Restless dream

When I became pregnant with my son nearly 30 years ago, I was in Iowa and winter was closing in. I returned to my hometown of San Diego for a couple of months to be warm, to be by the ocean, to listen. My son’s name came to me on a walk on the beach. I returned to Iowa when the weather turned to spring. Eventually my son’s dad and I moved to San Diego when my son was three. I don’t see Ben and I moving to San Diego, but it beckons.

Last night I had three dreams.

In one dream Ben and I had moved to another state to the upper floor of a diner that looked like it was straight out of the 50s. He left me there to do some work. The walls and stairs were covered in an orange-flowered wallpaper. It was hideous. I felt alone and restless and thought I’d like to visit my family in San Diego and then move somewhere in between them and my son who lives in Seattle.

In another dream I was traveling to San Diego with my son’s step-mother, my great-niece, and my brother and sister-in-law. I don’t know why…and I don’t remember much that was said except I remarked about stepmother’s hair that was dark and thick.

In the third dream I was at my old house in La Mesa, a suburb of San Diego. It was the house where I grew up with my mother and stepfather and for seven years, my brother. I heard singing from the house next door, where Mr. Gillette used to live. He was a taxidermist and lived in an old Spanish-style house in the trees. On the property were tiny houses in which he had various stuffed animals on display. It was a magical place for me as a child.

I went to the road above our adjacent homes and a troupe of singers was standing by the side of the road. I began talking to a man who pointed to “my home” and said, “Do you live there?” It was a modern home that now sits on the property…not the home I grew up in.

He asked if I wanted to see Mr. Gillette’s property. I walked to the edge of the road above Mr. G’s property. The Spanish style home in the trees was gone, replaced with a box-like modern home. Extending in front of the home to the left and to the right was an enormous rectangular swimming pool. It was as if I was looking at the effects of a dam, the water in the reservoir covering a forest. I was stunned. The man began to tell me about other “improvements” to the property and mentioned an office building that I could see below the property…where a canyon used to be.

Although dream interpreters might find other themes–like the past is over, or I don’t like orange-colored wallpaper–a San Diego theme also seems obvious. The weather is turning cold here in Washington; the holidays loom. I have a hurt foot which causes me to withdraw, not doing the things I love. I don’t have a job and depend completely on my husband to provide for us. I’m not looking forward to hunkering down by the wood stove all winter, seasonal affective disorder stalking me.

I want to get in the car and go, to not be so dependent on Ben that I can’t find my way in the world without him if I need to, or go on a trip without him. I love to travel with, and be with him, but he’s not free to go right now, and I’m feeling not free to stay right now. I’m afraid of turning inward, of becoming boring, of becoming old and without purpose, of hovering over Ben, watchful, wondering what he’s going to do next, rather than me doing something next.

Mostly I want to “be” in San Diego, just for a while, exploring old haunts, sitting atop Mt. Helix, a place of refuge when I was a child, listening. I want to be by the ocean at Encinitas and Torrey Pines and Del Mar and La Jolla. I want to visit my nephew and family in the Anza Borrego desert and sit on my meditation rock next to their home and not feel compelled to rush through our visits. I want to visit my brother and wife and friends longer than a day in the mountains east of San Diego.

And … I’d like to write and take photos and explore the places that shaped me, a writer’s pilgrimage to the place where it started, and the place I ran away from four separate times. Perhaps a reconciliation, a resolution, a healing. Perhaps, not. Perhaps it’s simply an idea, a restless dream.

I’m not sure how it will work out, or if it should. I may, in fact, be warming myself next to the wood stove all winter in Washington, bringing in the wood, shoveling snow, making stew. The thought makes me want to cry.


Crazy glue

I carved pumpkins this year for the first time in years because we were having friends for dinner. I even sent my great-niece a Halloween card.

As for the rest of the holidays, I remain aloof.

Thanksgiving is next month, the day I always had mom over for a Thanksgiving meal, and the holiday my son always stayed in Seattle. Only one year in the last 18, I wasn’t with mom, spending it instead with son and his then girlfriend at her mother’s home in Spokane.

But usually, I’d cook a turkey, make mashed potatoes and gravy and dressing just like mom used to make it with walnuts and apples. I put cranberry sauce in mom’s silver appetizer dish that was a wedding present to her in 1935. I spread out her tablecloth and laid out her china, doing my best to make it special for her, because we never knew when it would be her last holiday. Later in the day I would take her home and I, and then Ben and I, would go to our friend’s house next door to have pie.

As for Christmas, there wasn’t one Christmas, except for one very snow-bound Christmas, that mom wasn’t at my home. For years she was here with me and my son, just the three of us, her the crazy glue in our odd little family configuration. We would pick her up in the morning and when she got here I would give her a cup of tea or coffee and a snack and we would open presents. Then I would cook a big dinner, similar to Thanksgiving. When she was in her late 80s and early 90s she would sometimes want to help, or would sit in the kitchen while I worked. Later, she simply sat in the chair and waited.

Some years my son would be at his dad’s for Christmas and we would celebrate a week later. It was fun. But as he got older, and she got older, it got harder. A span of 72 years separated my son and his grandmother, with me sandwiched in between.

After we opened presents and ate lunch, she wanted to sit in the rocking chair and listen to classical music, until she was too deaf to hear it, or take a nap. Son wanted to play, and later, hang out…with someone. But there was no one there but me.  Four years in a row he and I went to see the Lord of the Rings on Christmas afternoon.

And then there were those Christmases that son did not come at all. There was one Christmas when mom and I went to Seattle and celebrated at his house, setting up a little Christmas tree and opening presents.

Last Christmas, son and girlfriend came over late afternoon, after they had spent Christmas Eve and Christmas morning at her parents and extended family’s home. We had a glass of wine and then we opened presents. My presents to son and GF were anticlimactic, as they were to mom, who at 101 and eight months, was not totally into it. While we opened presents she held out her wine glass to me and asked for more wine, bringing back uncomfortable memories and me not having a voice to say, “No…no more.” Instead, I said, “Not right now, mom,” but then got her more.

Every Christmas mom would say, “Well, you know how I feel about Christmas,” and every year I would try to create a Christmas that redeemed her Christmas memories and mine as well. We had many good moments, like when we’d have our annual photo by the tree, the three of us, crazy glue in between. It was a tradition that did not take place this year.

Son and GF took mom home later in the evening. It was the last time he would see her.

The crazy glue is gone, peeled off, leaving only family fragments behind.

So even though the hard edge of grief has passed, the thought of hauling Christmas decorations out of bins now stored in the shop leaves me tearful and afraid, like I’d be opening a box of memories I can only claim as bittersweet.

I’m not sure how I will navigate this new territory. Probably one day at a time…

This week I discovered…

or rediscovered…

… new truths in my writing.

… I can learn the difference between an equity indexed annuity, a fixed annuity, and a variable annuity.

… I can make choices, have opinions, believe differently than others and that it’s really okay.

… I have a higher risk tolerance than I realized

… I’d rather have choice than a guarantee.

… that some friends say they are a friend, but aren’t really friends at all

… new playmates.

… my husband is not my rescuer, nor I his, but that we are partners and allies.

… I often say yes out of fear, or in a hurry, to be liked, or because I think I should before I’ve thought it through.

… art as a medium to reveal different layers of understanding

… I can say no, change my mind.

… that I must be more mindful.

… that I can trust as long as I pay attention to the red flags.

… that others have my back.

… that I have my back.

… that life is a series of discoveries, and rediscoveries.

The hallway

To her last day, mom got up every morning and prayed to know her purpose for the day. She always wanted to know why she was living so long and even though it looked as if she was confined to the small world of her apartment and the hallway to the dining room and the beauty shop and to the people in her caregiving orbit, mom continued to rise each morning with that question.

Her long life was off the longevity bell-curve, but I think that question was one of the reasons why.

Mom always sought to serve. She volunteered at numerous churches throughout her life. When I was a child she was the PTA president. She became a lay-reader and was a long-time member of her church altar guild. She volunteered to work in the church office in her early 80s.

She was generous with her wisdom. One of her caregivers said at mom’s memorial, “She changed my life for the better.”

She was generous with money, giving me and my brother an early “inheritance,” for me a down payment on a house and mortgage payments while I raised my son and got a college degree that had been delayed several decades.

Her care needs sapped her resources in the last five years of her life, but I always reminded her that her husbands meant for their pensions to be for her care, not for us. Still, she tithed to her church, to the homeless shelter, to Food for the Poor, and other organizations.

As I awoke this morning I was thinking about this attribute of mom’s, because on my lips each morning is the question “what is my purpose?”

I told Ben a story this morning about a baby I delivered when I was a midwife.

“He was big shouldered and during delivery I had the mom turn over on her hands and knees, a technique midwives use to help dislodge big shoulders. I reached my finger in and hooked it under his arm and brought him out. He was big and healthy.”

Ben said, “It’s good that you have good memories of being a midwife.”

“Yes. I remember having a sense of purpose, that I had a skill that was valued,” I said.

During and after midwifey, there was raising my son, working, taking care of mom, going back to college, making a contribution in some way every day. And then I quit my job to be there for mom the last months of her life; those turned into years. And then, mom died, and it seemed the air was sucked out of purpose.

I am in the hallway now, that place between jobs. Between places.  Between purpose. And I’m older now, which creates a new tension.

I think of mom, though, shuffling down the hall bent over her walker, determined to walk that hallway to be at each meal, determined to do it herself, to keep going, to keep discovering what God had in each day for her, each day asking a simple question, “What is my purpose?” and then trusting it would be shown to her, even to 101 and ten months. A small act, a card to a friend, a kind word to a caregiver, holding my hands to warm them, telling my brother not to worry, telling me that “it will all work out.”

When I think about writing my book about my journey with mom, I wonder if I don’t recognize purpose in it because it’s not outward–a comforting hand to the brow of a laboring woman, a photograph, a story, taking care of mom’s needs–but an inward, solitary journey, a walk down the hallway of not knowing where it is leading. Perhaps a place all writers have to experience. Is anyone going to care at the end of this? Is there purpose in what I am doing?

But maybe that’s the question mom asked, too. Is there any point to this? Why am I still here? Maybe I should just stay in my apartment.

I told Ben, “It’s hard, this walk in the hallway.”

And he said, “When have you ever shied away from hard?”

Neither did mom.

Please make sense

I’m struck with a few things lately:  Terrorists continue to plot terror in a myriad of ways, predictions of economic collapse are rampant, death and mayhem fill the news, supremacists kill innocent people because their name is Myers and that sounds Jewish, and this morning an Iranian assassination plot was thwarted in D.C.

Icing on the cake–a friend says that only 10 percent of the population will survive when, not if, there’s an economic collapse.

But what has me thoroughly confused this week are the Occupy Wall Street protestors, especially those who defecate on police cars. I’m thinking it was one protestor and not en masse. Otherwise it would be one big shit pile, now, wouldn’t it.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with protests — or revolution — as long as people make sense, realizing of course that’s a lot to expect. I heard one interview with a woman who is 37, getting her master’s degree from Columbia, and raising an 8-year-old, living off unemployment and student loans, and she’s pissed off at Wall Street? Why isn’t she protesting in Washington D.C.? The federal government controls student loan programs and unemployment. Oh, no, wait, she’s not protesting handouts, she’s protesting having to pay them back. She’s protesting because she can’t have a free ride. And if she has to pay them back, they aren’t handouts.

That’s where I get really confused.

How about taking your Columbia University Degree and getting your masters and become a scientist and discover a cure for Lou Gehrig’s disease, or become  a doctor who saves children’s lives and stop whining. Wouldn’t that be better than protesting that the wealthy are wealthy and they should divide their wealth?

Some say, “No, we’re not protesting people being wealthy, we are protesting that the 1 percent who are wealthy control all the political decision making in this country.”

Sooo, go to Washington and protest (respectfully and using government funded porta-potties) on the mall. I’d say vote, but the cynic in me rises up in protest and says, “To what avail?” But at least protest failed policies, push for term limits, and demand that members of Congress get the same retirement and social security benefits as the rest of the plebes. If you’re fighting corruption, start in Washington D.C.

Another young woman had gone to an Ivy League school and was planning on being a doctor….but was, like the other woman, protesting the wealthy being wealthy. I’m sure I missed the main point somewhere in the rants, but seriously, I’ll just bet that once she’s a doctor, she will welcome a good salary, which if she’s a good doctor and not a whiner, she’ll deserve. But by the time she’s a doctor, if she and her fellow protestors get their way, doctors will no longer make a good salary and will begin to leave the ranks of medical caregiving. The last I checked, that’s already happening.

Doctors, bankers, lawyers, CEOs, and the Gates and Jobs of this world have historically made more money than the rest of us. We can complain all we want about their salaries and the fact that they live in big houses and have sailboats, but it doesn’t change the fact that they worked for it and for the most part contribute to society. Many are philanthropists and give away money by the missions. And yes, some are corrupt and some salaries are obscene. But to believe they should share their wealth with those who haven’t worked for it…I’m not sure that’s the answer. To be more blunt, I do not believe socialism is the answer.

I was influenced by Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged a long long time ago. Although I didn’t understand the message when I first read it at 18, I understood it perfectly when I read it again 30 some years later. Those who produce should not have to give handouts to those who don’t.

That is NOT to say that we are to walk over the homeless. On the contrary. I may have liked Atlas Shrugged, but I’m not quite the hard objectivist as Rand. We are called to help our fellow travelers. But without coercion. Please.

There are long-term problems facing this country and the world–from homelessness to terrorism to 2 million plus in our prison system. We have a 9 (some say 16) percent unemployment rate, and there are disadvantaged and underprivileged and people losing their homes every day.

Most Americans who are paying attention are pissed off and agitated and want to see changes. I understand why people protest.

But when you do, please make sense.

Embracing the embraceable

This morning I went back to bed to read and meditate on life and loss and how I was going to get myself out of one and into the other. I fell back asleep and had a dream. I was riding in the back seat of a car and suddenly mom was sitting beside me. She was old, like she was before she died, and dressed in the pink blouse she often wore on her birthdays.

I was so shocked I jumped and said something like, “You aren’t supposed to be here.”  But then I realized that it was a gift and I was supposed to take it for what it was.  I took her hand. Or she took mine. I had been cold when I went back to bed, my feet and hands, “like ice,” mom used to say. She would often take my hands and warm them in hers, always warm.

And so we held hands and we talked, but all I remember her saying is, “Is everything working out okay?” Usually she would say, “Everything will work out?” Not this time. It was an interrogative, as if to say, “How are you?”

I don’t know how I answered. Knowing in the dream it couldn’t be real, but acting as if it was. And waking to the reality.

Then I dreamed of my son. He  had come to visit, something he rarely does. And when he lay down to go to sleep he asked me to tuck him in. I did and gave him a kiss.

The two people who formed the core of my family at one time, both gone to new lives, one to the other side of the veil, one as if on the other side of a piece of canvas. I’m not sure his distance from me is a function of his own grief and life changes, or simply that he works, lives with his girlfriend, plays music, and is 29. It’s one more loss I contend with.

But as I do, I also notice those who are in my life who I love and who love me. My husband, who regardless of what I do, say, or how I look, cherishes me.

My dear friend and neighbor who I have loved for more than 24 years and have loved and been loved by her children.

I photographed her 18-year-old for his senior portraits on Sunday. He said he tells people I am his aunt. We returned to the house and his 16-year-old sister said that during a sermon at church that morning about healing she saw her hands placed just so on my back and neck, so she asked if she could give me a brief massage, something she has been doing since she was seven.

Meanwhile, the 14-year-old, who has me listed as her aunt on Facebook, entertained us with stories about who would be and would not be invited to her wedding and who among the seven siblings would be second to be married.

I talked to another friend on Sunday, a 35-year relationship that validates my journey through life.

Friends an hour from here, who are like family, hold us in love, as we do them.

My brother-in-law who faithfully reads my blog and sends me beautiful photos. His children. His ex-wife.

Friends up the road, who are in the will to take our dog in the event of our demise, invite us for dinner and helped us move mom’s stuff and reorganize the house.

Peace is the byproduct of accepting and being grateful for what is, not in what I can’t have.

[I don’t doubt the love between me and my son. I simply miss his presence.]

Recently at a lecture the speaker said, rather than focus on those who do not want to [or can’t] share your life, withdraw the energy and allow new playmates to come into your life.

Embracing the embraceable, receiving the love that is already in abundance. Living in gratitude rather than in lack. Living in the now, rather than in the past or the future. Living the reality rather than the dream. Holding hands with those who want to hold hands.

Holding what brings life.

Well, okay, there was some denial. Grief doesn’t just GO AWAY. It has a half-life that seems to emerge at unexpected moments, shredding the emotions.

And it isn’t, as I’ve said, simply the loss of my mother. Although I miss her dearly, it’s the loss of identity, the loss of a community orbit, and a loss of family connection.

There have been other coinciding losses. Unremitting foot pain has changed the way I do everything from housework to recreation to gardening. Hiking and walking have been life-long loves that I haven’t been able to do in more than a year. SO FAR no one has a solution, although when I saw a podiatrist recently (a lovely man, btw), he suggested that we might break my legs to straighten things out. Ah, thanks, but no thanks.

Apparently I’ve lived with a congenital leg structure issue with no problem until I mildly sprained my ankle three and a half years ago. “It was the straw…,” the doc said. A pebble in the water. A tiny twist. Nothing dramatic, but it was.

And so, I went to the bottom of the pity pot, groveled around there a bit, wondered what was the point of anything, let go of my expectations (as much as humanly possible) and now I’m looking for ways to find life and growth and consolation in the midst of change and loss.

Sometimes we are broadsided. Losses pile up and they don’t seem so significant until you really look and realize that although you live in the same place and in the same body, all has changed.

I told a friend a few nights ago that I had always had something to look forward to, a project, a job, my photography, family visits, writing a book, getting a degree, raising my son, taking care of mom, and that now I was ambivalent and lacked motivation.

Another friend said it was like the runners who run in place at a traffic signal because they know if they stop they’ll lose momentum. She said I had lost momentum because I was forced to stop. A stop sign in my face. No more taking care of mom. You’re fired. Okay, the job was wearing me out and it was time. But then, I couldn’t hike or walk, two activities that have always brought joy and consolation. Gardening is a struggle. Going to Costco has brought me to tears. Accepting photography jobs is a catch-22 because I’m on my feet.

But there’s simply no giving up. It’s not allowed. People with much worse going on in their lives don’t give up. They heal, are made whole, by a force of will, by God’s will, by seeing and allowing the good, and by recognizing and holding what brings life.