Sunday, May 31, 2009

Requiscat in Pace

My mother died around 11 p.m. Friday night.

Many thanks to all of you who have surrounded me with love and support throughout this difficult period.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

And We Wait....

I've decided to take a break from blogging until after my mother dies.

I suspect this will be sooner, rather than later. Her decline has been exponential over the last three days. I'm almost certain she still recognizes me, but she has little to say. She's eating and drinking less and sleeping more. She is not in pain.

Thanks for all your support.....I shall return.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Another good way to spend an afternoon...

Here’s a shout from the patio at Uncle Julio’s. Two and a half hours of unexpected mid-afternoon leisure have led me to plonk down in the breezy shade, margarita in hand, ceviche on the way, and a big blob of salsa on my shirt. It’s a mini-vacation. If I don’t look at the parking lot I can pretend I’m in Mexico.

So be it.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Three Legged Race

Again bereft of inspiration, I'm recycling another favorite from June, 2007. The photo of sweet Poogan was taken by her owner, Lori V of Do You Realize?

So, dogs and people. A lot alike, according to the old saw.

I adore
Ashland's dog park. It’s beautiful to watch the animals run, ears flapping, muscles doing what they were meant to do, coats gleaming in the sunshine. Some are perfect specimens. The rest do all right. Even that miraculous phenomenon that never ceases to amaze me: the three-legged dog.

ve all seen one – leg lost in some traumatic way – that runs, wags, even leaps for a Frisbee now and then, perfectly compensating for his loss, never looking back. The disability is obvious, but its effects are invisible. Sure, it must have been hard to relearn some things, and maybe he can’t sit up and beg any more, but he’s done what a dog does. He’s just gotten on with the business of joy.

In some of the early entries in this blog, I mentioned the epidemic of change in the lives of my friends (and, of course, my own as well). While some of these changes are positive, many of them – even the good ones - involve loss. The loss is sometimes sudden, an amputation if you will. A parent dies, a job disappears, a child gets in trouble in a spectacular way. Such loss is brutal, ruthless, but is easily defined. Something Has Happened.

But what of more insidious loss? What if the limb
isn’t severed but is slowly withering? What if the leg is there, even normal in its outward appearance, but is without function? When these losses happen in the confines of a family or an individual’s essential self, the analogy to limb loss becomes a little less stable.

When an actual limb begins to fail, a person has options: physical therapy, medication, adaptive technologies or supports. In extreme cases, amputation is the answer to creating a new whole. But people and their systems
aren’t that simple, are they? Think of the physical and emotional erosion of chronic illness. The slow train wreck of substance abuse. The withdrawal of intimacy in a strained marriage. These traumas – and that is what they are, even if they are not sudden – happen piecemeal, painfully.

Sometimes the loss is a realization, an “I will never…” statement. Not the whining kind that calls up a response like, “Don’t be silly! You have plenty of time/energy/money to do a, b, or c.” but the peaceful, mature knowledge that the time for a certain action is truly past, that the skills required are beyond a person’s reach, or that some dreams will simply never come true.

None of these scenarios are uncommon, and none are beyond our imagination. They number as many as the grains of sand on the floor of the ocean. The challenge comes, as always, in how we react. Is a full recovery possible? Sometimes the loss is too great, the energy required long gone. People do hit bottom, and they don’t always come back up. I’m not a character-Nazi, the kind of person who believes that a stiff upper lip and a strong work ethic can bring you back from anything. And not everyone is capable of adaptation.

But what of those who don’t want to stop walking, who dream of leaping once again for a well-tossed Frisbee? Even if you do persevere through loss, even if no one around you has any idea that recovery is in process, you still must face the absence. The leg is never going to function again. You leave an untenable situation. You strengthen the remaining limbs. Perhaps you find substitutes.

The challenge lies – at least for me – in the choice of a metaphor to understand your life from the loss forward. Do you choose the four-legged-but-one-is-impaired dog image, or do you radically remake yourself as the three-legged dog?

The answer means the difference between staying in the crate or chasing the tennis ball with your ears flapping and your coat gleaming. You may no longer be the fastest dog, you may no longer have
AKC conformation, and you may even elicit pity from those who stare at what is no longer there.

But you will have found your balance.

And you will continue to run on your three strong legs, and the sun will feel good on your back when you take a big slurping drink of cool water and collapse, happy, in the soft, green grass.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

"Show a little faith, there's magic in the night..."

Since I can't seem to choke out any substantive posts, I'm recycling...enjoy this, from April 2007.

When I was a college senior, I took a course titled “Fielding and Byron.” I remember telling my professor something along the lines of, “I just can’t get into
Tom Jones.” She looked down at me and replied, “You’re not old enough, not ready. Read it when you’re thirty and we’ll talk.”

I was insulted. How condescending! A sophisticated 21-year-old English major like me – well versed in the ways of the world…I could write my own damn picaresque based on the last two years alone...if she only knew – was “old enough” for anything she could throw at me. I even wrote my major essay on “Tom’s Naiveté.” That'll show her…

…that I was the queen of Unintentional Irony. She was, as usual, right, even though I “got into it” quite well just three years later. That professor has been a colleague and is now a friend, and we had a big laugh about that exchange a few years ago when I reminded her of it. Sometimes you’re not ready for a book; it’s just that simple. And sometimes you’re ready again, and again, and again and it’s new every time.

While we may well be able to do dispassionate analyses of our favorite flavor of art (and – burn me as a heretic – sometimes I doubt that we can ever put ourselves outside our analyses), and while we may be ashamed to admit it, we do see ourselves in books, paintings, songs. As a writer, I struggle with taking myself out of the work so a reader can put himself into it. But this entry is getting away from me.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably old enough to remember records. The kind you played on a turntable. The kind you stacked on a spindle and let drop while you lay on your bed and thought about your life in all its miseries and triumphs. Maybe this is something only girls do, but I doubt it. I know enough audiophile men to suspect otherwise. Perhaps you’re back there in your head right now, thinking of a particular song.

If so, track it down soon and play it. Listen to it the way you did back then. Notice the differences in the places it touches you, in the messages it holds. Let go of the part of your intellect that says, “Well, this line doesn’t exactly capture my existential ennui” or “You think your heart is broken now, singer, wait until you express those feelings to the person in question and see how you feel then.” Close your eyes. Be patient. It’s going to be a very different song, but the experience of listening while open to reverie is liberating.

Monday, May 11, 2009

This and That

Greetings from the coffee shop, where I'm watching rainstorm clouds move from the NE to the SW and listening to old Jackson 5 tunes on the shop sound system. If that's not incongruity....

I'm sure a significant thought exists deep in my brain, but my daily life is so complex right now I can't access it. So as an attempt to retain my two or three readers, here's some random scatter.

  • Young Girl turned 9 in January, but we just had her party last Friday. The "Cowgirl Campout" included horseback riding, tie-dying, roasting hot dogs and s'more marshmallows over a camp fire. Note: today's hangers are mighty flimsy compared to the ones I used as a child. The highlight of the evening was an activity I pulled from the net: Makeunders. Unlike a makeover, during which someone attempts to make the client as attractive as possible, a makeunder involves the attempt to make your guinea pig friend as hideous as possible. I expected them to use the garish and horrid cheap makeup I provided in conventional ways and places; they had other plans, which included in more than one case covering an entire face in red lipstick. I heaved a sigh of relief, as I realized that - for all their pretend coolitude - they're still little girls. I sadly suspect that this may be the last birthday party where that is the case.  Bittersweet.
  • My mother is failing more everyday, but her spirit is strong and not ready to leave.  She's catheterized, diapered, and hospital-bedded. Our hospice service has been wonderful. We've found compassionate sitters, who are there 'round the clock.
  • I'm aching for a summer in Oregon, but cannot make any plans while Mother is still alive. I'm trying to stay in the moment, in the hour, in the day, in the week and take things as they come. If it comes down to packing a single suitcase and loading child and dog in the car at a moment's notice, so be it.
  • Several good friends are experiencing loss and tragedy. Please send your healing thoughts out into the universe.
  • And the rain just keeps on falling.

Hopefully my next post will be, well, a substantive one and free of the annoying italics!