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.