Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Ethel

I volunteer for an organization that helps elderly folk stay in their homes, mostly by providing transportation for shopping or medical appointments.  Sometimes I meet a client only once and sometimes I get to form a long term relationship.  Such was the case with Ethel.

Ethel.  87 years young when I met her.  I took her grocery shopping once a week. She would always be waiting in her lobby for me to pick her.  Always get in my car and start asking if she had her glasses.  It became like a Burns and Allen routine.  “I think I left them in my purse.  Is my purse in your car?”  No.  “Well, never mind, I don’t need them.”  “Oh, wait, where is my purse?”  I don’t know.  Do you want me to go upstairs and look?   “No, no, I don’t need it.  I have my wallet in my pocket.”  “Wait, where’s my wallet?”  In your pocket?  “Oh, let me check.  Oh look, here are my glasses!”  And then she would laugh.

Same thing.  Every week.

She had balance issues and needed to hang onto the shopping cart lest she teeter over.   As time went on she got too wobbly to go shopping with me and would instead leave me a phone message with her shopping list. Every week she would list “fish, very thin”  “milk, fresh” (as if I would get her old milk) “brussel sprouts, small”, etc.   I delivered every Thursday between 3 and 4:00 and every week she never heard me ring the bell because she had on some evangelical channel so loud she could hear nothing else. Eventually she would come to the door yelling “who is it?”  as if it was a surprise that I was there again and I would have to scream my name at least 5 times ("who is it?") before she would open the door.

She was a charismatic catholic with very strong beliefs and constantly told me she was praying for me.  Occasionally I would deliver groceries while her aide was there and Ethel always told the aide that I did not believe in God. I would try to explain that that wasn’t quite true but I eventually gave up.

She could never quite understand my and Martha’s relationship. She once shared Easter dinner with us and spent most of it asking Martha “who are you again?”  And almost every week she would ask me again about our relationship - “and who is she?”

When I first met Ethel her daughter was very ill with metastasized breast cancer and I asked her if she would like me to take her to visit. When we got there she wanted me to come in and meet her daughter who was in a hospital bed in the living room with her “live in” girl friend taking care of her. Her obituary and tombstone listed this “friend” as a long time companion.   Yep, I don’t think Ethel quite understood that relationship either.

Recently Ethel, now 91, began falling in her apartment. Once she called to tell me that she had fallen and could not get up but not to call for help as she would be fine. Of course, according to protocol I called.  The ambulance took her to the hospital where they did nothing for her.  She was so angry with me she did not speak to me for 2 weeks.  But the became worse and the senior complex she lived at said she would have to move to a nursing home, even though she was otherwise healthy. She was angry and devastated. She didn’t want to go. She was adamant but really had no choice.  I promised I would visit and bring her favorite snacks - Nutella and mallomars.  But I never had the chance.  Less than two weeks after the move she died.  I’m sure the loss of her independence killed her. She was a fiercely proud woman.

It has me thinking about what my future holds.  It’s a little frightening.  Statistics show that at least one person in a relationship will require long term hospital care.  I don’t want it to be me but I don’t want it to be Martha either. I’m not sure which would be worse.

Still, I am a planner and one must be realistic. I have spent the last year getting all our financial affairs under one umbrella to make the tradition to our kids that much easier.  And Martha and I recently did all the legal work to protect our assets should either of us need long term or nursing care.  I am trying to get Martha to start the Swedish death cleanse -  getting rid of excess stuff before you die, so other people don't have to do it for you.  It is a struggle but she is at least trying.

Working with the elderly has given me a front row view to the final stages of life, particularly in their efforts to stay independent and maintain their dignity.  I have seen lives end well, many not so well and some very painful and distressful.  I suppose it is all a crapshoot no matter how well you think you have planned.  Ideally I would like to die in my sleep like my grandmother and great grandmother and Ethel.  They were mostly healthy and independent til the end and then quickly and quietly gone.  But in case that is not in the cards I have some other options:

  • My veterinarian, who is a dear friend who watched his father-in-law die and slow and painful death, has promised me the blue juice should I need it.
  • My daughter who went to nursing school for a while tells me she knows how to put together a drug cocktail that would painlessly do the trick.

  • Or, as my father used to tease,  he wanted to die by being shot by a jealous lover.  Sounds good to me.

Either way, I’m sure Ethel will be praying for me.




Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Deja vu, all over again


Last week I broke my toe. The pinky toe on my left foot.

I was restoring some beautiful oak drawers that I salvaged from an old desk and dropped a large piece on my foot. I did have sneakers on but, of course, it hit at just the right unprotected spot.  I believe a few choice expletives may have escaped my lips. Although, I wonder, if a curse word falls in the garage with no one around, does it make a sound?

Anyway, my toe is swollen and half my foot is purple.  It has been somewhat triggering for me as it is the same foot that was smashed years ago during the attack.  If I stay off the foot I am in no pain. But as soon as I stand or walk on it, pain shoots from my foot to my brain. While I do appreciate and celebrate that I no longer curl into a ball and retreat into a non-responsive, PTSD quivering mess anymore, this triggering is causing my brain to flash ugly images of that day, like a ViewMaster going off in my head.

For a long time I wanted to feel this kind of pain, physical and mental, as a kind of self punishment. But I am over that. Long over that. Now, although I never want to forget what happened, I no longer want the graphic images popping up uninvited.  They are not pleasant and I wish I could get them to stop. It is taking a lot of energy to not have them effect me. I need my foot to heal and to heal quickly.  

On another note, one would think that when one broke a toe and had a lot of foot pain, that other family members might step up and offer to walk the dog.  Nope. Not even the daughter who brought her dog home for Thanksgiving.  Two dogs needing exercise, not one offer to help. And so I strapped on my high top hiking boots to stabilize the foot and limped around the block with two dogs pulling me along. Sometimes I do not like my family.

Anyway, this recent episode has me thinking that when I had breast reconstruction, I should have gotten double D’s instead of the small, never need to wear a bra, implants I did get. I think perhaps large implants would have stopped all the things I am constantly dropping on my feet.  Constantly!

Also, this injury is killing my daily step goals - down from 12,000 to 4,000. Arrrgggghh.

But as you can see, this post is going disintegrating into a whiny mess so I will say adieu.



Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Full of Grace

A furnace repairman who showed up before I, or the pipes, froze.

A new toilet handle.  It sounds like such a simple thing but the design is luxurious and it has solved the problem of the constantly running toilet.

A kitten who loves to sit on my lap when I’m on the john.  Kind of weird but an unexpected benefit on these unseasonably cold mornings.

Peachie and her boyfriend just bought their first house together . . . with a guest bedroom.

Beaner just won the job of her dreams. . . in a school with summers off, great benefits and a significant raise.

It is an ever amazing thing to watch my children successfully grow into themselves. Life is good.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Starfish Story

A quick walk around the web will quickly depress anyone these days.  People are feeling overwhelmed in the midst of the constant barrage of hate and divisiveness that has become our country.   It’s so easy to get stuck in helplessness and despair.

You may have heard this story before but I think it is a good reminder that we can all make a difference.


Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing.He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.

Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching.  As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea.  The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning!  May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”
The old man replied, “But there must betens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”

The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”


adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)


I used to be very involved in politics and group activism until I became tired and very disillusioned. I’m not saying that those avenues to change are ineffective, but they can be slow and frustrating and disheartening. Since that time I have concentrated more on one to one activism, trying to help just one person at a time.  My work is not about changing an entire world or an institution or even a policy. It’s about touching one life around me in a way that hopefully makes a difference to them.  

So instead of being overwhelmed about what you can’t do, consider what you can do. What is one action you can take? For just one person?

We can all make a difference. . .  at least to one starfish at a time.


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Full of Grace

Going through some older photos I remembered how much these things delighted me:

Hiking this summer with  my daughter we came across this in the middle of nowhere



It still makes me smile . . .  in a weird way



This plant popped up in my flower garden.

I didn’t plant it. It just appeared this year and gave me bountiful flowers all summer


Accidentally stumbling into this bookstore.


It was like walking into a treasure chest of old books


And lastly, this bear that was recently spotted wandering through our suburban town.



Nobody got crazy and wanted to shoot it. Everyone was just fascinated and enjoyed the sightings as it made its way peacefully through.




Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Collateral Beauty

I recently watched the movie “Collateral Beauty”.  Not a great movie and rather disrespectful/ignorant of people going through grief, but Helen Mirren was in it so not a waste of time either.  It is a movie about a man whose young daughter died of cancer causing him to get angry at, and retreat from life.  But one scene depicts an old woman advising the daughter’s mother “to notice the collateral beauty” surrounding death.

I am not sure exactly what that term meant for the characters of this story. But I recognized the feeling immediately.  Having been destroyed by trauma and a tragic loss I was very fortunate to come back from that with the help friends and an amazing therapist.  And once I crawled out of that hole I was aware of a new sense of love and beauty I had never known.  In a very strange way that trauma was a gift.

I try not to watch too much news coverage of horrendous events such as the Las Vegas massacre.  But one thing I always notice are the selfless acts of kindness that follow these kinds of tragedies.  The strangers who put victims in their cars and raced them to a hospital. The people who used their own bodies to shield others. The first responders who saved so many other lives.  One deranged gunman. Hundreds of loving, selfless human beings.  

Collateral beauty.

I am friends with a woman who works in a hospice and one of the things she has noticed working with the dying is, when faced with death, they discover a deep love and trust in the goodness of life, regardless of the pain and suffering they may be going through.

Collateral beauty.

I look back in awe at the way my life has unfolded over the years.  Sometimes I feel like I am living a fairy tale with a happy, loved and rewarding life. Not a fairy tale that erases the suffering that came before, but rather a life that has overcome it in amazing ways.  Trauma and sorrow gave me a depth of love and awareness within myself that I didn’t know I had.  

Collateral beauty.

Of course, some sadness is insurmountable and the effects of trauma are a lifelong struggle.  I’m not trying to soften the enormous emotional toll of tragedy.  But I do think perhaps a deep level of suffering can sometimes provide a door to something even deeper.  And we are very fortunate if we find the key which allows us to wake up to the gift of love and life in each passing day.






Monday, October 2, 2017

Anniversaries



“What will I become,
when I no longer carry
the weight of all this?”

-  Tyler Knott Gregson

Anniversaries can be hard and September 28th is a particularly difficult one for me. Memories bubble up and must be acknowledged.  Some memories are voluntary while others are intrusive and come whether I like it or not.  

I still tremble when I think about what happened to me. To Daphne.  After the attack I lost myself. I locked myself away for months and wouldn’t come out. I was scared of space. Scared of things being in the open. Scared of having to talk to people. Scared of being stared at.  

With help I have worked on my own healing and recovery for over 20 years and have come a long way. But I still struggle through anniversaries when I need to focus more on the never-ending work of healing from trauma.

Rape shaped me and my sense of who I am.

And who I am not.

When I was raped, I lost a lot of things: my choice, my esteem and my voice.

Through this blog I have made connections with other rape survivors. Once I was asked to come and speak to one woman’s professional group.  I couldn’t do it. I went to the presentation and started to listen to others’ stories but I couldn’t even stay in the room.

I am not as brave as others.

I have such admiration for those women who can tell their stories and are changing the way the world sees and reacts to rape. Those brave women who go to court and talk about what happened to them and show their scars, even in the face of withering victim blaming.  I want to be a witness with them but I am unable to do it.  

I am ashamed and embarrassed that I can’t.

If I talk about the ways I’m affected— how I still wake to night terrors and how groups of men scare me—people will say I am so sorry, and then I’ll be the thing that happened to me instead of being me. But there are lots of other things that define me as well. Although I still grieve for who I was,  I am someone else now.  

I have learned to be okay with that.

The greatest act of love I have ever given myself was the willingness to do what I needed to do to heal. Although it still feels like work, I now also see it is as one of the biggest blessings I have been given.  I have found myself again.

I hope to someday find my voice.

i am.jpg

Today I woke to the horrendous news out of Las Vegas.  And once again I sympathize with all those who will forever be changed by trauma.  I know the long road they have ahead of them and I hope that all those who need to heal choose to do this work.