Moving blog soon

I’m in the process of creating a new web site, except that it’s not really a web site…it’s a blog that you can sorta kinda make look like a web site, but not really, even though that’s what “they” tell you.

I want to advertise my business: I help people write or edit their life stories (or anything else a person would like to write.)

I’ve changed the name of the new blog to Connecting Points, Stories Matter.  Still too long a title, but I haven’t come up with a shorter title. And it’s also going to be the name of the business…I think. Creating a web site is taxing to my brain.

But it was time to do something new with the blog. How long can you write about “Life After … Taking Care of Mom.” Mom has been gone almost a year and a half, and although there are still moments, I feel like it’s time to move on in some way. What that will look like remains to be read.

I will still write about “Life After,…” mainly because I’m working on a memoir, which I talk about on the new blog web site. I keep talking to people going through the mourning experience. A friend’s husband is about to die. Another one just died. Perhaps I’ll write the next “Who Dies,” by Stephen Levine.

I joined the Association of Personal Historians, a good organization that also has me completely intimidated, mainly because I’ve been checking out the member web sites, which really are web sites, and not blogs.

One personal historian charges $700 an hour, which is sorta kinda absurd. Why would you charge that much to sit down with someone to write their story? (For starters, it’s a long complicated process…but $700 an hour?) Husband says “He charges that much because he can. He’s going after the wealthy.”

I say, “I’m charging $45 an hour and in this community that’s going after the wealthy.” Which is an exaggeration. But you have to be damned good to charge $700. But that good? He lives in Vancouver, B.C., if that means anything.

Learning how much he charges encouraged me to raise my rates–to $46 an hour. I might even go to $47.

Stay tuned for a new address.

Now I can talk about it

Sunday I talked with a dear friend whose partner is dying of pancreatic cancer. She walked to the top of their garden in the West Virginia mountains to get better cell reception.

Our conversation was surreal. Were we really talking about him dying?

“I am in a dream,” she wrote in January after he was diagnosed. “Never felt so full of love and yet so  shattered. Never felt so potentially devastated by a loss. I feel like I don’t know ANYTHING for sure anymore….cause and effect seem unknowable.  But I do know that I am where I should be and that all of this is very closely related to my life work.”

She had finished a master’s degree in social work last June, a degree she long sought to give her credentials for the work she had already been doing. She is a natural counselor and had helped other people die. She is a massage therapist, a conservator of the land, a dog lover, a lover of life, a giver. She wanted to give more.

Last summer she got her first social work job at a domestic violence shelter. It was a first step. Even though she loved her man, she had no plans to marry him. He lived isolated on the mountain 30 miles from town. She was involved in the happenings of her community. She had been married before and hurt before. She was holding him at arm’s length

And then, like life is apt to do, everything changed in a moment. She was no longer holding him at at arm’s length. Within a month she quit her job, left her house in the city, and moved to the mountains. She has been his caretaker, his midwife to his journey. He deeded his mountain retreat and home to her so that she would have something when he was gone. He has no children, nor does she.

“We have been nesting like honeymooners,” she said yesterday, “and then he is going to leave.”

She wept. Our phone connection faded and I couldn’t hear her. She moved further up the mountain.

Her pain pierces me, her open heart instructs me. Even though she is in exquisite pain, she is conscious and breathing. She reminded me of the work of Stephen Levine, author of Who Dies, An Investigation of Conscious Living and Conscious Dying, who instructs people to breathe through their bellies…that’s where people hold their grief, he says.

I began to breathe through my belly, and felt the tears come.  She waited. Understanding.

They sought out all the treatment options. He saw the best oncologists. People across the country have been praying. When he visited his sister in New Mexico he saw a healer, who told him to open his heart to the experience, that his body may not be healed, but his spirit will.

My friend says he is slowly disappearing, communicating less and less. She knows the cancer has metastasized to the liver.

“I feel so needy,” she said, a woman not prone to being needy. “I want him to affirm me and to tell me I am the love of his life. But he doesn’t talk.”

“He gave you a mountain,” I say.

“Reminding me of that helps,” she says.

He will leave her alone there. But she is grateful.

“If I thought I was going to be homeless and without a job when this is over, I’m not sure I could stand the stress,” she says

I saw a vision of her speaking before large groups of people, sharing the experience of keeping her heart open while losing the love of her life.

“I knew what this was intellectually,” she said. “But now I know it. Now I can talk about it.”

No longer complacent

It was a hot muggy day yesterday. Our heat is usually dry, benign. I should have remembered storms of the past, thundering and lightning across the skies, but it had been a long time since storms like that roared across the valley.

I was complacent.

And then, about 9 p.m., I looked out the window and saw through the trees the flashes of light. There was lightning to the west.

I walked beyond the perimeter of trees around the house to get a better view of the light show, hoping to get a photo. Ben went to put his truck in the shop. Within minutes, I felt the power of the storm. I scurried to the house. Although we’ve had our large elms pruned and tied between the larger T’s so we don’t get a branch on the roof, there are still large brittle branches that could snap off. I wanted to be inside looking out.

It came, quickly, violently…thrashing trees, and fortunately just cleaning the dead wood from the trees, scattered everywhere this morning. No branches came down.

Across the valley it was a different story.

People wrote on Facebook that transformers were blowing all over town. Power lines and trees down.

Then someone said there were three houses on fire not far from us. The power went out and we were preoccupied.

The storm passed, leaving a remnant of thunder and lightning in the distance. About 10 p.m., we decided to drive up the road to the ridge to see the night sky and the lightning to the east and south.

What we saw instead were flames 1/2 mile away, 3/4 of a mile from our house. Fifty foot flames blew sideways and the side of the hill was ablaze. We thought three homes were engulfed. We were shocked and sickened by the sight. We knew who lived in the homes. Other people drove up and we stood in the rain and wind and watched the lightning streak sideways above the hills beyond as the flames did their work. If the wind had shifted, we could be having a different conversation.

Our neighbors got out safely, but later, when I was lying in bed with the silence that comes with a power outage, a warm breeze blew in the scent of smoke from a fire burning through a lifetime of belongings.

I awoke this morning and went for water. I’ve lived here 20 years and with all the precautionary tales, we didn’t have enough water.

I was complacent.

Ben bought a generator some time ago to hook to the well pump in case of an extended outage, but as he hooked up the refrigerator and freezer he informed me we needed more “accessories” to make the well work. After the power went on, he filled two five-gallon containers and went for gas for the generator. No longer complacent, we will work on the accessories.

Our dog Taz did fine through the storm, curious to be out in it. But when the power went on and I turned off the generator, she was standing next to me when it backfired.

For the next hour she wouldn’t leave my side. I rubbed Peace and Calming essential oils into her fur and she looked at me like, “Look, I did fine through all the storms and thunder and lightning, but that was really the last straw.”

I’m wondering how our neighbors are doing. Was it the last straw for them? A lifetime of family photos and keepsakes, their the furniture and art, gone in moments. They barely had time to get out of the house. I hope they are resilient, with a faith to sustain them, but I wonder how they grieve today.

Recently blogger, Shore Acres, reminded her readers to have a briefcase ready in case of an emergency–legal papers, passports, favorite photos–whatever is most meaningful that will fit in a briefcase to be grabbed quickly. No longer complacent, no longer thinking that we never have bad weather here, I will prepare that briefcase.

Note: I just discovered that one home and a garage burned, not three as we were first told, and not two like I assumed because of the last names reported. So one family grieving instead of three. Yards charred, cherry trees damaged, but houses still stand. The good news and the bad.

Thanks Mom

My mother was a beautiful woman and a classy dresser.

1910.

Sitting on a pile of rocks at the beach in the 1920–reminds me of the 60s. 

Mom with Bob, her third husband, in 1928.  (She married him 35 years later, after mom had been widowed twice.)

When she married my dad she wore a filmy gown and through the 30s and 40s she wore classic-style dresses.  She worked at the Broadway Department stores for nearly a decade and as she tells it, had a closet full of shoes (size 4, all samples).

Mom and dad in San Francisco in the 1930s. 

In the 50s she wore the wide skirts, which flattered no one. That was inexplicable considering her earlier fashion choices. She continued to wear dresses up to her 60s, but then began to wear slacks and tunic tops.

Mom and I rarely went shopping and she never gave me advice about my clothing. As she got older, I wasn’t the one to take her shopping. We didn’t do so well.  I had a hard enough time finding clothes for myself, let alone for her. But sister-in-law had a knack for finding just the right pant and blouse outfits, always colorful, always classic. Mom wore matching earrings every day, her silver rope necklace and always her wooden cross.

The day mom died in March 2011, she was dressed nicely in slacks and a nice blouse. She was preparing to go down for lunch and when the housekeeper came earlier that morning mom asked her to tie the bow on the back of the blouse. She didn’t die in one of her filmy nightgowns in bed with no makeup, but dressed and ready to go.

I am most comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt, or sweatshirt or sweater. Summer it’s capris and a t-shirt. I wear clunky Keen sandals most of the year, and then boots, because I don’t have feet that fit nicely into cute little shoes.

When I go to a meeting or to do an interview, I wear jeans and a nice blouse and manage to put on a pair of Dansko type shoes. But not long ago I needed a new pair of slacks for some event. Or maybe I was just feeling like I needed to wear something besides jeans. I also have a straight-up-and-down type figure, so it’s not easy fitting into stylish slacks.

I went to Macy’s and began the painful trek through the store, from one department to another, flummoxed by the flouncy styles and bright patterns. I may not be a classy dresser, but my style is “classic,” straight lines, solid colors, scarfs and I love hats. But no patterns please.

I was about to give up when I said (surprising myself), “Mom…I need some help here. You were the classy dresser. And even though we didn’t like to shop, can you help me find what I’m looking for.”

I am not kidding, not two minutes later I walked to a rack and found the best pair of slacks I’ve had — in years. Perfect fit. Costing three times what I usually pay for a pair of jeans. But thanks, mom.

And then there are the summer weddings. Alas. What to wear to a summer wedding. We are going to a Catholic mass wedding today and then the reception at the local arboretum–outside. It’s going to be 97. I could either wear a summer dress, which would be fine if I could find one, but I thought I’d buy a pair of nice white ankle length capris and a light shell and a scarf and a flowy top I have that I’ve worn just once.

Yesterday I again went shopping at Macy’s. I did my normal wander-the-store routine. I tried on six pairs of white pants. No luck.

Again, I said, “Mom….I need some help here. I’m not doing so well and I’m running short of time. I also need to buy a wedding gift.”

I decided to head up stairs to the wedding registry to get the gift and if need be I could shop again this morning. I found the wedding registry and as I was printing out the bride’s ticker-tape list, a lady came up behind me. We began to talk about wedding gifts and then clothes. I said I was going to a summer wedding and since she seemed to be a savvy woman I said, in my best country-bumpkin impersonation, “What are people wearing to weddings these days?”

“What kind of wedding?”

“A Catholic mass!!”

“Oh I’d wear a summer dress.”

I groaned.

Then she said, “But check out Chicos at the other end of the mall. They’ll help you.”

With help from a Macy’s clerk, I found a stainless steel colander for the bride and groom. The clerk wrapped it, put it in a bag with tissue paper and I was set. Thanks, mom.

I had 20 minutes to look for pants. I headed for Chicos. I walked in and said, “I’m going to a summer wedding.” She suggested white pants with a dressy top.  Within 15 minutes I had a new pair of classic white capris–on sale. As I was about to leave, she gave me a $25 off the next purchase certificate.

Thanks, mom. Appreciate the help.

The man God sent

I dreamed last night that my brother came to my house to go through mom’s stuff with me again. All the smaller items, like rings and sorority pins and my grandfather’s garnet ring, with the garnet separated from the setting, weren’t in their respective boxes where mom used to keep them–and where I keep them still.

She kept my dad’s fraternity pins in a separate box along with his 1928 USC college ring with his name, Don, engraved on the inside. I started to wear the ring about a month ago. In the dream my brother wanted my dad’s ring. I was distraught.

When I awoke, I felt for the ring on my finger and was relieved–and a little guilty. I don’t think he wants the ring, and he certainly wouldn’t wear it. But I felt selfish. There are still feelings around the loss of our father.

I was 14 months old and my brother was six when our father died in his sleep of a heart attack.  My brother’s last memory of him was under a sheet on a gurney leaving the house.

They used to play together, throw the ball on the “green” where we lived and at Christmas they ran a train under the tree. My brother has painted railroad scenes through much of his life. He is one of three people who still remembers my father, including my 96-year-old aunt, and a cousin.

I have one photo of our family. My father is sitting on his haunches, holding me on his knee, looking at me. My mother is behind him smiling at someone to her left. My brother and I are also looking off to the left. I’m not sure who had captured our attention, but for that moment I had captured my father’s attention.

Mom was stricken when he died. She didn’t know how to relate to my grief because I was a baby, but she related to my brother because he remembered his father. Whether or not I consciously remembered, I’ve missed him my whole life.

I also missed my mother. When a parent dies, the child often loses the surviving parent to grief. With three months she remarried and moved us to a new city.

The family was stunned by her decision. Her brother told her to take her time. But she didn’t. We saw our maternal grandmother once or twice a year but the stepfather didn’t like us to spend time with my father’s family. My aunt, my dad’s sister, was mad at mom for five decades for taking us away.

I didn’t know what I was going to do to support you, she rationalized.

Their mothers knew each otherHe was a high school friend. He said he would love you. 

I tried to understand her decision. My father’s death cast mom into uncertainty and fear. She had been out of the workforce for seven years. At the onset of the Depression she quit college to support her mother and brother. She married in 1935, but worked until she was pregnant with my brother in 1941. My father was making enough money as a dentist to support the family. Her job at the Broadway Department stores was the last job mom ever held, except for volunteer work. When my dad died seven years later, the new slacks he planned to wear to the grand opening of his children’s dental practice hung in the closet. They owned a sailboat and property overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

But he didn’t leave enough to support her children.

I interviewed potential babysitters, but none were suitable, she said.

Instead, she left us with the stepfather.

I thought God sent him, she wrote in a letter to me in her late 80s. I still do, she added.

But if God sent the stepfather to her, what did that say about us? I would ponder.

I won’t completely understand until I stand before Whomever I get to talk to on the other side and I can ask, “Really? What was that all about?”

What I knew growing up was that my father wasn’t there to protect me from the man “God sent.” Nor was my mother.

It took a lifetime to find her and nearly as long to forgive her. My forgiveness worked itself out by taking care of mom and in the end, we found each other.

As for my father, I never found him…except in the small things left behind. The one photo of the family, his journal of their trip east, his dental college notes, business cards in a leather case, a marble inkwell. Small treasures that link me to him. But the ring I now wear reminds me that he, not the stepfather, was the man God sent.

Mom’s hands

Today I was staring at my hand. Well, it was an exercise in the book, “No Enemies Within.” Throughout the book she gives exercises to help a person bring more awareness of what is going on in their body.

The section was called, “Personal Exploration, A Date with your Self.”  She describes a series of three exercises, utilizing kinesthetic, auditory and visual senses.

In the first she asked the reader to hold a place on their body, say the neck, for three minutes. Imagine the pores in the skin breathing in and out, she says. I know, you’d have to be there. Read the book.

But then she said, … imagine the pupils of your eyes can inhale each time you take a breath. Look at one of your hands and receive it through your eyes. Rather than looking at how wrinkled it is, or how you need to trim your nails, just see it as it is. After those three minutes, stop and notice the effect.

I held my hand out in front of me and the first thing I noticed is how wrinkled it is and how I need to do my nails.

I stared at my hand some more, continuing to notice the wrinkles and the nails.

Then I turned my hand over and looked at the palm.

And then I thought, I never looked at the palm of mom’s hand.

I looked at the top of her hands all the time. They were beautiful hands, wrinkled and aged and knobby at the end of her life. I photographed them once holding her great-granddaughter’s baby hands and again when great-granddaughter was three and mom was nearly 100.

Her hands were warm. She would hold my hands and say, “They are like ice,” and then hold them to warm them.

If I laid my head in her lap, which I rarely did, she would run her hands through my hair and gently massage my head. What bliss it was.

Then a strange thought. I wish I had looked at her life line on her palm.

I’ve never had my palm read, and don’t plan on it, but still, that would have been interesting.

That’s what I noticed–mom’s perfectly manicured, wrinkled, knobby, gentle hands–and how much I missed them.

From whence I’ve come

I was surprised by the number of comments to yesterday’s post about Trigeminal Neuralgia. A reader posted it on the TNA Facial Pain Association Facebook site, which brought new readers to my blog. I read heartbreaking stories and learned about what people suffer with this terrible disorder.

A couple of people said they tried alternative therapies, but were still on the drug. Others said they experienced life-threatening side effects from the drug. And a couple of people suggested that I wasn’t very smart about my choice not to take the drug.

That’s because they do not know from whence I come.

I have a lifetime of experience trying to find a balance between what allopathic medicine has to offer and what alternative therapies have to offer.

The TN diagnosis is not the first I’ve had to deal with.

Today I received another diagnosis. This one four years overdue. After five podiatrists, four physical therapists, a nerve conduction test, three MRI’s, two bone scans, and numerous x-rays, a simple ultrasound revealed a peroneal tendon tear in my right ankle and cuboid syndrome in the cuboid joint, something I’ve suspected all along, but no one could confirm.

Two years ago this same podiatrist said I had arthritis. I’ve given up walking and hiking, two of my loves. I’ve been depressed and hopeless, not because I’m depressed and hopeless, but because no one could help me find the answer and I couldn’t walk around the block, let alone across the living room, without pain. And now the same syndrome is developing in the left ankle and cuboid.

A year ago, the same doctor who gave me Monday’s TN diagnosis suggested I take an anti-depressant because I had what he referred to as a “chronic pain cycle,” as if it was in my head, and I needed “to get on with my life.”  He never stopped to consider that I might have a reason for the pain.

I knew all along there was a reason. But I was the only one.

I didn’t give up. I went to a new podiatrist who also didn’t know what was wrong, but she was willing to refer me to a physical therapist of my choice with Therapeutic Associates. He hung in with me and kept looking for answers. He’s encouraged me to do strengthening exercises and has done hands-on physical therapy. He’s the one who arranged for me to go back to the podiatrist for the ultrasound—and met me there.

We will find a way to heal this pain. The podiatrist said surgery isn’t a good option because if a person doesn’t have tendonitis before surgery, they will after. At least he was honest. For a change.

But my journey with doctors didn’t start four years ago.

When I was 18 and about to be married, my fiancé and I agreed I would work while he got his college degree. That meant birth control. In the 60s doctors prescribed 5 mg doses instead of .5 mg doses given today. I went off the pill when I was 22, expecting to get pregnant. I didn’t ovulate.  A doctor gave me Clomid, a drug to promote ovulation. That didn’t work. USC medical doctors suggested Pergonal, a drug that can cause a litter. I refused, knowing I wasn’t equipped for more than one at a time.  At Utah medical center, I was told to have an ovarian section. I still don’t know what that means, except cutting.

Six years later and a few years after my divorce I was told I was at risk for intrauterine cancer because I wasn’t having periods. I cried for two hours and a month later had my first period in six years. They remained irregular. But at that point I decided that if God wanted me to have a baby, I’d have a baby. But without medical intervention. Thirteen years after I went off the pill, and seven years after my divorce, I dropped a random egg, who, along with a “random” sperm, (that doesn’t mean I was sleeping around…it means I was rarely spending time with my boyfriend) is the son for whom I’m deeply grateful.

For years before I became pregnant–and even after–I blamed doctors for misleading me about the pill, and blamed them for not knowing how to help me. I prayed and did counseling and grieved for those lost babies. It wasn’t as if I had miscarriages or stillbirths I could mourn, but their absence was a loss.

But it was my choice to take the pill. My choice to forego drugs and surgeries, which might have helped me have a baby.

Instead, I decided to trust God and the body He had given me to heal. He’s had to do some heart work as well.

That doesn’t mean I would recommend other infertile couples wait it out. That was simply my choice.

My experience with the doctors also led me to become a midwife and health educator. I helped women and their families have choice about the birth they had either been denied before or the birth they envisioned. In 1966, I stopped doing births for a variety of reasons, but the passion for medical consumers to have choice and to exercise their intuition and body-knowledge remains strong.

I have experienced other medical challenges, each giving me fodder for my position. However, that position does not mean I won’t seek medical help when needed. I had a tumor on my thyroid removed in 2004 and take thyroid medication daily. I had unsettling heart palpitations after our trip to California to bury mom’s ashes. One evening I went to the emergency room, where kind and supportive medical staff reassured me I was having benign premature heart beats. I declined the beta blockers, later had a stress test, and went to an acupuncturist. She prescribed GABA and Glycine, two amino acids and did needles. The palpitations are gone.

I made choices for my good based on my experiences, utilizing the best of both worlds, traditional and alternative.

So if anyone tells me it’s not smart to take a drug that’s offered five minutes after I’ve walked in the door, I’d say, think again. I know better.