Monday, October 31, 2011

The Survivor's Burden

"This Ryan better be worth it. He'd better go home and cure some disease or invent a longer-lasting lightbulb or something."
- Capt. John Miller, Saving Private Ryan

Think of Private Ryan for a minute as though he were an actual person.  What a burden he had to carry all his life:  the unrealized hopes and aspirations of all his brothers.  The guilt he must have felt that he survived and they did not, and what all that those men who were sent to find him who didn't make it back with him?  I would think about that every time I watched that movie when the older Ryan kneels down in front of John Miller's headstone and tells him, "Every day I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge. I tried to live my life the best that I could. I hope that was enough. I hope that, at least in your eyes, I've earned what all of you have done for me."  And I would ball my eyes out.  Not sure why, but that always really got to me.  That actor did the most with his small part, I thought, with the anxiety of trying to live a life worth saving registering even in his eyes - like maybe the real person knew a little bit about what his character was supposedly experiencing. 

Now, however, I can feel for that poor man on an even deeper level because I know individuals who have the burden of being survivors.  No one trudged through wartime France to rescue them, but they know about carrying the weight and responsibility of not being quite able to live their lives for their own sake.  There is always that little extra thought creeping into almost anything they do.  If you have a great day, a little voice inside your head needles you and asks, "So, why am I allowed to be here for this great day?"  If you get a unique opportunity, that same voice comes back around and whispers, "You got this and your [sister, brother, father...] didn't.  Are you sure you deserve it?"

And, then there's always the burden to account for yourself.  Any where from the teensy-tiny little details about not freaking your family out by not being late for anything, to the larger issue of not screwing up and placing yourself at risk.  I've mentioned before, I get paranoid when I don't know where the rest of my family is at any given time.  Greg, who works in the middle of the night, has to text me if he's going to be late after a few tense days when he wasn't back home at the usual time.   For Marissa, the burden is harder and larger, and I recognize that and try so hard not to add to it, but I think it's always right there, bubbling below the surface.  She is young, and this is the time in her life where she's supposed to do young people things and make young adult mistakes.  It's how you learn.  But, when she inevitably tests that water, the anxiety for everybody shoots through the roof.

What you realize is that not only do you have to fight through your own personal grief, a family dynamic naturally shifts and there is an added intertwining responsibility that everybody has to shoulder and figure out how to adjust to.  Suddenly, there is no illusion that life is anything more than horribly fragile.  You look at your children or your spouse and know that at any moment, one of them could be gone.   You knew it before on a purely intellectual level.  But, now you know it deep in your heart and in your bones.  You feel it like a painful ache every time one of them walks out the door without you.  So, how do you react to that?  What is the right way to react to that?  Hard, complicated questions to answer.

The irony is, the increased concern over the family strains the family dynamic, so you have to guard against over-reacting.  I've read so many stories about surviving children being estranged from their parents, which initially struck me as odd.  Now I get it - the parent maybe gets too clingy and the child can't take that added to the natural survivor's guilt, so they break away.  And, from the parent/other spouse perspective, it's easier when they're not right there.  When I came up here alone for the first few months, I worried constantly, but I wasn't right there to needle them, so Greg and Marissa had some breathing room to live their lives.  Ignorance sometimes really is bliss.  I'm sure there are other extremes:  those cases where the parent can no longer parent at all - too lost in their own grief.

For us, the best way I can describe life as it is now is that someone came along and shook our world like it was a snow-globe.  And they shook that sucker hard.  When all the little flakes finally settle back down they are in different places from where they were before.  And we can't change that back.  So, after that major shake-up we're left a little dizzy and disoriented for a time, and getting that balance back is a constant challenge.  This is one more aspect to that challenge:  how to allow each of us to live a life without guilt and shame because we carry on and Kelsey does not.

To my mind, it's not fair to add that burden onto your loved ones.  They don't owe you anything extra because they are alive and another family member is not.  For whatever reason.  But, on the other hand, if you're a member of a family who has suffered a loss, be gentle and understanding with them and understand the depth of their concern and be careful to check in a little more often than you otherwise would.  And maybe take it easy on any bungee jumping, snowboarding or Nascar racing for a while.

Saving Private Ryan, 1998 (Amblin Entertainment, DreamWorks SKG)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Chipmunk Face

After Kelsey died, I spent quite a few posts ruminating over our history with her eating disorder and trying to look at the mistakes we made as parents.  After I exhausted that topic, I have spent a lot of my energy of just stepping through the processes of surviving a deep, shocking grief and the daily challenges we've faced trying to square ourselves with what happened and what happens next.  But now I'd like to step back into the past a bit once more and look at an aspect of the whole thing that I didn't address, which is taking care of yourself as parents in the process.  This is unabashedly meant as a cautionary tale for anyone who is a caretaker of another individual:  young child, ill family member, aging parent, etc.  And the lesson is simple:  don't do as I do, do as I say.

Going back to the body image issues I'm struggling with and blogged about recently, there are some other issues I'm contending with that are directly related to how the last few years of my life played out.  And, after a while, the hole you dig for yourself is so deep that it is hard to climb back out.   What brought it to mind was that I woke up yesterday morning with half a chipmunk face.  I've got a bad tooth that I've had for a while and it causes me issues.  It got that way because I grind my teeth at night, which I've been doing a lot lately for some reason.  Finally, I just aggravated it so badly it is swollen to the point where it looks like I'm storing nuts for the winter in half my face.  If you try and touch me, bad things are likely to happen.  To both of us.  My body seems to be screaming at me that I need to go back to the dentist, but I am fairly adept at turning a deaf ear to my body's messages, so I'm trying to ignore this and hope it goes away before Saturday when Marissa and I are supposed to go to the ballet.  That would be fun - I'll scare all of the rich socialites.

The biggest issue I have is my own fear.  Not of doctors or needles or even pain.  It's the fear of walking in to a dentist or doctor and having to say to them I haven't had a check-up in ____ years and not being judged.  Because I tried to right the ship after Kelsey died and went to a dentist.  Let me just say it was not a good experience.  And what am I supposed to say?  Look, I took care of two daughters through their troubled teenage years and then my mother in her final years, so back the [bleep] off?  I know they mean well.  But I don't need their sanctimonious humiliation.  I need their help.  If I can't get the one without the other, I can't deal.

I am not alone.  Far from it.  I found this on

Nearly three quarters (72%) of family caregivers report not going to the doctor as often as they should and 55% say they skip doctor appointments for themselves. 63% of caregivers report having poor eating habits than non-caregivers and 58% indicate worse exercise habits than before caregiving responsibilities.
Evercare Study of Caregivers in Decline: A Close-Up Look at Health Risks of Caring for a Loved One.
National Alliance for Caregiving and Evercare. 2006.

I could be their poster child.  And it happens without your really realizing it.  It's not necessarily because you're being a martyr (although I have that personality), but it's because this is rarely how you envision your life going, so you don't have a life plan that includes handling a family in crisis while finding time to go to the gym each morning and get your hair and nails done each week.  Instead, it comes upon you like a Tsunami that lasts for years and you're so busy trying not to drown in it, you don't think about anything else.

Speaking just for me, there were days where we'd have as many as three doctor's appointments in one day.  There was never a week where they weren't at least a few.  Doctors, therapists, nutritionists.  Inpatient treatment.  Outpatient treatment.  I spent so much time in various waiting rooms that I just sort of lost sight of the fact that none of those appointments were for me.  And, had I really thought about it, I would have said that I could not take the time to go.

When it does suddenly hit you that it's been a while - like when you wake up with a face that's twice the size it was the night before - you really don't know what to do about it.

I may have said this before, but one of the things a therapist said to me early on is, "It's not about you."  And it's not.  But, I probably took that a little too far.  Because at some point, the tide turns and someone will have to take care of the wreck that I could potentially become, and that is not my intent:  for myself or for whomever is unlucky enough to have to deal with my adult diapers.

The moral to the story is two-fold:  taking care of yourself while taking care of others will benefit your eventual caregivers, so remember to take some time out to change your own oil occasionally.  Secondly, don't touch my face!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Post about Random Political Stuff

So, for all my pontificating about working to live, I spend most of my days lately working.  I get up in the morning, walk a dog around the block, drink some coffee, maybe shower, sit down at the computer and get up only to do some rudimentary physical functions during the day until my brain is fried, and I allow myself to go to bed.  I work during hockey, I work during meals.  I would work in the shower, but Apple has yet to invent a waterproof computer, so I get a bit of a break there.

I do not, however, work during Steeler games.  That remains an area too sacred to intrude upon.  You may recall my tale of sneaking out of the emergency room where Mother had been taken with heart palpitations one Sunday to watch the  Steeler-Vikings game, Greg covering for me and telling Mother I would be "right back".  If I would pull that stunt, then I am certainly not going to let something like a job get in the way.  But, other than that, life has devolved into one big Work Fest.  It's just what the job requires at the moment, and I am grateful to have it, so I labor on.  The only reason I am not working now is because I can't:  I am having trouble logging in.  So, while I wait to see if the system will reset itself and let me in, I decided to keep my mind off the deadlines that are rapidly slipping out of my grasp and write about something.  However, life as it is currently has left me with a void of things to talk about.  So, here's just some random thoughts about various things as the Presidential campaign begins to heat up.
From Glory!Blog

The Mormon Card
Greg continues to dive pretty deeply into the social progressive pool.  He's left me far, far behind.  I have some theories about why, after a lot of years of being mildly liberal and mostly indifferent, he's sudden a total zealot, so I try to be patient.  But, I am admittedly hypocritical in that I'm good at sharing my opinions, but I get a little testy when someone else's opinions are thrust onto me.  So, while I hate to dampen his enthusiasm, I would just like him to go enthuse elsewhere sometimes.  True believers can be exhausting.  But anyway, as part and parcel to all of that, he was reading an op-ed piece about Mormons, which was meant to lay down the religion card against Mitt Romney.  Greg and I both know several members of the Mormon faith and have for years, but I guess he's never really given much thought about what the particulars of the faith are.  He asked me about some of the things he read.  I knew them all (except for the one about the church posthumously baptizing Anne Frank; that was new).  He seemed shocked.  I reminded him that he and I were brought up to believe that Moses parted the Red Sea, a virgin conceived and gave birth, that Jesus turned water into wine and then topped that by rising from the dead (of course Mormons also believe these things).  All things that, if they were being discussed outside of the guise of Christianity, would sound sort of nutty.  Of course, as I'm debating this, I'm thinking to myself that I'm talking out of my butt because I am totally creeped out by Scientology and personally suspect anyone who believes it is completely nuts.  Tom Cruise is a Scientologist, as many of you know.  That only seems to prove my point.  Yet, I had to admit to myself, that to be true to the point I was trying to make, (which is if it doesn't hurt you or infringe on your rights in anyway, what does it matter what someone believes), I would need to rethink that position and open my mind a bit.

However, I don't like that people of my general politician persuasion have chosen to play the Mormon card.  I'm sure the Tea Party at some point would get all squeamish about it, but to have Democrats do it first bothers me.  Aren't we supposed to be the party of tolerance?  C'mon, boys and girls. take a look at the man's policies and whether or not you think he could run the country.   How he worships, as long as he does not impinge how you worship, should not be a concern.  Think about it:  many of our ancestors came here to escape religious persecution.  So honor your forefathers and cut it out, gosh darn it.

Sports and Politics
Part of the Koolaid Greg seems to be drinking currently is mixed by a group of television pundits who have nightly shows that are unabashedly one-sided.  That's all fine, it's my side too after all.  But, seriously, how many times a night do you need the exact same headlines spun the exact same way?  I thought I would crawl straight out of my skin after four SOLID hours of hearing the same story about the latest Republican debate over and over and over again, with only the backdrop and the sound of the person doing the talking changing.  They all use the same clips even.  But, Greg's very studious about all of them, and for him, each one has something subtly new to add.  I'll stay up in my office or use the upstairs TV when it gets to be too much.  The one without HD, pause or rewind.  I think that hurts his feelings sometimes, we spend a lot of time away from one another due to work.  I'd prefer to be downstairs after hours anyway:  hockey looks so much better in HD.  Problem is it's an 82 game season.  There are games three or four times a week, and that's if I only watch the Penguins.  Greg got tired of hockey after the first week.  We both try to compromise, but we've already both gotten a little testy already in this young season.  Come April, who knows how contentious it will be unless we can figure something out.  And this is with the benefit of DVR technology.  I've wondered how my parent's generation did it.  I guess they bowed to the head of the house.  I can say there were a lot of Westerns on at night, while soap operas ruled the day.  I got Saturday mornings and the one time a week Lassie Come Home was on.  No discussions about it that I recall.  I guess there was more order from the chaos that way, but less freewill for the homemaker.  But, this is now, and now I've got control over the remote and the Pens are up 1 goal after two periods.  So - boo-yah.

The moral to these stories is that neither side of the political fence holds a moral high ground, it would seem.  That makes me sad.  We are all Americans.  We love our country.  We try to be good people - how we go about that may be different, but does that really matter?  I am beginning to despair the species.  So, it is small wonder that I prefer watching young men smash one another against the boards in pursuit of a rapidly sliding disc of vulcanized rubber.  It seems so pure and peaceful in comparison.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Body Image is a Beast

I have been struggling with this issue for a while now, so when Greg mentioned that he thinks about his weight in light of our family experience (aka, he feels guilty about worrying over gaining pounds), I decided it's probably time to address it.  Here's the thing:  those of us who have been impacted by ED, either directly or indirectly, are taught that we need to fight against focusing on body image.  The professionals who fight the disease spend a lot of time convincing us that how we look does not matter.  However, as we all know, it's like trying to drain the sea a teaspoon at a time while it's raining.  There are a lot of others trying to tell us the exact opposite.  Just look at the fall line-up on TV and tell me that women in particular are not being told that flat tummies, large chests and perfect smiles are how we should all look if we are to be successful and happy in life.  We fought that battle with Kelsey.  We lost.  She had a stash of fashion magazines and photos she had downloaded off the Internet of Kate Moss that she squirreled away like a junkie with her stash.  So, struggling against the larger issues society was throwing at my daughters, it was a struggle not to add to it by whining about my own weight or body image issues.  Harder to do than to say.  Particularly for a woman who was once known as Cheryl the Barrel as a little girl.

Now, I look at the mirror and simply HATE what I see.  From tip to toe.  It's been a little over three years now since mother crashed her van, but for me, life as I knew it was part of that wreckage.  The months since that fateful day have not been kind.  I can see it all on my face when I look in the mirror.  I feel it in my bones.  I'm much older than my years in every way.  That's what the mirror tells me everyday.  And, it doesn't help when I see others my age or older who look incredible - with a little (or a lot) of cosmetic help, no doubt, but...

Courtesy of Fox Sports
Jane Seymour was introduced at the beginning of the Steelers home opener.  I am not exactly sure why she was in town, but had my husband known in advance, he probably would have made me get him a ticket.  He has had a thing for her for years.  I don't blame him.  I confess to being enthralled with her as well, she is quite simply gorgeous and that accent can melt butter.  Besides, how can I get all giggly like a bad schoolgirl every time I see a Wahlberg or Adrien Brody and then turn around and be bothered if his eyes light up at the mention of an actress here or there?  But, I was close to being dismayed at the sight of her.  She's still perfectly and seemingly effortlessly beautiful at 60.  Good for her, but, after nearly needing to be airlifted up to our seats, I was so winded, I came home with my ego decidedly tweaked.  It got kicked a bit harder when I saw a photo of Paul McCartney's new wife, a woman my age who looks most definitely not my age.  And, they say things come in threes, so as Greg has gotten caught up in the X-Factor, I am constantly assaulted with Paula Abdul in her super high heels and super tight dresses.  I go upstairs and catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, greying hair pulled back in a ponytail, this part flabby, that part drooping, another part pooching out, and it gets overwhelming and depressing.  If I can't get past it and not let it bother me, how is a 14-year old girl with insecurities supposed to do it?

X-Factor, Fox
But, really, how are any of us supposed to not consider body image?  Like asking us not to think about elephants, it is natural then to immediately think of elephants - and think about them a lot.  The more someone tells me I should just be okay with my looks and my weight, the more I worry about it and am not.  I wonder, as my husband smiles at the sideline cheerleaders every Sunday, what he thinks of my ever-increasing imperfections.  I wonder more about what other women think as they look at me whenever I'm out - females can be harsh judges - and maybe for the first time, I can get a sense of what my daughter had been up against.  And it's a Beast.

I know full well that I should just concentrate on being healthy and the rest doesn't matter.  That's an intellectual knowledge.  Unfortunately, like a lot of women, how we think of ourselves is not intellectual, it's emotional.  And I've got no answer for it.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

With a Little Help from Your Friends: Get a Life

"And the days went by like paper in the wind. Everything changed, then changed again. It's hard to find a friend. It's hard to find a friend."
- Tom Petty

Here's the question: Are real friends still a necessity in a digital age?

When I am feeling sorry for myself, which happens more than I would like to admit, I worry that if I ever want to make a friend again it is going to be of the invisible kind.  This is mainly because I am under house arrest here most of the week, glued to the computer and my little "corner office" for a lot of hours everyday with my only office mates being hairy, smelly and generally not the greatest conversationalists.  My friends back in Texas are still my friends, but I'm not right there anymore and we live divergent lives now.  I forget to check in with them.  They forget to check in with me.  It's the way it goes in a fast paced world.  I am far more guilty of it than the reverse.  When I chatted with a friend on the phone the other day, the first time we had actually spoken since I got here, I found out that her life had been rather dramatic in the months since I came east.  I had no idea, and I felt so badly that I had allowed us to lose touch to that degree, and that she had to go through all those things without any moral support from me.  How could I not know all of this, I wondered?

Facebook gives you a false sense of connection I think.  One of the many conundrums of social networking - you are connected, yet you aren't.  I could reach out to her at any time through that media, but because she is my "friend" on FB, there is sort of a complacency about it that causes you not to actually touch base with people themselves, but to get your information and base your assumptions on their well being from your news feed.  One is likely not going to change one's Facebook status to say, "My husband left me today for a much younger woman and took the dog with him, and because I cried about it at work, I got fired." (DISCLAIMER:  That is NOT what happened to my friend, not even close - it's just a fictional example.)  You still have to actually communicate with your friends to get the real details of their lives, their loves, their fears and worries, and their needs.  And I don't mean Tweeting or texting when I say "communicate".  One can check in with one's friend via text, but I would challenge the notion that one can really effectively communicate that way.  I've watched people try to carry on rather in depth "conversations" via text and let me just say, the subtext gets lost in the text.  Sometimes you need to hear the inflection in one's voice to really understand them.  Trying to make major decisions in 140 character little snippets is just mind boggling to me.  But, I'm old, so just take that into account.

Anyway, I digress.  As I was saying originally, people are so busy with their work and their families that there is precious little time to remember to drop a note to someone or call just to say hi.  So, you naturally tend to hear less and less often from those you left behind.  And in corresponding order to where they existed in your circle of friends.  Casual acquaintances drop off first and so on until you're left with the hard core and long established close friends.  The people you would take a bullet for and vice-versa.  They stay in touch, but even they have lives outside of you now that you're not right there.  That's all well and good.  Because you do too.

Unless you're me that is.  I have lived in this town for nearly ten months now and can honestly tell you I have not made one single friend (my lovely Philly friend does not count - we knew her already).  I can claim a fair number of acquaintances.  Some I know better than others.  But, there is not a single person I could call up at midnight and tell them to come get me and expect them to actually do it without really wondering what in world is wrong with me and then promptly losing my number.  So, I've been thinking about that some lately.  I am potentially in a unique position to answer the question, "Does a [relatively] normal individual actually have to have friends to go and do things with to be whole and happy?"  I think I would have answered that question back in January as no, not really.  I would have told you that I could live very comfortably for a long period of time with no one but my family - both the two and four legged ones.  And so I have.  But, every so often, and more often lately, I think there is a large value in having someone else to do things with.

As an example, Greg doesn't like hockey.  I'll drag him to a game or two.  He'll concede to record some of his socially progressive talk shows so I can watch the Pens real time in high definition, but it is just not his scene.  So, at midnight on opening night of the season, I was talking to the cat about that shot and this amazing save and then bemoaning the fact that it was going into overtime.  The cat stared at me intently like I had lost my mind.  He apparently does not like hockey either.  At least he didn't leave.  And that's when it struck me:  I really need to make some friends.  And they better like hockey.  I'm sure my family would appreciate it if I would.  Then the responsibility to entertain me wouldn't be squarely and wholly on their shoulders.

I'm not an easy person to like.  It's not just me saying this, I've been told as much before.  But, I don't think I'm a monster either.  I think I'm friend-worthy.  The challenge is just to get out in the world to meet people.  Volunteering is still the best plan for that, but that is problematic with work being what it is.  All of that is more or less beside the point.  I know what I need to do to fix it.  I am just fascinated by the fact that I created this little social experiment for myself and learned that John Lennon was really right, you get by with a little help from your friends.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


The mood was solemn around the house on the first Monday in October.   The weather turned cold and rainy on the previous Friday and had remained that way all weekend.  It seemed odd to look at people's Facebook pictures from the weekend and see sunny skies - it was as though the whole world should be blanketed in grey along with us.  We had relented on Saturday and turned the heat on.  We had held out that long because this was just a temporary cold front.  Consistently, the weather sites and channels were predicting a rise back up to perfect fall temperatures after the weekend.  But, in the meantime, the cold and damp permeated through the brick walls with overnight temperatures dipping into the 30's.  Here we go, I thought to myself, the first real test for all of these native Southerners.  It was one thing to be out of the 100 plus degree, drought ridden state of Texas in July.  It is another to be away from it when the weather turns cold and wet here.  And sure enough, the other occupants of the house seemed more concerned than excited.  Even the dogs weren't liking it.  The sound of the air cleaner's "arcing" when it was first turned on completely freaked them out and even after that settled down, they became jumpy every time the heater cycled on after that.  And, come Monday, the day seemed darker than the weekend if anything.  The front didn't seem in a hurry to move out.

Of course, one reason it seemed dark was because both the Steelers and the Cowboys lost in ignoble fashion.  Steeler fans are left wondering if there is a season to be had after bodies - and bodies attached to marquis names - went off the field with injuries in a brutal, gut wrenching loss.  And, as that agony was unfolding before our eyes in High Definition, Greg spent the afternoon watching his team's 27-3 lead evaporate in updates scrolling along the bottom of the screen.  By the time the late games kicked off, the mood was definitely as dark as the weather.  Steeler fans have a tendency to think the sky is falling even when it isn't - I've mentioned that before I know - but this time it really does look bad, and I have to say I'm not particularly optimistic about our chances.  Watching the Patriots and Baltimore ripping their way through teams like they are alien beasts who can't be killed doesn't help the mood any.  Trying to tell myself it is just a game does not seem to be helping.

I am observing that all of us, not just me, are a bit reliant currently on outside forces to keep us engaged.  The Steelers, the Cowboys, the Longhorns, moving across country, throwing oneself into progressive causes, finding new and interesting places to eat.  All tools in the art of distraction.  When that doesn't work, you have to face your naked reality, and that's not all that easy to do.  I won't be able to say we're onto the other side of living with grief and guilt, out the long tunnel if you will, until we can take a losing season and place it in its proper perspective.  Until we can, in other words, live life without a dependence on other factors to feel whole and fulfilled.  You have to wonder if a horrible, ugly season of football isn't just what the doctor ordered maybe.  I really don't want to find out.

But, without the Steelers to bolster my sense of well-being, temporarily anyway, I began the work week feeling tired and depressed. Before I gave up on that book on grieving I read that it is typical for people in my situation to not necessarily be suicidal but to not particularly care if they live or die.  I believe that.  I have felt that way often.  Moving to where I'm six miles from Heinz Field doesn't always change that.  You pull yourself out of bed in the morning because you have to.  Because people rely on you to be there for whatever reason.  And sometimes that's the only reason you do.  It's like being a zombie.  You don't really feel anything and just live to live because your body hasn't shut down yet, but you would be okay if it did.  You might not even notice.  After two plus years one would kind of hope not to feel that way anymore, but there are days when you do.  Maybe the days stretch into weeks.  And, looking outside at leaden skies with a damp chill in the air probably doesn't help much.  So, why bother, I ask myself?  Because, eventually the skies will clear, and the air will take on that fresh feeling of fall that I remember from my childhood, and it would be a shame to miss it.  And, besides, hockey season starts tomorrow.

Zombieland, Columbia Pictures (2009)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Cats and Dogs

I am trying to distract myself after the Steelers loss in Houston this afternoon (terrible for several reasons, among them the fact that our quarterback is questionable for next week's game), so I decided that I will tell you the story of my two little Etsy Miracles, which are about as far away from football as you can possibly get.

This is a story that has to be told with a note of caution, because it is the story of the power of inanimate objects and what they come to represent to us.  Taken too far, that can lead to a starring role in a reality show about hoarders.  Growing up with a mother who hoarded, I have to fight a tendency to be too much of a collector myself.  Living now in a much smaller house, that I have come to think of as "The Cottage" because it makes it seem quaint as opposed to simply little, I really, really have to fight not to regather loads of random items that I worked very hard to separate myself from when I moved here.  Additionally, I think we all have to keep the value of our things in perspective.  How many families in Europe in the early 30's ever would have thought they could survive without their fine china and family heirlooms, but how many of them had to as war raged across the continent?  Stuff is just that:  stuff.   It can be replaced.  The people in your life cannot.  However, sometimes that stuff comes to remind you of those people and is therefore very dear.

This is the story of some objects that are precious to me (Gollum) because I look at them and am taken back to a time in my life when things were simple, my love for my parents, and theirs for me, was whole and untainted, and all the trials and sorrows of life were ahead of me and therefore unknown.   Quite simply, I look at these things and they make me smile.

So, with that drawn out introduction, allow me to give you some background.

The Cats

Growing up, my mother had these porcelain cat salt and pepper shakers.  White Siamese cats - a girl with a pink ribbon and a boy with a blue one.  I was fascinated with them as a little girl.  Not only because of their Mona Lisa smiles making them look like they were in cahoots in some mischievous plan, but because when you shook them there was a sound maker in the bottom of each one that made it sound as though they were meowing.   Every few months, Mother would let me take them out of the curio cabinet and play with them, always keeping a watchful eye on me so I wouldn't get too rambunctious and break them.  Of all the things I ended up doing as a child - I never did take them out without her permission and without her right there.  I always accepted one day I would inherit them.  But, they never apparently made it out of Montana.  When Mother moved back to Pennsylvania the year after my dad died, they weren't among her things.  I asked her about them and she gave me a little shrug and said she didn't know.  This is a woman who knew when we threw away an outdated circular, so I never believed that.  I always thought she gave them to someone or let them go in the auction and didn't want to tell me.   I let it go, but I was sad about it and always held out a little hope they were just in some of the boxes that never got unpacked.  But they weren't.  When we  went through all her things after she died, that last hope of ever seeing them again or knowing what happened to them faded.

The Dog

My mom was always the one with too many things, some of them had stories connected to them, some of them did not.  My dad's life was much more streamlined.  Whatever he did have, it had meaning.  Even though I did not always know what it was because he could be guarded about his emotions.  Among those things was a sad eyed ceramic hound dog planter that he kept on his dresser to hold his cufflinks and tie clips.  I don't know where he got it or why it was special, but he was fond of it.  After he was gone, Mother gave it to me.  I have had it ever since, usually holding business cards - for a long time, it housed a note from Kelsey thanking me for my patience and one from Marissa.  It moved around with my parents, then from their home in Montana to Texas, and it made it safely back to Pennsylvania where it sat on the dresser in my office.  Then, on that awful day in April when Greg called to tell me Noelle had died, a gust of wind pushed in through the open window, knocked a framed photo over into it and sent it crashing to the hardwood floor, shattering it beyond any hope of repair.  I was devastated.  I had allowed this piece of my father to be destroyed so casually.

The Miracle Part

If you've gotten a gift from me, or if you do at some point, chances are I bought it on Etsy.  Marissa introduced it to me last year during a boring Longhorn game, and I've been hooked ever since.  Already a long post, I won't belabor why, but there is a bit of everything on it.  I use it a lot.  Which means I get a lot of email from them tempting me to use it even more.  In full holiday shopping mode, I usually will look, and a couple of weeks ago, I was peeking at some of the items in a promotional email and happened upon a "vintage" shop that had a lot of salt and pepper shakers.  So, I thought I'd give it a shot and searched for cat shakers.  The results were the exact shakers Mother had.  Ironically, the vendor is from Pittsburgh (and, yes, it has occurred to me that these are the same ones, but I doubt it).  But, I immediately bought them.  Then, thinking why not, I had already gotten extraordinarily lucky, I searched the site for "ceramic hound dog" and, lo and behold, found the exact same thing as my Dad's old hound dog.  And, not just one, but a pair!  I bought them too.  Both packages arrived last week.  They're just old stuff.  But, for me, they represent little pieces of my parents, little flashes of my childhood, and a more innocent time gone by.  The cats have taken their place in my curio cabinet, and one dog is on my dresser in my bedroom, the other in my office - none of them are any where close to a window.  Every time I look at them they make me smile.

I have never really felt my parents presence since they died.  That otherworldly sense that people sometimes talk about where they feel their loved ones are with them.  I yearned for it now and again - I guess because of all the things we never said to one another - all the unresolved things that would remain that way forever.   But, as I look at my silly little ceramic cats and dogs, I have to wonder...