

 And I still love them.

They were human and they were flawed, as are we all. The more I know about where they came from, the more compassion I have.

Anyway, for a long time, and this was before I started blogging, I exploded my romantic relationships. You couldn't leave me, because I was going to leave you first.

I did this over and over, and then I wondered, aloud, in therapy, why nobody loved me. My therapist, to her credit, never rolled her eyes.

Even after marriage, this big commitment I'd ostensibly been seeking, for years, every time Nick and I had a big fight, I was sure it meant divorce. And then, we got past it.

Just like I did in my friendships.

Huh.

Because non-romantic love? Platonic love?

That kind I was good at. 

Nick has said before that it seems like I feel so much more than he does. My highs are higher and my lows are lower.

What he didn't include, but what I know about myself, is that I love immensely. As vastly and as deeply as I can.

When I was a little kid, and the biggest number I knew was 5, I would tell my mom I loved her FIVE.

And this is how I've always been. 

When I'm in, I'm all in.

If I love you, I will do pretty much anything for you. I've never had to do this, but I'm pretty sure I could help justify murder. I have a car big enough to transport a body.

Goodbye, Earl? Yes.

I cannot do this for everyone. But I could definitely do this for some.

So on some level, I believed I could get married and sustain a relationship, despite the detritus of myriad failed romantic relationships, because I'd been friends with Maude my entire life.

We'd lived together twice. She'd taught me to drive, a little in DC, and mostly on our way cross-country.

She believed in me and I trusted her.

Which is not to say we didn't fight. Or go through periods where we could barely stand each other.

While still living together.

Together, though not always physically, we lived through: moving to a new place where we had no friends (and we got super sick of each other until we found some); unemployment; depression and its accompanying bad behavior; poor choices in boyfriends; romantic heartbreak; one person in love and the other feeling abandoned; terrible haircuts, sometimes done by each other; unfortunate hair colors; and the like. Pregnancies, miscarriages, infertility, babies. Loss of my dad. Loss of her mom. Loss of my mom. 

And still, we were and always, always will be friends.

This, for me, is how love is. Love is patient, love is kind.

Because I wasn't raised attending church, I will admit to you that I used to think I Corinthians was I as in me, Corinthians.

Like I, Claudius.

Anyway.

I often say that I hate people, and my daughter always corrects me. "You have so many people you love. So many."

And this is true. I get overpeopled, and I need to sit at home alone. I get disheartened with how terrible humans can be, and I need to pull back.

But I do love so many people. So many.

And because our hearts expand, I just keep adding people. I don't have to delete one to add a new one.

I carry the ones who are gone.

Though somewhere in the multiverse, we're still together.

This is not to say that I'm not petty or begrudging, because ooh, I am. I don't judge people I like. But I can judge the pants off people I don't.

Is that an expression? For a linguist, I'm shockingly terrible at those kinds of expressions.

But I feel like all that matters in this life is the people you love who love you.

And I guess this is a long, meandering way to say that on this day of such tremendous focus on love, I hope you are well. I hope you're happy. I hope you feel how loved you are.

I'm wishing you generosity and kindness and an immense eternity of love.

Hugs,

Lisa

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Packed, anxietied, ready to fly!

Isn’t this dress sooo cool?

It’s made of Crimplene, which was a space-age fabric in the 50s. Crimplene, if you don’t know, is basically very thick polyester. 

It’s amazing for structured clothing like this dress. Apparently not so great for anything humans needed to wear when it was at all hot out. 

Not a current concern. 

Even when I have days and days to pack, I’m frantically packing down to the last minute. 

I think the problem is I somehow can’t get dressed until I’m packed because what if I pack something I decide I would rather wear?

Sometimes I add last-minute laundry to my tasks because I guess I like to complicate everything. 

And then I inevitably run around the house in my underwear all WHERE IS MY BLACK TEE SHIRT?

I make lists. I make piles. I even list what I’m planning on wearing on the plane.

But still I run around the house like a lunatic.

Thus it has always been, and despite my best intentions, this it likely shall always be. 

My entire carry-on is only my dress, boots, shawl, purse.

Nick is checking his tuxedo, which is a bold (ahem foolish) move, in my opinion.

We have 52 minutes to change planes in NY. This amount of time gives me hives.

Nicole is in charge. Will the kids be delighted with a break from us?

I don’t know. It was really hard for me to say goodbye. 

The only time Nick and I have left them was for a memorial service when India was one and Jordan was four. We left them with Nana Betty.

I’ve been ridiculously excited about this trip. And equally excited about getting all dressed up.

We board in a few minutes. 

On our flight to NY we’re apart, same row but window seats. I hate window seats. 

In true adhd fashion, I like to be able to get up 500 times if I want to.

Also, you know, what if you get sucked out the window?

New item on flight fear list. 

Anyway, with any luck, we alight in the land of Percy Pigs tomorrow morning London time.

Seriously. That’s what both kids have requested. 

Hugs and more hugs!