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!

Saturday, January 27, 2024

I have of late—but wherefore I know...

Oh, let's be honest, Rosencrantz. I know wherefore one million percent.

It's January 853rd. 

I didn't even make that up. It's a known fact, at least in the Northern hemisphere: January lasts approximately 3-500 times longer than any other month.

This January has been going on for about eight years.

I don't care how the math adds up.

Which is why I did so poorly in Mr. Gupta's class in high school. (But it was Nicole's math that broke him.)

We went away for Christmas, as you know, and it was absolutely the right thing to do.

But we went the direction of MORE winter. Shorter, grey days. Less light. More darkness.

I'm not built for this.

I just read about this woman who spent 500 days in a cave 70 meters underground. On purpose. Voluntarily. 

This, like the dark void of outer space, is a nightmare scenario for me. It's not just math and engineering abilities that kept me from NASA or spelunking.

And I don't know if you're like this, but having been depressed before, I'm always wondering: am I depressed, or just sad?

Am I depressed, or is this grief?

I think I'm sad and grieving.

Not every minute of every day. But I cry a lot. But not, I think, an unreasonable amount.

Whatever that means.

January for me has been a month of self-care. And by that I don't mean scented baths and candles.

I mean self-protection.

One of the things that last year did for me that was positive was to impose limits on what I do.

Normally, I'd just pile things on, one after the other. Things I felt obligated to do, or things that sounded fun, or tasks that needed doing, but not critically this minute.

One after the other.

I meet the needs of a bunch of people. One fewer, now, but still.

You need me? OK. I'll do it. 

And now, when I can't, I just don't.

Whereas before, I'd push so I could, and I didn't recognize the cost.

Now I feel the cost. So I stop.

Since surgery, I can do one big thing, and then I'm tired. It could be a big physical thing, or a big emotional thing like an event.

We went to two Christmas parties, both of which I was happy to attend. I was so excited to see people I hadn't seen in actual years.

And then that was my limit. Maybe I'll go to three next year.

Anyway, in some cases, I can do the big thing, something that used to be totally normal for me, and for now it's too much.

I learned this returning to yoga. Ooh, I was so excited to be back to really challenging Saturday yoga.

No, I couldn't do all I could before. But I posted photos of getting back to side crow! Handstand! It felt so good. So good.

Cancer hadn't taken me down! Look where I was already!

And then, hand to god, I was incapacitated for five days. I didn't even go to regular yoga classes. I was too wiped out.

So now I have to be deliberate about where I put my energies and efforts. 

Physical and emotional.

Jordan has needed a lot of academic support, with this start to 9th grade. This translates to time and energy.

India hasn't needed support in the same way. But she's still raw about my mom.

On Christmas Day, I forced my family to walk from our Airbnb through Hyde Park to get to Westminster Abbey, where I wanted to attend evensong.

Nick had bought a Christmas cake, but honestly, that was it. Nobody wanted to go to a Christmas service, which I understood, because we don't have any kind of church tradition.

But this, this I really wanted to do. Even though initially my people were like, no than you. So I was going to go alone.

How many opportunities does one have to attend evensong at Westminster Abbey?

And then Nick said he wanted to go. So it became a family event, which is what I'd wanted from the get-go, but hadn't had the energy to fight for.

So we were walking through the park, nearing a duck pond. 

And I was getting sadder and sadder, because we used to always stop in London on our way home from whatever country we lived in. I have concrete memories of wearing hoodies in English summer, because we'd just come from Bangladesh and we were freezing in English summer, feeding the ducks in Hyde Park.

My dad loved London. We'd always go to shows. We'd shop. I was excited to take India to Topshop, which turns out to have closed! 

On a side bar, one summer of high school, my friend Claudia and I met up in New York (our dads took us, and we met at the airport), and flew to London together.

Our dads had organized for us to spend a week with friends of Claudia's family in London, on our way back to Delhi. I was 15 and she was 17, and this was insanely exciting.

Look how grown up and responsible we were!

We went to a midnight showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. We ran into high school friends who were no longer living in Delhi, because that was the kind of thing we just took for granted. "Oh! You're here, too?" We went to Madame Tussaud's.

And we bought music tapes unavailable in India (Nik Kershaw, whose song "Wouldn't It Be Good" I love to this day.)

And we bought trendy, trendy clothing at Topshop. My gosh, I loved Topshop. And I know India would've as well.

So our last day, without enough cash to buy more clothing, we spent our last pounds on chocolate. Like down to the final pence.

All of it.

Her family friends had to give us money to take the bus to Heathrow.

Yes.

So anyway.

I have a lot of excellent London memories. It was just normal. It was on the way home.

"Home" ha. I didn't have home. But my parents did, and they referred to the US as home for us. So "home" one direction and home the other. Or maybe they should both be in quotes.

Anyway, right around the duck pond, India started to cry. This was an awful Christmas. She didn't want to be there.

She wanted to be home (because my kids do have a concrete sense of home as a physical place), having real Christmas, eating sticky buns and opening presents with Nana.

At which point all those tears I'd been sucking in came pouring out. I started to sob. Because really, that was what I wanted as well. 

So we stood there, hugging and crying in the thin winter light of London, surrounded by greenery.

And then we continued along, and got in a long line, and did get into Westminster Abbey, and it was glorious.

It was absolutely pouring the day we left England. "Bucketing down" is the phrase Fiona uses.

She'll exaggerate the Northern pronunciation for us, too. Like, booketing down. 

I love this.

Not to dwell on the weather, because it's the boringest small talk topic, but I'm kind of obsessed with it.

Our January has been relentlessly grim.

Cold, like actual coldcold, and dementor grey. 

I don't enjoy the cold, but it's the grey that sucks the joy and motivation out of me. I've got that freckly Irish skin that burns and wrinkles, but my gosh, I love the sun.

I mean, now I wear a hat and sunglasses and SPF and long sleeves. But I love the feel of sunshine. I love the quality of light. I love the heat.

I love getting into a hot car. Truly. That intense, confined heat, like a sauna, except in DC it's more like a steam room, which I don't enjoy as much but I'd take over being cold any day.

Except that I decided this year I'm going to try ice baths.

Nicole (who is back, thank goodness for like 8 million reasons) insists what I want is cryotherapy, because it's only three minutes.

I was worried about my silicone boobs but she said I could add a sports bra if I was worried. You have to cover your hands and feet to protect them. And men  have to cover their dangly bits, apparently. 

So I looked it up and this is accurate.

I was worried after my favorite NP told me that I couldn't ever use a heating pad on my torso, because I could super-heat my boobs but not know it, and severely burn myself inside.

But in the same way that it's different from a sauna, because I'd feel my whole body overheating, a whole body cooling is fine.

Also, the freezing point of silicone is much, much lower than the freezing point of my body, so I guess I'd be a block of ice before they froze?

Now I'm picturing my chest filled with two very large ice cubes. Which would be...awkward?

A friend told me that she really likes my stream-of-consciousness writing, and I feel lucky about that because, well, ha. Look where we are now.

I've had periods of my life where I was sad every minute of every day. Where I would sit at my desk at work and drip huge tears onto my keyboard, and sneak off to the bathroom to really cry.

Where I would go for runs in the evening because I couldn't cry while I was running, and I needed the fucking break from sitting on my floor sobbing.

And it's not like that. 

I have a lot of theories that have to do with nutrition and emotional regulation and I think these are accurate.

And I have joy here, and joy on the horizon. Yesterday I chopped salad vegetables for nearly two hours, and Nicole and I laughed the entire time.

It was an elaborate salad. I made ginger lime garlic dressing.

I won't bore you with the details because look how long this post is already, and I could totally be a food blogger because I like to tell my life stories, but I couldn't be a food blogger because I'm a fairly lame, indifferent cook.

But this was a great salad.

But Nicole is back because...

Next week Nick and I return to the UK because we've been invited to this fancy party, which was not only an honor but also an incredible opportunity to do something fun just the two of us.

Nicole will be the adult in charge while we're gone, which India has been excited about every day for the month we've had this plan.

And I've got this vintage Pierre Cardin dress, which I found on Marketplace and which my dear friend altered for me, because it fit but she wanted the line to be more flattering.

As soon as I get it back from the cleaners, I'll post about it, because it's truly fabulous.

This whole thing is made more exciting by the fact that while I could talk about clothes all day, and if I were wealthy, I'd dress almost exclusively in vintage Pucci, the fact is that I wear yoga clothes or sweats almost every day.

Yesterday I wore jeans, and I got compliments. My hair was also pretty clean, so that helped.

I think it's the whole contrast thing. 

January is always a hard month for me, and this one has weighed significantly more than prior Januaries. 

We fly the last day of the month, which turns out to be the 31st and not the 927th, and that will bring this January to an exciting close.

I've been waffling—new British word—so thanks for sticking with me. 

And I guess that's all I really have to say about that.

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

The FP

When I was a little kid in Dhaka, I had a friend named Sharon who lived down the road. 

She was British. She spent a lot of time at our house. 

We visited them in London the summer after they moved back to the UK. Sharon's mom told us Sharon got teased by classmates for using American words.

For example, instead of saying biscuits, she said cookies.

We always had cookies at our house. So many cookies.

We must've visited their family on a Sunday, because everyone was home. It was the first time I'd seen a dumbwaiter. We kids took turns hauling each other up and down in their walls.

British school went later into the summer than our school in Dhaka, and her parents wouldn't let her take the Monday off for us to hang out. I remember sobbing, absolutely sobbing, and it was clear her parents thought my manners were appalling.

Now, as an adult and a mom, looking back at this shameful memory, I think I was seven, maybe eight years old. I imagine we were still jet lagged and us kids were overtired and probably had been eating tons of sugar, and it's hardly surprising I melted down.

This is nice to write out, so I can let go of  that cringey memory.

Anyway, by the time I met Fiona last summer, I knew of some important differences beyond biscuit and cookie in our varieties of English.

So.

One of India's friends gave her a fanny pack for her birthday a couple years ago.

Prior to this, I was unaware of the Return of the Fanny Pack. They've come back with a vengeance.

India's is pale pink, from Lululemon, and honestly, it's kind of perfect. 

I started using it on errands, and last summer India very generously said I could take it on my travels. It was amazing from the start, holding my passport and my boarding pass, phone, lip balm, phone charger, and hydration packets or a little snack.

I'm telling you.

I wore it throughout my time in Bali.

I became a fanny pack enthusiast. Or re-became. Or re-enthusiast, perhaps, since I'd embraced them wholeheartedly in the 90s.

I'd forgotten how incredibly useful they are. I asked for one for my birthday last year, knowing India wanted hers back.

Much like my love of all things neon in the 80s, I had multiple fanny packs in the 90s. I even had a textile one and a leather one that my mom bought me in Ecuador.

Anyway.

So in my mid-20s I spent six months traveling in India and Nepal. I had two backpacks (one parked at the house of friends) and my fanny pack.

What I didn't know then was that "fanny" in British English has a very different meaning than "fanny" in American English.

Growing up, we used the word butt or bottom, but my grandmother used to use the word fanny. 

(She also used the words homely and davenport.)

So I'd been backpacking for months, meeting a variety of fellow travelers, many of whom were from the UK. Sometimes we'd be in the same hostel overnight, or sometimes our agendas coincided and we'd travel together for days or weeks.

My new American friends and I wound up walking most of the Everest trek with two British guys.

We sometimes had private rooms, but were most often sleeping in dormitories, and as such, I kept important stuff in my very convenient fanny pack. I didn't always wear it, but it was always handy.

I imagine I mentioned my fanny pack at least a couple of times over my travels, with nobody saying anything. 

Until one day I think one of the guys asked me to hold somethinga document or passport or some suchand I said something along the lines of, "SureI'll just stick it in my fanny pack."

Which was met with stunned silence.

Because fanny! Fanny in British English is slang for vulva.

I'm not sure how vulgar it is. Like, I don't think it's tantamount to saying c*nt.

I think it's more like lady bits? But stronger?

So maybe "fanny pack" is more like "beaver bag" or "cooter pouch"?

In any case, surprising, if you're telling someone you're just going to pop their trekking permit into your VAGINAL CONTAINER for safekeeping.

Yes.

Was I mortified?

Yes. 

But not enough to not find it hilarious.

Anyway, when I met Fiona and she complimented my fanny packalthough not by that nameI told her that I was well aware that we called this particular container of convenience by different names in our respective countries.

I knew, I said, that Brits call it a "bum bag" rather than a (and here I whispered, like I might be talking about prison) "fanny pack".

I explained how I learned this.

Since I hadn't thought about the bag or the term in years, I hadn't shifted my nomenclature. Fanny pack it was.

Except that now it sounded kind of naughty.

Even better.

And then Fiona went home and she asked for one for her birthday. Because they are ridiculously convenient.

Much like Sharon and the cookies, but with the awareness that comes with adulthood, Fiona calls hers an FP. So now I call mine an FP.

I got an ad for a fleecy one before Christmas, and I sent her the link. Maybe she needed a furry FP to keep her warm in the cold English winter? 

She's got a regular one. We discovered when we met that we have practically the same bag. Turns out our respective daughters were incredibly excited to buy them for us.

Lululemon, however, avoids the fraught term. They call it an "everywhere belt bag"—which seems a safe approach to me. You don't have the dorky visual baggage of the 90s and you avoid shocking a swath of the English-speaking globe.

Whereas me, I'm not trying to sell anything. And I'm fine with 90s dorkiness and with horrifying the occasional human.

Sometimes, Sharon, that's just the way the biscuit crumbles.

Monday, January 08, 2024

Goodbye to you

I don't, as a practice and a superstition, wish time away. I never cross a day off the calendar before it is over.

But I was happy to see the back end of 2023.

I was going to write an end of year post on January 1, but we all returned from travel with consumption or some non-Covid crud.

And so I lay around limply, not so much feeling like writing.

But I forced myself to exercise and bathe.

Start as you mean to go on, and all that.

I'd like to eat black-eyed peas for luck, but I just don't like them. Or maybe I never like how they're seasoned. Anyway, we would have that as a tradition, but we don't.

Kind of like how growing up, we had oyster stew for Christmas dinner every year because that's what my mom was raised with. And then one year we all voiced how none of us cared for oyster stew, and apparently my mom had disliked it since childhood.

So then we never had it again.

Anyway, as the end of 2023 approached, the song that kept playing in my head was Goodbye to You.

In the immortal words of Scandal, "And my heart can't stand the strain/And my love, and my love, and my love/Goodbye to you..."

I didn't make a 2023 photo book. I didn't make a calendar. I simply couldn't handle looking back at photos from January–May.

Our only nod to Christmas at home were door wreaths and a poinsettia, and honestly, we only got those because Jordan was on the hook for selling a quantity of them for a sports team fundraiser and did nothing about selling. Nick and I sold a few. 

Though we'd signed an agreement at the start of the school year agreeing to participate up to this amount, we were caught off guard. And honestly, after the year we'd had, I didn't have the wherewithal. So we bought a bunch of wreaths and poinsettias.

Next year, which turns out to now be this year, will be better.

That's what I kept saying last year. Next year will be better. 

I didn't want to tempt fate and say, "How could it be worse?" Because I think a worse year than last year would actually break me.

That said. I was kind of surprised to realize that on the whole, despite so many years of depression and its accompanying negativity, I might actually be a glass half full person rather than a glass half emptier.

Because yes, 2023 was my absolute worst, most heart-wrenchingly painful, devastating, brutal, scary year of my entire life. 

I always knew that losing Betty would absolutely wreck me. But it's one thing to intellectually know. And it's quite another to feel like your entire body, inside and out, has been abraded by grief.

To wake up every single day freshly scraped down to your core. 

And then, you know, to get cancer on top of it. That super sucked.

But oddly enough, on the whole, I feel like a very lucky person. 

Which maybe makes no sense. Because on the outside, I cannot imagine anyone else would be like, "Ooh, I'd love to have Lisa's luck!"

I get that. I do.

We started the new year with wretched chest colds. There's some kind of crud circling the globe, and we returned from the UK worn down and feeling low. As soon as we got home, Nick and I were felled by it.

It caught me off guard, because I hadn't been really sick since having Covid the first year of the pandemic.

I said this to Nick. I said, "I'd forgotten how it feels to be so sick. Because I've been so healthy for so long!"

And then I was like, "I mean, except for the cancer!" Ha.

Which I know is kind of all, "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?"

But can I stick to a point?

Unclear. Because I think the ADHD meds I was so grateful for were exacerbating the effects of anastrozole. And since cutting my cancer recurrence risk is currently more important than quieting my brain, well, you get what you get.

But let me tell you how I'm lucky. You don't have to believe me. It's OK.

What 2023 showed me was how much love and kindness I have in my life. What extraordinary humans I have who love me.

My friends showed up, and they showed up huge for me. For me, for my family, for my mama.

You know I had my dear Nicole here for two weeks after my surgery taking care of me and making sure my family was OK. What kind of priceless gift is that?

On a side bar: I had to look up priceless, because I was like, un-pay-backable? Not enough money for? 

Becuase whether is is grief brain—which is a thing—or menopause, which I'm super duper in with the anastrozole working hard to make sure my body has no estrogen available, I keep lacking words.

Seriously. Yesterday I actually said, "You know, the wrists on your legs."

Ankles, my friends. The word for leg wrists is ANKLES.

But back to love. 

I had, I guess, three big traumatic events last year. My mom fell, spent 12 days and then passed away in GW Hospital, a place I will hate forever and absolutely refused to consider for my own treatment. Then we had her memorial service in September. And then, 10 days later, I had my surgery.

I haven't really talked or written at about my mom's memorial service. It was September 17.

That was the date I had to get past before I could start focusing on my future and how to be a yoga teacher. 

Until, of course, that all got derailed.

So maybe one day I'll write about that. But for now I'll say that my Leigh, who I asked to provide the floral arrangements (because she owns a wedding and florals company and has exquisite taste), created and installed the Betty-est flowers I could ever have hoped for. She made a beautiful chapel so much more so.

My mom would've loved them. Absolutely loved.

And through them, I had friends holding my hands. Physically, in some cases, and long-distance emotionally in others.

Maude and my high school friends came and stayed and rallied around me and cried with me and made me laugh and just offered their whole soulful selves in solidarity.

And I got flowers and gifts from friends I adore, but who I have barely spent time with in person because we live far apart. 

They're deep in my heart, and as it turns out, I am in theirs.

I cannot risk listing people, because I will leave some out. Grief/menopause brain. And then I would feel terrible. But my gosh, there are so many people.

I still owe a tremendous number of thank yous.

After my surgery, my community of moms here kept my whole family fed. Overfed, honestly.

My friend Andrea (sometimes lives near, sometimes far) set up a Meal Train, and we had so much food. People were incredibly generous.

Nicole had to cancel some lovely offers, as we were in the lucky position of having too much, and the freezer was full, and we couldn't bear to see good food go to waste.

One mom friend signed up multiple times before my surgery. I messaged her ahead and said please not to trouble herself like that.

And you know what she said?

She said we didn't know each other that well, and she was grateful to have a way to do something for me.

She was grateful for the opportunity.

This made me cry.

She's since messaged and said she was making a dish I particularly liked, and would I like a pan of it? Yes, oh yes, thank you.

A Cuban friend made me Cuban soup, the name of which I cannot remember. She told me to tell my surgeon, who is also Cuban. 

My Russian friend made me various soups, dropping one off every single week.

She started doing this after my diagnosis. She comes from a culture of food as medicine, and I needed the fortification.

Another mom friend, whose meal got canceled, asked if she could leave spiced tea made by her Kenyan husband and treats. (Ohhh, yes!!!) So her daughter picked out the cutest travel mug, and I had special tea and donuts.

I don't know if it sounds bad, listing all I received.

But I will tell you that my inclination—really, the way I was raised and trained—is always to tell people not to trouble themselves.

I love asking for advice and recommendations. I love knowing what books people are reading, or what kinds of skin care products they use.

I am always open to suggestions, and seriously love hearing. 

When I have to make choices, I get overwhelmed. So then I ask friends. It narrows things down and helps me a lot.

But those are things that cost people relatively little in terms of time and effort.

Prior to last year, it would've been unimaginable to me to ask someone outside of my family or absolute closest friends to make me a meal.

But the advice I got from a friend with cancer—which was just like the advice I got when traveling to Spain, but fortunately didn't result in eating fried pig earswas say YES to everything.

Let people do things for you. Allow people to help you. Say yes to the kindness.

So I said yes. Yes, please. Yes, thank you.

I had so much soup. I love soup. I am a terrible soup maker, sadly, and I love soup.

You'd think it would be simple. But good soup is not simple. Anyway, not for me.

So at one point Nick was all, "WHY do we have so much soup?"

(Spoken like a non-soup lover.)

And I said, "It's for me. I love soup."

Also, I am not a quid pro quo person. I'm really not. I do things for people I care about because I want to. 

Kindnesses bring me joy.

And I pour a lot into people I care about. 

And it turns out there are lots and lots of people I love.

What I've learned is that there are lots of people far and wide who love me back.

When I was young, I'd get jealous if a good friend added another bestie. Because I thought of love as finite. But as I've aged, I realize it's infinite.

Time and energy, yes, finite. Love, so vast. I do think the more you feel, the more you give, the more you have available. Our hearts are immense.

So in the horribleness of the worst year of my life, I had so much love.

And love and kindness came from unexpected places.

The first time I cried in class in Bali, I was lying on my stomach on my yoga mat in an anatomy class. We had no chairs. We could sit, lie down, stand, squat, use bolsters. But no chairs.

So we were on our mats pretty much all the time.

And the anatomy teacher was talking about diaphragmatic breathing.

And all I could picture was how shallowly my mom breathed. And how, if I'd known what I was starting to learn, I could have helped her.

If she'd breathed properly, would she have been strong enough to survive?

So I was lying on my mat in class with huge tears rolling down my face.

I felt a hand on my shoulder, and a voice quietly asking me if I'd like to go outside.

Jessie, this extraordinarily beautiful young woman, had been on her mat a row ahead of me. I wasn't making any noise, but she somehow knew, and came over to offer kindness.

I came to learn she was so tuned in to the emotional world around her. She could feel the room.

We went out in the rice paddy, and I cried and cried. I apologized for taking her out of class and she waved a hand and said, "I just graduated pre-med. I already know what she's talking about."

She's so young, so smart, so beautiful. Like, so pretty she could be shallow or not that bright, or unkind and just go through the world on her looks and people would do things for her. But she's deep and thoughtful and funny. 

I'd be delighted if my girl grew up to be like her.

And you already know about Fiona, my Bali yoga bestie who has turned into a lifelong bestie. 

I just got to see her two weeks ago. It was amazing but too brief. An evening and a morning, where we hugged goodbye at the train station, smiling for a selfie, and then I walked away in tears.

While we were there, the whole of England was being barraged by a storm called Gareth or something equally English, and trains were canceled and roads were flooded. Roofs had been blown off houses. Crazy stuff like that.

Fiona was coming down from the north, and had two trains canceled, and then was on a standing-room only train so packed that people fainted and one kid threw up.

But she came down to Oxford for the night, and we had a glorious time!

This is a whole nother post, or series of posts, because I have vocabulary, new treats, and travel stories to share.

Which I will do soon.

I wasn't writing for a while because I was just so relentlessly sad. Not depressed. Just sad. 

And I figured that it was probably tedious for readers to face another slog through grief kind of post.

But then my friend Sarah called, and out of the blue she said, "I love your blog! My mom loved your blog!"

I told her my fear of the ponderous griefy sadness and she said no. Keep writing. Post.

So I am.

I got through my first birthday, Betty's birthday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and New Year's without my mom. I feel...relieved?

Goodbye to you, 2023. Hello to you, 2024.

Exercise, bathe. Eat a fucking vegetable. Feel lucky to be alive.

These are for me. I'm not telling you what to do, though you're welcome to join me. 

Oh! I also want to start sitting in cold plunges, and grinding my own grain. And learn to knit, crochet, quilt...But those are also for another day.

Start as you mean to go on.