Friday, July 31, 2009

My Friend Linda

My friend Linda O'Loughlin passed away yesterday. Sadly, I got the news coming out of the Imax screening of Harry Potter (I am a glutton for punishment I know, but I determined I was going to be able to handle things like this and not shut that part of myself down so I made myself go again, this time with other people). And, at this point, if you're thinking, "She has got to be making this stuff up." I would not blame you. But, sadly, I am not. I do oddly feel as though I have landed in the middle of a John Irving novel, but every word of my tale is true. Not even the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Linda was older than I was by a good dozen years and had multiple health issues that had sidelined her the last few of those years, so in and of itself her passing was not all that surprising. And perhaps my reaction to her death is heightened by the fact that my wound is already open, and her passing is just so much more salt. Maybe. But, no matter how or when she died, I would be in mourning because she was a good and generous person. Linda was one of three ladies who worked for us at my management company that were all very close to one another, and with whom I was good friends, despite our dissimilar views. I cannot say what they saw as worthwhile in me, but for my part, I loved their spunk. Each had suffered loss and hardship, but had overcome it with a sharp wit and fierce determination. All three could be described as feisty, but all three were hard working, fiercely loyal and honest. Their lives had been set in the fire of real life, so they were truly real life Steel Magnolias.

Linda's best friend, Francine, brought Linda into our fold, but it took some doing. I had mis-read Linda's resume and thought she had stated her previous wage in hourly terms, which would mean that she made more than I was making at the time. I kept telling Francine we could not afford her. Francine persisted. Finally, it came out that she in fact was stating an annual amount, was not at all worried about what our small, family business could afford to pay her, and the rest is history. She outlasted me in the company. As a matter of fact, after letting her go at one point, they brought her back. I think they found, as I already knew, you just cannot buy that kind of work ethic.

But Linda lived with the knowledge that she had a time bomb inside of her. I had known her for a long time before I learned of it, she bore it in silence and good humor. Linda had contracted Chronic Hepatitis C, which impacts the liver, in her younger, wilder years. Eventually, she knew, it could kill her. I think I learned of it when we all decided to bring in photos of ourselves from our pasts. In the years before Facebook and Photo Bucket it was a fun way to get to know one another a little better. To see what we had all been before we became the women we were presently. I remember a specific photo of Linda taken in a nightclub in the 60's. She was strikingly beautiful, with long, flowing blond hair (her hair when I knew her was white and always bordering on a hot mess). I couldn't look away. I think it was then that she told me. Very simply, with no drama. It just was a part of her. She took care of herself, took her medication and lived her life. I will never know how she truly felt about it, but on the surface, it was barely a ripple.

Unfortunately, life was not done kicking Linda around. She contracted cancer a few years ago and, to make a long story short, she was cancer free, but at a toll. The multiple medications she was taking left her muddled, she was falling asleep at her desk, and often incoherent and confused when she was awake. Finally, the company let her go, and she went on disability. I saw her only rarely after that, I am sorry to say. We corresponded through e-mail occasionally, but even that was less frequent over the last few months. She called me after the Steelers won the Super Bowl, but it was a difficult conversation, with her drifting off in various directions, sometimes within the same sentence. Fortunately, unlike my mother, she was not driving, so she e-mailed me after Kelsey's death to say she would attend the funeral if she could get a ride. Francine wasn't available because her mother had surgery that day. The third musketeer has a detached retina, I learned. All three of my feisty friends were having a rough summer. I responded that I knew she would be there with me in spirit, and that was literally the last thing we "said" to one another. Apparently, shortly after that she decided to stop taking all her medications, including the ones that kept the Hep C at bay. Sunday, her husband came home to find that she didn't know who he was and he took her to the hospital. When I saw her on Wednesday, she was deep asleep, hooked up to a respirator in ICU, fighting for her life due to liver failure. She lost the battle about midway through my movie last night. I looked up her symptoms on Wikipedia this morning. They were almost textbook cirrhosis, a condition caused when the liver begins to fail.

So, today is a sad day. I keep thinking of Francine, who is trying to care for her elderly mother who is recuperating from surgery, and who has already lost so much in her life. I will miss Linda, but for Francine, I would speculate that she must feel as though a limb has been taken from her. And I wonder why life is so hard and so cruel, then I feel guilty for that thought because there are so many in the world for whom life is a whole lot harder. And then I realize it's thoughts like these that drive people to drink probably, so I will end here and try to finish the work I left yesterday when I rushed out to the movie and tend to Mother and hope to catch a glimpse of the Steelers on ESPN since training camp opened today and do all the things humans have done for a millennium in the face of loss, which is just to try and carry on with a heavy heart.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Lessons from the School of Life

If someone were to ask me to impart my best advice on parenting in 1,000 words or less, the first thing I would say is, "Are you kidding? I can't do anything in 1,000 words or less!" Then, I would go on to write the following:

1) Don't threaten something unless you are really planning on going through with it. This is actually a tidbit from my own childhood. My parents were famous for threatening to send me to military school. Seriously? I mean, look at me back then. My idea of a really good day was to curl up in a corner in my room with a bag of pretzels and a good book. What kind of trouble did I really get into? I can't even remember the kinds of trespasses I committed to get the threat leveled at me, but it was a common one. I do remember the first time they hit me with it. I sat on the stairs to the basement and just balled, scared to death. I mean, Dad was military, so I envisioned this horrible place that would turn me into a complete asshole just like him. After a while, however, the threat became mundane and lost its bite. I became convinced that there was no such thing as a military school. I never met anyone who had actually attended one until I met some of the boys at Alldredge only two years ago who had actually been expelled from military school.

2) All parents should read Giving the Love that Heals by Harville and Hunt. It was assigned reading for Alldredge parents, along with The Four Elements, which is also a very good book I would recommend for anybody who lives on the planet. The thing I regret most about that book is that it took me until Kelsey and Marissa were 20 and 17 respectively to find it. Practice what it teaches, and I guarantee you that your relationship with your children will improve.

3) I would impart a bit of wisdom a very wonderful parent once said to me: never look shocked when your kids tell you something. If they see how shocked you are by what they're saying they won't talk to you anymore. I tried to live by that, even though I had to work at keeping a calm demeanor through some highly troubling conversations, and it worked to some degree. I was not the parent to whom it was referred, "Don't let [fill in blank} find out or she'll freak out!" But, when my children did come to confide in me I heard things come out of their mouths that I never wanted to hear. I, for instance, knew the bathroom in the high school that was the best for doing drugs and not getting caught (of course not until afterwards). I knew terms for heroin use that trained professionals didn't know. I knew about the sexual, partying, drinking and drug activity of just about everybody in my daughters' social circles. Again, not until the point at which I could not do much about it, but once they did decide they wanted or needed to talk to someone about it, they would lay it all out in excruciating detail, and I took it all in with a perception of calm that belied how I really felt.

4) Your kids do want your involvement and guidance, no matter what they say or do. As a matter of fact, I would go so far as to say that the harder they fight you for control, the more they probably secretly need and want it. The ones who give in too easily are probably the ones to really watch out for, because one of two things are happening, they are completely socially introverted like me or are then turning around and doing what they want anyway. Now, for goodness sakes, do not go chaining your child to the radiator and telling CPS that I told you to do it. Use good parenting skills, but stay involved with where your children are and who their friends are. Your kids will hate this, but get involved with their friend's parents. Get ready to have some of those parents say things to you like "It's not my fault he's this way, he's adopted." or "Well, at least you are still married. That's saying something." But, that network can prove important.

5) You are not your child's friend, you are their parent. That was actually something I had to work on with Marissa. After I left my career behind to concentrate on trying to sort out the mess I had allowed my daughter's to sink into, I did everything with her. Eventually, we came to define co-dependency. But it was too violent of a swing the other way. I had gone from pretty significant detachment to complete immersion, and it affected my ability to sometimes stand up to her or make the hard decisions that I needed to. This is not to say you can't take your son or daughter to a Steeler game. By all means, please do. And you can enjoy one another's company, but there is a balance there, and you cannot lose sight of what your true role is.

6) Finally, but by no means least, if you wonder if behavior you are seeing is really something to worry about or just a teenage phase, worry about it. We kept waiting for Kelsey to just get past it when she first started showing signs of trouble her freshman year. We thought we knew who our daughter really was deep inside and the darkness she began to exhibit inside and out was just a phase. If not for the crisis counselor at the high school finally shaking me out of my delusions, she probably never would have made it to 23. I realize this was a huge time wasting mistake on my part, so really, if I can only say one thing to parents, it would be this. Don't chance it. What can it hurt to get a little therapy under a child's belt? Almost every new therapist we saw over the many years we worked on this would ask in the initial session, "So, do you think you need therapy?" My retort was always, "I think everyone could use therapy." Think back to when you were a teenager. There were some fun times probably, but if any adult can tell me without hesitation that his or her teenage years were not without drama, pain and confusion at least a fair amount of the time, I would say they were lying or spent way too much of those years completely stoned. The very nature of the process called growing up is trial and painful error. If therapy is not your cup of tea, then pick something else. Spiritual advisers, volunteer work, something. Anything. But, do not just sit there and think this too shall pass. I went to some of those kid's funerals too. The ones where the parents were just trying to weather the storm.

Okay, so how many words was that?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Go Team

So, what were our biggest transgression as parents? Well, if you ask my husband he would say it was because we did not involve the girls in team sports. I am sure he is not trying to postulate that it really is that simple, but he would name it as the single largest mistake he will admit to. He says this, and he says if often, with no hint at recrimination, even though Kelsey dabbled in competitive figure skating, which was a passion of mine. So, it would be an easy leap to assume she pursued it to please me. Marissa went with gymnastics, skating and dance (I should note that their personalities were always like that. Kelsey was a very straightforward, no nonsense kind of a child; Marissa was like a hummingbird, never really landing in one place.) He does like to point out that these individual sports happen to be the kinds of pursuits body image nightmares are made of. And then he'll go on to lecture that team athletics build better social skills, participants learn how to work with others, have to check their individual egos at the door and yada yada yada. I don't disagree with any of these points, but think he is overly optimistic about how our lives would have turned out if Kelsey and Marissa had played some soccer or softball. My counterpoint is: MICHAEL VICK, Steve McNair, Pacman Jones, Terrell Owens, Donte Stallworth, a plethora of Raiders past and present, lots of people who are playing major league baseball with a little extra "juice", and my personal favorite, Dennis Rodman. They all played team sports all their lives. And, last time I checked, Michelle Kwan was pretty well adjusted. However, I can tell Marissa right now that she just needs to accept that "Grandpa Veldman" will be signing up her offspring for something that involves a ball or a puck and at least four other people.

I think the team we neglected was our own. Team Veldman was the team we all should have been playing on, and for two people who claim to be sports enthusiasts, we lost sight of the ball big time. Probably to some degree it happens to a lot of families in an odd twist of irony. We all become so busy building a life, we lose track of the life we are trying to build. I became increasingly worried about nurturing a young business and bolstering my career, thinking honestly that was what my role should be for the family. Problem with that is, at the end of each long, long work week, I still had housework to do and needed to try and squeeze some fun time in, sometimes with the kids, but sometimes without. My only child status began to work against me. I was used to being the center of my own attention, and never really let that go. There were times I just needed to get away for a little Me time. Problem is, when I was leaving so little time outside of the office, that meant Me time had to be sliced out of time I should have spent with Kelsey and Marissa. What was Greg doing during all of this? I have no idea, and I was too tired to care. For about ten years, he worked at night and slept during the day, so we rarely had time when we were all together as a family. When we did, that meant that one or the other of us was exhausted and/or stressed. In the photos from those years, Greg always looked like he was about to drop. We never neglected our daughters' primary needs. They always had adult supervision and had food on the table at the normal times and all the other things we thought they needed. We attended parent-teacher conferences, threw birthday parties and slumber parties, made sure they had school supplies and books and toys, but things were beginning to happen that we were missing. Little breadcrumbs were being left for us to find, and we were completely too preoccupied to see them. Funny thing about children, when you miss the clues they are leaving you, they don't give up. They leave you bigger clues. By the time we simply could not ignore what was happening any longer, those breadcrumbs had turned into entire loaves of bread, figuratively speaking.

I remember that the former University of Texas coach Fred Akers gave all his players t-shirts with "TEAM" in large, bold burnt orange letters on the top line followed by "me" in small letters below. I think all parents should be issued that same shirt. One of the first things a therapist said to me was, "It's not about you." I don't mean to suggest that parents completely lose themselves and their own goals and interests or, worse still, live vicariously through their children (because I believe that, ultimately, that still is really about the parent), but I do believe now that family life is more like a team sport and the kids are the MVP's. Even before Kelsey died, I learned the error of my early ways. Problem is, things were in motion by that time. I wish I could have stopped it before it began, but all I can do now is offer this up as a modern morality tale.

Monday, July 27, 2009


I think the word "bad" is overused when it comes to people with addictions or mental illness, which Kelsey had in addition to her eating disorder, and which Marissa also struggles with. I did it myself in an earlier post. In my original draft, I used the term "Bad Parenting" when really I don't mean to imply that anyone is in and of themselves bad or intends to do bad things. I was a little surprised at myself actually, because we were the victim of that term so often. I had Bad Kids. I was a Bad Parent because I had Bad Kids. We led a Bad Lifestyle because I worked outside the home, or were not socially conservative, or because I listened to radical music (I like Rush. A lot. Deal with it), so that's why my kids were Bad. We got hit with it all, sometimes from very close to home. It was hurtful. And it wasn't true. But it slips out - it's the word your brain goes to naturally. Sometimes it's the politest thing we were called by certain individuals. And sometimes it's the right word for certain things. Drugs are Bad. Eating disorders are Bad. Addictive behavior is destructive, which is a Bad Thing. All true. What is not true is that people with addictions are Bad People. Some are. Some completely sober people are too. But, one of the first things I learned was that there was a lot of Bad Behavior going on in Kelsey's peer group, but not that many Bad Kids. As a matter of fact, in all my time as the parent of two very young women with multiple issues, I can only tell you of one individual who, when I looked into his eyes, thought I saw true evil there. There are a small handful of others for whom I don't believe {but pray that I am wrong} there is a light at the end of the tunnel. For them, there is something more fundamentally wrong in the deep recesses of their psyche than all the rehab, counseling and concerned parenting in the world can reach. But, for the vast majority of young men and women I met, they were okay young people who had fallen down a rabbit hole on their search to alleviate some void or pain in their life. Sometimes I would meet them when they were still happily wallowing around in whatever behavior they had chosen and weren't ready to try and change it. But, given that I met most of them at one form of treatment program or another, a lot of them were at least aware of their situation. Some were more sincere in their efforts than others, and some were so far down that rabbit's hole that climbing out of it was a lot more work. However, whatever stage they were in, it was easy enough to see the decent person lurking under the cloak of their addiction. Often you could see the fear and worry in their eyes. They would mask it if they thought you were looking, but it was there in those unguarded moments when they glanced out a window or listened to another person tell his or her story. The same was true for those parents I met in those programs. Some were a little more advanced in their efforts, but everybody was at least aware that there was something that needed to be addressed and willing to address it. The parents I generally hold in disdain are the ones I never saw in a treatment program or bumped into at a counselor's office. They were the ones who thought that if they simply rid their child of all the Bad Influences (aka, other addicts) in their lives, everything would be okay. Actually, making new associations and ridding oneself of old ones is part of the process, but only part of it. So, again, I do stand by my statement that those adolescents were more or less left to their own devices to figure their way out of that hole. A lot of them will somehow make it through to adulthood, eventually grow weary of how they spent their teenage years and sober themselves up, but others won't. I went to a few of their funerals. But, those parents love their children just as much as the ones I met in treatment do, and they believe they are doing the right thing. I therefore regret the original use of Bad Parenting. I have since changed it. I guess President Obama and I have something in common: we make the occasional gaff.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Credit Due

I realize the last couple of posts appear to be a means of self-flagellation or sympathy seeking behavior, but I want to assure my readers, it really is neither. But, it is realistic. Trust me, we paid a lot of professionals a lot of money to examine our parental shortcomings over the years, and they were never short of material. But I know that my parental digressions do not approach the level of others, or why else would Child Protective Services exist? I was never going to be the inspiration for a Law and Order: SVU episode, thankfully. I can even admit that there are others I came across in my travels through my daughters' troubled teens who would top my list of Misguided Parenting way ahead of me. Often they were people who at first blush are the All American Families; working dad, stay at home mom, church-going pillars in their community whose kids ran astray of that All American Dream. Primary among them were the parents who would blame everyone else for their son or daughter's situation. I found this a particularly dangerous stance to take, because one of the first lessons I had to learn was that denial does not help, it only hinders, the recovery process. Kelsey and Marissa were a popular target for those parents, as were their friends, but the school got some of the blame, so did modern society and the list goes on. They never looked inward at their family dynamic. They never considered that there might be an underlying issue causing the "bad" behavior, so the teen was left in large part to sort out his or her troubling thoughts that led to the behavior in the first place. Some of them work it out, some don't and pay a high price for their parent's blind spots. My all time favorite, however, was the couple who told me that their son's behavior was not their fault, he was adopted and went on to blame it on his teenage mother's bad genes. A good eight years before I learned of my own adoption, the statement still left me so completely livid that I was speechless. And, sure enough, they cast him aside shortly after that remark. They sent him to a group home, and then to live with relatives. This good, sweet kid who was going through a bad case of teenage rebellion and needed their love and support got neither. Years later, they both got very sick and he moved back along with his sister to take care of them until they died. It was more than they deserved I thought, but I hope they made their amends before the end. However, all of these people, like me and like my husband, wanted to do the right thing by our children, we just weren't on the right track all the time, or, worst case, any of the time. The one thing I will give us a lot of credit for is that we sought help. And we were willing to be laid bare in front of our children and then worked to make changes in both ourselves and within the family structure to help Marissa and Kelsey. I can tell you, it is an excruciating experience.

Think of the most painful thing you have ever gone through physically, then try to imagine that ten times over, and it might begin to compare to a family therapy session with Kelsey. Effective therapy, I learned early on, is neither a fast nor a pleasant process. Kelsey came at it full of rage, which I can only just now recognize as a mask for a lot of fear, and she made sure any session we were in with her was going to be a confrontation. The roughest years were in 2005 and 2006. First there were the weekly teleconferences we had with Kelsey's therapist when she was in residential treatment in Reno where I felt the woman was trying to reach through the phone and verbally bitch slap me week after week. I would almost always walk away from those sessions in tears, sometimes crying a river's worth. The whole point, it seemed at the time, was to point out exactly how much of a travesty our parenting had been. I had come across that before when Kelsey was at McCallum Place in St. Louis, but her therapists, in comparison, pulled their punches. This woman was not that shy. Then we survived her only to be introduced to Marissa's private therapist, a petite, attractive woman with a viper's touch. She often pulled me in for the last five or ten minutes of the session to enumerate the various ways I was failing my daughter. I was convinced she hated me, a charge she later denied, but, whatever her feelings were for me personally, she clearly had no positive thoughts spared for my efforts as Marissa's mother. I once whined to our family therapist that I didn't understand how tearing me down in front of my children was productive. At the end of the day, I was still the only mother they had and they were stuck with me. To a certain extent, I still stand by that comment. Kelsey seemed to learn from all those sessions that critiquing us openly and harshly was her right, and she exercised it often until the end. But, on the other hand, I know that part of the process has to be for the children to see that the parents are in it with them, willing to not only look at their past behavior, but that they are actively trying to change it. It's as if they are saying, "If the parents can do it, than so can you." And, in fairness, the staff at treatment centers know that they only have a limited time to effect a life altering change in an individual, so they go for the juggler. You want gentle? Then go to a massage therapist. You want change in your life? Then, buckle up, it's going to be a bumpy ride.

I have a theory that if you always like your therapist, he or she is not the right therapist for you. Family therapists have to be a little like drill sergeants. They have to strip you of your old ways and re-build you into cohesive units ready to take on any enemy, and that takes hard work. The funny thing about it, though, is you may completely abhor it at the time, but if you approach it honestly, openly and work to make the changes you learn about, you will find that your life does get better. And we did that. We did that work. I will go on record as being very proud of us for that. I am proud of any family who goes through it.

But, of course, in the end, it was too little, too late, not enough, or something, because Kelsey never spent more than a few brief periods healthy during the last nine years. And, over the last few months, we all saw her decline, but felt completely hopeless to stop it, let alone turn it around. All that work and here we all are, one short of our whole family. My only recourse now is to try and look at what happened honestly and openly and hope it helps someone else.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

In the Beginning

All stories have to have a beginning, a middle and an end. I certainly know what Kelsey's ending was, and there is plenty of material for the middle portion, but what was the beginning of her tale? Her father would answer that it was ninth grade cheerleader tryouts, I tend to begin the story on the day of my 40th birthday when she had a meltdown at the dinner my mother made us go to, but truthfully, neither is exactly right. I think we would have to go as far back as when Greg and I got married, 25 years ago this December, and decided to intertwine our genetic destinies. But is that even right? Just because we both brought something to the table that contributed to our children's overall mental health (and, of course, we now know my genetic makeup is a mystery) did not necessarily mean our daughters were pre-destined to struggle the way that they did. The nature versus nurture argument is an intriguing one and applies here. For me, and trust me that I have put a lot of thought into this over a lot of years, Kelsey and Marissa were the result of both nature and how they were nurtured. And even more than that, things just happened. A person met here or there, a party attended, a drug experimented with, a hateful remark overheard in a school hallway, all of those things contributed to Kelsey's path in life and the decisions she made. If one thing had happened even slightly differently - had we not moved when we did, had we bought a house in Georgetown instead, had I not gotten the job I did in 1995, had I refused to let her go out a few times - things may been completely different for this family. You can go crazy thinking about such things, and I learned long ago that it is not wise to roll around in the mud of one's past too much, all you get is dirty. Nonetheless, when your oldest daughter just paid the ultimate price, it's hard not to.

However, I digress. What has struck me about all of this is that Kelsey died just one year shy of how old I was when I got married. Within a year I was pregnant with her. Granted, Kelsey and I were in different places in our lives. I had lived on my own since I was 19, working and going to night classes. I had been dating Kelsey's father for three years. I thought I was the poster child for responsibility, and we thought this was a good match at the right time in our lives. The problem with me is that I was convinced I had it all figured out at the age of 24. What I have since come to believe is that if you think you know everything, you in fact know nothing. My pregnancy was unplanned, but once I got over the initial shock, I plowed ahead, sure I could not only do this, but do it well. And I did. I was a great pregnant person. I took fantastic care of myself, because I was a vessel for this person growing inside of me. But, as much as I would not have been open to this statement when bent over with morning sickness, being pregnant is the easiest part of being a parent. And, caring for an infant is physically taxing, but not all that hard either really. It is easy enough to stimulate that tiny mind while changing those smelly diapers. An infants needs are constant, but not that hard to meet. The rest of your life may be chaos as a result; trying to work on four hours sleep, trying to maintain a marriage when you're asleep before your head hits the pillow, not to mention how hard it is to feel attractive with spit up stuck in your hair, but your baby doesn't care about all of that and will flourish. Once they take those first steps and their journey toward eventual independence truly begins, it gets a lot more complicated. I thought I'd figure it out as I went along. Now I can't believe that I approached the most important thing I will ever be allowed to do so casually. I was flying by the seat of my pants. And I think that was the beginning. Do I think I approached parenting much differently than most of my peers? No. I think I probably pulled off at least a good a job at raising my kids as a lot of parents do, but Kelsey and Marissa had special requirements, special anxieties and issues that caused them not to be able to shrug off the shortcomings of their parents and grow up reasonably well adjusted. I look back at that much younger, cockier version of myself and think she played a large part in this. And what specifically did I do or not do as a parent? Oh, stay tuned, there's a list.

So, what can I do about it now? Nothing. All I can do is offer up my story so other young parents can read and maybe learn. Maybe if I'm allowed the privilege of having grandchildren someday, my true chance for redemption will come then.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A New Hope

At first glance, I would appear to be a kid's dream mother. I am in many ways just an overgrown child. The music I listen to, the way I prefer to dress, the books I read, the toys I cannot seem to resist, my love for chocolate, my love for movies where stuff blows up, and all my dogs. Everything adds up to a fun-loving parent. But of course no parent is perfect, and parents aren't in place to be a playmate to their children alone. There was a definite dark side to my parenting that, as much as I would like to pretend it didn't, played a role in the troubles my two girls went through. More than anything else, I think my adherence to what I believed should be my role as the breadwinner was a detriment to my two daughters that they suffered for greatly. As things in their lives heated up, I simply was not there. I loved them, and I think for the most part on and most days they knew that, but I can tell you now with absolute certainty that love is not enough. It takes a presence, both in the mind and body, to be an effective parent. I can also tell you, with no amount of self-pity at this point, that I did not often give my kids all of me. I may appear to be looking for some sympathy. Trust me, I am not. This is all subject matter that has been examined by various therapists in various ways. I have been laid bare and had my ego water boarded by the best. I have survived those experiences to say these things as a matter of record. I can say them now somewhat dispassionately because it doesn't matter how I feel about it, I have yet to figure out how to bend time. What was will always be.

But, as I work through my daughter's childhood toys and books, her younger years have been on my mind recently, and, maybe to give my tired, wounded heart some salve, I asked myself the question, "Was there ever a time I know we were all happy together?" I have examined that question for several days, looking at the answer that continues to come back time and again to make sure I believe Kelsey would have answered it the same way, and I know she would have, because she did talk about it during her last residential treatment stay. For us, we were happiest living in a time long ago in a galaxy far, far away. Star Wars made us happy. It was the source of some of our best times together.

I think the happiest summer we had as a mother and daughters was the summer LucasFilm re-released the original trilogy. A huge Star Wars fan, I had raised my two daughters on the films, but I was so excited for them to see them on the big screen, so we got the schedule down and planned the summer more or less around the releases, which, as I recall, were about a month apart. In the time before Fandango, we would get to the theatre as early as possible to buy the tickets, then hang out at the book store until it was time to line up for the movie. And we were not alone, the lines wrapped around the building for each release, with people queuing up hours before the movie began. Kelsey was about 11, her little sister about 8, so we had to find ways to amuse ourselves in line, so I took The Hobbit and read it out loud to them. I can remember thinking how deeply dark and geeky I was, waiting to see the ultimate fantasy nerd's movie trilogy while reading the ultimate fantasy writer's work to my kids, but we were happy. I can recall people in line near us smiling kindly at the mother and her two children sitting on the ground reading about furry-footed hobbits, trolls, dwarves and wizards. At least, if I was going to be a nerd, I was in the best of company. We had a lot of fun without much effort. And the memories remain. A number of times we told the tale of the Englishman who asked the usher that the sound be turned down during The Return of the Jedi because he had been at the other two screenings and they were too loud for him. He was booed into submission. One of us would begin the story and the others would chime in to help complete it, laughing at the memory.

Even Episode I has a place in my heart now, despite being less than great cinema. My daughters were still young enough not to really know or care that the movie sucked. It was Star Wars and we were together at it. We would sit there with a large popcorn and a bag of Twizzlers and be very content to watch Jar-Jar Binks. We did it four times that year. I to this day cannot see a Star Wars film without wanting a Twizzler. I cannot eat a Twizzler without the strong urge to put in a Star Wars DVD. We took entire shopping trips geared around the purchase of Star Wars merchandise. I have a house full of it still.

Art Rooney, Sr. may be the man I look to as the greatest, kindest businessman ever, but George Lucas is my parenting hero. Of course, I know it wasn't the movies, it was the time we spent together. It was so easy. Why didn't I do more of it?

Kelsey, wherever you are, may the Force be With You.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Rest of the Tale/Tail

I cleared out my voice mail yesterday, including several I had saved from the vet clinic keeping me updated on the cat while she was being treated there. I am not sure why I kept them other than a subconscious fear that the cat would not make it, and I wanted proof to remind myself I really did try. I had forgotten how diligent they were in keeping me apprised, always using bright, cheerful voices and loading the messages with optimistic words, but still making sure they didn't lead me to believe Tum-Tum was in the clear. I imagine working with the animals is not nearly as hard as working with their owners, and I figured the people dealing with me probably had heard the story and were extra careful with their tone. At any rate, after two solid days there and a third night, I finally convinced the vet to let me take Tum-Tum home and continue her treatment here. I figured I could do it; I have given dogs IV's in the past, I inject one of my dogs twice a day with insulin. I clean up their poop and drool and vomit routinely. I thought being a dog owner eight times over put me in a good position to nurse a tiny little kitty. Yeah, right.

First of all, dogs for the most part want nothing more than to please their humans. Cats feel no such compunction. Dogs respond to certain commands. Cats respond because it pleases them to do so. If it doesn't, then they don't. The local deer herd are more pliable than Tum-Tum. And then, there is the fact that my dogs are all largish, whereas Tum-Tum before she got sick was less than 11 pounds. Not a large target. Finally, she has a temper, that one. She was recovered just to the point where taking care of her a true challenge. And I quickly regretted the decision to bring her home.

The objective was to get a dose of antibiotic down her twice a day, give her a dietary enhancement every twelve hours, and try and stuff a can of cat food down her in four installments using a syringe. None of which she wanted. We worked her as a team generally, either myself and Marissa or myself and Greg. Marissa or Greg would wrap her in a towel so her claws were caught up in terry cloth and she had a bib more or less. I would grab the scruff of her neck to try and force her mouth open and force down the food. But sometimes I was in a position to try and handle her myself. Not something I will look forward to doing again. That first day we got less than a quarter can of food down her, and I was constantly just on the edge of panic, thinking I had made a huge mistake and all that work the vet had done would be undone. After all of this, I worried, I would lose her after all. The next day went a little better as we became more experienced in how best to handle her, but she also started to fight back a little more, so we still were way short of the food quota. I kept thinking how tragic it was that I was on the brink of losing my bulimic daughter's cat to starvation. But by the third day, our resolve was stronger, our technique was better, and we managed to get a lot of moist cat food down her and not as much on the towel or her fur. Finally, the panicky feeling receded just a bit.

The next morning, I went upstairs to begin Tum-Tum on another day of forcing droppers and syringes down her dainty mouth. I had placed a container of food on the ground the day before hoping she would get back the desire to eat on her own. She begrudgingly allowed me to jam the antibiotic dropper down her throat, but then pulled away from me and, as if to say "enough already, I surrender", she went to the food bowl and began to eat. She didn't eat much initially, but I felt as though I had just won a Super Bowl. I knew she had turned the final corner and was going to make it.

And, true to form, she's making it on her own terms. She refused to eat any more of the expensive moist cat food, or anything with the dietary supplement added to it. She would only entertain the dry cat food she was used to, but she is back to eating normally. The litter box proves that it is processing correctly, and, while I can still feel her spine through her thick coat, it is beginning to feel less sharp to my touch. Her eyes are clear and her nose has stopped running, but she still sneezes occasionally. Nonetheless, her behavior is back to normal. She has made it almost all the way back.

Now, however, she seems really to know she lost something more than her health. She does not seem to remember she navigated downstairs without being eaten by canines when she was sick, so she spends a large part of each day prowling the landing, calling for attention. When we finally respond out of pity or self-preservation to get a moment of peace and quiet, she'll allow us to pet her for a minute or two then will swat at us, and walk away. She wants her mom. She did come down to the kitchen the other day and headed to the coffee maker, wrapping herself around it. Now I know she can smell it, so I think Marissa's original theory is in play: Kelsey rarely was without a cup of coffee, and I think Tum-Tum was drawn to the aroma. Maybe she thought Kelsey would show up to pour herself one eventually and that was the best place to wait for her. Whatever the reason, it made my heart crack a little. Already brittle, it doesn't take much.

Time may make her forget, I'm not sure. Cats are not my strong suit. She did have a moment of fun a couple of nights ago. Marissa had lost her temper with the cat's loud mewling and swatted her on the nose. She ran upstairs to mend her wounded pride, and a little while later we heard a loud crash. Tum-Tum had dumped over Marissa's CD tower, spilling 100 jewel cases across the floor. She was very pleased with herself, strutting across the wreckage purring loudly as I tried to put them all back in place. Hard to imagine she knew for certain those were Marissa's CD's, but it did seem sort of oddly timed. But, it was hard to be mad at her for having some fun, because maybe if she can recover from the loss, we can take some hope that so can we.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Saving Tum-Tum

Kelsey at one point had both a hedgehog and a cat when she first lived on her own in her little Hyde Park apartment. Why exactly she decided to try and care for not one, but two other creatures when she was struggling to care for herself at that point defies logic, but not emotion. I was not really in a good position to pass judgment on her, given that I had adopted a dog within a few months of moving out on my own, sometimes barely having enough money for dog food, let alone vet bills, and I have ever since had more dogs than sense. I stand at eight currently. She did get the standard parental lecture about not repeating my mistakes, but her loneliness I think outweighed any rational thought, and so Tee-Dub and Tum-Tum came into our lives. Hedgehogs, like my daughter, have a thorny exterior, but are fragile creatures, so hers met an early demise. The theory is that the cat scared him one night by sticking her head in the enclosure and giving the poor prickly thing a heart attack. That left Kelsey and the cat.

Tum-Tum is named after a rapper. She in no way suits her name. If I had to pick a name just based on personality, I would call her Celine. Like the Canadian singer, she is small and thin with a loud voice and a total Diva. When Kelsey moved back in with us, along came this spoiled cat. She hated the dogs, not unsurprisingly. She disliked our cat, not unsurprisingly, and he wasn't too thrilled with her. She established the upstairs as her territory, but made it pretty clear she wasn't happy about being here at all. When Kelsey was not around for longish periods of time, Tum-Tum would eventually get lonely enough to wander down to the landing and whine at us until someone went over to pet her. She would tolerate it for a few minutes, then take a swat at whomever was petting her as if to say, "You're not Kelsey." If that caused the person to walk away, she would complain loudly. As soon as the real deal walked in the house, Tum-Tum yowled until she got Kelsey's attention. One thing about Tummy, she loved her owner, but it was clear that she felt restricted and restless upstairs, so as Kelsey spent more and more time with her last boyfriend, she took Tum-Tum over to his apartment. And that was where she was the night Kelsey died.

I do not understand what the circumstances were that caused the police to take the cat, but they did - straight to the pound. In all the chaos of my traveling back to Austin, then trying to handle funeral arrangements, dealing with the grandmothers and all of the things that come along with losing a family member, it was Tuesday afternoon before Marissa and Greg went to get the poor cat. She was completely traumatized, but seemed physically fine. She swatted and hissed at me the next morning, so I figured she would eventually get back to normal. She spent the next few days on the periphery of our notice. We made sure she had food and fresh water and the occasional brief acknowledgment, and therefore I did notice she was increasingly detached and quiet. I put it down to grief. I assumed she didn't fully understand what had happened that fateful night, but was sharp enough to figure that Kelsey had not been around for several days. Beyond that, she was out of sight, out of mind.

But, then she began showing up in odd places. Downstairs. She crawled into the kitchen sink and refused to leave. Marissa originally theorized she was trying to be near the coffee smell, associating it with Kelsey. Then, we found her in our shower. I even took a shower with her one morning. I pulled her out of the washing machine. But the strangest was when Greg and I woke up in the middle of the night and found her curled up between us, surrounded by dogs. I still put it down to loneliness and grief, but real concern had started to sink in. She wasn't eating at all, and the litter box was all but unused. Then, finally, through our own veil of sorrow, we noticed the mucus around her nose and something clouding her eyes. Finally, with most vets closed for the July 4th holiday, we realized she was actually really sick.

When I finally got her in to see a vet the following Monday, her situation was clearly dire. This kind hearted, clean cut young man who looked like he should still have a learner's permit as opposed to being a graduate of veterinary medicine laid it out for me carefully, making sure he made his case in a way that if I decided to have her put to sleep I could feel justified in my decision. She had an upper respiratory infection. I assume she contracted it somehow at the shelter. In and of itself, it's not that hard to deal with. The real problem is that cats won't eat what they can't smell, and when they don't eat they lose liver function fairly rapidly and, of course, without the liver doing its job, well... The tests they ran proved his theory.

There I was, all by myself with a snot-nosed, cloudy eyed cat belonging to my late daughter, whose funeral I just unexpectedly paid for, trying to make a decision. I looked at the cat, miserable and completely lethargic in the towel lined box I had used to transport her and considered my options. In the end, it wasn't that long of an inner debate. If there was one thing Kelsey would have said to me before she died it would be to make sure I took care of her cat.

The vet had been careful to explain the course of treatment if I wanted to pursue it, but also to stress that there was not a guarantee she would respond. He had suggested leaving her there for a couple of days for a regimen including force feeding her and seeing how she was doing after that before going further. I agreed. He didn't say precisely, and I didn't ask, but I'm pretty sure I had just signed off on long odds.

Leaving the sick cat behind, not sure if I had just seen her for the last time, was a low moment.

To find out her fate, stay tuned.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Baby Steps

I did it. I went to Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince. I realized I had mentioned it twice in this blog, both times saying I might be "overwhelmed" by it because Kelsey was the fervent Harry Potter fan of the household, and this was an event we should have shared. That made me determined that I would not allow myself to be undone. By a movie. By a movie that I really wanted to see. So, I screwed up my courage and went this morning. The movie was good enough that I only thought of the reason I was hesitant to see it once during the film. Walking out of the theatre by myself afterwards with no one to share the experience with, critique the film and laugh at Ron's romantic exploits, that was the tough moment. Thank heavens for large sunglasses. I suppose I could have gone with someone and avoided that, but the person I had anticipated sharing that experience with since I saw the first teaser trailer last July was not available.

As my sister-in-law pointed out, I have to take baby steps. So, this was a tiny step toward reclaiming my life. I figure it was good practice for all the other days that I will have to face without a choice. Holidays, as an example. So, maybe I should feel some triumph for having done it. I do not. I actually cannot put my finger on what I do feel, other than drained. But I am glad I went.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Girl in the Grocery Store

Here we are at another weekend. For some reason, weekends are the roughest waters to navigate. This marks a month after our oldest daughter's passing (technically, Monday will be one month exactly), so I actually anticipate this one to pose a unique challenge. Hopefully Marissa is letting the events of the past month take a back seat for once as she spends the weekend with her boyfriend's grandparents down in Rockport. Not sure exactly what fun there is with an elderly couple in Rockport, Texas, but it is not here, and I think that was enough incentive to have her excited. For Greg, figuring out the weekend syndrome is not all that hard. As tough as it is to get up the energy to go to work each day, it keeps his mind occupied. On Saturday and Sunday, in the dead zone between basketball and football seasons, there is ample time to reflect, and those reflections are painful. And, like most men not named Dr. Phil, he has a hard time expressing his emotions. He feels them, that was part of my initial draw to him, but he clams up when it comes time to try and express them, so they stay in there and ferment. For me, weekends are a little more perplexing. I have plenty to do. My weekends can be as crowded as I want them to be, and I only work part-time during the week leaving me time to muddle around in despair, so today and tomorrow should not be any different than any other day. Sure, I can't make calls and don't have appointments to keep, but I need deer food, there is the hallway that has needed painted for months, I need to wash cars (including the hated El Diablo), laundry, dog grooming, etc. The ladies in the audience totally get it. There is always something. But, I go through it too. Maybe because Greg is moping around more, maybe because weekends are traditionally supposed to be time to enjoy life a little, so I am more aware that life is not much fun right now, maybe because it is generally family time and I'm all too aware that a member of my family is forever gone. Maybe it's because Kelsey died on a Saturday. Probably it is all these things combined. All I can tell you for sure right now is that weekends are to be endured. Football, always a balm to my aches and pains, cannot come soon enough.

For me, this morning, however, I cannot get something else off my mind. Greg and I saw a ghost last night. We made a quick stop at the grocery store and, as we walked in, we came face-to-back with a young girl who, from behind, looked identical to Kelsey two years ago. I can't speak for Greg, but the first thing I saw was her butt (don't let your mind go there, wait until I explain why). Her expensive label jeans, I would unprofessionally judge them to be a size 1, were falling off, and she was doing her best to imitate a plumber. She had her hands up as though she were about to stretch, so her (also expensive) t-shirt was exposing her long torso. She was pencil thin. My eyes, in an instant, traveled the length or her body, focusing on the bony elbows and that tiny little behind that could not hold up her jeans. She was tall (hence I figured she had to at least have a size 1 for the length), and had that same long torso Kelsey had, and she was 100% without a doubt anorexic. You may be skeptical, thinking there are a lot of reasons for someone to be emaciated to that degree, some natural, some not so. I can tell you with complete conviction, there is a particular way the disease wraps itself around someone. I have zero doubt about my conclusion.

She had been walking back into the store to return to her boyfriend's side, so my eyes followed her path, and I caught a fast glimpse of him, a Daughtry wannabe with tattoos up and down the exposed portions of both arms. He met my gaze, and I know he thought here was this old, fussy couple passing immediate judgement on them. If only he really knew. As we walked past, Greg whispered, "That was rough." Then, a moment later, he added, "I wanted to go up to her and tell her about Kelsey." The fact that we didn't say anything has been on my mind ever since. Not that I think it would have done much good. I can tell you with pretty absolute certainty where she is at in her head, and she is not ready to believe she has an issue. Or maybe she knows her issue well enough, but thinks she has a handle on it. Either way, she was clearly too proud of her appearance to be ready to set it aside. I know for a fact that what she sees when she looks in the mirror is very, very different than the wasted body my husband and I saw. We would have had a better shot with the man, because my guess he knows somewhere deep down something is wrong, but he appeared to still be too young and too rebellious to take heed. And I have been wondering about that aspect of it: the men in their lives. My guess is I saw, in the briefest of glimpses last night, a classic enabler. But why does he do it? I have some wild guesses. But, I'm not sure.

I wonder what my obligation to her was. The same mind-set that makes me feel compelled to stop and try and rescue every stray dog I see is gnawing at me that I had a responsibility to that girl that I did not fulfill. Do I? Or am I just trying to wash away some of my guilt over Kelsey by saving someone else? Is it enough that I would help anyone who came to me and asked for it, that I will share Kelsey's most intimate details with whomever wants them? Or is there a moral imperative to reach out to anyone you see in mortal danger? Would I have walked away from her if she was being assaulted? I hope not. So, how is this different? Just because the assault is on herself.

And then there was her polar opposite that I saw a few minutes later when we went to check out. A woman, older than the girl we had just seen, but younger than us by, I would roughly guess, a decade, walked past us, or rather labored past us. She was easily 300 pounds. I thought to myself that I had just seen modern society illustrated. A nation of extremes. But food being a central focal point for both. Then I caught myself wondering which woman would die first. My money was on the anorectic. But either way, I feel pretty confident that the odds are heavily in my favor to outlive them both.

Who knew a simple trip to the grocery store could yield such weighty moral issues? Problem is, I need to go back today. Maybe I will come home internally debating world peace or race relations in the Bible belt. As long as I make it home with everything on my list this time, I guess I'll call it a win.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Saga of El Diablo

I think it is appropriate to tell the tale of the Devil Van that has been mentioned in previous posts, because it does have its very own story. This is a cautionary tale. Despite how more and more power positions are being held by women (Clinton, Palin, Pelosi, Sotomayer have all been mentioned on the news I watch in the last 24 hours), they should never go to their local mechanic without a man by their side. And once these women are elderly, they should worry how easy it is to take advantage of them if their family isn't paying close attention.

After Mother's accident last September, which meant the demise of her last van, it was with absolutely no surprise that she began making noises about buying a new one. However, I felt smugly in control of that situation because I was certainly not going to take her out shopping for one. Add that to the fact that the State of Texas revoked her license, and I felt I had no reason to worry. Little did I know that places dealing in specialty equipped vehicles will bring them to you, apparently with no questions asked, such as, "Do you have a valid driver's license?" So, while I was trying to find transportation alternatives for Mother, like a private driver or a car service, she was busy van shopping with every intent that she was simply going to go back to the way things were before that fateful day. How I found this out was through the weekend receptionist at Mother's apartment complex, who greeted me cheerfully one Sunday morning and asked what I thought of the new van. What van? Turns out, Mother had paid $25,000 cash for an used handicap equipped van.

What I didn't know at the time was that one cannot take title to a vehicle without a valid driver's license. Had I known that then, then the van and I would not be tied unwillingly to one another now. I simply would have demanded that the broker take it back. But, I assumed the damage was done by the time the news was leaked to me. Still secure in the knowledge that Mother wasn't rebel enough to drive the thing without a license, I just assumed she had flushed that 25 grand down the toilet, and I bemoaned that she couldn't have tossed it my way if she really was so intent on wasting money. The reality was that she had the van in her possession, but the broker had sent her the title, in the previous owner's name, his death certificate and instructions on transferring ownership. Technically, it still belonged to someone else. She had no intention of telling me about that part initially.

I didn't see the van the day I found out, or for the next week or two for that matter. I had been doing her grocery shopping for her, but she finally balked at that and wanted me to take her so she could pick her own things. So, the van, Mother and I had our first outing together. It was fairly uneventful actually. I even sort of liked the look of it, it was definitely more sporty than her last van, and it had some bells and whistles, like a rear view camera and a nice radio. I began to think that maybe it wasn't so bad to have it available when I needed to transport her, because I simply no longer could hoist her in and out of my car. The one thing I noticed that day was the alarm. It was equipped with a blaring alarm that sounded anytime the vehicle was too close to another object. Apparently, being in the same county was too close. The thing went off constantly, startling both of us every time. But, with a beast that big, even that could come in handy. What I didn't know, was that the van was laying in wait for me. Now that it had me hooked, it would show its true self.

Which came a week later when I brought Mother over to watch the Steelers. At some point during the game, something caught my eye, a glint of sun against glass, and I looked out to see if someone had pulled in. What I saw was the back hatch of Mother's van opening up on its own. I fumbled around in my pockets to see if I had hit the remote accidentally. No, there it sat on the table. Something must have bumped it, I told myself. I closed the hatch, locked the van and went back to watching us beat Cincinnati. But, the cat was out of the bag. When I drove her home, it happened again. Then she mentioned that someone had come to tell her the back was open once totally randomly. The next time I went to drive it, it wouldn't start, all that door opening had drained the battery. I was beginning to become perplexed.

The van hit its all time low and earned its name the day Mother checked herself out of the hospital against medical advice. I had pulled the van into the semi-circular drive by the emergency entrance to go and get her. As soon as I shut off the ignition, every door began opening, then closing, then opening again. For an insane moment, I thought I had to be on candid camera. I finally got everything closed and went upstairs to get her from her room, meeting Kelsey and her boyfriend on the way. They had decided to stop in and visit, assuming that Mother was settling in for a long stay. So, instead, they helped me out with her. Now, to fully appreciate the scene, picture me already in tears over all of this because Mother was in no shape to go home and I knew I couldn't take care of very serious needs on my own, and because she had said some really intensely awful things to me when she threw her tantrum demanding to leave. Then picture Kelsey, not a model of patience, maybe 90 pounds soaking wet, with a quiet, shy boyfriend who didn't know any of us all that well, trudging downstairs with my ranting mother on an unseasonably warm fall day. I was already chalking this one up as the worst day of my life, when, after getting her secured in the back of the van, it wouldn't start. We had taken the jumper cables out of the van to use on Marissa's car and forgotten to put them back in. Neither Kelsey nor her boyfriend had any, and Greg was at home, 20 miles away, watching football.

Eventually, Greg left the game and came to rescue us and we got Mother home. I had to take a few days off and literally move in with her, and it was then I learned the title hadn't been transferred and why. Probably at that point I still could have forced the broker to take the thing back, but Mother was touchy about everything that illustrated her losing control over her life. She wanted that van, I knew it was probably easier to have something to carry her around in, and all my energy was in trying to care for her, so I didn't push it. But, I didn't transfer the title over right away either. What I did do was take the blasted thing in to try and fix the electrical issues that caused doors to fly open of their own free will. A month, two batteries, three shops, and over a thousand dollars later, it still wasn't resolved. The place that sold it to mother was also the place that had equipped it with the handicap features. They actually scolded me over the problems, saying that a van like that had to be driven every day or the electrical systems malfunctioned. They swore that the phantom door opening wasn't happening for them, since they drove it around the block every day. So, the Head-Bullshitter-in-Charge says to me, just drive it some everyday, it should be fine, but oh, by the way, now the electric locks on the doors don't work. Of course, I wanted to ask why, when they saw my mother, did they see fit to sell her a van that needed to be driven everyday, when she clearly wasn't moving around much or fast and didn't need it for a work commute. But, I didn't ask, because I figured the question was moot when it already become clear that anything that they said was going to be a lie. My mechanic agreed, but he couldn't fix it either, neither could the dealer. Finally, I cut my losses and just retrieved it. When I pulled it into a nearby gas station to fill it up, the back hatch popped open as if it was waving at me, welcoming back into its little circle of hell.

Finally, I dealt with the title, too exhausted to fight over it, which had to be transferred to my name. It took three trips to get it done because there was a question over whether the widow had the right to sell it. I guess they worried the poor deceased man would rise up from the grave and want it back. Not likely, aggravation from the van is probably what killed him! When one of the clerks mentioned how calm I was being, I smiled and told her, "With this van, I would have been surprised if it had gone right the first time, so I was expecting this." So, I own El Diablo technically. Mother goes around telling the staff at the nursing home she gave it to me. I just smile, but would like to say, "Yeah, kind of like someone gave Ivan the Terrible syphilis." The locks still don't work, I have to manually lock it. That really doesn't bother me, but it took me a while to realize that the ramp has to be manually pulled down as well. I can do it, the hydraulics make it easy enough to lower and fold back up, but the metal heats up quickly and I literally burned my hand on it the other day. The back panel door on the driver's side will still open on its own unless I lock it, and the back hatch opens every time I turn the van off. The good news is that the alarm that blared when I got too close to things doesn't work any more either. I do drive it every day, because the battery will drain down quickly if I don't, and the thing gets about ten miles to the gallon. Lovely. I bought some Steeler car accessories at the Pittsburgh airport recently, thinking they would draw some of the bad karma off of it, but it is just a possessed piece of crap and always will be. At least, I can dress it up little with some black and gold in the meantime while I wait for the day when I can sell it. That will be a Good Day.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Harry Potter and the Muggle Who Loved Him

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows filming on location in West Wales

Okay, so I lied about being done talking about grieving. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge for Kelsey's sake the monument of today. It nearly slipped past me, but it would have been a big day for her. Today the newest Harry Potter movie opened. I nearly forgot about it, lost in the toughness of retrieving her belongings from the apartment where she died. The shock of seeing the bed where she was napping when her heart stopped beating pushed it from my mind. Smelling her perfume on the dirty clothes she had been wearing made my head hurt almost to the point of explosion. All of that was a horrendous contrast to the happiness she would have felt if she had managed to hold on for a few more weeks. My daughter loved Harry Potter. Marissa found him first, but as in all things she liked, once Kelsey picked up Marissa's copy of the first book, she became a passionate fan. Harry's magic was that he made my daughter happy. She had all too little of that in her short life.

I can't quite decide if I will go and see it, or if it would overwhelm me, but if I do, I will try to see it through her eyes and hope she will be with me in spirit, if not in fact. I love you and miss you my darling.

Temper, temper

I began this blog as a way to help me cope with my travails with my mother. It was a fun way to explore and share what I was going through, much of which wore me out, sometimes frustrated me, occasionally upset me, but overall I accepted as my turn in the circle of life between a mother and daughter. A lot had happened in the span of ten months because of Mother's illness, up to and including my finding out I was adopted and being laid off, but I managed to keep trudging up to the nursing home everyday, doing the less than fragrant laundry and trying to attend to her affairs without causing a total loss in her dignity and sense of control(I think). But, then suddenly, the events of June 20th happened and the delicate balance we had arrived at tipped over, and I have wondered and worried over why ever since. I think it is a complex mixture of things, most of which I have to realize is out of Mother's control at this point in her life. She will do and say things that are unintentionally hurtful, irrelevant to the situation at hand, or potentially damaging to her own well being just because she is a 90-year old woman with dementia. She didn't change her core personality when her mind began to break down on her, but she can no longer filter how she acts for the sake of discretion. Candidly, she was always a little weak in that area when it came to her family. I know all this, but suddenly I can no longer deal with it very well.

Part of the reason is the most simple and obvious; I am tired. I think the strain of simply trying to get through a day with some sense of normalcy completely exhausts me. At night, I often feel that level of exhaustion that gets down to one's bones and makes the entire body ache. But sleeping is not as easy as it once was. Oddly, perhaps, my dreams are more disturbing now than they were immediately after my daughter died. Now nightmares rule my sleep, so I will pull myself out of some twisted horror show a few times a night. Before all of this, once I nodded off, the entire Steeler roster could run drills in my bedroom, and I would be none the wiser. So, everyday by the time I make it up to see her, I am dragging my feet, blinking profusely just to keep my eyes open, and hardly in any shape to scream across the room at her just to try and have a conversation where what she says make zero sense and what she hears me say doesn't either.

Then there is the heat. That alone is enough to make anyone murderously grumpy. You want to question the legitimacy of climate change? Live in Texas for a week and then tell me what you think about that. We have got to be breaking some sort of record for consecutive days above 100 degrees. Now add that to menopause, and I have grounds for being unhappy even if nothing else was happening in my life. Having a hot flash when it is freezing outside is just sort of weird, having one in your car when it is 105 is truly like torture. Dick Cheney could get me to say just about anything at that moment.

Then there is Mother's natural response to feeling neglected. She pouts. And, truthfully saying this with no fault attached, in some ways her current mentality is much like a child's, and children like being the center of attention. She is really not alone in that. I have noticed many of her fellow residents have dolls and stuffed animals and will look up at me and Cheyenne with wide, curious eyes as though they have never seen anything like a woman and her dog before, despite seeing exactly that almost every day. Since her accident, Mother has been front and center in my worldview. Suddenly she had to make way for something larger than her, our sorrow. And she cannot counter that by insinuating herself into our grief by taking over our affairs or buying this or that to help out. She is just stuck on the sidelines for this round, and she is straining at that restriction.

Then, as with her mother before her, is the ill temper. My grandmother was notorious for being a grouch (I really wish I could tie Grandfather Bleiler into that sentence somehow, since his name was Oscar - the potential for an Oscar the Grouch joke is too good, but I couldn't make it apply). Mother always claimed two primary things about her mother; she did not like children, despite having six of them, and Mother was never going to become like her. Unfortunately, she became like her mother in just about every way. All of the sisters had a little "Ade", as she was known, in them. They were all independent thinkers, strong willed, hard working women with equally strong personalities. But Mom and her sister Merle got the biggest dose of that famous stubborn temper. Merle countered hers with a highly defined sense of humor. Mother, not so much. Add to that the dementia, which, I recently came to understand, often manifests itself as temper, and she's ready to rumble over just about any little thing these days.

As an example, there is a picture of Marissa and me from two years ago that I framed in a Steelers frame and have in her room. The other day, she looked at the picture, then over at me, then back at the picture, then to me, finally turning to my husband and announcing to him that I had my hair parted differently. Honestly, I could care less how I part my hair these days, it more or less parts itself, so I just shrugged and Greg acknowledged her with a small little smile. On our way out, she admonished me and told me to part my hair the right way next time. That was actually mildly amusing, and I'm sure, under different circumstances, would result in weeks of fun for Greg, allowing him to tease me daily about my hair. So, I'll probably just take to wearing my hair in a ponytail until football season, when I rarely venture anywhere without a ball cap anyway, and it'll all be good. But, I was a little less amused the day she called the house after we had been up to see her scolding us for how short our visit was. She fussed that I wasn't there long enough to tell her when her upcoming dentist appointment was. I reminded her that was because I had spoken to her on the phone earlier in the day and told her about the appointment. "Oh," she sort of huffed, "Well, you were hardly here for any time at all." I swallowed the very strong urge to tell her there is really not much to visit about when we see one another every single day and she won't wear a hearing aid so she knows what we're saying anyway. She called back a couple of hours later to ask me when the dentist appointment was again, by the way.

But, for me, for some reason, the closest I came to walking off the ledge was yesterday when I was loading her back in the handicap van to take her home after the dentist appointment. I hate that van, which has a story in and of itself, but I have to keep it to transport her effectively, so drawing my attention to it is always a little risky. Implying that I somehow mis-manage it is taking your life in your hands. As I pulled down the ramp to wheel her in, she announced with about as much righteous indignation as she could muster, "Who pulled one of the letters off the van?" Confused, I asked her what she was talking about. "The letters on the side of the van, someone pulled one of them off." She pointed at the logo painted on the side. "Ameri Van" with the two words separated by a swooping eagle. (It screams Social Conservatism, probably just another subliminal reason I hate the thing.) Hot and tired, I was a little less than sweet when I retorted the observation. Next thing I know a small argument broke out over it. Whatever rational part of my brain remains was trying to tell me I seriously did not want to be hassling over this, she just can't see the eagle very well and assumed a letter was supposed to be there. Just explain that nicely and then let it go. The larger, exasperated, tired and frustrated part of my brain was shouting over top of the Rational Me, "Who the f*%k cares if a letter is missing, the blasted van belongs to me anyway!" Verbally, that translated to my snapping at her, "No, Mom, all the letters are there." Finally, with neither side convincing the other, she begrudgingly let the subject drop, I wheeled her into the cavernous, gas guzzling, hunk of junk, and the two of us, both madder than wet hens, drove the half block back to the nursing home.

As I write this, I have already received a call from the nursing home today. They spoke to me about her yesterday too. Our little cat fights are spilling over, and she is becoming harder for them to handle. So, I need to find a way to find my Zen-like place and bring the temperature of our relationship back down to a simmer. Understanding the dynamics of how we got this way helps - until I'm actually there with her, that is.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The House Across the Street

I am determined to make this the last post about grieving, or at least entirely about grieving. We all get it: we're a mess, we're sad, alright already. But, I did want to share my observations about my neighbors for anyone who might read this blog someday, rife with my raw emotions about a new scenario in my life and wonder if there is a light at the end of the long, sorrowful tunnel. If my neighbors are any indication, I think there probably is. Just not maybe a whole and complete light, but something worth fighting to get to.

I will not mention their names, first to provide them with their privacy and second, because I have no clue how to spell their last name anyway, but, like many of the families around here, the people across the street are a little older than us and have lived here since the neighborhood was developed. They raised their family in this neighborhood and are now seeing their grandchildren grow up in the same area. It is very Americana, and very old school given the transitory nature of modern society. For that reason alone, I would think any sort of tear in the fabric of their lives would be hard to overcome.

Ten years ago, they had a major rip in that fabric. In mid-December, on his way home having just finished his finals at Texas A&M in College Station, their youngest son was killed in a car wreck. I don't know the details of the wreck; I was in Pennsylvania at the time collecting Mother to bring her home for the holiday. I heard about it after the fact once I was home, and, I regret to say, I never spoke to them about it. Of course, we don't speak to one another about anything. Our two reasons for being in this semi-rural neighborhood are wildly divergent and, frankly, mine really has them worked up. So, they want nothing to do with me, which in turn makes me want nothing to do with them back. They view yard work not as a chore, but as a labor of love. I, on the other hand, view my yard as a pasture to house as many furry, four legged creatures as I can get on it. Those four legged critters love eating my neighbors tender flowers, leaving unpleasant reminders of their travels for them to step into and generally causing havoc. So, we keep our distance from one another; she will occasionally shout to someone so I can hear how it "really pisses" her off that I feed deer (which is legal here, I should clarify). I respond by tossing out more feed. But, for all of that, they have always had my sympathy, but I don't think I realized how obsessed I was with their situation until my own grieving put a focus on it. But, I realize that I always look over at their house, as though my gaze is magnetically drawn to it. If I am out front sitting down, I will actually subtly position the chair to face them. I glance over at them when I am about to get in my car, when I mow the lawn, when I go get the mail or feed the deer (of course, then I'm making sure they're not outside to yell across at me), always with the same vague curiosity about how they go about their daily lives with such a heavy loss. At least once in every day since I learned of it, they cross my mind, however briefly.

When their son died, our troubles with our daughters had not begun, so my curiosity was simply as a fellow parent wondering how they deal with such a devastating loss, and then I would be grateful that all I could do was wonder. Later, as first one, then the other daughter became victim to a laundry list of issues, including, but not exclusive to, eating disorders and drug abuse, it of course occurred to me that I might one day be in my neighbor's shoes and wondered about them all the more. The good news is it did not defeat them, or at least not on the surface. I am always vaguely surprised by that, I have to confess.

That first year, their home was already decorated for Christmas, and I noticed everything came down early on the 26th. The next year there were no decorations. Our next door neighbor confirmed this. She told my husband that the first few Christmas seasons were hard and they didn't really celebrate. But these days they do subtly light up the house. I can see a tree from the window and some very modest lights. I always assumed they concede to it for the sake of their grandchildren.

Of course, they never skipped a beat in caring for their yard. I would imagine that, for them, it is like feeding the deer is for me now. It gets me up in the morning and gives me a purpose. I actually understand that better than I did before. I used to wonder how they had the energy and desire to do anything, let alone spend so many hours in the Texas heat to make their house a showcase. Now I know you'll do what you need to do to keep your mind occupied. So, along those lines, it is not that surprising that they began doing some exterior improvements to the home, adding an elaborate stone walkway a few years ago. However, I confess to being very surprised when they built a pool last year. I am not sure why, but some part of me wondered how they can have any fun like that after losing a child. Of course, I had lost track that nine years had gone by at that point. Even before that, though, they took their boat out routinely, entertained not infrequently, and someone is always coming and going. In short, they did not dry up and blow away. They seem to have put the pieces together and they moved on with their lives.

Now I wonder how often in a day their thoughts still turn to their lost son, and I wonder if those thoughts are painful or pleasant for them now. Greg plans on asking them. I will stay behind when that conversation happens, a herd of deer remains between us. However, we are now mutual members of a society none of us wanted to belong to and, like it or not, we have a bond that cannot be broken.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Sticks and Stones

Living in the information age is both a blessing and a curse. The Internet and its myriad ways of communication allowed Kelsey to reach out to people all over the world, many whom we have heard from, and support them as they worked through their own struggles. I think that was a blessing for her and allowed her an outlet that probably kept her going longer than she might have otherwise. Personally, through Facebook, I am instantly connected with friends and family all over the country, some of whom I hadn't talked to since Michael Jackson was Thrilling us. But, like the Force, there is a Dark Side, and it is powerful. Anybody can say anything, without regard to truth, consequence or spelling, and immediately blast it onto the Worldwide Web. Sitting here alone with my computer with no one to temper my comments, it is all too easy to shoot from the hip without regard to how what I am about to post will impact others, and there is no editor between me and the audience. For me, life has mellowed me over the years, and I am no longer the passionate, say what-I-think-without-thinking-about-it firebrand I was once, and I still managed to get a catty comment in on Mariah Carey (seriously, I don't get her). But, the demographics of individuals posting most of the comments on the various sites on the Internet (LiveJournal, MySpace, Facebook, blogs like this one)are generally young. So, it was with no real surprise when Marissa told me about a comment someone had made regarding her sister.

I personally don't know the girl who made the post, she is a girlfriend of the brother of a friend (got that?) of Marissa's. Marissa does know her, but I am unclear if Kelsey ever did. But, the young lady, no matter how well she knows us, posted that she could not mourn for Marissa's sister because what she did was selfish. And, with a Twitter sized comment, she upset my surviving daughter. But, for all the issue I take with someone making a statement like that knowing that a grieving girl would see it, I did not fault her for thinking that. Marissa and I know she's wrong, but from the viewpoint of people who a) saw her lately and b) know just enough about her disease to be dangerous, I can completely see how that opinion gets formed. And, as I told Marissa, it wasn't that long ago that I would have said the same thing.

So, I want to address that. Let me begin by saying that I don't really understand bulimia. I lived with it for nine years, I read about it, did lots of therapy designed around it as a central issue, but I never got to the point where I could say that I had a handle on what it does to a person. I could never understand what Kelsey saw when she looked at herself in the mirror, and I clung to the belief that someday she would just wake up, decide to be done with it and be able to get it behind her. Now I know that was such a naive thing to think.

I think that unless you are the person suffering from the disease, you will never truly get it. We used to liken it to a beast who lurked over Kelsey's shoulder. It took on almost a lifelike persona and was the fifth person who lived in our house. And it was the Alpha. Everything revolved around it at times, and it threatened not only our daughter, but our family. There is a toll that I struggle to explain succinctly, but it wore on all of us. Keeping my marriage together at one point looked nearly impossible. Marissa, lost in the shadows of Kelsey's struggles initially, began acting out in ways that were seriously life threatening, the dogs fought as a result of the palatable tension in the house, and my career imploded. At the center of it all was Kelsey. It would be easy to blame her, particularly when scrubbing vomit off the roof or unclogging the shower, for bringing this devastation on us. And, early on, I'm ashamed to say, there was this "just snap out of it" mentality that her father and I had. And, as the disease took a stronger hold on her, her personality changed and the face she presented to us was quite honestly often an ugly one. She was angry, she was foul mouthed, she was rebellious. She screamed at us that we didn't do enough, but fought us when we tried. I made the horrible statement more than once, "The problem with you, Kelsey, is it's all about Kelsey. Try thinking of someone else for a change." Yeah. Pretty bad, I know. But, I can see why someone would say it's selfish behavior. It really looks like it on the surface. Maybe even more so with bulimia than anorexia nervosa. I can see how it is hard not to understand that she could not just decide to stop the behavior.

But she could not. For one thing, even if she had stopped, as she had done in the past, actively trying to purge, the gag reflex was too strong and was deep wired into her. She would throw up anyway. Eventually that can be rectified, but it is a process. And, as we all knew, some pretty significant damage had been done to her body from years of this behavior. One thing, aside from the obvious damage to ones teeth and esophagus, is the strain constant violent vomiting does to your heart. People my age remember Karen Carpenter. What most of us don't know is that she was actually in recovery when she died. We had been told more than once that recovery is actually a dangerous period physically. She probably was a walking time bomb and had been for years. I may have been sitting here trying to grab a hold of my grief no matter whether she was actively bulimic or not.

So, why did she turn to bulimia in the first place? We don't really know. Not for the lack of trying to figure that core question out. But, we agree that bulimia was a means to an end originally. She used it as a tool as she struggled to navigate the complexities of high school. She would tell us that it was the one thing she could control. We also knew that genetically, both our children were predisposed to mental health issues. Of course, we now know we have no idea exactly what I bring to the genetic table, but there were some early indicators with Kelsey that we missed that she suffered from depression even as a child. What does a child do to cope with misunderstood thoughts and feelings? Self medicate. Kelsey dabbled in drugs, did the cutting thing, certainly did a lot of drinking, but in the end, this was what initially gave her what she was looking for. Sort of ironic that the tool she used to try and establish come control over her life ended up controlling her completely.

And she didn't want it to. That is the thing I think people misunderstand. She hated the disease, but it was on her and in her and had no intention of easily letting go. In response to something Marissa had written to her last August, she wrote in her LiveJournal the query, "when did I stop being Kelsey the Person and become Kelsey the Disease?" As I've mentioned before, when I saw her hand written journal a few days after she died, I saw how she railed against it and wanted to be rid of it. I hope, no, I pray, she is rid of it now and at peace. If that's true, then, truly, maybe I'll be okay with her not being here any longer.

To that young girl who made the post: I'm not sure I made my case. I find that the root of an eating disorder is too deep to dissect in a reasonably sized blog post. But, trust me, as Kelsey's mother, when I say that her life was not selfish. Ir was tortured in many ways, and we all can lay claim to being too selfish to see that fully. I will have to suffice it to say that her death, my dear girl, was not selfish. It is simply sad.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Remembering and Forgetting

I know everyone handles grief in their own way, but for me my natural tendency toward absentmindedness has ratcheted to a new level. I leave my cell phone behind, I've gone from three pair of reading glasses to one, then found the two, but lost the one. I lost the book I was reading for three days (it was in my car), but lost the car in the grocery store parking lot (found it eventually). I couldn't find my dog's collar (it was on the vanity). I will walk from one end of the house, turnaround and walk to the other end and then wonder what I was doing at either end. I start something, then wander off and start something else, so it ends up taking me a full day and several aborted attempts to fold one load of laundry; don't even get me started on how long it'll be before I put it away. My biggest and most persistent issue is leaving water running. I overflow the deer trough nearly every morning, and last night I left the pool filling all night. I shudder to think what the water bill will look like.

But, I guess I'm as bad as I am because I am constantly being bombarded by memories of things. I see reminders of Kelsey everywhere, which will take me down memory lane whether I want to go there or not. And, it's really not the things in her closet or the family pictures, or her artwork still on its display board from the funeral, it's in all kinds of random things that I can't avoid, tuck away or close a door on. I was downtown the other day and looked over my shoulder and was greeted by the mega tall luxury condominium complex newly completed. It is a glistening jewel in the Austin skyline. I immediately remembered looking at it when it was being built while I was waiting across the street for Kelsey the night we went to the Moody Blues concert, the last concert we saw together. The other day, during the period of the missing book, I took a magazine about U2 to Mother's dentist appointment. I came to the article about The Unforgettable Fire, which was the current album when Kelsey was an infant and had a bout of colic. About the only thing that would calm her down is my placing her in the Snugglie and rocking back and forth to that album. (Ironically, she grew up not liking U2.) And the list goes on. Sometimes the memories prick me, and there's a little pain involved. The concert memory, while a good one, is followed by regretting that I never took her to a Rush concert. She wanted to go, Marissa has been with me four times. Why didn't I ever take her? Now I'll never be able to change that. Actually, that particular regret haunts me often, including those initial hours after I received the news. I remember a fairly initial thought being, "Oh, Kelsey, now you'll never see Rush in concert." But, a lot of times they aren't all that painful to endure, but I tend to get lost in them and they keep my head in the clouds instead of the here and now, where it needs to be because there are people here, on the ground, who need my attention.

I guess the bottom line to all of this is that we've been approached gingerly a few times about dispensing Kelsey's things. I know that grieving families often fall into two categories: Catapulters and Idolizers. Ironically, given her rampant hoarding, Mother was the former. When Dad died, she was very quick to clear out his half of the closet, his study and the garage - really the only area in the house where he held sway. She could not get his personal effects out of the house fast enough, as if they were somehow responsible for his death. Conversely, some people keep everything perfectly in place, like a little shrine. I imagine more than one widower or parent has stepped into a closet and taken a deep breath, trying to catch a scent of a perfume or the sweat of someone (think Brokeback Mountain if you will). But, if you were to ask me my opinion on all of that, I would say, no matter what you want - to remember every detail vividly or push it aside, try and forget so you can move on - it doesn't matter, life will shove reminders of that person at you constantly, at least for a while. I suppose after some time has past, I won't have a problem walking down certain aisles in the grocery store, or being near her first apartment complex, and I'll stop flooding things. But, I tend to think the reminders will always be there no matter where I go.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Memorializing Michael Jackson (WTF?)

So, like just about everyone in the known universe, I watched at least part of the memorial service for the self-appointed King of Pop. Something kept bothering me about the whole thing, and I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Finally, I figured out that it wasn't just one thing, it was a whole cornucopia of things. So, another spoiler alert here: Michael Jackson is somewhat God-like in how people look at him, so any sort of criticism or perceived criticism is likely to draw some boos. Well, it's not really Mr. Jackson himself I'm necessarily critical of here, but I do have some issues with how we deal with the legacy of people who have died too soon, particularly famous people. So, here goes...

First of all, I had to leave in the middle of the service to take Mother to the dentist, so I didn't see all the speeches and performances, but of those I did, can I just ask someone to explain to me why Mariah Carey is considered such a huge talent? And did she really have to Diva it up and have a black sequined microphone? For once, couldn't she have had a regular microphone like everyone else? Okay, there is my catty comment for the day.

But more to the point, I think I was bothered by the fact that suddenly, with his death, Michael Jackson's reputation is becoming, if you will pardon the unintentional pun, white washed. I wondered how many people in the crowd at the Staples Center had used the derogatory "Wacko Jacko" at some point. More than a dozen, I'm willing to bet. I am not sure personally I ever called him that particular name, but my reaction to the last interview I saw him in - I think it was 60 Minutes a few years ago - was, "Wow. He is OUT there." And then the stuff about him making Barack Obama possible. C'mon, really? I think Barack Obama made Barack Obama possible. But, I'll grant you that African Americans as entertainers broke a barrier and melted racial lines in a way that more traditional civil rights activists could not. But, to single-handedly anoint Michael Jackson as that One Entertainer that made that happen is an insult to all the others who played their part. Michael Jackson is a part of the whole, there is no doubt. But, so are a whole lot of others: Chubby Checkers, The Supremes, Sammy Davis, Jr., Fats Domino, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, and so on and so on and so on. For my family, it was Redd Foxx in Sanford and Son. I used to watch it, and it made my dad crazy. Dad, whether he knew it or not, was a racist. He ranted and raved that African Americans should have equal opportunity, but that didn't mean he should have to watch them on television. (Yes, he seriously said this.) But, I would catch him watching it with me. He would wander in after it had started as if I wouldn't notice. I remember one episode in particular - something about them having to pick up a grand piano - that had my dad laughing until he was nearly in tears. I knew I had him then. Barriers were broken that way and White America was made more comfortable with people of various ethnic backgrounds by first being entertained by them. Sad, maybe, but true. But, again, that was not an individual effort. I heard a few too many people give him a bit more credit than he earned over the last few days.

And then, what's up with all the platitudes being thrown to his parents, the father in particular? From everything I ever heard, it's pretty clear Michael Jackson's sundry issues had a genesis in how he was raised. I get how much pain his parents feel: trust me on that one. But, that doesn't suddenly make them saints. It doesn't erase the past. Related to that is the sudden sharp turn the press is taking on all the molestation rumors. Now they are quick to point out Michael Jackson was never convicted, and I've heard some even excuse all of that to misunderstanding his child-like nature. Give me a break. Ask any one of those reporters about it 365 days ago, they'd have told you he was as guilty as OJ.

Oh, and then, I thought California is bankrupt. Who then gets to pay what surely is an enormous bill for all that firepower I saw yesterday? I've never seen that many uniforms in one place outside of movies about D-Day.

All of this sounds harsher than I really mean it. But, I am troubled by our culture's tendency to gloss over the fact that people are complex and generally neither all good nor all bad when it comes time to eulogize them. In this particular larger-than-life man's case, that contrast is enormous. He was an amazing talent. Who among us doesn't have some Michael Jackson on our iPods? But, I for one cannot name a more troubled and complex psyche either. The fact that he died doesn't change that. And, I worry that massaging someones reputation in the face of an untimely death has consequences. In this case, if he really was guilty of molesting those kids, what does that do to them to have that brushed aside now? What does the adulation he's receiving post mortem tell the next troubled star?

I have a Dime Store Psychologist's theory about why we do what we do, which is that it's survivor's guilt. We feel guilty that they're gone and we're still here, so our gift to them and/or the cost we are willing to pay for our survival is to gloss over the complexities and shortcomings of the deceased.

Anyway, I chewed on all of this all day yesterday and, of course, it gave way to reflections on my own loss. What I finally decided is that I have to keep all aspects of Kelsey alive - even the less pleasant ones. I think the danger for us is to gloss over the bad times; the conflicts, the worry, the tension, the despair we all suffered, most of all her. I think that would do her a disservice actually. If all we remembered are the happier moments, it would belittle the battle she did with her disease. And, my goal is to take her struggle and go forward and use it to help others. If I downplay or lose sight of how rugged and awful living with the eating disorder was, I lose my ability to want to fight it in others. And, if I can't do that, then her life loses meaning, and it's important for that not to happen. Conversely, I cannot only dwell on those times. I need to remember there was a kinder, gentler person trapped inside. And I have to allow that she had some happy moments in her life too. And we had genuinely happy moments as a family. In short, I need all of her to stay with me. I don't want a white wash memory. So, I guess that's what I'll worry about and work on - and I'll stop worrying about what other people do or do not do to Michael Jackson's legacy now that I got all that off my chest.