Mid-life Meshugas and a Shameless Plug

It’s been a while since I published anything here. There’s been a lot of life going on.

I got a job in 2017, about 10 months after my mom died. In many ways, it was my dream job. The job stretched me and made me grow in a lot of new directions — which led inevitably, if not tangentially, to my desire to open up a yarn shop and build a diverse and inclusive fiber community.

I lost my job in 2019. The pain of that was nearly as bad as losing my mom had been. That threw me headlong into a heavy depression.

My son became increasingly anxious about school and his grades took a nosedive. Add worry to the depression.

Gradually, I started to put the pieces of my life back together. I started to dream of my yarn store and fiber community. I started a Facebook group and added a new Instagram account. I started attending Stitches and Vogue Knitting events, meeting some of my heroes and building a network in the process. Then I heard of someone I knew opening a yarn store with a dear friend of hers. My dreams started to look more real everyday. Even my ever-reserved and skeptical husband began to support the idea (he had always supported me).

I had even gotten a really cool playing gig. Life was looking up.

And then… well, you know. The ‘Rona.

Funnily enough, I had just gotten really sick with a weird cold/flu thing that was somehow… different. I had a fever and I was having trouble breathing. I’d had pneumonia before, but this was different. After 36 hours of trying to take care of myself and letting hubby pump me full of soup and toast, I went to my doctor. COVID protocols were already in effect at the office. My symptoms were like the flu — kinda — but the strep and flu tests came back negative.

In retrospect, my doc and I figured out I’d had the ‘Rona. The fact that I was fatigued for about 6 weeks after I “recovered” was a big hint. I was lucky.

My son’s last day of in person school for his junior year was on his 17th birthday. His depression and anxiety hit new highs.

My daughter had to leave her college campus right after spring break. There was no graduation ceremony.

We were lucky. My hubby can work from home and our financial situation is pretty stable. We have a lot to be grateful for.

None of that makes this easy: not the Corona virus, not the senseless murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and not the constant strain of living in this increasingly divisive political climate. Life has just not been anything approaching normal for months and it’s left us unmoored.

But dreams live on.

I have spent a lot of time, and a fair amount of cash, creating a new website and blog for my work in progress, For Ewe: an Inclusive Fiber Community. I’ve created a logo. I’ve started shadowing my friend at her yarn store to learn more about how it’s done. I’m knitting up a storm and writing about it. I’m creating a brand. Baby steps.

So, if you have followed me here at violamom2tellsall, please check out 4-ewe.com and follow me there too. Tell your crafty friends to follow me too. Help me build my dream.

Maybe writing there regularly will encourage me to write more here too. Stranger things have happened. Stay tuned.

Hystery (her story)

Perhaps it’s a by-product of age, or maybe genetics, but the last few years of my reproductive health have been tricky for me.  An incident of extreme pain and heavy bleeding put me in the hospital back in 2007.  The doctor discovered cysts on both ovaries, one of which gave him a cause for concern.  The next 8 months were filled with tests: blood tests, exams full of poking and prodding, and both external and internal sonograms.  I spent that time waiting to hear if I had ovarian cancer or not.  I was 39.  My kids were 9 and 4.  My son had recently been diagnosed with autism, and my husband was physically present yet somehow always somewhere else in spirit.

I was scared shitless.

The thoughts flooded in: mortality, death, fear, anxiety, uncertainty.  I worried about what John and the kids would do without me.  I didn’t want to die.  This was all on top of so many other changes and challenges that I was stressed out to the point of no sleep and hair loss.

After months of not knowing what was going to happen, I finally heard from my doctor what I had prayed to hear.  I did not have cancer.  The cysts were shrinking.  I was going to be okay.

I was just days away from turning 40.  I was too relieved to care about the significance of this milestone birthday.  I was just overjoyed to be living to see it.

During this time, there was one piece of information among all the others that stood out and stabbed me in the heart every time I thought of it.

I was not able to have any more children.

The news was hard to swallow.  I had been on the fence about having more kids because of my son’s diagnosis, and also because of the financial woes we were experiencing.  Even so, I was not ready to give up on that part of my identity.  I didn’t know what it would mean to be unable to have children, to be one of THOSE WOMEN.  Yes, I admit (with some significant shame) that I had always felt sorry for “barren” women.  I didn’t think of my uterus as superior to theirs, but I had embraced my own fertility and childbearing so fully that I couldn’t be compassionate toward my sisters as I should’ve been.  Pregnancy and motherhood became strong feminist statements for me.  I pitied those who couldn’t experience it (but not those who chose not to — that was a weird dichotomy for me…).

Now I was one of them.  I grieved the loss of the babies I would never have.  I cried at this unwelcome change in my status.  I worried what this change would bring to my marriage, which was going through some pretty heavy difficulties.  Even though I was happy to be alive and not have cancer, I was devastated that this choice had been taken away from me.  It was one thing to not want more children and another to not even have the option of more children.  I was pissed.

Frankly, I was really a big baby about the whole thing.  In retrospect, I’m pretty ashamed to even admit that I felt this way.  I’m also happy to say that I’ve come to my senses.

After our move to Oberlin in late 2008, I found a new gynecologist. I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), told (again) that I was unable to have children due to a “uterus full of fibroids”, and put on birth control pills and medication for pre-diabetes.

I’d always been predisposed to depression, and this situation sent me reeling. It was a slow and steady decline into isolation and drinking too much wine in front of the tv. I’d also become obsessed with running and physical fitness, which wasn’t bad in and of itself. I was looking for something to fill the hole created by the loss of my career, my friends, and my fertility. Not everyone could see it, but I was spinning out of control.

Even worse than finding out I was unable to have more kids, I changed gynecologists and found out that I was not infertile and never had been. At that point I felt so cheated. It was another knife in my heart.

It was a long journey back to feeling good about myself after that. I did a lot of hard work and soul searching. Eventually, I came to terms with my body as it was. I accepted my situation and moved forward.

About a year ago, I noticed that my periods were getting heavier and more painful, despite the fact that I’d been on the pill for a few years. I was seeing a primary care physician, but I’d put off finding a new gynecologist (the third since my move). My doctor referred me to someone she recommended highly. Unfortunately, she was also ridiculously popular and damned hard to get an appointment with. I finally was able to schedule something two or three months out, which seemed to be okay.

Toward the end of April, I went in for my yearly check of my lady bits: external and transvaginal sonograms and a 3D mammogram. Everything seemed fine, and so did the tests of my blood and urine. I went home feeling like things were okay. John left town the next day. Everything was going as it always did.

Four days later I left work early and drove myself to the ER.

I had not felt pelvic pain like that since my trip the hospital in 2007. I was scared, alone, and worried about my kids. There were more tests, including a sonogram that necessitated a catheter. I was embarrassed and humiliated and I just wanted to go home. I was told that there was nothing readily apparent going on and that I needed to do everything I could to get my appointment moved to the soonest possible date.

By the time I saw the new doctor, I was ready to remove this defective uterus myself with dental floss and a spoon. She was somewhat more cautious and significantly less interested in hopping straight to the surgical option. In hindsight, I really appreciate her reluctance to cut first and ask questions later. She took me off the pill so we could see how my natural cycles would go. A cycle or two. She asked me to come back in about six weeks.

As bad as they’d been, they got worse without the hormonal help the pill provided.. I went back as prescribed and reported my situation to the doctor. I will always appreciate how she listened to me throughout this process, and how she laid out all my options with their pros and cons. She was never in at hot hurry to start cutting me to pieces, which clearly showed her respect for my health and my body.

Our first step would be a procedure called endometrial ablation. After dilating my cervix and scraping the endometrium, the doctor would use an instrument to cauterize the vessels supplying blood to my uterus. I would be under a light general anesthetic because the entire thing would take less than an hour. My recovery would take about a week. There was the possibility that I might continue to get periods, but they would be lighter and eventually cease. I would avoid a more extensive surgery and keep my uterus. It seemed like a win-win situation.

I had the ablation the week after I returned from vacation in Virginia. Aside from some normal post-op bleeding and a bad reaction to the pain killers, I was doing fine. My post-op check up was really good and I was cleared to return to normal activities. Everything seemed fine.

For six weeks, I had no period and no pain. Finally, I thought, I have some relief. It was short lived.

I got my first period on October 4. I was surprised, but I was aware that it might happen. I was told that it would be shorter and lighter than before. It was neither of those things. Within 24 hours, the flow was heavier than it had been in years with episodes of gushing that soaked to the outside of my clothes. I tried desperately not to panic, but I was petrified with fear. I called the doctor on call and waited to hear back.

I was put on a medication to stop the bleeding and told to see my doctor as soon as possible. When I saw her, we discussed my options once again and again I was sent home to wait and think. Was this bleeding a one time thing or the shape of things to come?

That period lasted 35 days. At the end, I was gushing and hemorrhaging again and had to take more pills to stop the bleeding. I was hysterical. There was no way I could live with this level of blood loss and still function as I waited the two to five years before menopause. All I could do was work and come home to lie down. I was gaining weight and feeling like a sloth. I knew what I had to do. I was afraid, but my frustration and feelings of hopelessness had overridden my fear. At my next visit, I said the words I was trying not to say for months.

I want a hysterectomy.

From here things moved pretty quickly. I made the decision with my doctor on November 5. I was scheduled for surgery on November 24. I made arrangements at work and for my kids. John took time off to be with me the day of the surgery. I sought advice and council from women I knew had been down this road. I did research. I prayed. I asked folks to pray for me.

I tried to come to peace with what I was doing. I knew I was making the right choice, but it was a hard choice. Perhaps it seems overly dramatic to some, but I mourned the loss of my babies’ first home, and the children I was never able to have. I worried about how this change would effect my sex life and how John would see me. I worried about how I would see myself.

The day came, and I kissed my kids goodbye and sent them to school. John drove me to the hospital and I was taken back to prepare for surgery. I met all the nurses, anesthesiologists, and assisting physicians before my doctor came back to see me. We had discussed everything beforehand: she was doing a laparoscopic super-cervical hysterectomy, taking my Fallopian tubes, and leaving my ovaries if they appeared healthy at the time of surgery. My cervix would be left behind to prevent vaginal prolapse later on. There would be one incision, about an inch long, just under my belly button. Surgery would take about 90 minutes and I could even go home that night if I wanted.

I said no to that last part. I wanted to be observed by professionals overnight and not put John through the task of taking care of me post-op. Knowing what I know now, I’m glad I chose to stay.

John stayed with me until it was time for me to go to the OR. He kissed me and told me he loved me. He smiled and did his level best not to look scared. I knew he was, and that was okay. He put on a brave face for me. He knew I was terrified and conflicted. One look at the tears in my eyes told him that.

Before my previous procedure, I had been given a shot to “take the edge off”. I had gotten one this time as well, but it didn’t seem to be working. Before, I had fallen asleep (or so it seemed to me) before I got to the operating room. This time I was still awake and aware. Why wasn’t I asleep yet? What was happening? I saw the OR, I heard my doctor greet me, and I saw some of the apparatus and instruments. I panicked. Please, God, knock me out now. Just as I was about to ask someone why the hell I was still conscious, a man on my left took my hand and told me he needed to stretch out my arm. His voice was kind and reassuring.

It was the last thing I heard.

Darkness fell over me quickly. From that darkness, seamlessly, I remember gradually becoming conscious again. I was in post-op recovery. It was over.

I was really thirsty. The breathing tube had left my throat scratchy and dry. I began to feel pain creep into the periphery of my awareness of my surroundings. The nurse gave me morphine. It felt like she was asking me over and over what number the  pain was, and over and over I said 5 or 6. I thought this heifer was going to OD me, so I stopped telling her 5 or 6 and just said 3. I went back to sleep after that.

All I remember saying other than that was, “I want John. Where’s John?” I wanted to see his face and hear his voice. Only then would I know everything was okay. He was waiting for me in my room. I was groggy and only vaguely coherent, but I was tremendously comforted by the sound of his voice. It was after that initial feeling of comfort that the surprise came.

There had been a complication during surgery. There were “unusually strong adhesions” between my uterus and the lower part of my colon. During surgery, my doctor had to call in a consulting colorectal surgeon to come assist her. There was an additional small incision made and my uterus was able to come out without damaging my colon. But my doctor was concerned that someone with no prior surgical history and in good health as I was would have adhesions like this. I was told to see a gastroenterologist to check this out. The hysterectomy was a success, and now I had to deal with round 2: the battle of the sigmoid colon.

I was seriously beginning to wonder just how twisted God’s sense of humor really was.

Since the surgery, I have been on a slow steady incline toward normal. I’m beginning to exercise again and my energy level is increasing. My worries about my sex life were… unfounded, shall we say. I’m still mourning a little, especially when I see women with babies. My own beautiful children are each standing at a threshold, about to enter new phases of life. That makes it hard for me too, I suppose. My daughter is nearly 18 and about to go to college. My son is growing and changing on his journey to manhood. My time for babies is done, at least until they have babies of their own and I have the privilege of being a grandmother.

Rites of passage are common for young people moving from one phase of life to the next. We celebrate them in our spiritual, cultural, and religious lives with bar mitzvahs, first communions, confirmations, and other celebrations. I wish there were a rite of passage for women, and men, whose children are growing up and leaving. I will have devoted the vast majority of my life to the upbringing of my two kids and their subsequent well-being. They will move on and leave me, as they should. How will society mark my passage from fertility and reproduction to my current state? What am I now that I can no longer bear children and the ones I did bear are no longer babies? I am neither young nor old, neither maiden nor crone. I am a woman in between times. I am a woman who must tell the world who she is, rather than wait for that world to define her. I’m a woman who must change the way she sees the value of womanhood rather than give up and feel she is somehow less than a woman as she is.

I am a woman. I am still here. I am still strong. I am not defined only by my parts or my babies. There is so much more to me than that.

Losing my uterus has taught me how to look beyond the basic functional definitions of womanhood and to see myself and my sisters in a new light. If my life was never defined by my parts, then losing them doesn’t end my life. That’s such a simple thought, but it was too much for me to grasp until now.

Today, I am moving away from my grief to a new life. The future is bright. I look forward to the next leg of my journey.

Missing You

Day 24: Something you miss

Wow.  There are a lot of things that come to me.  Perhaps I need to make a list rather than try to put one topic into paragraphs.

  1. My grandmother: her voice, her giggle, her food, her unconditional love, her advice.
  2. My dad: there’s so much I never said and I’ll never have the chance.  I have to live with that, and it hurts.
  3. My babies: mind you, they still live with me (for now — one’s off to college soon), but I really miss them as babies.  I know babies are labor intensive and exhausting, but my kids were beautiful and amazing and I wish I’d enjoyed that time with them more.
  4. New York: yes, I’ve been saying that for over seven years, ever since we left.  The New York I moved to in 1990 no longer exists.  Hell, the NYC I left in 2008 no longer exists.  I miss the raw energy of the City, with all its creativity and crazy.  I miss the feeling that making it there was the end all and be all in the life of an artist.  Now it’s just an expensive and sanitized Disneyland full of chain and big box stores.  The little businesses and restaurants are closing.  People in other parts of the country don’t seem to understand that NYC had its share of mom and pop stores too.  They’re gone now.  It’s so sad that it makes me cry.
  5. My hair: this always happens after I cut it short.  It’ll pass. I’ll grow it long again and then cut it all off again, all in 7-10 year cycles.
  6. My friends: my social life here in Ohio is very different from the ones I’ve had pretty much anywhere else.  I miss the closeness I enjoyed with my neighbors in New York, and with my colleagues.  People keep to themselves and their families more here.  It’s hard for a person like me who’s used to creating her family wherever she calls home.
  7. The over 40 family members and friends who have died since 2008: among them were my colleagues and mentors from my NYC music scene days, along with treasured members of John’s family and my own.  It got so bad at one point that folks were passing away in groups of three within a week for a while.  There’s been a lot of loss.
  8. Ethnic diversity: I miss riding the subway with Orthodox Jewish diamond merchants, Mexican mariachi bands, old ladies in saris, and Korean restaurant workers who smell like kimchee.  I miss that feeling of each subway car being a mini United Nations.  I miss living somewhere where catching a cab is a magic carpet ride that might take you to the middle east or sub-Saharan Africa.  I miss readily available sushi delivered to my door so many times that the restaurant sent me not one but two Christmas cards.  What I really miss is that Arabs are just another group of people in NYC, and not viewed and talked about with suspicion and trepidation.  In NYC, folks were folks and we all lived, worked, and co-existed without too much trouble most of the time.  I’m not that dark, but I’m often the darkest thing in the room around here.  It’s gone from being annoying to being just plain infuriating.
  9. The ocean: I’m an east coast kinda gal.  I need an ocean.  This Lake Erie beach shit is NOT cutting it.
  10. Cheese steaks, hoagies, bagels, (real) pizza, pastrami, egg creams, and Sabrett’s hot dogs: ‘nuf said.
  11. The feeling that my entire life is ahead of me: at nearly 48, that’s not really true anymore.  Sure, there’s a lot of life left for me to live, but I’m rapidly approaching the time where I will have lived more than half of my life.  I may live to be 96, but I doubt I’ll live to be 120, if you catch my drift.  I’m not 40.  I’m not 30.  I’m definitely not the wide eyed 24 year old I was when I last graduated from something (Juilliard in 1993).  More than ever, the phrase life is too short is becoming truly meaningful.
  12. My uterus: another odd thing to say, but still true.  We parted ways nearly two months ago.  I don’t miss how it was in the final days, but I miss feeling like I’m whole.  I miss the possibility of having more babies.  My two are awesome, but I have always regretted not having more children.  Having my hysterectomy ushered me into a new stage of life that there is no way to prepare for — very much like becoming a parent or losing a parent.  There’s no way to explain how it feels.  It’s just the new normal.  Most days it’s okay, sometimes even great.  Then someone brings a baby into the room and I start to cry.  It’s hard to change how I see myself, but I’m trying.

I miss you all.

Day 4: 10 (Interesting) Things About Me

 

I’m going to cheat a bit on this one…

Nearly seven years ago, back when publishing notes on Facebook was a thing, I responded to the request from a friend to post 25 Random Things About Me.  I was surprised that I had 26 things to post, even though I probably could’ve condensed a few of them into a single item.  So, in the interest of conservation (reduce, reuse, recycle), I’m going to use some of that list here.

I put interesting in parentheses in the title because I’m not sure everyone will find these 10 things interesting.  Here’s hoping!

  1. I found out that I was adopted when I was nearly 30 years old and my firstborn was about 4 weeks old.  My “Aunt Cheryl” is really my mom.  Needless to say, this was some pretty earth-shaking news, especially in my hormonally challenged state.  Two years later, John helped me find my birth father.  So now I have four parents (though one is deceased), and my kids have six grandparents.  I’m also now no longer the only child I thought I was.  I have 5 brothers and sisters (again, one is deceased).  In the end, finding all this out was a tremendous blessing.
  2. I met my husband in 8th grade.  We sat across from each other in home room.  He thought I was cute.  I thought he was weird.  In 9th grade, I dated his best friend (who turned out to be gay — just my luck…).  We did eventually begin to date, right before he moved to Vermont.  I broke up with him on Valentine’s Day.  It took nearly two years and the kissing of MANY frogs to get me to see the mistake I’d made in dumping him.  We’ve been together since 1988 and married since 1992.
  3. Our daughter was born in the back seat of a 1997 Lincoln Town Car at the corner of 104th Street and Riverside Drive in NYC.  John delivered her.  This was the first of several diva moments she’s had in her nearly 18 years of life.  Giving birth to her was a life-changing experience for me.  I’ve never been the same since.
  4. Singing was my first musical expression.  I first remember “being caught” singing by my mother when I was 3.  We had just recently gone to a wedding, and the two musicians sang the song “September” from The Fantastiks.  That’s what I was singing to myself in my room as I played with my blocks.  Mom thought it was the radio.  When she figured out it was me, she carried me to her bedroom and made me sing it again for my dad.  I still remember the look on their faces; they looked at me as if I were some kind of freak.  That has, unfortunately, followed me since.
  5. I am a violist today, and have been since I was 16, but I started off playing violin.  Violin wasn’t even my first choice of instrument.  I wanted to play French Horn like my Aunt Mary Ann, but my parents didn’t want me to do ANYTHING  Mary Ann did.  So I talked them into letting me play violin.  They never really supported my love of music, often telling me that Black folks didn’t play stringed instruments or play Classical music.  Again, they made me feel like a freak for loving music and wanting to do it professionally.  They never have understood what I do.  This had been one of the saddest things in my life for many years.
  6. I wore braces on my teeth from the age of 22 to 25.  I still had on my bottom braces on my wedding day.  While it really sucked at the time, the investment in my smile was worth the pain.
  7. I love to practice and perform solo Bach more than any other music in the entire world.  It is the purest expression of who I am as a musician.
  8. Beethoven is my favorite composer.  When I was in Germany, I took the train from Cologne to Bonn to visit the Beethovenhaus Museum.  On the top floor, there is the room where he was born.  I remember standing in the doorway and crying like a baby at the thought of such greatness coming into the world in such a tiny space.  I also cry every time I hear or play the third movement of his Ninth Symphony.  I’ve been a musician for decades and I’ve heard and played a lot of music, but I’ve never heard anything more lovely and moving than that.
  9. I had an out of body experience the only time I ever performed the Shostakovich Viola Sonata.  I dedicated that particular performance to a friend of mine who had just died of AIDS.  While playing, I burst into tears during the climax of the last movement.  For many years, I remembered every note.  It was a really powerful experience.
  10. My son’s autism has been the biggest challenge for me.  Every view I ever had on raising children, education, and the way the world views the differently abled has been challenged, tested, and reevaluated.  There have been times when I literally thought I couldn’t raise him and that God had given him the wrong mother.  However, I have come to see that his triumphs outnumber his defeats and that he does benefit from my presence in his life.  Sometimes I think he’s raising me because he’s taught me so much.  He’s a beautiful boy and I love him so much.  It’s hard to watch the world misunderstand him, or to see his peers going on to do things he’s not ready to tackle.  All I can do is pray and do everything I can to make him as strong and capable as possible.  No one will limit this child as long as I’m alive.  Only the sky is his limit, no matter what anyone else may think.  I will never give up on him.  He is my sweet young man.

So, there are the 10 things I chose to share/disclose.  Interesting?  Perhaps.  Good for me?  As an exercise, this was absolutely perfect for me, especially on New Year’s Eve.  Tomorrow is a new day and a new year.  Maybe I’ll have a whole new list to share next December 31.

Daddy

Dear Daddy,

It’s been more than two years since you died.  I’m still pissed at you.

You left me before we could figure out how this relationship was supposed to work.  You left me before I could prove to you that I was a grown-up and not the little girl you insisted on seeing when you looked at me.  You left me to deal with Mom, knowing that you were the only thing that kept us from fighting constantly.

Daddy, there was so much I wanted to say to you.  I wanted to tell you that I forgave you for all of the silence and absence.  I wanted to talk with you about the drinking and the legacy of pain and resentment it left behind, and how I was able to let all that go as I walked my own path to sobriety and recovery.  I wanted to be honest and open after years of secrets and lies.

I wanted to tell you that I loved you in spite of it all.  I’ll never have that chance now.

You’re missing so much, Daddy.  You never got to meet our dog Michael, which we got just a few weeks before you left us.  Now we have a girl doggie named Lola.  The kids love the dogs so much and so do John and I.

You missed two summers of your grandson playing baseball.  He’s not very good, but he finally got a hit toward the end of his second season.  The team gave him the game ball.  He was so proud.

You would’ve been too.

Iain cried like a baby when I told him his Granddaddy was dead.  He was devastated.  He loves you so much still.  You are still a powerful presence in his life.

You’ll miss your granddaughter’s high school graduation next year.  She’s worked so hard.  You missed her school plays and her second trip to Europe.  You missed violin recitals and orchestra concerts.  You’ve missed the growth spurt that took her to nearly six feet tall.  She’s more beautiful today than she was as a little girl.  My baby, my firstborn, is almost a woman —  and you’re missing it.

Mom misses you too.  Her grief was huge and overpowering.  She almost wouldn’t let me see you to say goodbye.  She lashed out at me because she was angry with you for leaving her so close to your 50th wedding anniversary.  I had to hold her together and keep my grief locked away in my heart until I nearly exploded.  She was mean and selfish and cruel to me, but I promised you that I would take care of her — so I did.  I hated you for leaving me to deal with her.  I hated you for dying.

In my heart, I still don’t believe you had to die.  I think you were stubborn and proud and it killed you.  You should’ve gone to the hospital.  You shouldn’t have refused help.  You weren’t tired.  You didn’t need to rest.  You were bleeding internally and you needed help.  Why, Daddy?  Why did you have to be so stubborn?  Where is your pride now?  It’s gone and you along with it.  It availed you nothing.  It took you away from the people who loved you the most.

Your pride deprived me of my first true love and the most complicated relationship I’ve ever had with a man.  It’s been said that pride comes before a fall.  Yours was one helluva fall.

Your pride sucks.

I’m sorry to still be angry after so long.  I hurt more than anything else.  My heart hurts because I miss you.  Your death made me a member of a club that no one wants to belong to.  I hate that I feel this way.

Now that you’re gone and there’s nothing to be done about it, I’m glad that I am finally able to tell you all this.  Perhaps now you can hear my words in a way that you never could in life.  Maybe now we will finally understand each other.  I hope so.

I am comforted by my faith which tells me that we will meet again someday when it is my time to leave this life.  Then you and I and Grandma will all be together again, laughing and eating as we once did.  Then our love for each other will have no conditions or obstacles.  It will be as perfect as God’s love for all His children and as Jesus’ love for His father.  That is a great comfort to me and it eases the pain of your loss.

Daddy, I don’t want to be angry anymore.  I don’t want to resent you for leaving me behind.  I want to accept that you’re gone and only hold on to the good things that remain.  I would not be who I am today without you: the loud music listening and occasionally foul-mouthed North Philly girl who survived and got out.  I want you to be proud of me.  It’s all I ever wanted.

I want you to rest in peace.  I want to live in peace.

I love you, Daddy.  I miss you.  And I’m sorry for everything that was ever wrong between us.  I really am all grown up now.  Thank you for loving me as a little girl and helping me grow into the woman I am today.

You are always in my heart, Daddy.  Your memory truly is eternal for me and I will keep it alive for your grandchildren.

Goodbye, Daddy.  Until we meet again with the angels.

Lisa

Grandma

I have struggled with this particular post for a really long time. Telling my grandmother’s story is a daunting task. She lived a long and rich life marked by poverty, tragedy, and adversity, all of which made her remarkably strong and resilient. There was no way to tell the whole story in one shot without leaving out some pretty important stuff. No draft looked right to my eye or seemed to do her real justice. So I decided to talk about only one part of the story — the part with which I am uniquely familiar. I decided to talk about something that is at once really painful and really wonderful.

I’m going to write about the day Grandma died.

There is some back story to all this, so please bear with me a moment.

I am almost the age now that Grandma was when I was born. I grew up in her house until I was 13. I saw her nearly every day of my life until my parents and I moved to a new house in 1981. She taught me about unconditional love, but she also taught me how to be tough and strong. She doted on me and spoiled me. She told me I was as good as, smart as, and capable as any man. She told me nothing mattered more than my getting good grades in school and going to college. That was my biggest goal in life. I wanted to go to college more than anything else in the world, because it was what she wanted me to do. I would’ve done anything to please her.

My Grandma loved me with all her heart and it showed in everything she said and did. There was no one else in my life that I loved or counted on more. Grandma was my everything.

So, I finished high school and graduated high in my class. Grandma was at my graduation. I went to Oberlin and did well. Grandma was at my graduation. I went to Juilliard and did well there too. Grandma was at that graduation. It was the last one for me, but I was so happy that she could see them all. Her health had been so fragile that I wasn’t sure she’d make it, but she did. It was so amazing to see the joy and pride my accomplishments brought her.

Grandma was at my wedding and she adored John nearly as much as I did. Once again, her face was alight with happiness. Every picture of her from that day shows a gleeful little girl smile. I’ve never been sure if her happiness was for me or for herself. I was living the dream she had for me, and she was living to see me do it.

Soon after we found out we were having our first child, John and I drove down to Philadelphia to tell my family the good news. I had asked my folks to gather at Grandma’s house because I had news to share with them. Once we’d spilled the beans, everyone was buzzing around and chatting noisily and congratulating John. Grandma and I were sitting quietly with our foreheads together, crying and laughing and commiserating. John later told me that we were alone in our own little bubble, completely oblivious to everything going on around us. As it was so many times in my life, it was just her and me.

Grandma got to see Imani after she was born. Her heart expanded to love my little girl as much as she’d loved me. Once again, there was the look of incredible joy on her face and the joy in my heart. She had lived to see her great-grandchild. It was so wonderful to bring her these gifts of life and watch her smile.

When Imani was about two years old, my Grandma suffered a series of small strokes. She was never quite the same after that. It was the beginning of a long slow decline that slowly took her away from all of us. My little family was living in NYC and we rarely got to go down to Philly to see my family. Every time we did, I could see how she was changing. She didn’t recognize her own family members much of the time, but she did recognize me. By the time Iain was born, she was mostly gone, often speaking clearly about utter nonsense. It hurts me to think that she wasn’t able to know my son. I can only imagine how much she would have loved him too, and I hate that he was robbed of the opportunity to be loved by her.

When my Granddaddy died in 2004, my Grandma wasn’t really sure what was going on. She sat and smiled through the whole funeral. She looked confused. Later she asked where “Peaches” (my grandfather) was. She was rarely lucid and often mean. She was still alive in the body, but her mind was gone. My dad, her oldest child, was in complete denial which was equally painful to witness. Grandma was the glue that held our family together, and her deterioration was tearing us apart inside and out. The pain was sometimes excruciating for me, but I tried to remember that it was more important to honor who she had been to me rather than dwell on what was happening to her now.

About a year after my grandfather died, Grandma fell and broke her hip. She had been living alone with her niece who was also elderly and was suffering from cancer. Grandma had been taking out her demented rage on her niece and my family was turning a blind eye to her decline. Now they couldn’t deny how bad things had gotten. Grandma went into the hospital in 2005 and then went into nursing care. She never lived in her house again after that, though she did visit once or twice.

I visited her in the nursing home a few times, when I could. It was hard, but I needed to do it. I owed it to her for all the love she’d given me. One of the last times I saw her, after the memorial for an uncle of mine who had died, she couldn’t speak. She could only giggle. She looked at me and babbled incoherently, smiling the whole time. The staff served dinner while I was there, in the dining room with Law and Order on the TV. In true Gladys Berkley fashion, she tried to feed her dinner to me. Instead, I helped feed her. In that moment I realized that I was the adult now and she had become a child again. It was my turn to take care of her as she had doted on me for so many years. I fed her and I wiped her mouth. I tried not to let her see my tears as they tumbled down over my smile. I saw the handwriting on the wall.

I didn’t know how much time she had left, but I knew it wasn’t long.

By July 4th weekend, she’d been hospitalized with pneumonia and MRSA. She was released from the hospital just before John, the kids, and I arrived to visit her. She lay motionless and quiet in the bed with a breathing tube down her throat. She could say or do nothing. It was awful to see. I felt so helpless. I wanted to shout at her to get up and make us all something to eat, if only to feel normal again. But this was our new normal. She was making her way to a place I couldn’t go. No, not yet.

We went home and waited for news. We waited a few weeks. Around July 20, my dad called to say that my uncle was coming back to Philly from Afghanistan where he was setting up a women’s hospital. Uncle Vincent had medical power of attorney and was responsible for being sure her wishes were being respected. She was on a breathing tube for the pneumonia, but the pneumonia was now gone. The tube needed to come out. I had to be there. I knew what was coming. I needed to say goodbye.

I got in my car and I drove from Oberlin to Philly. I drove like a crazy person. I drove like a woman possessed, on a mission to get there before she was gone. I had to be there. Deep in my heart, I knew she’d wait for me.

I drove straight to the hospital and saw her laying there, again motionless. My Aunt Mary Ann was there already, putting lotion on my Grandma’s feet and legs and talking to her. She’d been there everyday for a week, coming after her long work day. Mary hugged me and we sat and talked a while. She knew too.

I went to visit my uncle before I headed off to my parents’ house. My cousin Andrew was there. It was so great to see them after so long. I only wish it had been under better circumstances. I hadn’t seen them since my Granddaddy died six years before. I wondered to myself why it was we could only get together when someone died. Sad how that happens.

Saturday, July 24 was spent going to funeral homes and making potential arrangements. No one knew for sure how long she’d survive without the breathing tube, but we wanted to be prepared in case she didn’t last long. My dad was nearly catatonic. My uncle was all business and charm. My aunt was pissed that we were planning her mom’s funeral before she was even dead. Andrew looked pained and awkward. He was only 19. I was 42. I’d had her all my life and lived with her for a lot of my early years. Andrew and his twin brother Matthew had grown up in Arizona and only seen Grandma once or twice a year until she went into nursing care when they were about 14. I could see the pain on his face. I knew that pain. While our dads and their sister bickered about their dying mother, I took Andrew out for coffee so we could grieve our grandmother.

We gathered at the hospital that evening. Her morphine drip would be increased over the course of a few hours before the breathing tube was removed. My mom and dad were there. Mom hadn’t seen Grandma in over a year. Mary Ann was there. Uncle Vincent and Andrew were there.

I was there.

It was a long night. Mary left first, unable to watch the tube come out. My parents left next because my dad, also in ill health, was really tired and stressed out. When the tube came out at around midnight on July 25, only Uncle Vincent, Andrew, and I were there to witness it. We stood there quietly as the machines were turned off and the tube was taken slowly from her throat. Then, an odd thing happened. Her lips began to move. It was almost amusing to think that Gladys’ salty tongue was cussing my uncle out for taking that tube out. There were no words, but her intention was clear. Trying to kill me? I’ll fix you!

Something inside my mind spoke to me clearly: this will take a long time, so sit down and rest. I sat in the recliner in the corner and closed my eyes. She was speaking to me: get some rest, baby girl. Close your eyes and sleep. Every couple of hours, I would wake up and look at her vital signs on the monitor. Having worked in a hospital in my teens, I knew what I was seeing. She was stable. Nothing had changed since the tube was removed. Her vitals were pretty strong and very stable. This was going to be a long night.

Once I woke up and saw that Andrew was asleep too. My uncle was sitting up, holding my Grandma’s hand and talking to her — telling her it was okay to go. Her vitals were steady as a rock. I closed my eyes.

I awoke again when the nurses came to bathe Grandma and kicked out the two boys. As the female member of the party, I was allowed to stay put. I looked at her vitals again. No change. Steady as she goes. I closed my eyes.

I awoke for the last time around 6 or so in the morning. Her vitals had stayed steady all night. Perhaps this wasn’t the end. Maybe it would happen while I was back in Ohio. It was Sunday and I had to go back home that day. I was exhausted. What was I going to do now?

The nurses changed shifts. My uncle and cousin needed to go back to their hotel. My uncle needed to sleep and Andrew needed to catch a plane back to Arizona. Uncle Vincent said he would call someone to come relieve me of our vigil so that I could go home to shower and change. He was happy that I would stay until he could come back. They left around 7:30.

I typed on Facebook, chronicling how strong and stubborn Grandma was. I called John and some friends for moral support. I chatted with the nurse who had been there Friday when I arrived and was back again on Sunday for her shift. The nurse from the previous shift hadn’t left yet. They had both been amazing to me while I was there. They really took care of our family in addition to caring for my Grandma.

At one point in my small talk with the arriving nurse, she and I both turned to look at my grandmother. We had both noticed that her breathing was getting slower and becoming more labored. I knew what this meant. The nurse checked Grandma with her stethoscope. I said to the nurse, “please let me know when I need to start calling folks.”

Now, she said. Do it now.

How long?

A minute or two.

Suddenly, shit got very real very quickly. I put on the hospital gown and gloves required when dealing with a MRSA patient. I called my uncle and told him to call everyone else because this was happening now. NOW. Right now.

And then I did the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.

I held Grandma’s hand and talked to her while the doctor monitored her. Only the doctor could officially pronounce her dead. I stood there feeling like a lost little girl and the pain and sadness and grief all hit me like a tidal wave. I said what I knew to say. I told her it was okay to go. I told her I knew how hard she’d worked all her life, but that she could go on to be with Granddaddy, her parents, and her siblings who had all gone before her. I told her that her work was done here and she could rest now.

I told her one lie. I said that she could go and that I would be okay. I knew it wasn’t true, but I said it anyway. I wanted her to go in peace and not hang on for anyone she was leaving behind. She had worried over us long enough.

While I was talking to her and sobbing in horrible agony, the doctor told me she was gone. It was secretly exactly what I had hoped for. She waited until it was just her and me. Once again, we were in our own little bubble and the world went on all around us. This was her last gift to me, her last lesson to teach me. I had stayed with her to the end. She was always afraid to be alone. She had not died alone and I had seen to that.

The nurse who had just gone off duty came to hug me. The doctor asked if I needed a chaplain. Suddenly, I was the focus of their care. They could do no more for my Grandma. I sat and cried tears that were bitter with the deepest grief I’d ever felt until then. The other nurse asked me what I needed. My reply was simple: a shower, something to eat, and my Grandma. I wanted my Grandma back.

Most of the rest of the day is a blur. My uncle and Andrew arrived. Uncle Vincent went straight over to his mother’s side. Andrew ran straight over to me and threw his arms around me. He knew. He understood. We had lost our grandmother, but I had lost my life’s guiding light. He asked if I was okay and he tended to me for the rest of the time he was there.

My parents came. My dad was desolate. My mom kept trying to boss me around and be the center of attention. I am not proud of the fact that I swore at her, but she wouldn’t leave me alone. She couldn’t understand what I’d been through. She kept asking when I was coming back to her house to get my stuff and drive back to Ohio. Didn’t she understand?

I couldn’t leave Grandma alone. I wasn’t leaving her side until they took her from the room. I had promised I would stay with her until the end and it wasn’t over yet.

Mary understood. She had been alone with Granddaddy when he passed. She knew the anguish like no one else around me knew. She stayed with me.

I helped remove the tubes and IVs from Grandma’s body. I helped clean her up and put her in the body bag. I zipped the bag myself. Closure. I didn’t leave her. I kept my promise and stayed until the end. It was all there was left that I could do. I watched as they wheeled her away.

The blur of grief continued in the next week as I went home and prepared to go back with my family to Philly for the funeral a week later. I sang “Grandma’s Hands” while my cousin Matthew played guitar. I played solo Bach as a prelude. I broke down as I followed her casket out of the funeral home. The preacher was reciting Psalm 23. It was the first Bible verse Grandma had taught me so many years ago. I watched John carry her casket to the hearse, just as he had done for my grandfather six years before. I fell down and wept and my heart broke to pieces. How could she leave me? What was I going to do without her?

Go on. Just as she had, I have gone on. She had shown me all I needed to survive. She had seen me grow up, marry, have kids, and be happy. Her job was done, just as I’d said to her. I may have lied when I said I’d be okay, but she knew it was true because she’d given me every tool I needed to be okay.

Grandma isn’t really gone. She’s with me every day. I see her sometimes, smiling at me. I hear her laughter. I hear her voice coming out of my mouth so many times. She lives on in me. She lives on.

There are no words to express the love she showed me. All I can do is love those around me as fiercely as she loved. All I can do is keep trying to make her proud. That is the only thank you worthy of her love for me and mine for her. After all, it’s what she taught me.

I love you, Grandma. Memory eternal. Be at peace.

Fixing a Hole

One of my all time favorite Beatles songs is “Fixing a Hole” from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  I am especially fond of the lyric, “I’m taking the time for a number of things that weren’t important yesterday.”  It is such a hopeful and forward thinking line implying that there is always tomorrow, always another chance to grow and change.  It is high time I took some time for things that weren’t important yesterday.

Over the last three months, I’ve gone from a really fit and happy person, to a flabbier version of myself.  I’ve gained more than 10 pounds of the 40-odd I’d lost since moving here.  I’ve stopped exercising on a consistent basis, and that has made all the difference.  I’ve also started eating far too much and too many of the wrong foods.  I need to set a better example for my kids, but — more importantly — I need to go back to the level of care that I took of myself, for myself.  Somewhere in the mix of the last 3 months, I lost my healthy focus on me.  It’s not about narcissism or being selfish or self centered.  It’s about loving me first so that I have something to give others.  I need to return to that.

It couldn’t hurt my attitude any to do that.  Lately, I’ve been in a funk that I’ve tried like hell to drag myself out of.  I’ve been stressed out about all sorts of things going on, and annoyed as hell about every little thing.  Mind you, sometimes I’m totally justified in being annoyed — like when my son removes all of the cords plugged into the power strip in the office just so he can take the netbook into the living room, or when my adolescent daughter expects me to read her mind and know things she hasn’t told me.  Being a mom is stressful under the best of circumstances.  From my previous posts one can deduce that our situation is not always the best.  Sometimes I forget what a blessing my kids are and I get really pissed.  I know I’m neither the first nor the only mama to do that, but I hate it when I do.

Like many with addictive personalities, I sometimes lose sight of the joy in front of me to pursue the adventures I can only imagine.  In short, I forget to stop and smell the roses.  I miss my long runs and the precious solitude they provided.  I could turn my attention away from my daily stresses toward the beautiful scenery around me: fields of corn and soybeans, bright sunshine or light snow, wood smoke or dewy flowers.  I miss the sun on my back in good weather, and the snowflakes plastered to my eyebrows and eyelashes during the picturesque Oberlin winters.  I miss taking the spin classes my friend Stori leads.  No one kicks my ass like her!  I miss swimming laps, trying my best to get stronger and improve my technique.  I swam a mile once.  I didn’t even realize that was an accomplishment until I told folks I’d done it.  I need to get back to those simple pleasures in my life.

I miss the days when I could practice 5 or 6 hours a day.  I loved practicing that much and hearing the results.  I discovered so much about myself as a musician in those long practice sessions.  I was transported to another place.  It was heavenly.

Then again, there’s always this blog.  I love to write and this blog provided me with the opportunity to do that.  Mostly, I do it for me, but I do enjoy getting feedback from friends.  What I really love is knowing that I’ve written something that resonates with other folks.  I’ve worn many hats in my life: daughter, student, musician, performer, teacher, wife, lover, mother… whew!  And life’s not even close to being over — I hope.  There’s so much left I want to do, and I want to put it all in writing.

So here I am taking stock again.  Step 10.  Who am I?  What to I believe?  What kind of woman do I want to be?  Who do the people around me think I am?

“There are times when all the world’s asleep, the questions run so deep for such a simple man.  Won’t you please tell me what we’ve learned?  I know it sounds absurd.  Please, tell me who I am?

Supertramp, from the Logical Song.

Who do I want others to see?  The best Lisa I can be.  I am not, nor will I ever be, perfect.  I don’t want to be.  I want to love and be loved.  I want to be forgiven when I’m wrong.  I want to do for others and still do things for me.  I want to live.  I am alive and happy to be alive.

I want to smell every flower and enjoy every moment.  I’m taking the time for a number of things that weren’t important yesterday.  I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in and stops my mind from wandering where it will go.  That hole is getting smaller with every workout I get through, every note I play, and every word I type.

Getting so much better all the time 🙂