Saturday, December 29, 2012

Ripley's Believe it or Not

Keeping up with even one blog has been a challenge lately, let alone two because we have a new member of the household.  I got a puppy for Christmas.  Actually, I got her a little before Christmas, but she was the big holiday gift.  It's been more than a decade since I've had a puppy in the house, and I haven't cared for one this young since 1995.  One forgets how time intensive they are.  Like mobile infants with sharp teeth and no diapers.  It's exhausting.  Worth it, but exhausting.

She fulfills an almost half century desire to own a true, purebred rough collie.  I've been hooked on the breed ever since I first saw Lassie Come Home, followed by being a faithful Sunday afternoon viewer of Lassie and then reading all the Albert Payson Terhune books about his collies, primarily Lad.  I loved the look of them with their delicate long faces, bent over ears and sleek coats, their native intelligence, and the nobility with which they carry themselves. And, truthfully, I fell in love with Terhune's depiction of his country estate, and I associate collies with a lifestyle I find attractive.  Ironically, for all the dogs I have had, except for a brief period back in the 80's, I've never actually owned a collie.  I've come sort of close.  We had Lando, a border collie, for many years, and Luke is part collie, but since I couldn't resist rescuing anything and everything, there was never a chance to pick and choose a purebred dog.  We shouldn't have done it now.  Four large dogs in a suburban yard is enough, but Luke is 15 and Ashley is in poor health, and I've steeled myself for a while that they are both close to the end of their days.

But it's more than that, it's the realization that Cheyenne is now 11.  She is my bedrock.  Without her, I could not have made it through the last decade.  She came into our lives before we really understood that we were all beginning a slide down a very long rabbit hole, but she's been by my side through it all.  She loves me completely.  I feel the same about her.  She's been supportive in ways humans really can't because she has no other interest.  To say she lives for me might be laying it on a little thick, but I am her main vocation.  She's by my side when I'm sad or sick.  She's shared the happy times and accepted the bad ones.  The only thing she can't handle is when I cry.  It upsets her too much, and she'll  leave the room briefly.  She was a good companion to my mother as well.  She was tirelessly patient whenever I took her to the nursing home during Mother's last months and we would be stopped multiple times as we made our way down the hall to her room so that other patients could pet her and talk to her.  She looks and acts young to me, and I plan on her living a very long time, but others have commented on her age - they can see the years on her.  She can no longer jump on the bed.  There are other signs that she's past her prime.  There are so many wonderful things about dogs, but there is the hard truth that they shine brightly but briefly.  I've been accepting about that with the other dogs:  I've recognized that it's just the way it is, and to enjoy their company while I've had it.  I've mourned the pets I've lost, but I've moved along.  But when I would contemplate losing Cheyenne, I just couldn't imagine it.  So, after I first got to Pittsburgh, I registered with a pet search engine that looked for listings at shelters within a 100 miles for collies available for adoption.  I thought maybe if I got the dog of my dreams and had him or her together with Cheyenne for a few years it would blunt the pain I would eventually have to feel.

Greg has put his foot down all along, insisting that there would be no more dogs for now, but for some reason he decided to try and get one for me this year, so he secretly began trolling local shelters looking for collies.  In the meantime, I would get alerts whenever any dog with "collie" as part of their make-up would be available nearby.  The planets seemed to have aligned earlier in the month when a trio of purebred collie puppies were available through a small rescue group in Ohio.  And so enter Ripley (name for Ellen Ripley of the Alien movies).  Cheyenne is not her biggest fan.  None of the older dogs are really happy about it, although they accept it.  After all, at one point all of them were the newbie, and they all know this is a multiple dog household.  Ripley however, is fascinated with Cheyenne.  I think she senses this is the Alpha dog, and wants to be around her.  Cheyenne is not particularly patient with her, but accepts her begrudgingly, I think, as long as she's secure in her knowledge that we are still tightly bonded.

The moral to this story is that no one loves you like your dog.  No one understands you like your dog does either.  They don't nag, they don't talk back (usually), and they love you no matter what you look like.  They don't care what your politics are or whether you're a genius or not, or if you're wealthy or not.  They don't judge you.   I have great friends, but none are greater than my dogs.  And now I've got the dog of my dreams and Cheyenne's by my side.  Pretty sweet.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Contemplating the End of the World

Haven't seen you in quite a while

I was down the hold just passing time
Last time we met was a low-lit room
We were as close together as a bride and groom
We ate the food, we drank the wine
Everybody having a good time
Except you
You were talking about the end of the world

- Until  the End of  the World, U2

The end of the world is supposed to happen today.  The weather certainly is acting like it's trying to blow us all away.  The gusts whipping through the trees and pulling at my little Rudolph out in the yard are stronger than anything we saw here when Sandy brushed up against us.  But, as of right now, the human race is holding steady.  Meaning that there are people who, as I write this, are dying or being born, loving one another or hating one another, going to work or avoiding going to work (I would be among the latter).  It's just a Friday.  Yet, can any of us really say it hasn't crossed our minds:  what if the Mayans were right?  I can just picture all those Survivalists bracing for it.  Of course, I guess they are kind of constantly bracing for it, so today isn't all that new.  The rest of us probably don't spend a whole of lot time thinking about the End of Days, but can you honestly say it didn't at least cross your mind as this date approached?  I used to wonder what I would do if I survived a catastrophic event, usually as I was curled up comfortably reading The Stand, my favorite book.  I figured I would head for Montana, high up into the mountains, try to find a cozy little cabin with my dogs, learn to hunt and fish, and get along just fine - like there was nothing to it, of course.  But, what crossed my mind recently when Sandy took large parts of the northeast briefly backwards 100 years, is that we're pretty soft as a society.  Even those of us who have hard lives where we struggle to make ends meet.  We're not really the kind of people who could easily survive if all the modern conveniences were taken away from us.  When I first started watching Revolution, I thought that the view of the world fifteen years on was pretty bleak, but the more I think about it - particularly as my own power flickered on and off as Sandy introduced itself - the more I realized that's probably exactly right and the only problem I have with the show, which I am completely addicted to, is that the people look awfully pretty for living for fifteen years without washing machines, hair stylists, teeth whiteners and even decent razors.  But, the fact that they still look pretty isn't really the point, the point is that life would be extraordinarily hard.  Disease, famine, large scale violence, all of those things probably would happen.  So, I have to confess that my chances of surviving to make it to Montana are pretty slim, so I spent more brain cells wondering how I would spend my last day on earth.  As it turns out, had yesterday been truly the last day of civilization, I spent it working and cleaning up puppy pee and poop.  Not exactly epic, so I guess I'm glad we've all got another shot at it.  But, what would you do, who would you spend it with and what would you say to them?  There are likely a contingent who would march into their boss, spouse, or someone else and tell them off, but probably most of us - the vast, vast majority of us - would draw our loved ones close to us and tell them how much we love them and why.  We probably ought to live every day like it was the end of the world.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Moment of Silence

The post I had planned dealt with a bouncy puppy and a poor, injured mother-in-law who unfortunately  probably wished she bounced a little more.  I was hoping to pull of a piece that told the "tale with a tail" with a little bit of humor because, after all, who can fail to smile when dealing with stories of puppies - particularly when you're not the one cleaning up the accidents or trying to hide your shoes.  However, all of that will wait because, for once maybe, words just fail me.

I don't know to this second much about the Connecticut elementary school shooting except that 26 are dead, 20 of them children.  But I know that yesterday morning, there were 20 kids anxiously awaiting their holiday break, wondering what Santa would bring them that will never find out the answer to that question.  There are countless other lives now hopelessly shattered as a result.  So, I am not sure this is the time for stories about puppies.  That will wait for another day.  Today it's time to remember in silence that innocence lost.

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Saturday, December 8, 2012


Circa 2010
On the Monday before Thanksgiving, as I walked Chappy and Cheyenne around the block in the predawn cold, I could hear a car driving up behind us.  Chappy, for some inexplicable reason, loves to pull out as far as the leash will let him to the center of the road.  Hence, I've gotten attuned to listening for engine noises and judging distance, car size and speed of travel so I can pull us all toward the side of the road, particularly now that it's pitch black still in the six o'clock hour.  But this one was traveling the wrong direction - toward the interior of the neighborhood, not toward the main road where the daily commuters are beginning to go - and at a pretty good clip.  I pulled us over to the side as best I could and watched as a Toyota Four Runner sped up the road past us and pulled into the driveway of a home where I happened to know an elderly couple lives.  I know it because I've seen them a few times out on their screened in porch during more temperate days - he relying heavily on a walker and she, able to walk on her own, but not quite doing it in an upright position.  But, I would have surmised it just by looking at their house, which looks like about a half dozen other houses in the neighborhood.  Like it's always been well tended until the last few years, but is beginning to look threadbare now.  The yard is still mowed, but the beds aren't weeded, the paint is beginning to peel, and there are not any holiday decorations constantly rotating on the stoop like there is for all their neighbors.  They all tell the tale that someone is lending a hand to keep things going, but can't do it with the love and detail that the rest of us care for our homes.  The house across from it is so well lit, I'm pretty sure you can see it from space, so I could see the driver clearly as she got out of the car.  She looked to be within shouting distance of my age, popping out of the vehicle as soon as it was in park to begin walking up to the front door with a stride that I know well.  The one where the walker leans far forward of his or her feet with a stern, determined stare toward the eventual destination, as though one's body is trying to will the feet to go faster, yet they do not break out into a run because that would imply panic, and staying calm is paramount.  Or maybe calm isn't the right word:  in control would be the greater goal.  She walked that way up to the front door and let herself in without knocking.  As Chappy stopped to do his business, I thought to myself that I knew with a high degree of certainty the scenario that was playing out inside.  One or the other of the couple had in all likelihood fallen and there would be no way the other one could lift their fallen mate, so they made an early morning call for help to the nearest offspring.  She had to drop whatever she was doing - getting kids ready for school, dressing for work, probably both - and come over to help.  I felt for her:  a sense of deja vu coming over me.  How many times had I made that exact same walk in the exact same posture to my mother's?  How many dinners had I left in the middle of?  It's all just part of the gig.  They took care of you, now you take care of them.  But, it doesn't make it easy.

But, as I watched the little early morning drama from my vantage point across the street, I thought of the daughter and her role, not really what it must be like to be the parents, even though on some level I know I'm speeding toward that same point on the horizon like a bullet.  Even when I was caring for my mother that final year, while I tried to consider her dignity along with her health when making decisions, I'm not sure I had the level of empathy that really allowed me to put myself in her place and wonder what it must be like to be that person who can't care for their beloved home like they want to, or to be able to pick themselves up off the floor if they trip.  What must it be like to know that the ever-creeping fragility that steals over your body is taking the very life away from you bit by bit, day by day?  That soon you'll have to test the faith you've always lived your life by in a very real way.  Is there really an afterlife?  You've always thought so, but when staring it square in the face, can you be so sure?  Did you live a good enough life to go toward the light?  All the things someone like that older couple must think about, in addition to the normal worries of living on a fixed income, trying to sustain some sense of independence and wondering when the next episode of NCIS is on.  No, really, I think I was too focused on just trying to do the "job" of caring for my mother to really be able to see her fully and consistently as a human being.  I did - in flashes.  But, consistently?  I'm not sure I can lay claim to that.  So, enter my mother-in-law.  She came for a two week visit over three weeks ago now.  She's still here with us because she took a nasty fall the night before she was due to fly back home.  In the immediate days that followed, she was in no shape to travel.  She's getting there, but it's slow going.  Now in her upper 70's, the body doesn't heal in the same way it would at my age even.  So, as we care for her as she recuperates, I've been re-thinking about that early morning scenario and trying to imagine it from another perspective.   I've had some mixed success.  It is hard to step outside one's own worldview and remember to be wholly sensitive to someone who is at a stage in life you can only imagine, having not yet experienced it personally.

Selfless is hard.  Selfish is easy.  Most of us totter in between.  More on this next time...

Friday, November 30, 2012

Bah Humbug

If you know me personally, then it is no secret that the holidays make me crazy.  I know I get called a lot of things, and of those, one of the titles that can get repeated in mixed company is "control freak".  (Of course, that should have clued me in when Kelsey started down the road to ED, because I was told often that it is an individual's way of controlling their circumstances.  Like mother like daughter, with fatal results.)  But, anyway, given my need for controlling what I could in a hectic world of raising kids and working in a stressful industry, the holidays were like my Kryptonite.  Granted, the holidays have their own sort of routine, which we all call tradition, but they crowd in on all the other stuff that goes on in a life.  None of that stuff stops so you can savor the holidays.  Oh no, you're just supposed to be of good cheer and still work 12+ hours a day.  And, no one suddenly increases your income by 20% so you can afford all those gifts plus pay the electric bill, now higher because your home is literally lit up light a shopping mall.  I know, I know.  You've heard all this before.  But, I'm just setting the table for the main course.

Worst of all for me maybe is that I want to love it.  Every year I sit by the tree and try to recapture those long ago days when, as a little girl, I would curl up with a book and read by the light of our Christmas tree - maybe with a fire going in the fireplace nearby.  And every year I wanted that same sense of peace and comfort that I had as a kid for my children, all the while enduring my own nervous breakdowns.  It's a lot of pressure:  trying to make yourself happy when you're not actually.

Now enter our Empty Nester years.  Marissa is all but out of the house - busy with her own life, which is as it should be - but it is in the lull Before Grandchildren.  We live far away from Greg's siblings, so the holidays are a quiet, intimate affair.  My cousin will have her holiday party, and we, like last year, will make the drive down to where my mother's family all live toward the beginning of the month, but it is a relaxed event without pretension or expectation.  No stress there - just the welcome anticipation of hearing more colorful stories of a family I've been connected to for all my life, but don't know well.   There is still the issue of gift giving - which I'd like to say I do well, but that is not always the case.  That one probably never gets any better or less stressful.  I love giving gifts, but hate it horribly when they are not spot on, and it's like gambling.  A lot like gambling.  Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and always you spend money.  But, people who are control freaks are probably rarely compulsive gamblers.  Those two things do not go together.  Yet, still, in these quiet years - what one might call the Viagra Years (when we still want to act and feel young, but just quite aren't always up to the task) - this should be the time I could re-grab the magic.

Yet, what you realize is that, while you may move on with your life after a loss, the holidays never get better.  Or, I guess I should say, they haven't gotten better yet.  There is just too much emphasis on being with family.  As I set the Thanksgiving table last week, it was so obvious that it was lopsided.  There was a place setting missing.  I filled the void by putting most of the food dishes around that side of the table and kept myself upbeat on the surface so no one would see how bothered I was by that visual image, but the next day I had a migraine like I haven't had in years.  The pain was white hot and blanked out everything but the fact of it.  I told my mother-in-law that it was the change in the weather, which might actually be partially true, but I think it was my brain exploding from the stress of having to endure one more holiday without one daughter.

You realize you need to be thankful for the family remaining, but occasionally, in our infinite fragility as humans, we lose sight of that.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Another Mean Season

Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends
We're so glad you could attend
Come inside!  Come inside!
- Karn Evil 9, Emerson Lake and Palmer

Welcome back to the Mean Season.  For anyone who may be new, that is the term our family therapist coined for the holidays and how it can be perceived to individuals suffering from eating disorders.  We are sold the concept that holidays are about connecting with family, having good times and making lasting memories.  And there is that.  Sometimes.  But, the holidays have a darker side for someone with an eating disorder.  The entire season beginning now through the end of the year focuses on food.  And lots of it.  Cookies and eggnog, rich dishes in an overwhelming number.  I wrote a piece last year about the holidays that, if you're hosting a Thanksgiving dinner, I would encourage you to look back over.  It was on my mind last night as we were sitting around the restaurant table hashing out the Thanksgiving menu.  My mother-in-law is in town for the holiday and wants to stay in, rather than travel down to my cousin's.  That is fine, we anticipated as much, but between work, two blogs, an NHL lockout to protest as loudly and as frequently as possible, and a seriously injured quarterback to worry over, I had not given the actual menu much thought.  So, I petitioned everyone for their menu preferences.  Probably a large mistake.  Greg's mom is lobbying for green bean casserole as opposed to a simple fresh vegetable.  On top of mashed potatoes with a lot of butter and sour cream, stuffing, bread and dessert, even I was beginning to be triggered by the richness of the food choices.  The lesson I learned is that I probably should not have asked, I should have just fixed what I was comfortable with.  Likely that no one would have noticed, everyone would have found something they liked and the focus would have stayed where it should be:  on spending time with family.  Oh, and watching lots of football.

We as a society have laden the holidays with so many expectations that any real meaning has been completely trampled by the trappings of excess.  Not just food, but gifts and their quantity and value.  Don't get me wrong, I like to buy gifts for people but I'm so scatterbrained that if you didn't put me on a set schedule, like Christmas, I wouldn't be disciplined enough to get them bought and sent with any regularity.  But, the expectation and the disappointment when those expectations aren't meant can be daunting.  I hate to disappoint people, it's crushing, but I certainly have.  And, I have to confess, I've been disappointed.  Last year for our anniversary, which is three days before Christmas, Greg presented me with a Troy Polamalu ornament.  I like it, but a friend had given me the exact ornament for Christmas the year before and it was very prominently hanging on the Sports Tree in the Sports Cave right at the foot of the stairs.  So, I knew it was a last minute gift that he ran down to the Hallmark store about a mile from the house and grabbed with little thought, and it upset me.  A lot.  Looking back on it, I'm not proud of that reaction, particularly since he had spent the months leading up to the holiday occasionally showing up with little surprises for no reason at all:  the Yoda mug I'm drinking my coffee out of now, a book about Rin Tin-Tin, the Super-8 DVD (love that movie), my fleece lined Pens hat, among other things.  So, I am a leading example of the things I seek to criticize.  And me, of all people, should know that the only thing that really matters about the holidays is being together as a family and loving one another.  But sometimes that can be the absolute meanest part of the holidays...

...more on that next time.

Charlie trying to serve himself up as Thanksgiving dinner


Friday, November 9, 2012

Post-Election Night

What a difference four years can make.  For the country, it has seen the death of Osama bin Laden, but the birth of the Tea Party, four years of rough economic times, held together by a bold stimulus package and the bailout of the auto industry.  We have seen healthcare reform and the coining of the phrase "Obamacare".  We have also added to our jargon words like "birthers".  But, the war in Iraq has ended and there is a set timeline for withdrawing from Afganistan.  And it goes on.  I actually tripped across a list of President Obama's 50 Top Accomplishments in his first term just in case you are not sure what has gone on over the last term.  It has been pretty jam packed.

For me personally, of course, it has been an equally raucous ride.  Much of it on a downhill trajectory, but not all of it.  I sat in my mother's living room watching the results come in four years ago with her and her night attendant whom I had just hired in an attempt to try and keep her at home.  She was a lovely young woman, raised by former hippies and therefore pretty liberal.  She and I were nearly giddy as the results rolled in.  Mother finally lost her temper with us and sternly reminded me this was her house and we were NOT to celebrate Barack Obama's election in front of her.  I am not sure if she was more offended by the fact that he was black or a Democrat, but my money is on the former just being aggravated by the latter.  She would never spend another night in that apartment, so I've often felt a bit guilty about ruining it for her, but of course some major history was being made in front of us, and it was hard not be excited by it.  And actually, it wasn't me that ruined it for her really, it was the American electorate, but boy was I glad about that.  I will always that remember the tug and pull of emotions that night.

I will likely always remember this election day as well, but it was a far different experience.  Tuesday night I watched the results from a basement 1,400 miles away from that north Austin apartment building.  I was with my husband, four fewer dogs, no mom to worry about and, of course, the big one:  one less daughter to celebrate or commiserate with.

Of course, aside from the jarring difference in circumstance and locale, I'll remember it because it was a challenge just to participate.  I have been battling a stomach bug all week, and it was wicked that morning.  Getting dressed to go to the polls was a challenge, but we timed it right and there were no lines or I would not have made it - without some grave personal embarrassment anyway.  As it was, I barely made it home without a major issue.  There is no early voting in Pennsylvania, or I would have voted long ago.  And, the whole drama that most of the nation knew a little about with the voter ID did raise its ugly head.  While it had been struck down by the courts for this particular election, it will be in force for future ones, and the volunteers at the polls were instructed to make sure people had ID's.  That caused confusion in other areas.  At our particular polling place, they just reminded us that it would take effect going forward.  Other places were asking to see it.  There were long lines in many places.  Marissa had to wait a half hour to vote.  She was lucky.  Some places across the country waited for hours.  If you look at where the main issues were, it impacted minority and young voters in particular.  Ask me, there was a definite push to suppress voting in areas likely to support the President.  News flash:  he won anyway.  In both the electoral college and popular vote.  For those of us who support him, we can breathe a sigh of relief and take some satisfaction in a battle well fought.  But, we cannot rest on those laurels very long because those same antics will impact the values we fought for in future elections.

Which brings me to the main point really.  This was a hard fought election, with a lot of bitterness probably on both sides, but from my perspective the social conservatives seemed to be the ones throwing the big barbs.  That is likely not fair, but, like I said, that's my view of the world.  We all have our unique view of things.  Doesn't make us always right, and it certainly doesn't mean the other guy is always wrong.  I think in an election cycle now complicated with the speed of communication through social media, that is easier to lose sight of than ever before.  So, for one last time, this is my appeal for all of us to remember who we really are at the core:  Americans.  Our ancestors built this country on the foundation that we have the right to express our personal beliefs.  I don't remember ever seeing anything about suppressing our neighbor's beliefs if they don't agree with us.  To my conservative friends, particularly the ones who were getting a little feisty on Facebook or Twitter on Tuesday night, I say this:  for now, my political leanings have won the day.  Four years from now you have another chance at it.  I hope we will be ushering in maybe the first female President next and her name could well be Hillary, but if that sounds like a bad idea to you, then back the other candidate, and accept that this is the beauty of the process.  In the meantime, you have the right to continue to work for candidates locally and in the mid-term elections that you feel will represent you.  More importantly, you have the right to live your personal beliefs.  You are against abortion?  I do not have a beef with you over that.  I simply do not believe my government should impose that belief system on others.  End of story.  I believe that my friends who are gays and lesbians should have the same rights as you and I do.  That does not make me a bad person, I'm sorry, but it doesn't.  But somehow so many people personalized all of this and demonized individuals who don't share their views.  It is time to put it aside and get back to living our lives together as one nation.  I hope we can do that, because we do have a lot of work to do.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Mother Nature Sends a Message

And that message is that she's pissed.
Satellite image of Super Storm Sandy

Last night Lawrence O'Donnell was showing footage of residents of Staten Island more or less losing it because they felt they were being ignored, left isolated in their desolation in the wake of super storm Sandy.  At first I sat listening with my head half cocked, trying to decide if my primary emotion was sympathy or derision because, after all, exactly what they did they expect to happen only days after a storm of such enormity swept through 13 states (perhaps there is something to note here - that the storm hammered essentially the original colonies - but I'm not sure what it would be)?  Surely they didn't think someone was going to come snap some fingers and make it all go away.  But, at the same time, I could be empathetic to the swirl of emotion and fear that they had been living in for the last few days.  They were cold, dirty, scared, probably hungry, and cut off from all the things they normally rely on to get information.  The calendar just turned back to the wild, wild west days for these guys, so used to cell phones, television and internet.  Finally people show up with cameras in their faces, but no real help, and I think it boiled over.  I probably have a tad more insight than I would have at any other point in my life because of where we were during the storm.  Just the slightest hint of Sandy was plenty enough for me.  So, in the end analysis, I thought they were snapping under the pressure of an untenable situation which didn't help them get any warmer or their houses any less damaged, but I knew that it was a collective expulsion of the extreme pressure all these poor people had felt for what probably felt like forever.

I can't even begin to understand their devastation, but it was a few tense days even in Pittsburgh, so I can only speak to my own experience as the largest storm this area has ever seen passed through.  Maybe it'll give you some insight to those angry people on Staten Island if you, like me, wondered what they were thinking.

When I woke up this morning and peeked outside to gauge what to don to walk the dogs around the block, I saw the first hint of actual sky I've seen in days.  I could make out a small shining speck moving slowly across the sky - some plane well above us making an early morning haul to some unknown location.  It was a heavenly sight.  The clouds pressing down over the area for a solid week have been oppressive, even for someone like me who loves rainy weather.  There was even a little sunshine - maybe five minutes of sort of weak light and bluish skies before the clouds settled back in and the rain returned.  Maybe it's what made the week seem so very slow and long, but I think it's more complicated than that.

Tensions had begun to grow beginning on Monday.  We all knew the storm was coming, and we were all being told that it would be on a scale like the area had never seen, but of course that means no one can really envision it and therefore two camps develop:  those who freak out and those who underestimate it.  Greg certainly was in the latter, at least in terms of what he expected to hit here.  A lifelong Texan, he had been hearing dire warnings of hurricane impacts all the way up to Austin off and on for years.  It never happened.  Therefore, he was convinced that we were too far inland to really feel the impact.  I was leaning more toward the former, probably because I watch way too much post-apocalyptic television.  We were being told to prepare for high winds, likely to damage trees and threaten power.  I believed that part, since the power goes out around here with an amazing ease.  Of course, we had friends near Philadelphia, so that was worrying me too.  But, still, no matter what camp you fell into, it was still something in the future, a nebulous worry. Come Monday it became a little more real as Sandy neared landfall.  The skies became leaden, the shorts-wearing weather of the week before gave way to cold rain and the trees began to sway.  Local news reported that there were no generators to be had and batteries were flying off the shelves along with bottled water.  We were being advised to make sure our cell phones were charged.  Schools were closed for the following day and the state closed the liquor stores.  Generators?  Why, I wondered, would anyone need a generator?  I grew up in Montana during the 60's.  The power went out with great regularity and none of us had generators.  Of course, we all had fireplaces.  But, I definitely knew why people would want alcohol, and I figured closing the stores just would drive them out in the wind to the bars, which did not close.  But, they stayed closed for two days, so someone was pretty set on that being a good idea.

At any rate,  as the storm made landfall, its mighty reach began to extend inland towards us late on Monday.  There we sat, the skeptic and the believer on the couch together when the power flickered off, then back off again, and we looked at one another, illuminated by the light of my computer screen, suddenly cut off from my internet connection in mid keystroke.  I can't say what Greg was thinking, but I was wondering exactly how long it would take before our nice warm house got cold.  A few minutes later the power came back on and stayed on eventually, but I can tell you that I will be buying a generator as soon as I can.

As the week went on, the winds weren't nearly what they were predicted to be and the rain kept falling, but even the river levels didn't rise like we thought they might.  But all around us, nature was turning on its inhabitants as though it was intent to dispatch us back to wherever it was we came from.  The death toll in this state alone is standing at 14.  Fourteen souls who drew breath and had family who loved them.  It seemed incredible that we were being spared so completely.  So, come about Wednesday when it was clear that any real danger was past, there was a collective sigh of relief and only then could I really realize how tense I had been in the days before.  Then I could step back and realize all the normal crap that one faces in a workday (as I've always said, that's why they call it work instead of fun) seemed so heightened, and why the days seemed to be dragging.  It was a constant waiting game of wondering when the other shoe was going to drop, because it seemed almost impossible that it wasn't going to when there was so much destruction all around us.

Thus, at some point last night, as I watched those poor people on Staten Island, cold, hungry and scared, I realized that whatever we had worried over during the week was nothing compared to what others in our neighbor states are feeling at the moment.  So, long way around to saying to all of those people who are stranded now because of Sandy, it's cold, it's dark and it's frightening.  If you want to throw a little temper tantrum, you just go right ahead and do it.  Help is on its way.

From NBC News

Saturday, October 27, 2012

We All Fall Down

 One thing I have to say about no hockey is that I have gotten out more.  I remember thinking at one point last year that I was watching my first fall in thirty years from my window.  This year, I've been able to wander out and around the neighborhood and marvel at the sights up close and personal.  It's amazing to see the explosion of color.   It's not like back home - Montana - actually.  The humidity sort of literally puts a damper on things, but that is a minor complaint.  I'm not sure that any words I can write here will do it justice, but there are some evenings when Cheyenne and I kick our way through the fallen leaves and gaze up at the trees in the local cemetery, and they seem almost like they are on fire as the last of the sun catches the reds and the golds.  And I think to myself how lucky I am to be here.  I caught myself sort of marveling at that fact recently as we made our way around the labyrinthine paths of the old cemetery, Cheyenne keeping her nose to the ground in constant pursuit of new and interesting smells, me with eyes on the treeline and my head in the clouds.  I would almost say I'm blessed because this is like a dream come true, but then I remember what it took to get me here.  I realize had I not lost a daughter, I would still be in Texas.  I would actually still be in debt.  We'd be struggling to pay the mortgage and keep up with the payments on the second mortgage we took out.  Greg would probably be doing the same job he had when I left, and I'd be a collections clerk.  Would she still be sick?  Maybe.  Probably actually.  So, I'd still be hiding the coffee under the doggie steps, I'd still be finding bags of vomit under the bed if I ventured into her room.  There would be the constant worry about how long her body could take it before shutting down on her.  I would have a pool, I would have my deer and my dogs, our friends would be close by, but life would be a struggle on a lot of levels, and there wouldn't be This.  This amazing city, with its zoo and museums.  This proximity to the team I've loved for so long.  This amazing fall.

Life isn't a total bed of roses.  My job can be stressful and steeped in negativity.  I can't take vacation because there is no one to cover one of the tasks I'm responsible for - or at least not without undue burden on others - so I may not be at burn out, but I'm definitely crispy around the edges.  There's the stress of Greg worrying over his brother, there is the tug of money (sometimes made worse by living in a city with so many wonderful things to do), and we still worry about Marissa.  But, the truth of the matter is, life is so much easier than it was.  It's a plain and hard fact of losing someone who has been sick for a long time.  I noticed it right away actually.  How quiet the house was.  Actually, at first, that quiet was nearly deafening.  I hated being in the house by myself because it nearly screamed the silence at me.  But, we could do things and have things around the house that we hadn't been able to for a long time.  We could leave for a movie and not worry about what was happening back at the house.  And the rest of your life opens up in front of you.  It's just the way it is.  It adds a layer to living with grief that others don't have.  If your loved one is just suddenly taken from you, say in an accident, or a sudden and quick illness, your life shifts, but there is not that competing sensation of no longer having all those responsibilities mixed with the grief.

The irony of it all was on my mind on a lovely autumn evening when it was hard to imagine anyone having a care in the world.  But, you know that thought process is not unique to me.  I remember when my father-in-law died.  He had been sick for a long time, and my mother-in-law had steadfastly cared for him, worried over him and staying by his side with the help of her oldest daughter.  Then he was gone.  She was still young enough and financially secure enough that she had a chance at freedom.  I actually remember thinking of her life as a widow that way:  freedom.  And she did venture out into the world.  A few months later she took a trip to Scotland and had a fall while she was there.  As I recall she broke an ankle.  She developed some health problems after that which were fairly serious.  I always sort of thought that it was almost like Survivor's Guilt.  I have no idea if that is a valid diagnosis or not, but I remember thinking it was so odd that she finally got a chance to spread her wings a little and they were immediately clipped.  Maybe she was exhausted and her immune system was compromised as a result.  Maybe it was strictly coincidence, but I tend to believe true coincidences are rare.  Maybe it was a lot of things combined, but you wonder how many people just have not been able to live with the guilt of feeling some relief from no longer caring for a loved one.  How many can't overcome that?

I probably sound like I am complaining.  Complaining about a pleasant and simple life.  I'm not, but I do have to wrestle with the guilt that naturally comes along with it.  Would I trade the sunset streaking through the leaves in this idyllic little piece of the world to have Kelsey back with us.  Of course I would.  But, do I love it here?  Yes, I really do.  And sometimes that seems like it's not quite right.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Chasm of Distance

Many people would have the right at this moment in time to tell us, "I told you so."

There were people who thought we were basically running away from home when we came here.  Even some people who supported the move basically thought we were running away from our problems and cautioned that one always carries one's problems along with them.  But, for me, with Greg and Marissa both on board to moving, the pets currently all sleeping peacefully around me, and my favorite teams just a short drive away (even though one isn't playing and the other isn't playing well), there wasn't much risk other than financially, but even that worked out in the long run.  For Greg and Marissa there was a lot more at risk.  Marissa left a serious relationship behind, and it couldn't survive the distance.  While I came toward family, Greg left his behind.  So did Marissa.  She barely knew Mother's side of the family.  She doesn't know Dad's at all, so essentially she left everything and everyone she knew too.  It was inevitable that something would eventually happen that would test the decision to leave people who they are so closely bonded in both love and blood behind.  Therefore, when the call came Monday morning that Greg's brother had fallen, hit his head, gashed it, been knocked unconscious and was being admitted to ICU with concerns about bleeding in the brain, the borrowed time I think we all knew we were living on just came due.

I honestly don't know just a whole lot of details about the situation really - but he is now out of the ICU, but still in the hospital.  What I do know is what I see:  Greg's very torn that he is so far away.  He wants to be there to support his brother.  I assume he's out of danger or they wouldn't have moved him, but the fact that almost a week later he's still there at all in today's medical climate tells you something about the seriousness of the situation.  Greg, to the best of my knowledge, has not been able to talk to him.  To make matters more complicated, Greg doesn't have a traditional job where he can take some vacation days and run down to Texas.  Since he's a contractor, if he leaves, he loses his position.  He knew that when he took it, but he likes it because it entails limited interaction with others, and he doesn't seem ready to re-enter the regular workplace.  I am guessing, but I believe that he doesn't want to answer the inevitable "getting to know you" questions:  so, are you married?  How many kids do you have?  I think that's the thing he likes the most about being here actually, we don't know anyone, so he can avoid those uncomfortable conversations.  As political as he is, I tried to get him to do some volunteer work for the Presidential campaign.  At least to host a debate watching party (the campaign provides some material for it and does the inviting - it would be a good way to meet like-minded people), but his argument was logical - our house is too small - but the truth is, he's just not quite ready for all of that.  But, now, here we are:  between a rock and a hard place with the holidays fast approaching and gifts left to buy.  If he just goes ahead and leaves, we're in some serious hot water.

But, really, this isn't about us as much as this is my way of exploring an aspect of our path to recovering from grief that I hadn't talked about before, which is that distance solves some problems and creates some others.  And these are the things that anyone else who reads about our journey needs to take into account.  I think the rationalization is that in a world of high technology and social media, it is easy to keep in touch.  And we have proved that is true pretty much.  Greg was engaging in quite the text conversation with his best friend back in Texas all during the UT game last night.  Granted, for our generation anyway, it's not the same as spending face time with someone, but it does keep us in real time communication and bridge the miles to an extent.  Until something critical happens:  a birth or a wedding on the one side of the coin.  An illness or a death on the other.  You get some advance notice with a baby or a wedding.  Not so much the other.  These are things you have to think about when you take a giant leap like we did.  You have to understand that because you have endured one tragedy, you are not immune to anymore.  As a matter of fact, you now know that life is not a fairy tale and it's very likely that bad things will continue to happen.

On the other hand, I'm not sure any of us would have cared - or did care - at the time we decided to move.  We had a house whose whole upstairs was basically a storage area for us because we couldn't bear to go up there.  We were completely haunted by whole sections of the city where our daughter had been during her life.  The escape the ghosts, we had to run from family and friends.

I am not sure, sitting here at the moment, that I know the answers these tough questions.  For me, this was the right move.  Absolutely.  But, there was a very real and very deep cost to it that has nothing to do with dollars and cents.  I know that too.  Because Greg and his brother are paying for it right now.

Get well soon Randy.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Not-so-Random Acts of Kindness

The news was particularly dark this week it seemed to me.  I opened up the newspaper one day during the week to a headline about a 13-year old boy who shot his grandparents in cold blood in one of those zillion little towns that populate Pennsylvania.  From what I can tell based on what has come out right now, there is no real motive other than he is just one of those rare exceptions to my rule of "No Bad Kids".  He is a Bad Kid.  Monsters do walk among us.  The scary thing, as this now shattered family is finding out, sometimes you have to wrestle with the realization that you gave birth to one.  Right below it was the article about Malala Yousufzai, the now 14-year old Pakistani girl who spoke up about wanting to go to school when she was just 11.  She became a national symbol and apparently a national target.  She was shot in the head by Taliban extremists while waiting to go home from school.   If she lives, they have vowed to finish the job.  She'll never be safe unless she leaves, and all she wanted to do was get an education.  I was thinking about the courage it must have taken Rosa Parks to do what she did, and this little girl surpassed even that at the age of 11.  Two children died in a house fire here.  Someone shot at the Obama campaign headquarters in Denver (sadly proving my point that the ugliness of the race has gone way too far).  But of course, the big headline was Jerry Sandusky, still in absolute denial, getting what will amount to a life sentence in prison.  I have no doubt that it will be hotly debated:   it's too little, it's too much...  One thing no one can really debate, it is completely tragic.  If you opened up the paper, there was an article about a man who died after a roach eating contest.  Wow.  Both tragic and absurd.  And disgusting.

Headlines like these make one wonder if maybe the Mayans knew that the world would be better off without us right about now and decided we should be wiped out right before the holidays this year.  Of course, I'm not one to think that things are worse "these days" and the "good old days" were actually good.  I am a student of World War II, afterall, and am all too aware that the man who was responsible for sending six million people to their death for no other reason than their religion and/or sexual orientation during that time was actually born and nutured in the 19th century.  Then of course there is a long history of horrors throughout time.  The bottom line is that horrible things have been perpetrated upon humans by other humans since we crawled out of the primordial ooze.  It is downright depressing.   To combat that to a certain extent, one of the local papers, The Pittsburgh Post Gazette runs a column called Random Acts of Kindness.  The gist is that 'Burghers send in stories about strangers who did something kind that they observed or were the recipients of.  Maybe it is a bit corny, but when the front page is full of dark news, it is nice to be reminded that most of us are still primarily good people trying to do the right thing and sometimes actually touch someone else in a way that is profound.  I think I needed to remind myself currently not to give up in the face of darker news; therefore, this is my own version of that column.  I know most of the people in these examples, and it is hardly inclusive - it is a very small sampling - but we have been the recipients of many acts of kindness in the last few years.  We probably survived the many trials we have endured because of the support we received.  But, I think that is true of all of us. We all rely on little kindnesses here and there, maybe without even realizing how they sustain us.

To remind myself not to give up on the human race after the onslaught of bad news during the week, I recalled my husband's lifelong best friend hitching up a U-Haul to his truck and driving with Greg non-stop to bring the furry part of our family and a load full of stuff from Texas to Pittsburgh.  He put a lot of sweat equity into helping Greg get the house in Round Rock ready to sell as well.  He didn't have to do any of that.  Sure, friends support friends, but he went well above and beyond.  His family, who supported his being away for so long and so much, deserve a shout out as well.  I was also very touched by my brother-in-law's girlfriend who worked tirelessly to help with our garage sale fundraiser for the charity I was involved with, AFED.  She probably put in more hours than any of us, myself included, arranging for donations from her daughter's Girl Scout Troop, helping us sort and price things, working the actual sale and then taking left overs for resale.

Then there were both of our Realtors who went above and beyond.  Shoot, our Realtor on this end picked this house for us sight unseen.  Not many people would have been willing to step up and take on that responsibility.  Then she arranged to have people check in on it for the couple of months, during the holidays nonetheless, that it was vacant.

Of course, there were all our friends who put up with us during a lot of difficult years.  After Kelsey died, all the people who provided meals, sent cards or books about grieving and maintaining faith, or just listened to us when we needed it.  Lots of my friends gave me gifts when I left - things meant to remind me of the good things about where I was leaving and things meant to help me get settled or enjoy the trip here.  Too many to recount here.

Once I got here, I got lots of help and support too.  As I've written about before, my Lovely Philly Friend and her then boyfriend (now husband) drove across the state multiple times to show me around and keep me company.  And of course my family who made me feel like I was truly one of them, even though I'm not related by blood.  I remember the locksmith who dropped everything to come help me get into the house after I locked myself out.  He came back the next day to re-key the house and didn't charge me a trip charge, so he essentially came out for free once.   That was a nice act by a relative stranger.  And it wasn't the only one.  My neighbors have been awesome - even Mr. Mike helped me get Greg's Father's Day gift tucked away when I was struggling to handle a big heavy box drug around the side of the house.

These are just a few of the kindnesses we have been the recipients of over the years.  Just a very small tip of a very large iceberg to give you just a few examples.  Have I done enough to pay it forward?  Almost certainly not.   All the more reason to be in awe of the kindness we have received.

I bet you have stories like mine.  Incidents where people in your life made you realize that there is still good in the world.  Even if it seems sometimes like there is an equal amount of bad.  So, maybe, in the end analysis, the world shouldn't give up on us humans just yet.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Many Faces of Ugly

From Cafe Press
Okay, I've commented a few times on how ugly the Presidential race is this year, but here I go again because it's really starting to just piss me off.  A major political race is never an exercise in extreme politeness, there is too much at stake, and people are too strongly opinionated (and by people, I include myself) to be completely gentile when debating the topic.  This is likely why the mantra in the past was always, "Never discuss religion or politics."  But, I love a good political debate, and I'm not opposed to a spirited religious one (pun intended), so I've spent my entire life avoiding that good advice.  Nonetheless, all of that was before social media where I went crazy for a while, liberally sharing my opinions (again, pun intended) until enough friends starting posting general "enough is enough" messages on Facebook designed to catch the attention of both extremes.  Then I took a step back and considered it and decided they were right.  As I've told you before, I am proud of the fact that I have friends who cross the aisle politically.  Some are lifelong social conservatives.  Some are so far to the left, they are off the chart.  Most of them are somewhere in the middle, making their decisions on whom to vote for with each election depending upon what seems like the best choice for them at the time.  Ideally, that's how you should do it.  I respect that, even though that's not how I am wired.

I tend to be a loyalist and once I fall in love with a candidate, I am all in and tend toward blind loyalty.  However, this go round, the concepts of loyalty and measured choice intersect for me and the decision is simple for me personally, coming down to this:  once upon a time I could not get insurance for Marissa because she was deemed to have a "pre-existing" condition.  Now she has insurance.  My candidate bought and paid for my loyalty right there. Anything else he does, like order the strike that killed Osama Bin Laden and saving the auto industry, is mere icing on the cake.  If that upsets you, then stop reading right here and now.  That's my choice.  You make yours.  If your reasons are in any way more thought-provoking than, "I'm not voting for the black guy", I will respect your right to make it even if I disagree with it.  If it is "I'm not voting for the black guy", then just stop reading right here and now.

Maybe because we live in the age of social media where it is all too easy to spout off whatever pops into your head, no matter how ill-considered it is (don't I know it - having done it on more than one occasion), or because The Other Guy's party has some celebrity talking heads like Rush Limbaugh who think spewing hate-speak is cool, so others think it must be okay too, or because we're just all becoming mean and jaded as a society, but this race is exhausting, ugly and hurtful.  Enough is indeed enough.  When exactly did it become okay to tell me I'm stupid because I am going to vote for a particular candidate?  Seriously.  When did it?  I somehow missed the memo.  Or maybe I'm just too stupid to read it.

What has me so worked up?  The photo of someone's yard sign making its way around Facebook from the Tea Party, "Stop Drinking Obamas Koolaid Its Making You Really Stupid", which was shared by a fairly close friend of mine this morning.    Really?

Now before you get all bent out of shape, I know that it wasn't directed at me.  I know that she's conservative and for The Other Guy and just thought it was funny, so she liked it and it showed up on her wall.  I know that I go on and on about free speech and exercise it liberally here and in other media.      I know that not everyone always agrees with everything I say.  I also will tell you, in the interest of full disclosure, that we have a little magnet that we've had for years that is not very flattering to the younger President Bush.  It resides with all my other little joke magnets on a metal cabinet in my laundry room.  But perhaps I ought to be ashamed of that.  Maybe it's time to step back and ask ourselves exactly what it is we're doing because I think we've taken it too far.  Somehow we've jumped a pretty big shark here, people.  We are the United States of America.  That doesn't mean we have to all agree, but we all love our country.  All of us.  Me too - even when I'm voting for the black guy.  I am sick and tired of being disparaged for it.  Somewhere out there are good people who feel the same way about planning on casting their vote for Romney.  I want to put up my yard sign and not worry that it's going to get damaged, stolen or invite vandalism to my property.  We couldn't put any up four years ago for that fear.  That seems ridiculous, doesn't it?  But it's true.  I got heckled as I drove around my neighborhood in Texas for my Obama bumper sticker.  Is that why our ancestors (well, your ancestors - who knows who my ancestors actually even are) fought and maybe died in a bloody revolution?  So that we're afraid to put up yard signs because some narrow minded bigot is going to vandalize our stuff?  I shouldn't have to worry about it.  Romney supporters shouldn't either.  Let's debate the issues.  Let's not belittle the process by calling one another stupid.

You know what?  That's just stupid.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Living Ever After

Recently I laid bare the costs of treating an eating disorder and how that will remain with me and this family for the rest of our lives.  But, what if Kelsey had survived?  What would her life have looked like?  The reality is that the future likely held a lifetime of health issues, and I long ago came to the realization that she probably would not have made it to old age.  She would always have issues with bad teeth, probably serious osteoporosis, potentially liver issues, stomach problems, a weakened heart and immune system.  I remember the moment when it hit me that I would most probably out live her.  But I thought I was talking decades into the future, not at barely 23.  I thought long and hard about this post, because I didn't want, on the one hand, to leave someone struggling with an eating disorder with the wrong thought that there is no hope in recovery.  On the other hand, I think for parents like I once was, it's important to know that a disease like this one is not to be trifled with.  Because it can have long term consequences.  In other words, if you're counting the costs and thinking that it might be best just to ride out the storm, then you should know that the storm for your child will never be fully over.  Our jobs are to give our offspring a chance at a happy, healthy life, isn't it?  Well, then I thought it was worth taking the chance on the post.

Even discounting Kelsey's situation because it's all speculation, Marissa, who dealt with her own eating disorder somewhat in the shadow of her sister, is still dealing with its effects many years later.  What she went through before may have no direct correlation with current her health issues, but what you realize is that we're all sensitive in ways we would not have been under better circumstances.  There has been a wicked sense of deja vu recently in the way I see Marissa treated by health care professionals who are aware of her medical history, but not trained in how to deal with it.  So, I've witnessed probably well-meaning individuals say some horrible things and act in horrible ways and have no clue they are doing it.  And I realized that just because someone is recovered does not mean that the same triggers that caused the original illness do not still exist for them.  One of the things that always scared Kelsey was that she would go to a doctor and they would tell her there was nothing wrong with her.  And, as sick as she was, that was unfortunately the case.  Or at least how she saw it.  What in fact they were saying is, "you know what is wrong with you and what you need to do about it."  That's not what she heard.  She felt dismissed, and it would crush her.  So this past week I took a day off work to go with Marissa to a doctor's appointment.  Her father went too.  We were concerned because the doctor had told her a problem she is having, alarming in its own right, was likely related to her past eating disorder.  That was hard news for a mother to hear, so I wanted to be with her when she had more tests done.  Turns out, there were no tests because her symptoms had abated slightly.  In fairness to her doctor, you would imagine he thought she'd be relieved, but she wasn't.  She's scared.  He let an evil genie out of a bottle when he evoked the image of her eating disorder, and then he seemed dismissive and as if he didn't care.  Truth is, he may not.  Not really.  She's one of many he saw that day.  His job is to treat symptoms, and he judged her just by that.  She's a commodity.  Not much more.  What he didn't take into account is how ED is a disease that is a head game as well as a physical one.  Marissa felt dismissed and was crushed.  And what I realized is that it wouldn't take that much of a push to make her go back to feeling as though food is an enemy.

The obvious answer, it seemed to me, is to find a doctor who is trained in eating disorders, if only because they would understand the complexities of how someone who is in recovery thinks.  I haven't found such a person in the city yet.  And that seems badly familiar too.  That feeling of being alone and with no where to turn to get help.  If we'd stayed in Austin, I would have had a network to turn to, but here, the community surrounding eating disorders seems either non-existent or very small and quiet.  Looking at a network of care providers on the Internet, all I could find are therapists.  No one trained to deal with the physical aspect of the disease.  Does everyone here really think it's just all in people's heads?  I hope not.  But, I have no evidence to the contrary.

Of course my own trigger points come to the fore.  The anger and frustration that I immediately feel when trying to battle people's insensitivity and ignorance is notable.  I was just like that once - insensitive and ignorant of how complex a situation this is, so you'd think I'd be empathetic, but it's my kid we're talking about, so some of that wears away.  But, even under better circumstances, there are things that just make me cringe.  Things people say about weight often bother me, when I doubt I would have even noticed otherwise.  Jokes about eating disorders?  Don't even try it.  Bottom line is that what I have to come to realize is that we'll never be the same people we were before ED came into our lives.  We're tied to it forever, all of us.

The challenge is make sure it doesn't keep us tied up.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Eating disorders are gaining more attention it seems.  As a parent of a bulimic ten years ago and later an anorexic, I felt like I lived on an island.  A really scary, lonely island.  No one wanted to talk about it.  No one wanted to talk to you.  I had never heard of NEDA or any other organization or support system nationally or locally.  Now that seems to be changing.  Which is great!  And there seems to be more attention and understanding about the disease, and the men and women who have it as well.  But, while there are exceptions, there still doesn't seem to be a lot of focus on what "after" looks like.  One would hope that I mean recovery.  Of course, in my case, that's not what I mean for one of my daughters.  And, at the heart of my little recent setback with grief recovery, "after" is what raised its head and said hello.  In a way, our grief and loss kept us from focusing on that part of it.  The fact that there is a real cost to this disease that lingers long, long after the actual disease itself has left the building.  I think this is probably true for any family who has dealt with a major illness.  But, this is my experience, so it's the only one I can talk about.  And I mean that both physically and financially.  The financial stuff first...

I am not sure if my estranged sister-in-law still reads this blog, I assume she doesn't, but this would be the one I hope she would read.  I know it's hard for her to understand what it cost, emotionally and fiscally, to get through the last ten years.  How could she?  It's time that she knew and then maybe she can know that I am not stingy out of pettiness at least.  Probably everyone should read it, maybe in particular insurance providers, and I wouldn't mind if Mitt Romney took a peek at how the other half lives.  But, here's the thing, without going into details because they are boring, a couple of semi-related things happened a few weeks back that reminded me exactly where I stand in the grand scheme of things economically.  Let's put it this way, after meeting with my financial advisor, I realized that it's a good thing I've gotten used to having a postage stamp sized kitchen, because this is as good as it's going to get.  And I've got some serious work to do in the next ten years if I'm going to be set up to be able to have a decent retirement for both Greg and myself.

Don't get me wrong:  we're okay.  We live a nice life.  I have a membership to the zoo, I go to the occasional football game, baseball game and - God willing - hockey game.  But, I think I put blinders on to a certain extent once the house in Texas sold and that meeting brought me back to the reality that I needed to be living in.  And there was some shock involved when I had to realize that, after years of working at a really brutal pace, this is what I have to show for it.  That sounds so greedy.  Maybe it is.  But, the reality is that I'm lucky I have any resources for retirement at all.  The costs we incurred to try and help our daughters will resonant for the rest of our lives.  I know we're not alone.

I think there is a perception among people who have never experienced ED that it is a rich person's disease.  That's not true, but I did observe that the individuals we came into contact with were well off because they were the families who could afford treatment.  Kelsey was all too aware that she was from more modest means than many of her co-residents when she was in treatment, and we were making more money than 75% of Americans!  The reality is that it is a complicated and expensive disease to treat and the recidivism rate is steep.  Here are just a few of our facts:
  • At the time our daughters were ill, average residential treatment cost about $1,000 a day.  Many insurance companies would not cover any of it, others would only cover a portion.  Patients pay up front and then seek insurance reimbursement.  Kelsey went to treatment three different times for a total of five months, or 150 days.  Marissa also had a residential stay for her own reasons.
  • Residential treatment often means leaving your geographic area, at least if you want decent care.  That involves travel costs:  airfare, hotels, maybe rental cars, and time away from work.
  • Kelsey began therapy at 14, so for nine years she visited at least one therapist once a week.  Later Marissa had her own and we went to family therapy.  In all that time, one counselor did take insurance, none of the rest did.  Sessions cost on average about $100 per, but we would not have made it through as long as we did without it.  That component was critical.
  • Nutritionists.  Both girls went to them.  Kelsey hated it and refused to go long-term, so that was not a major expense in her case.  Marissa stuck with it.  $100/session on average.  Maybe you can find one who takes insurance, but we didn't.
  • While not all patients see a psychiatrist, we had one as part of the treatment team - and that's what it is, a whole team of people.  You put together a group of professionals who all have to work together to try and help.  Many shrinks do take insurance, but ours did not.  We chose him though because he was good.  Many are not so good, or rather, many are not right for the patient.  Probably more than any other medical discipline, you have to have a level of comfort with the individual prescribing you psychotropics and messing with your head.
  • Medical doctors.  You'll probably have more than one.  Kelsey's primary care provider was a specialist in eating disorders.  We were lucky that he lives in Austin.  He wasn't successful with Kelsey, but at least he understood the situation and didn't make it worse.  But, he didn't take insurance and his services were specialized and therefore not cheap.  He had an initial intake fee that was nearly $700 at the time and the per visit cost was, as I recall, $160 a visit.
  • Medications.  Those are covered by insurance in most cases, but the co-pays add up.
  • Rent and other living expenses.  We were told Kelsey should not come home when she was discharged the last time from residential treatment.  This is not atypical for individuals recovering from issues like ED or addiction:  you don't bring the individual back to the place where they practiced the behavior.  Talk about a trigger.  Obviously that is not recoverable by insurance.
  • For three years running, we spent out of pocket the same or more than my gross income after insurance paid what we would coax out of them for medical expenses.  That is not taking into account any of the other ancillary expenses.
I did have to borrow from Mother and still owed her when she died.  We took out a second mortgage on the house and went through almost all our retirement and all of Kelsey's college fund.  We never filed for bankruptcy, but I thought about it.  A lot.  I kept current on our bills, something that I'm highly proud of, but I constantly had to worry about money on top of everything else and sometimes there just wasn't enough.  Again, we were making more than 75% of Americans, and I was digging through the change jar for grocery money.  So, sitting here today, in my little house with its little kitchen, I'm probably pretty damn lucky indeed that I have what I have.  But, to the end of my days, ED will impact all of us.  I will never have that time when I don't have to worry about money, at least a little.  Do I regret spending it?  No, I was trying to save my children.  Would I spend it again?  Of course.  But, this is my life after ED.  Humbled and modest.

At the end of the day, when my daughter was taking her final slide, I had nothing left to help her.  That's the only part I regret.  The part I really struggle to get past and forgive myself for.  I just didn't have enough money left.  It's too late for Kelsey, so I worry now about those people whose parents don't make more than 75% of the rest of us.  What do they do?  Because while there may be more awareness now, it's no less complicated, and it's no less expensive.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

On Thin Ice

One of the things that occurred to me is that I was sliding down a slippery slope back into self-pity and grief because the single most important thing that got me through the last couple of years is in danger of being taken away.  It's not my family, it's not my work, it's not even my beloved dogs - although collectively they are older than I am and I know I'm on borrowed time before we lose another.  All those things are very important to me, but they are reasons I have not to wallow in misery, but not necessarily the way I manage not to do it (with a noted exception that I'll come to).  No, it's hockey.  I really, really love hockey.  For reasons I've talked about before.  It's better than football for taking your mind off your troubles for a few reasons, but one I'm oh so painfully aware of at the moment:  when the Steelers lose, you've got a whole week to stew over that fact, and there aren't many chances to lose before it impacts your season.  If the Pens lose, unless it's the playoffs, I pout for a bit, then move on to the next game in a couple of days.  The pace is so fast and furious that there is no time for worrying too much over the past.  At least not here, where we can put a team with Cup potential on the ice.  And a loss, even a string of them, won't derail your team completely.  All the grief counseling in the world couldn't do for me what the Penguins ended up doing.  Well, it is likely that the season is going to be delayed, and could potentially be shortened or not happen at all (hey, it's happened before) because of an impasse on revenue sharing.  The deadline is looming and there seems to be little real movement.  This will be the third lockout in 17 years.  And they wonder why they continue to be, as my husband says, a "second tier" sport.  I'm angry.  I'm freaked.  What will I do?!  And that's when it hit me - I'm entirely dependent upon something that I can't control and therefore it has control over me that it shouldn't.

I think I've probably written in the past that you should use whatever tools you can find in the toolbox to get you through the dark times - within reason.  Drugs and alcohol are not the answer, because that all catches up with you and just makes it far worse.  But, I'm sure - because it's what I did - I encouraged readers to spend time in pursuits that diverted their attention and absorbed them in happier things.  I am not particularly flip-flopping on that.  I think in the short term you have to do whatever it takes to get through the day and then the next one and the one after that.  At some point, I realize, faced with a lockout that everyone else seems to be taking in stride (because they've been through it before), that real success in grief recovery is to come to some sort of inner peace.  Or at least inner acceptance.  I've always known that, I think.  But, when you're faced with your first real test, you are tested in more ways than one, and one of the things you have to find out about yourself is how far you've come toward learning what it takes to be strong from within, not just from without.  In short, you have to do the work yourself, Sidney Crosby can't do it for you.

Starting from there, trying to decide how to get to that point, there a few things I will tell you so far:

  • The dips, which are inevitable, are not as deep as the original loss was.  It hurts, sure, but not that white hot fire you first had.  So it is easier to overcome the down times.  My guess:  it will get easier and easier with time.  I doubt the little pings will ever go away because I mean, think about it, you're talking about the loss of someone who grew inside you.  How can that ever be made completely right, right?
  • You have to learn what your true support systems are.  Hint: it's not hockey.  I understand on one level now why so many people turn to religion in the face of great loss.  Heaven doesn't have lockouts.  (On the other hand, I also get why some people turn their back on God - what loving God could take a child from you?)  Maybe it's a grief support group.  Maybe it's your friends.  For me, it's Cheyenne, my alpha dog.  She is sensitive and accepting of my moods, and wants to help.  I don't have to worry about burdening her with my troubles in the face of her own - as long as she gets to sniff out giant groundhogs every night in the local cemetery, she is there for me.  And even when I have to skip a night or two walking her, she still loves me and listens to me when I'm sad.  Can't buy that kind of support.
  • Be patient with yourself.  I thought the road through to recovery was a straight shot.  Turns out it's not.  But it's still a road that can be traveled.  You can do it.  So can I.  I'm pretty sure.
All in all, I can tell you that I'm sort of tired and drained, but I'm still plugging along.  I'm bouncing - well, maybe not exactly bouncing - but coming back from the last few weeks of tough times.  If you're reading this because you've experienced the same thing, I can tell you to hang tough.   You won't believe me right at this moment, but you'll just have to trust that it gets better again.  Just don't depend on hockey to ride to the rescue. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

China Plates

"Getting over it so soon?  But the words are ambiguous.  To say the patient is getting over it after an operation for appendicitis is one thing; after he's had his leg off it is quite another.  After that operation  either the wounded stump heals or the man dies.  If it heals, the fierce, continuous pain will stop.  Presently he'll get back his strength and be able to stump about on his wooden leg.  He has 'got over it.'  But he will probably have recurrent pains in the stump all his life, and perhaps pretty bad ones; and he will always be a one-legged man.  There will be hardly any moment when he forgets it."
- C. S. Lewis
A Grief Observed

Trigger.  That's a word I haven't used in a long time.  I haven't really had to, but suddenly it seems to have made a reappearance in my life.   Starting about three weeks ago, it seems like I can barely get through a day without something triggering me and reminding me of Kelsey and what we lost.  The worst of it is that it is not always bad things, although sometimes that is the case.  Sometimes it is a situation that reminds me of the bad old days when I was struggling to make ends meet despite bringing in four times the median income.  (More on that in a later post, because dealing with the long-term impact on families that treating the disease creates deserves it's own post.)  Sometimes it is seeing someone in a crowd who is clearly sick with ED.  But, sometimes it is something that should be a happy moment.  A contact from an old friend who has been out of touch since before Kelsey died.  A speech by Michelle Obama, who styled herself Mom-in-Chief.  Those are happy things that nonetheless leave me drained because they cause the tape to rewind back to a different lifetime, a different me.  Or, seeing friends of Kelsey's become moms.  That's a tough one.  Beautiful and wonderful on the one hand.  Achingly painful on another.

To illustrate with just one example:  I watched a documentary about the Obama administration on MSNBC before the keynote speeches on Tuesday and they naturally showed snippets from the inauguration.  I was still working at my old position when that took place - it was a few weeks before I would be laid off - so I brought my portable television in and let the staff of my little department watch it.  History in the making; they deserved to be able to pause and be a part of it.  My oldest daughter was alive then.  She got to see the first African American take office.  She put a cartoon of Martin Luther King's imagined reaction on our refrigerator around then that stayed there until I began packing.  My mother, of course, was alive to see it too, although by then she was in the nursing home, and I was doing that delicate dance to make sure I kept the channels away from news because her reaction was very different than Kelsey's - I watched a lot of NCIS that year.  Now neither of them will be around to see if he can win a second term.  Can it really only have been four years ago?  Less than four years ago actually.  And, of course, I watch the Obamas interact with their two beautiful, beautiful daughters who look so happy and whole and think, "Wow, they are the most powerful and busy people in the free world and they still manage to be good parents.  If they can do it, then I must truly have sucked."  Self-pity?  Sure.  But, it's hard not to go down that road.

What you realize is that you're a lot like a plate who is broken straight down the middle.  You can be glued back together and be functional, but you have to know that you're never quite the same.  There will be that fault line always that is a little weaker than before and, when overloaded, is subject to cracking again.  And once the fissure begins to give way, it's hard to stop it from snapping all the way. Things that individually applied a month or so ago would catch my notice, but not send me into a tailspin, now threaten to undo me.  Take the not one, but two clearly anorexic girls at the Steelers 5K on Sunday.  Both Marissa and I noticed them.  I had seen a woman in similar condition in my own neighborhood power walking when Cheyenne and I were out less-than-power-walking.  Her legs were thin, but muscle bound.  Her arms were the tell.  They were like twigs, no muscle, no fat, skin stretched tautly over bone.  Three such disturbing appearances inside of a week would always rattle me a little I think, but I was already on shaky ground, so those women seemed to be spectres sent to haunt me and I was highly agitated by them.  Things just keep piling onto the plate.

You know it's going to happen, the dips on the scale, the rolls down the mountain, whatever cheesy metaphor you want to employ.  Of course, knowing you'll have bad days and then actually having them are different.  But, when faced with them, then you're faced with them and have to deal with them.  That's what I'm dealing with currently.  The question therefore is what to do about it?  I've been thinking about that actually.  I've got some theories that I'll test over the weekend.  Stay tuned for the results.

"don't it feel like sunshine afterall
the world we love forever, gone
we're only just as happy
as everyone else seems to think we are"
- Jimmy Eat World
The World You Love