Thursday, December 29, 2011

It Looks Worse Than it Feels


Warning:  I have included a picture of my new, boobless chest.   It is very bruised and might be disturbing/triggering to some.


Yesterday I had the drains removed. Holy effing ouch ! 

That's all I'm going to say about that.

Having the majority of surgical tape removed has given me a much greater range of motion but I have a long way to go before I will be able to raise my arms over my head.  Physical therapy a la Peachie begins today.

The pathology report was good.  No metastasises in the lymph nodes.  I still need to see the oncologist, but at least there is no immediate red flags. 

I can now shower!!!!  I can't reach up to wash my hair or reach down to shave my legs and I think it will eons before I can shave my pits.  Argggghh.    But hey, Rome wasn't built in  a day. 

The deep bruising close to my armpit had been all over my chest so this is a major improvement.   And perhaps most meaningful to me is that I have now been able to look my body and not go into extreme trigger mode.  As much as this visual brings me back to a day the had the shit kicked out of me, I have been able to stay in the present without flashbacks.   I consider this a major victory and a very real confirmation that I am healing in many, many ways.

I apparently also need to get back to the gym and work on those abs.  



Monday, December 26, 2011

Full of Grace

This week it would be very hard for me to limit my gratitude to just five items.  It has been an amazing week so here goes:

- For my sister who left her family on their major holiday to come and help me get through my surgery

- About to be wheeled in to the operating room, the nurse who said "I believe in good luck kisses."  My sister kissed me, then Martha kissed me, and then the nurse kissed me too, which made me laugh.

- The nurse in the recovery room holding my hand and asking if I was Beanie's mom.   Seems her daughter and mine were basketball rivals for years.   She brought me back to the present by sharing some of her memories of Beanie on the court. 

- Ice chips.   Amazing how such a simple thing can be so wonderful.

- To all those folks who work in the medical profession.  I am in awe of their knowledge, patience and compassion.

- On my first night home my sister thought my bandages were leaking.   Martha called a friend who is a doctor who came immediately, with his supplies in a Build-A-Bear bag, and checked me out.  He changed some of the dressing and all was okay.    Do any doctors make house calls anymore?

- Martha's niece's daughter who made me a whole tin of their secret recipe xmas cookies, knowing I would miss the xmas eve celebration.

- Peachie who has changed my drains, washed my hair, and has been an incredible caretaker.  

- Beanie, who can't do medical stuff at all, has kept me laughing and entertained. 

- Martha who has anticipated every need and made sure it was in my reach.  And has let me cry without question.

- Friends who arranged for food to be constantly delivered so that my family had one less thing to worry about, filled my house with flowers and have kept me smiling with loving emails, well wishes and gifts. 


I generally try to go through life with an attitude of gratitude because I understand how very blessed I am.  But when something happens that reduces me to helplessness,  I realize that I have not begun to scratch the surface of how abundant my life is.  My heart is overflowing with appreciation and love for you all.







Do these drains make me look fat?



First couple of days were a little rough but every day I have a small victory.

Every day I gain a little more mobility in my arms - it is very frustrating not to be able to reach the toilet paper, comb my hair, scratch an itch, get dressed or get anything out of the fridge. 

This morning I could finally reach the toilet paper.  Yay!  Up til now it might as well been 3 miles away.

My drains are slowing down and I hope to get them out this week.   By far they are the most disgusting and irritating thing about this operation.

Yesterday I took a walk around the block. 

Still, for as good as things have been going, I have my bad moments. 

I am getting cranky from trying to sleep sitting up and every movement wakes me.    The cranky sometimes leaks out to my family who are really being so good to me.

I still have not looked in a mirror.  I am told that the bruising that originally came up to my collar bones is receding quickly, but that first glimpse  was enough to keep me from looking again.

And I keep having these short random crying jags.  I mean, is there any reason to start uncontrollably sobbing when Ralphie gets his Red Rider BB gun?   

But I am so much better than I thought I'd be at this point.  I was able to enjoy Christmas with my family, opening gifts and eating entirely too much junk.  I  have had incredible dreams being visited by both Lauren and Daphne in very calm and loving scenarios.  (I hope that continues)  And the anesthesia is finally starting to clear so my family has stopped laughing at all the stupid and repetetive things I apparently kept doing. 

Now I just need some snow.

I hope you all were able to find some joy in whatever you celebrate.   

Friday, December 23, 2011

Recovering



I am so happy to be home.   I was in recovery for over 4 hours so that wasn't so good but I am past it now.  

I am up and walking around although laying down is the most comfortable for me.   I am managing with just Tynelol.   Whoever gave me the suggestion for a camisole with the pockets for the drains - it is a god send.  The drains are really gross and I can't even look at them.  Fortunately my sister and Peachie have been able to do the dirty work.

Tomorrow a home health nurse will come and change the bandages.  I am not looking forward to that.  I have not looked down yet.   One thing at a time.

Thank you again for all your prayers and support.    You will never know how much that meant to me.

Wishing you all a happy and joy filled holiday.





Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Surgery Set

Surgery time is set for 10:50 am. EST.    Should take about 2 1/2 hours.

And then recovery for as long as it takes.

I had the nuclear dye inserted today.  My boobs are not glowing.  I am disappointed.

But my sister and my daughters are going to decorate them tonight.   

I'm ready.

Hopefully I'll be back here soon.   Thank you again for all your support.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Full of Grace


1. Having my daughters home for a 5 week winter break.

2. Making Christmas cookies with them (always the jokesters)



3. Having Beanie make me cry when she shared her birthday wish with me.

4. Brown paper packages tied up in love.

5. My home overflowing with well wishing cards and chocolate. I am blown away with the love.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

For My Age

Today I am feeling a little bummed. Not depressed or anything, just a little melancholy.  I think it started when I got a lovely card from a friend that said "I'm sorry you're sick."

Sick? I have not really thought of it in those terms. I am very rarely sick. In fact, most people are surprised when they learn how old I am because I stay pretty active - back packing, skiing, kayaking. If anything, its my sun damaged, weather beaten skin that gives my age away. True, over the years, I carry less weight in my back pack and more ibuprofen. Getting up from a skiing wipe-out has become an aerobic activity in and of itself. White water kayaking has given way to being content to explore the tributaries of calm mountain lakes.

Last year I tore my meniscus. I wish I could say I did it skiing a black diamond course at Lake Placid. Or hiking a steep trail in the High Peaks. But no, I slipped on a wet leaf. Not very glamorous. That injury and the following surgery took away my entire ski season last winter and also the spring/summer backpacking season. And I wasn’t very pleased when a doctor told me that my knee joints were pretty worn out. But that I was in great shape - for my age. For. My. Age. How effing depressing is that?

Next week I will have a bilateral mastectomy. I am generally feeling okay about that, yet some things are niggling at me:

- I had hoped to go skiing at least once before the surgery. But no. We have had no snow and the temperatures are so warm, ski resorts can’t even make it. Very unusual weather we’re having.

- Although gravity has certainly done its dirty work, my breasts are still pretty perky. It will be sad to see them go.

-Everything I normally do to keep my PTSD at bay will be impossible for me for the next few weeks - exercising hard, sauna time, being outside, sleep, etc.  I am deeply concerned about how I am going to manage the symptoms.

-I appreciated the suggestion that I ask if Martha could be in the recovery room with me as, the thing I am most terrified about this whole ordeal, is coming out of anesthesia. Unfortunately, Martha is having a great deal of difficulty with this whole cancer thing, and would not be the right choice. Lauren, my therapist, would be the right choice. I am missing her something fierce.

- I recently found out how much volunteer work Lauren did which breast cancer patients. Really? Let’s pour a little salt into that wound.

- Martha will go to her niece’s for Christmas Eve. I will sit at home, draining my chest.

- Every year, the day after Christmas, we do a traditional roast beef and Yorkshire pudding dinner with Martha’s best friend and family. That is now being postponed because, really, no one wants to see me sitting there, draining my chest. Including me.

I keep looking at this card saying "I’m sorry you’re sick. I will never forget how kind and helpful you were when Rob was sick. If there is anything I can do to return the favor . . ."

Rob, younger than me, had cancer and died within one year.

So today I am feeling a little melancholy. Next Wednesday I am having my cancerous breasts removed on the same day, in the same hospital, where 20 years ago I watched my oldest daughter being born. It just seems surreal to me that that much time has passed. That my body is starting to fail me.  That I am starting to feel old.  Well, at least old . . . for my age.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Full of Grace

1. All the wonderful and helpful advice I got from my last post. Wow, you guys really came through.   And with each problem solved I feel a little less anxiety.

2. Holiday presents all bought/made, wrapped and shipped.

3. A partner who will have me for better or worse.

4. A ridiculously lazy day.

5. The frozen grapes I found buried under some other unidentifiable frozen thing -  a surprise taste of summer.



PS - Does anyone know if, after the mastectomy, I can legally go topless in public?  

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Getting Prepared

Surgery date for the bilateral mastectomy is set for December 21st and I have been using this time to get myself prepared.
 
- Copies of health care proxies and power-of-attorney documents. ( I will never be caught in a "you have no right to visit your partner" crisis again)

- Zip up hoodies and button up shirts. I have been told it will be a long time before I can put something on over my head.

- Cut my hair much shorter for easier care

- Strength conditioning. Lots of ab work to help me sit up from bed without use of my arms and lots of chest opening yoga stretches. I am hoping this helps.

- Loaded the iPod with upbeat songs.

- Got a pile of books to read and a friend bought me a Kindle in case even turning pages was a problem.

- Stocked up on Nutella and put it at waist level (must always be within reach)

- Got a pillow wedge for the bed but will probably be in a recliner for a while.

- Scheduled my massage (hot stone) and facial.

- My sister is coming up to help since Martha cannot get off work (except day of surgery), friends have already committed to bringing dinners, and my daughters will both be home from school.

If you know anyone who has been through this and have other helpful hints, I would be happy to hear them.

And then there’s the weird stuff -

- Someone told me how you can’t raise your arms to shave your armpits for quite a while (gross) and she suggested having my pits waxed.  Okay, even the thought of that has me cringing. But I honestly don’t know what’s worse.  Has anyone done this?  I am very fair and have never had anything waxed in my life.

And the fear -

- I have always had a difficult time coming out of anesthesia.  Not only from the nauseousness but mostly because, for some reason, it triggers me into horrific flashbacks, which are then made worse by the not being able to rouse myself from under the sedation, which brings on more anxiety, which triggers more flashbacks, and so on. And this will be my hardest surgery and the longest time under sedation.  So while I think I’ve prepared myself for the physical and emotional impact of the surgery,  I know that when I hit the recovery room, I will be reliving the worst terror in my life, over and over, with no way to make it stop.

And how do I prepare myself for that?
 Well, there is this
 
which both my daughters put on their Facebook page with a message that says "stay strong mom"
 
Yep. I’m trying.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Full of Grace

1. Health insurance. This bill is for only one of the three biopsies I had. $4,575 !!!    I can’t imagine what the surgery itself must cost.   My total out-of-pocket cost will be $75.   Yes, I’m very grateful for health insurance for which I have never paid a penny.




2. Finishing all my outdoor work before the snow flies.

3. A day that started with a friend and a big bunch of laughter

4. Leftover chinese takeout

5.  Sloppy dog kisses to wake me up.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Decisions decisions

A friend recently gifted me with a certificate to a spa. I have never had a professional massage so I am very excited by this. Also, the gift was so generous that I can do massage and something else. I can’t stand to have anyone touch my feet, so a pedicure is out.  I thought maybe a facial since I have been a sun worshipper since birth and my skin is more than showing it.

Anyway, the brochure had at least 20 different massages and facials to choose from. I weeded it down but I really have no idea how to choose, so if any of you have any experience with these kinds of things, I would sure appreciate a little advice. What would you choose?
 
Massages -

PANTAI LUAR - ISLAND OF DREAMS
You will slip away to Eastern Asia when you experience our Oriental influenced body treatment and massage. This extraordinary massage and body treatment is performed using two heated "dumplings" made up of the highest quality essential oils, fresh herbs, coconuts, and limes that give off an exotic, warm fragrance. These warm dumplings are passed quickly over the body using various massage techniques, and as they cool, they move more slowly. Pressure is applied to the muscles, and the herbs and essential oils are released onto the skin leaving you relaxed and glowing.
 
SWEDISH MASSAGE
The Swedish is a relaxing and therapeutic massage that incorporates the full body using traditional long strokes combined with kneading techniques. This is the best technique to increase your circulation, improve the skin and muscle tone, and soothe tired muscles.


ESSENCE MASSAGE
The Essence Massage is 75 minutes of pure indulgence. We start by creating a customized blend of essential oils that you help choose depending on the results you are looking for. The oils are then incorporated into the massage to bring relaxation, a total de-stressing, or revitalization...whatever you need. A gift of essential oil is included.
 
DEEP TISSUE MASSAGE
This one-hour massage is designed to target specific areas deep within the muscle tissues assisting in the removal of lactic acids allowing our systems to work more effectively. This is the perfect massage to relieve that stress and tension.
 
HOT STONE THERAPY
A full 90 minutes, this massage combines tension-releasing techniques with smooth river stone therapy. The stones are gently warmed and serve as an extension of your therapist’s hands, as the weight and heat relaxing muscle tissues to allow for true, deep restoration.
 
 
Facials -
 

DELECTABLE INDULGENCES
These luxurious facials are anything but fluff. More than just a tasty treat, these facials contain antioxidant properties that fight free radicals. Our fantasy facials include a layered mask that enhances the anti-aging effects. Diminish sun damage, fine lines and wrinkles as well as firm, lift and tone the skin. Savor the sweet aroma of radiance. CHOCOLATE SOUFFLÉ | MANGO PARFAIT | CRANBERRY CREAM

ANTI-AGING FACIAL
This facial is specifically designed to wipe away the effects of dehydrated or fatigued skin and will leave you looking and feeling refreshed and renewed. French seaweed is incorporated into this facial providing the benefits found only in French seawater, waters which are known to be rich in trace elements.

ENZYME FACIAL TREATMENT
All of the soothing benefits of our Signature Facial along with a special peeling mask. This unique mask provides a gentle exfoliation, leaving the skin free of dead cells while restoring its suppleness. Enjoy the refreshing benefits of this treatment that will leave you positively radiant.

FOREVER YOUNG FACIALFrance’s Pasteur Institute developed the revolutionary firming and lifting agents used in this facial. A combination of Epidermal Growth Factor, red wine, lactic and glycolic acids, vitamins A, C, E and K minimizes wrinkles, and gives skin a lift beyond compare. Recommended for normal and dry skin.

GRAPE VEIL FACIAL
Problematic dry, sun-damaged and aging skin, this is your answer. Boost your facial with a Glycolic Grape Veil mask to help regain your ultimate complexion.

HYDROTHERAPY FACIAL
While your body is immersed in our warm and soothing hydrotherapy tub, relax and enjoy a face, neck, and shoulder massage using a special blend of pure plant extracts. Move then to a comfortable room to enjoy the application of a mask with nourishing moisturizer.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Full of Grace

1. Having both my daughters home, together for the first time since early August, to celebrate all the abundance in our lives.

2. Sweater weather.

3. Finished Martha’s birthday shopping with 24 hours to spare.

4. Nutella by the (very large) spoonful.

5. Hugs. I have received so many hugs lately. One can never have too many of those.


and then I just found this, posted today on Dorothy Surrenders



Thank you Universe!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Medical Update

The last two weeks have been a blur of doctors’ appointments.

Routine mammogram. Call back mammogram. Ultrasound. Cyst biopsy. Ultrasound biopsy. Cancer diagnosis. Stereostatic biopsy. Breast surgeon. Choices - lumpectomy with lymph removal and constant monitoring or bilateral mastectomy. Run around get all the reports. Second opinion. Breast MRI. I think I am FINALLY done with all the tests.

I have decided on the full mastectomy. I am really tired of being in pre-cancer mode. And I’m really good about this decision. At least mentally. Physically I am in panic mode as I really don’t do medical things very well. Great attitude, poor execution. I pass out. A lot. I have a horrible, terrifying time with anaesthesia. Pain meds make me nauseous. So I am trying to get myself psyched to get through it.

Unfortunately my closest support systems are falling apart. My sister calls me every day to boost my spirits but ends up in tears and hangs up abruptly. My mom is wringing her hands and offering to come up to take care of me, which I keep politely declining because, in reality, she will just become another person Martha has to take care of. And Martha, who is always my rock, seems to have retreated into a mystery place.

When I first told her about the cancer diagnosis, she gave me a quick hug and then went back to ordering some car part on the computer. She asked me to make whatever appointments I could later in the day so she could go with me (she works in a school). But then something has come up every time and she doesn’t go. She had a call into our family physician (she is asking for anxiety drugs which she has never taken.) And I asked her when he called if she could ask if my last pathology report had come in. He called her. She forgot to ask. I have actually stopped talking to her about my concerns as she looks like she is at the end of her rope.

I’m not sure how to help her. Tonight Peachie comes home for a week. On Sunday we are going to go see Beanie in her dance recital. (Really she’s in college, shouldn’t I be done with dance recitals?) We have decided not to tell the girls until they are both home for Thanksgiving which will be on Tuesday. And where Martha says we have to present a strong front and not worry them, especially as they go into their final exams, I am more of a let’s all cuddle in bed, have a good cry, and then map out a plan. I had thought I would ask each of them to do a little thing that could help. Beanie could go buy me some zip up sweatshirts that have been recommended to me. Peachie, who is studying physical therapy could research some exercises I should be doing to make the surgery easier.

I don’t know. After going through PTSD therapy hell because I buried all emotion for far too long, I hope I’ve learned something about dealing with stuff straight on. But I live with the stoic, German, ex cop who is great in an emergency because she just does what has to be done. Not so great when it comes to emotional stuff. Never talks about emotional stuff. Never. Ever.

So that’s where I’m at. My head is in a fairly good place, my body not so much. Martha has put up a protective wall, and I don’t know how my daughters will react. But friends are already lining up to help with food, transportation, chocolate. (Still need to find someone who has the stomach to deal with those drains I will come home with)

If I have learned anything from my past, it’s that I am strong enough to face a challenge. With a little help from my friends. Well, with A LOT of help from my friends.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Full of Grace - If You Could . . .

I usually write a list of things I was particularly grateful for during the week, but I've been completing these questions, as seen on Making Space,  and it sums up just how happy I am with my life.  Not a perfect life.  Not without it's challenges.   But oh so good.  

If you could…

1) live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

I'm very happy right where I am.   I can be in three major cities in less than 3 hours, high in the mountains in less than an hour, and in rural farmland, woods and streams in 5 minutes.   Any place my family is, is home for me.  And it's nice to have my mom's house when I need to go back to the beach.


2) change anything about your body, what would it be?

I would repair my foot that was smashed, and now is filling with arthritis.   It's true, when your feet hurt, it effects everything.    And now, of course, to beat this breast cancer.

3) go to your perfect job, what would it be?
I can't imagine a better job than the one I have.  I get to be creative in designing developments and protecting the environment.   I meet new people every day and get to help them with their problems.  I work with business folk, farmers, school administration, community groups and residents.   I get to work behind the political scene to establish policy and get to be outdoors and wander around woods and farms whenever I like.    There is always a different challenge to address and I look forward to going to work.   Everyday.

4) change anything about your partner, what would it be?
Hmmmm.  As much as she can drive me nuts,  I really wouldn't change much.  I would like her to be more able to talk about her feelings.  She is very difficult to read, especially when she is pissed at me.  I know she is mad, but I rarely know why.   So I just keep stepping in it.    Better communication would be a godsend.  But I'm sure her list of what she would change about me more be significantly longer.

 5) have dinner with a celebrity, who would you choose?
 Cate Blanchett.  Dinner, dessert . . .


6) be invisible for a week, what would you do?
Hang around Cate without the danger of being arrested as a stalker.

7) tell someone the absolute truth what would you say?

I love you.


8 ) have a talent that you don’t have now, what would it be?

Singing, dancing, cooking are the big three I am jealous of other people for.  If I had to choose just one, probably dancing.

9) see someone who has died just for an hour, just to talk, who would you want to see?

Daphne.  But no longer for any macabre reasons.  True, I would like to say I'm sorry, and to be able to say goodbye.  To have a final closure.  But now, after working so hard to integrate all those painful memories and feelings from the past, mostly I would really like her to be able to meet my daughters and see how blessed my life is today.  I think she would be very pleased.

10) be the opposite sex, who would you want to look like?

Mads Mikkelsen



11) take one thing back that you’ve said to someone, what would it be?

"You don't deserve to live."  Which I said to myself.   I was wrong.  I am learning to forgive myself.

12) pick the time of your death, when would you want it to be?

2 am.  In my sleep. Having a great dream.   Ideally I would like to live long enough to see my daughters happily established in their own lives.

13) pick an actress to play you in the movie of your life, who is closest to what you really look like and could play your personality well?

Maybe Liv Ullman.  We share a Scandinavian background.  And like in the movie Persona where she speaks only a handful of words, I am a very quiet person, much happier listening than speaking.



14) change your name to any other, what would it be?

I wouldn't change my first name which is a derivative of my great grandmother's name.  But I don't have a middle name and I would take my grandmother's - Kristianna

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Learning to Speak (part 1)

I have suffered from claustrophobia ever since my assault. It was like a switch going on - I never felt claustrophobic, and then I did. But I learned to adjust to it.  I live and work in wide, uncrowded spaces. I am healthy enough to take stairs instead of elevators. I always get theater tickets on an aisle. I always sit on the outside of a booth. Most of these things have just become second nature to me.

Work has sometimes been a dilemma. I usually show up at meetings very early to insure a seat by the door. Occasionally I would show up too late, and the only seating left would be in the back. And I would actually leave (even if it was required that I be there) - so strong was the fear of being closed in. One day my therapist asked why I didn’t just ask a person sitting near the door to move. My answer was that I couldn’t go into the reasons for my claustrophobia. And she asked why I thought I needed to. Umm, I don’t know.

So the next time I went to a meeting where there was no comfortable seating left for me, I went to up to this woman and simply said, "I have wicked claustrophobia, would you mind letting me have your seat by the door?" She was sweet as could be, and said of course, and moved. And that has worked for me every single time. Once a gentleman looked at me kind of sad and said that he was claustrophobic too. But then he got up, brought an empty chair up, and skooched around so that we could both sit near the door.

People can be incredibly kind when given the opportunity.

Today I went for my final breast biopsy. Stereotactic. I was told that this would be the hard one, where I would be lying down, with my breast in compression, for about 45 minutes. I had been in a slowly ascending state of anxiety all week. Laying face down, not being able to move, I knew would be a major trigger for me. But then a friend suggested I let them know what the problem was. Again, I knew that I would never be able to come out with the real words, but maybe could say something.

When I arrived, I had myself in a near panic mode. A technician who was getting things ready asked me how I was doing. And I said that I was very nervous about the set up and blurted out that I had some trauma issues. She came over to me, put her hand on my arm and said "I will get someone to help." She came back with a woman who pulled up a chair in front of me, took my hands in hers, and said "we will get through this together."  Okay, which was really more of a question than a statement.

I was laid out on a table, one breast hanging down through a hole, and clamped into place. (Really, there has got to be a better way.)  I was told I could not move, which again started the panic rising.  This woman got warm blankets and asked if it was okay to put them over me. She then held my hand and asked if she could put her hand on my back. (I suspect this woman had once had some issues of her own)  Through the whole procedure, which took almost an hour)  she rubbed my back and asked me questions about my family and work    If I started to fade out she would snap her fingers and say "stay with me here in the present" and kept me talking. 

I have always felt that there are angels who show up when I need them. She was definitely one.

I am slowly coming to recognize and trust the therapeutic benefits of speaking about trauma, more of which I hope to discuss in a later post. For now I am basking in the delight that there are so many people who are amazingly kind and willing to help without needing to know the details. Angels who are worthy of trust and will not let me go.

And for all you other angels who were saying prayers and sending calming energy, I thank you.   They worked!!!   This was a huge, huge hurdle for me.  All the tests are now over and I am waiting for the results to determine the next step.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Full of Grace


1. "You have great pecs"   That is what a doctor (who looked like the love child of Hillary Swank and Natasha Richardson) said to me during one of my biopsies. That’s what she said. But I heard sooooo much more . . .

2. Peachie coming home for an impromptu weekend - shopping, chatting, baking cookies, snuggling.  I do miss that little one.

3. A friend dropping by with a basket of banana muffins. Yum

4. That these flowers survived the snow and frost.  They are the last from my garden.  I love the survivors.


5. And the best thing all week - last month I had to lay off my secretary because of budgetary woes (one of the hardest things I have ever done.)   But her union has voted for reduced benefits in order to keep the 5 eliminated positions. All five people have their jobs back!!! At least for another year.  I am doing my happy dance.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Finding My Shadow

In her memoir "Before the World Intruded" Michele Rosenthal writes:

When you survive a life-threatening experience you become another person justlikethat. It happens in an instant. If it's happened to you, you know exactly what I mean. One minute you're minding your own business, aware of who you are and what it means to be you - and then, Wham!, all of a sudden that self is gone.

I spent a lot of time trying to get my old self back. Then a lot of time in mourning when I finally accepted that I could never get her back. And then more time trying to become a new person.  Yet always knowing I was not whole.   It is a very strange life, the life after your soul dies.

When I last met with Daphne’s mother, she had asked me about that day. And she said that all she knew came from the police report. A police report? I had never seen the police report and I asked her, if she still had it, to send me a copy. Which she did. Which again sent me reeling into that void between then and now.

One of the hardest parts of my recent therapy was the trying to remember and process what happened to me. I can vividly remember what happened to Daphne, that plays in my head constantly. But, as the mind will do when it is flooded with more than it can handle, it dissociates from the event. So while my body was suffering, my mind kindly checked out. Most of my therapyy work was centered on trying to get back those memories because although they are not consciously remembered, they constantly reek havoc underneath the surface.  Through the immersion therapy, revisiting the site, and particularly the hypnosis, I was able to recall some of those details.   Yet  I have always seen those memories as if I’m an outside observer watching them happen.  I have yet to be able to place myself back in that body as the attack occurred.  And perhaps that’s for the best. Yet I still have this overwhelming need to reconnect to that body, to that person I left bound and gagged and raped and broken.

Reading the police report was shattering. There is a statement by the officer summarizing the events. Sadly, the emphasis is on us being two lesbians, and the difference in our races, and that unwritten but very clear suggestion that ‘we got what we deserved.’ Unfortunately, I don’t think much has changed in that regard in the intervening years.

Then there is a statement that I made. I have a vague recollection of speaking with an officer at the scene, but oh so freakish to now see my words written there above what is my signature. I barely remember who that person was.  And then there is a statement that Daphne gave, days later in the hospital.  Reading about the attack through her eyes was quite the mind fuck, seeing it all from her point of view.. 
So much I did not remember. Details that sent me to bed for a few days, rocking in my fetal position.  Bruising flashbacks.   So much that happened to me that I struggle to remember on a conscious level but I know I feel on some level.  They lurk in my peripheral vision or just under my skin, waiting.   I am beginning to confront them and make peace with them.   It's a good thing.
For years I have felt like Peter Pan searching for his shadow.  I know that to be healthy and whole again I somehow need to integrate those memories with the feelings associated with them and to reconnect to that person.  Not to go back and be that person. I know that is impossible.  But those memories are like my shadow.  I know that in order for a shadow to exist, light and darkness must both exist. For me to be whole, I have to have my shadow back - it is all a part of me.
I am getting so close. Each puzzle piece that falls into place, each memory that comes back, no matter how disturbing, gets me closer.  I feel like I have now found my shadow.  I just need to catch it and sew it back on.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Full of Grace

Last week I was once again diagnosed with breast cancer, which was not great news to hear. Yet still there is much to be grateful for:

1. 11 years of remission which made me ultra aware and grateful for every single healthy day I’ve had.

2. Early detection has hopefully caught it the early stages. The next two weeks are a blur of medical appointments and tests to determine exactly what I’m dealing with and formulating a plan.

3. Having a job that not only covers all my medical expenses, but also allows me the freedom to go to all these appointments with very little hassle.

4. Because I’ve had so many breast issues, I already have a wonderful medical team in place. I have full confidence in them and know that I’ll get the most compassionate and best medical care available.

5. Martha, who was my rock last time I went through this. There is so much comfort in knowing I do not have to do any of this alone.  

I often give rides to women for their chemo or radiation treatments and I know how difficult it is for some - lousy insurance, jobs with little flexibility, few family or friends to help with the daily transportation needs.  Cancer is never a welcome diagnosis, but I do appreciate the amount of support I have to get through it.   I can't imagine having all that additional stress.

________________
 
Also, during the past few weeks I have purposefully been avoiding the internet as I have been experiencing a wave of PTSD symptoms and the internet is just riddled with triggers for me - every day another story of corrective rape, gay teen suicide, another gay person bashed, etc.   I needed to escape it for awhile. However, I have also been ignoring the advise I give most other sufferers when they are down - keep talking/writing about it. It’s very therapeutic. And so I will try.  I will also try to catch up on favorite blogs and email.  Soon. I hope. Very soon.

_____________________
 
And please go check out this wonderful website - www.Wish11Eleven.com - a community art project where wishes will be posted much like PostSecret.  Go on, you know you have some wonderful things to wish for . . .

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Full of Grace

Finishing all my acts of atonement (I hope I didn’t leave anyone out) and having every apology accepted.
 
Receiving fun packages in the mail
 
The doctor who stitched up my finger after an unfortunate carpentry accident.


 
Clean crisp sheets.
 
An absolutely stunning weekend at the lake.





Friday, October 7, 2011

Anniversary 22

Tomorrow Martha and I will celebrate our 22nd anniversary together.  It seems impossible that we are old enough to be celebrating a number that big.

Of course, I use the word "celebrate" rather loosely. Martha does not have a romantic bone in her body. I doubt she’ll even remember, unless she gets the mail when my mother’s card arrives. My mother always remembers.

We are expecting phenomenal weather here this holiday weekend, sunny in the 80s. We have not yet closed our lake cabin and we are planning to go there and enjoy the mountain fall foliage. I will remind her of the anniversary and we will go to a nice restaurant in town and toast each other with our water glasses.

We will sit in our Adirondack chairs overlooking the now quiet lake like two old friends and reminisce about our years together. We will remember my father who died on the same date, six years ago. I’ll cry. She’ll hold my hand until I stop.   And we will snuggle up together and comment on how fucking lucky we have been.

We have had some very good years. We have also had some very trying times. We have argued and fought and made up. We almost broke up but instead did the work to heal the wounds. We have raised two amazing daughters, or more accurately, they raised us.  We have survived some serious health crises and suffered a few difficult family situations. We have shared profound intimacies, enjoyed friends, travelled and grown.   We have taken care of each other and supported our separate and joint dreams.  We have loved each other and kept each other warm through it all.

I am sometimes sad when I acknowledge that she is not the love of my life. Not my soul mate. Not the person I had planned on spending my life with. Yet she is the one who I have shared my life with. And I have enjoyed all that she has brought to my life and everything she has made possible for me.

She still makes me laugh.

She is still my best friend.

And her kiss still makes me swoon.

 
The universe has been very generous to me and I am exceedingly grateful .

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Full of Grace - texts

Gratitude for some of this week’s texts:

- sending hugs and kisses (Peachie)

- miss and love you (Peachie)

- if you are home for dinner tonight I will make shrimp scampi  (Martha)

- miss you like crazy (Peachie)

-can you send me extra money this week? (Beanie)

Friday, September 30, 2011

Atonement and Reconciliation


On the Jewish calendar this is the season of atonement. It is traditionally a period of asking for forgiveness and seeking opportunities to repair wrongs and harms that one has caused. If you have known me for any length of time, you have probably received an apology from me this time of year. I tend to screw up. A lot.

Last year I decided to write to Daphne’s parents asking for forgiveness for my role in the devastating events that brought about the eventual suicide of their daughter. (I am not implying that I was in any way responsible for the actions of the attackers) That one letter set off a domino chain of events that I could have never predicted.

Her mother responded and I learned where Daph was buried. I went to visit the grave which broke me in a million pieces. It was a breaking that finally allowed me to open up some very dark places and grieve. A couple of letters more and her mother asked to meet with me. We met in NYC for lunch but never got past ordering beverages before she started an interrogation, pissed me off, I went off about how the hell could she disown her own child just because she was queer, and she abruptly left. Yeah, that went well.

And then, of course, I had to apologize for my rude behavior. This started another volley of correspondence, both of us wanting and needing information but having difficulty getting past our general disdain for each other.

This week marked the 25th anniversary of the assault.  I wanted to go to the cemetery and wound up agreeing to meet Daphne’s mother there. I was both excited and extremely anxious at the prospect of once again trying for some sort of reconciliation. I spent the entire train ride there focusing on staying positive and hoping for some patch of common ground.

We met at the church adjoining the cemetery and shared an uneasy greeting and some awkward small talk. Once again, her eyes stunned me. Like looking right into Daphne’s eyes. Both unsettling and comforting at the same time. It was a gray, dismal day and we walked over to the grave site and stood their, lost in our own thoughts. Then I felt that small warning that I was going to start triggering, the rapid heart beat, the rising anxiety, the overwhelming sadness. And at that moment I reached over and held her hand, not really thinking about it, just needing to ground myself in the present. And she did not let go.

I don’t know how long we stood there like that. I remember feeling that this was an amazing moment and that I needed to remember everything. But all I remember is she did not let go. And the feeling that something huge had just changed. An entire shift in the universe kind of change.

We went to lunch and again the conversation was awkward and halting. I was once again having trouble wondering how a mother could just shut out her daughter. My mind started to wander to all the times Daphne tried to reconcile. All the Mother's Day cards returned, all the phone calls unanswered, or worse, hung up on. Yet Daph continued trying. This woman is a fucking monster, why am I sitting here?

Then I heard her ask me what I had loved most about Daphne. I paused for a long time not sure how to answer. Whoa. Was she acknowledging that we actually had had a loving relationship? This was a change. I answered that it was the way her eyes smiled when she was happy. And her mother smiled a sad smile and said "I remember that too." I could feel the tears filling my eyes, not yet spilling over. Fuck. I am not going to cry in front of this woman.

And then she asked me a lot more questions, but different than last time. Not accusatory. More like she was trying to fill in necessary gaps for herself, very much like I have needed to do. And she answered many of mine. I could see how painful it was for her even though she was putting up quite a rigid facade. Finally she asked me if I would tell her exactly what had happened that day. I hesitated for a long time, wondering if this was wise, and yet understanding that obsession, that needing to know even when you don’t want to know. I have barely been able to verbalize the events of that day, and only with my therapist who dragged the words out of me, each one feeling like a razor as it came. But I did the best I could. I tried to soften it, but there is no soft about it. She asked a few more questions and then simply said "I am sorry."   And I said "I’m sorry too."   And then the tears started spilling but I didn't really care.

Last year I wanted to do something to honor Daphne’s memory. I decided to start a scholarship at her former high school in her name. It is a very modest amount to be awarded annually to a girl who is going to college for a science. I had mentioned this to Daphne’s mom and she said she would like to supplement that. I told her the scholarship was set up to give preference to a gay woman. She nodded and said that would be okay.  Wow.

When we left the restaurant she got a cab and asked if I needed a ride. No thanks, I'd rather walk.  Then I leaned in to hug her and she gave me a slight hug back and said "thank you."  One of those perfunctory hugs that leave you feeling a little weird.  But at least she didn’t throw something at me like last time.

It is amazing to me how far this relationship has come in one year. Two people who have very good reasons to not like each to other but have the love of one amazing woman in common.

Twenty five years ago my life changed forever. For three years I walked around in a dark hole. And then I buried all my feelings and built a new life - a move to a new location, a new job, a new relationship and children. And I have lived this life with much happiness and purpose.

This past year has been one of intense therapy trying to reconnect with that person I buried long ago. It has been a year of deep and much needed grieving and confronting difficult and painful memories. And it has been a year of intense personal reflection and atonement. Mostly it has been a year of reconciliation. Reconciling the events of my past with my life today. Reconciling the grief and loss. And now, a reconciliation of sorts with Daphne's mother.

On the train ride home all I could think about was how everything I had ever learned about reconciliation and healing, all those Sunday School lessons about loving those who are hard to love, everything I had tried to practice about humility and atonement, all the emotional work of the last two years and all that therapy to be able to speak about that one day . . . all of it was preparation for this day.  This one day when everything came full circle and the pieces fell into place.

Daphne's eyes would be smiling.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Full of Grace - 25 years


Tomorrow will mark the 25th anniversary of the assault that took from me the woman I loved and changed my life forever. I am amazed to say that. Twenty five years. Sometimes the memories are so devastatingly raw it feels like I am still reliving it, and sometimes it feels so long ago that it must have been someone else’s life. It is a day I have traditionally marked by holing up and listening to Daphne’s Billie Holiday albums. Years ago this would send me into a deep depression. In more recent years, just a general melancholy. Then, after these last couple of years of therapy, I can now hold onto some good memories while listening to those songs. Kind of a hard, bittersweet day.

Looking back over these past 25 years I have so much to be grateful for:

- Lauren, my friend and therapist, who took my trembling, broken, defeated self and gave me the confidence and tools to stand back up and face the world again. I truly believe that without her I would have wound up some homeless woman, rocking myself in the fetal position, having lost my mind entirely. I miss her terribly.

- Martha, my partner, who for almost every day of our 22 years together has found a way to make me feel safe and to make me laugh. No small feat on many a bad day.

-My two daughters who have taught me the meaning of unconditional love and gave me a reason to care about the future.

-My closest friends who were with me then. At a time when I lost everything, they literally fed me and clothed me and found me a place to live. They formed a circle of love and protection around me until I was ready to live again. And they are doing it still.

-Every one of you who have shared the last stage of this journey with me in this space. Some for just a few steps. Some for quite a while. I was not convinced that opening up such a vulnerable part of me in such a public space would be a good thing. But it has proven to be one of the best things I’ve done. Not only because I’ve learned now important it is to speak about trauma, but mostly because you have made me feel so supported in doing so. Through the good days and bad days, the triumphs and the setbacks, you have been here with your kindness and encouragement.

25 years is a long time.  A long time to heal.  And a long time to feel so loved.   

Thank you.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Full of Grace

I was in New York City for a long weekend:

- going to the urban design week conference and having my brain pinging with wonderful new ideas and challenges.

- spending time with my sister, niece and my nephew’s new fiancé who is just adorable (and knows more lesbian jokes than anyone I know)

- delicious dinner at The Strip House. Naked ladies, great food.



- seeing The Book of Mormon and laughing so hard my cheeks hurt.

- riding a bike 15 miles from Central Park in Manhattan, over the Brooklyn Bridge to Prospect Park. (I am used to biking back country roads, this was quite the adrenalin rush.)


A weekend of intellectual stimulation, emotional connection, gastronomical delights, humor and physical exhilaration. It was also a weekend without any PTSD symptoms or anxiety, and getting another glimpse of that clear, calm, free life.

The mountain is moving.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

And Then There Were None

Alone at last. No kids.

Its funny, both our daughters kept asking us what we were going to DO once they both left for school, as if we were going to turn to dust when they walked out the door. And we kept telling them that we did actually have a life before they came along and sucked every ounce of energy, every second of time, and every nickle of money out of us. We used to go out all the time. We’d go to the movies and out to dinner. We did projects and played golf. Went away on weekends and took beautiful Carribean vacations. Had noisy, sloppy sex, when and where ever we wanted to. Okay, we didn’t tell them that last bit, but we did have a life in what we lovingly came to reminisce about - Our Life, BC. Life, Before Children.

We are now facing Life, After Children. It’s only been a couple of weeks, but these are the biggest differences I’ve noticed.

Grocery shopping. I used to do the “big” shopping once a week. And then I would go to the store every single day for a gallon of milk and more fruit and whatever else sprang up. Not only did we feed two athletes with very healthy appetites, but we also fed whatever “3rd daughter” who seemed to have moved in, and all their friends/teammates who went through the kitchen like locusts. Now, I speed through the market, ignoring the snack aisle, zooming past the Gatorade, juice boxes and endless cereal. I am learning how to shop small. Savings in time: 1.5 hours a week.

Laundry. If I didn’t do two loads of laundry a day, someone would be yelling at me. “Where’s my uniform? I NEED my uniform! God, mom, I put it in the laundry hours ago!!!” (Although it was usually still stuffed in a gym bag.) Now I go to collect the laundry from only one hamper. It’s hardly worth carrying down stairs. And folding the laundry is a breeze. No more having to figure out whose thong is whose by trying to read the tiny tag that was sometimes bigger than the underwear itself. No mistaking putting a shirt in the wrong pile and having World War III break out because “someone” wore “someone else’s” shirt to school because it was in their pile. I think I will be able to laundry only twice a week now and folding it is a breeze - if it’s not mine, it’s Martha’s. Easy. Savings in time: 3 hours a week

School activities. Once the girls had their licences and their own car, we saved a considerable amount of time in taxi services. However, we still attended all their games, conferences, banquets, award things, etc. Savings in time: 6 - 10 hours a week.

Miscellaneous. All those little things - errands, listening to the latest boyfriend dilemma, making lunches, mending clothes, helping with homework/school projects, finding lost cell phones, repairing computer crashes, etc. Savings in time: 6 hours a week.

Wow, that’s a lot of time to gain. Almost three working days. What do childless people do with all this time?

Because Martha and I both work during the day and are very involved in volunteer and community activities in the evenings, we really won’t see a change in our schedules. The biggest change is that 4 - 7 pm block where we were usually at some athletic activity before heading to our own stuff.

It’s nice actually, I come home from work and we cook together. Okay, she cooks. I try to be helpful by getting the stuff she asks for or chopping something. We sit at the table and chat while we eat. (I absolutely refuse to eat in front of the TV) We take the dog for a walk and then go off to our other commitments.


We had been concerned that once the girls were gone we would have nothing to say to each other. But we are finding just the opposite. Martha and I can now have a conversation without any interruptions. We are still amazed. We can speak in complete sentences . . . about any topic . . . and actually finish an idea. We keep laughing at this, giddy with our new powers.

We are going to try and reserve one night a week that we will both keep free to spend together. Date night. Tonight we are taking a class at the gym, but maybe just dinner and a movie or some other entertainment.

This is not to say that we don’t miss the girls. I am still getting teary when I pass their empty bedrooms. I hate not being able to hug them morning and night. I miss hearing that “love you mom” as they ran out the door, hoping to sneak some inappropriate outfit past me. I miss their friends and their energy and the loving chaos that always filled our house. They leave a huge hole.

But it is a new chapter. And frankly, I am glad that my life has had many chapters with different characters and plots. I am looking forward to having time for just me and Martha to get reacquainted. And hopefully to have some more of that noisy, sloppy sex.

And for all you moms who are raising, or raised your kids as a single parent - you are frigging amazing. I don’t know how you do it. You have my utmost admiration.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Full of Grace

Great conversation while driving six hours to see Peachie’s team play.  And having a wonderful picnic with her afterward.

Returning to find Beanie had come home to surprise us. Well, she actually came home to support a troubled friend, but we got her most of Sunday.

The rain finally stopping.

Sexy time.

Apple picking on a crisp, sunny, Sunday morning.


The fruits of my labor

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Healing, part 4 - Therapy Goals

Trigger warning: this post contains references to sexual assault and violence which may be triggering to survivors.

While I was in therapy, Lauren and I spent a lot of time defining my goals and working toward them. My goals were always these big, amorphous things like “I want the flashbacks and anxiety to stop” or “I don’t want to be afraid to go to sleep.” Or “I want to remember the good things with Daphne, not just the horrible ending.” And then she would go through each goal and dissect it, breaking things into little manageable pieces - what exactly is triggering the flashback? What is it about that particular trigger? What are the parts of that trigger? What are the feelings associated with it? With what senses am I feeling it? On and on, forcing me to look at all the pieces and then finally trying to pull back and look at the whole picture. Every week I knew what we were going to work on. She gave me homework - writing assignments and mental exercises to get me to try to recall and feel things from all angles. Practicing calm. We exchanged emails throughout each week, she always pushing me to dig deeper, remember more, acknowledge feelings, etc.

It didn’t always feel like it, but by the end, I had actually achieved many of the goals. I am most grateful that I am now able to share great memories of Daph with my friends who knew her. It is still a struggle not to flash directly to the last terrifying hours, but with effort, I can hold onto the good and hold the horror at bay. That alone has made this journey the biggest success of my life.

But there were still a few goals left. Well, those smaller parts of goals that were left incomplete with Lauren’s death.

The Laundromat: The smell of a laundromat has always been one of my most violent triggers. And even though I am fortunate enough to never have to use a laundromat, Lauren always believed that until I could master it, the anxiety would always master me. I never knew why I had the fear of laundromats, and it took me almost a year of therapy to pull together the pieces of why the smell was such a huge trigger - I had been kicked in the jaw which dislodged two teeth. I was choking on blood and the teeth and couldn’t breathe since they had stuffed a shirt in my mouth to keep me from screaming. Those moments of pain and panicked suffocation are now linked with the smell of that shirt. I now understand the trigger, but the smell is still a problem. Lauren had taken me to laundromats a few times, trying to disassociate the smell from the memory. And I had gotten better with it, I thought, until later I walked into a laundromat on my own and had a total debilitating physical flashback. And so, that is still my goal. I have enlisted a few trusted friends who are going to help me with this - gradually increasing my exposure to the smell until I can convince my brain that a laundromat is just a laundromat, and the smell, while once associated with a terrifying experience, is no longer a threat to me. This is a work in progress.

The Accused: I don’t know why, but I have always thought that if I could watch this movie, it would be a sign that I’ve had conquered something. I can’t even explain that. Jodie Foster. Gang rape. That’s really all I know about it. Lauren had thought I had moved to a place where I could watch it, and we were going to view it together. Now I am going to try it with my closest friends at my side. Then I saw a blog where folks all rented a movie from NetFlix and watched the same movie at the same time and then blogged about it - like a book club. And so I thought I would ask any of you if you would care to join me. I know many of you who read this blog are rape survivors yourselves and I would not recommend this. I am already apologizing for whatever triggers you may be experiencing. But if anyone else is interested, I will set up a date and time in the future - let me know if there are days/times that work best for you. I would be most pleased to know that there are people out there supporting me through this.

The whole story: Two years of immersion therapy and I still could not fully retell the story of what happened to me. This was to be the final hurdle but I didn’t quite make it. It still looms in front of me as the finish line. I don’t think I will be able to tell that story here, in such a public venue. But there are those of you with whom I have grown special and trusting relationships. And so I am asking if you would be willing to hear that story, or parts of that story. To hear my confession so to speak, in a safe and affirming space.

The sudden death of my therapist was quite a setback to me. But I think the best way I can honor her is to complete the journey she gave me the confidence to start and the tools to finish. I have lost my safety net. Now I need all the cheerleaders and support I can get.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Full of Grace

I sat down to write my weekly Full of Grace post, where I intentionally recall some of the things I was particularly grateful for during the week. I had started a list which included the incredible crop of heirloom tomatoes in our vegetable garden this year. And going to see Peachie's first game at college and being able to hug her again - the thing I have found I miss the most about her being gone. She is a great hugger.

But this past week, my friend Ren called and said she had friends deeply impacted Hurricane Irene who needed some clean up help. Denise and Dan own a farm in the river valley just west of us. I was utterly unprepared for what I saw when we arrived. Piles of furniture and kitchen appliances, stacked outside and covered in mud. The whole front porch had torn off the house and lay like a pile of splintered toothpicks, across the farm. The main barn too. Their field crops were totally destroyed and their sheep, goats, chickens and assorted other animals had been swept away in the raging flood waters. Everything . . . trees, bushes, vehicles, the kid's swing set . . . everything was covered with a thick layer of grey muck.

When we arrived there was already quite a crew of people helping. Men were out in the field trying to coax a tractor out of the mud. It was buried almost up to the seat. Ren left to go help dig out, and properly bury, animals that had been drowned and trapped in fencing. I could not allow myself to even think about that. I went into the house, which had had 5 ft. of water inside, was handed a pair of barn boots to slosh through the mud and started helping rip out the horsehair and lath walls and insulation. Others were removing all the kitchen cabinets. Everything had to be stripped from the interior of the house, right down to the studs. The wide plank floor boards were still covered with a thick coating of muck. It will all need to be professionally sanitized.  Because the front porch was missing, there was a 3-foot drop from the front door to the ground. Everyone carrying things out of the house had to jump down and then climb back up. So I thought, woodworking being my hobby, I could be most helpful by building a temporary porch and steps.

I left to get some wood and returned to start my project. Then I realized there was still no power to run the tools I had thrown in the car. All power had been cut to prevent fire. Someone found me a hand saw and I began. I made it through one board when my arm became rubber. What a wuss! I realized that it would take me a lifetime to try to do this all by hand. Then I looked at this old farmhouse and realized that the entire house had been built by hand, long before electricity and power tools. I stood there in awe of what our ancestors were able to build with just their hands and sweat. I wanted to have that strength and determination. But knowing that time was more important than ego, I took measurements and went home and cut all the wood on my super duper radial arm saw. It didn't take me long to assemble the small porch using my battery powered drill. The first time Dan saw it me gave me a smile and a thumb's up  It is such a tiny drop in the bucket of what this family needs.

At some point someone arrived with food and everyone gathered around makeshift tables. Talk turned to plans for a barn raising and offers of equipment to get the fields ready for next year. No self pity, no blaming, no complaining, no excuses, just a "what needs to be done?" attitude.

I have lived in cities and suburbs and a small village. I have never lived on a farm. I am fortunate that where I live now is almost half rural farmland and I have had the privilege of meeting and learning from farmers. They are a unique breed of people I think. So self sufficient and yet they accept help so graciously when they need it. I suppose because they are always the first to offer someone else a helping hand. And they seem to accept all life throws at them with a remarkable ease and perseverance. Pull on the barn boots and rebuild, replant., recover. It is a way of life.

I think I am too old and too spoiled to live on a farm now. Perhaps in a future life. I think I have much to learn from farmers. Especially in accepting the inevitable cycles of nature and life. I don't think they have time to over think, or get caught up in drama or their own self importance. They just do what needs to be done.

So I sat to write my weekly gratitude list while thinking about this family who has lost almost all of their possessions. They have no idea when they will be able to move back into the house. They have lost their entire crop which is their livelihood. They have lost all the equipment they need to make their living. They have lost their animals, some of which I understand were beloved pets. And the weather forecast for the next few days is soaking rains and more flash floods.

What am I grateful for this week? Everything.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Please Tell Me

Please tell me that this is true -




More sex than anyone is comfortable admitting . . .











Monday, August 29, 2011

Full of Grace - Hurricane Edition

We knew the hurricane was coming. I was leaving for a short, over night backpacking trip in the mountains before the storm, so before I left I took care of those miscellaneous things - packed up the lawn furniture, put all the deck flowers in a secure area, let down the water in the pool, etc. Our house was as ready as we could make it. Martha called as I was returning from the trip and asked me not to come home but to go straight to our lake house. The hurricane was beginning to look like it would have an impact even there and we needed to get the boat out of the water. When I arrived, there was a huge amount of activity. Most camp owners could not get there so those who were started the huge endeavor of getting everyone’s boat out. Everyone who had a hitch lined up while the rest helped hook up boat trailers. Once the boats were out, we placed them in sheltered areas and covered them as best we could. In all, I think they took out over 40 boats. Neighbors helping neighbors.

On Sunday Martha’s nephew was to be married. The weather got increasing worse as the day wore on with major flooding, trees down and the loss of power to a lot of areas. Everything started to go wrong - the hotel where the bridal party was staying lost power and they showered and dressed in the dark. Their hairdresser could not get out of her driveway. A friend drove an hour to get there, did everyone’s hair, in the dark, with no hairdryers, curling irons, etc. Then they found out that the bakery who did their wedding cake was totally flooded and the area closed off to all vehicles. There was no way to get the cake. A call went out to those of us still with power to make some cupcakes and bring them early. One of the guests then came and elegantly decorated them all. The ceremony was held up for the many guests arriving late as roads were closed. A few showed up in shorts as they had been evacuated from their homes, and many laughed about how disheveled they were from no showers, dryers, or irons. The venue’s parking lot was totally flooded so someone volunteered to ferry guests back and forth. The hall had lost power and was running on a generator that kicked on and off, causing the music to stop at awkward times - like the couple’s first dance. Whenever the music stopped, people would sing to fill in the blanks. I think it was the most beautiful wedding I had ever been to, with everyone helping to overcome the challenges.

My town suffered a lot of damage - more than a foot of rain fell, every creek breached, flooding was wide spread, huge trees were uprooted, farm land and buildings ravaged, roads washed out and many people still do not have power. Through it all our fire departments, who are all volunteers, were out helping pump out people’s basements, cutting up trees that blocked roadways and securing downed power lines. They had left their homes and families to help others. All night long. They are still out there.

I work in the public sector and spend a good part of my day listening to people complain. I probably shouldn’t enjoy major storms as much as I do. But there is something about a shared emergency that just brings out the best in people. And for that I am extremely grateful.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Moving Mountains


Every once in a while the universe gives me something that totally changes my perspective and suggests a whole new set of possibilities.

Earlier this week I was talking to Lauren’s daughter, telling her about how her mother had helped me finally push that f*cking boulder up the hill and how I felt like I am back at the bottom having to push it back up a f*cking mountain, alone.

And she said to me “instead of pushing the boulder up, why don’t you just move the mountain out of the way?” (Oh yes, she is her mother’s daughter)

Yes, why not? And a thousand light bulbs started exploding in my head.

I am now leaving for a short backpacking trip into the mountains. (Probably made even shorter by the impending hurricane Irene.) A couple of days to ponder different perspectives, cosmic questions, and exactly how do you move mountains?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Full of Grace

Gardening barefoot and mushing my toes into the warm moist dirt.

Having no money in the stock market.

Feeling so very supported by friends.

Having a woman in the supermarket give me an up and down look and then wink at me. Really?

Homemade ice cream. Yum.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Dancing with a Limp

You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp. - Anne Lamott

Apparently I suck at grieving. It took me over two decades to finally grieve the loss of the love of my life. I’m still not sure I have finished that process. And now I’m struggling with the profound loss of my friend and therapist. She died on July 1st. Her birthday was August 7th. I had purchased Broadway show tickets to celebrate with her what would have been a milestone birthday. The tickets were for this past weekend but I threw them out. That was stupid. I have plenty of friends in the NYC area who could have enjoyed them. But it sheds light on the "fuck it" kind of place I’ve been in lately.

I am now through all those weird anniversary type dates and plans that magnify the hole that she has left in my life. I have not cried yet. I still leave my calendar open on Monday afternoons, my traditional therapy slot. PTSD symptoms have come back strong and I still find myself reaching for my phone to call her about them. Putting the phone back down is hard. There is no one on the other end.

I know my friends have been worried about my lack of emotion and my reclusiveness. I have been worried too. I am still in that numb state. Maybe that’s okay. Emotions will come out when they’re ready. Even if that’s 20 years from now. (Actually I really don’t think that’s healthy, but I don’t know how to change it)

However, Lauren taught me many things, the main one being that first I have to say what I would be; and then do what I have to do. She taught me how to dance with a limp.

So I have set my intentions:

- I need to finish documenting my therapy journey here, including all the recent setbacks. She always encouraged me to write it out to give me both clarity and relief.

- I need to finish the goals I had set with her. I will write about these separately and perhaps be asking some of you for your help with them.

- I need to get back to my spiritual self. People who love me help me take care of the physical and the emotional. But only I can care for my spiritual needs and I have too long neglected them. I need to make it a priority.

-I need to take the steps necessary to push that motherf*cking boulder back up that motherf*cking hill and get back to that place of PTSD freedom I felt for one brief shining moment.

-and I need to find some way to honor her. She did a lot of work with breast cancer patients (including me) so I think I will find something in that area.

I know that I still have to go through the grief. I am a big believer in sitting with my feelings for as long as it takes. This is obviously going to take a long, long time to heal. But Lauren taught me how to dance while healing. Step by painful step. I know the foot work. I need to start from step one and go through it again. But it will be very sad and very hard to dance them alone.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Down to One

Yesterday we took Peachie to college. Because she is going to play a fall sport, she had to report two weeks early to start practices. Which means we had to leave her in a near empty dorm. No roommate. No one else in her hallway. No food service until Friday. No TV service. No security. I was not happy.

I am much closer to Peachie than I am to my older daughter Beanie. There are many reasons for this - but mostly I think it’s because we are both younger sisters to very popular, very attractive older sisters. Peachie lived in the shadow of her prettier, smarter, more athletic sister for many years. I could totally empathize. Although eventually Peachie did come into her own. (As did I, but it took me a lot longer)

The week leading up to the move had been stressful. First Martha whacked me upside the head (figuratively) and told me to get my head out of my ass - a lot stuff needed to be done. (I have been out of sorts lately. Maybe more than I realized) Beanie and Peachie were all over each other during the days arguing over whose clothes/makeup/jewelry were whose - yet sweetly spooned together in the same bed every night. And we were all getting on Peachie about how much she was packing. Three huge boxes of shoes did seem excessive.

We needed to take two cars to fit it all so we had to arrange who would ride with whom. Martha wanted to take Peachie, but Peachie asked if she could go with me. When asked why she said "Martha will spend the whole 3 hour ride lecturing me about being safe, working hard and making good decisions." Well, I’m going to talk to you about the same things, I said. "Yeah", she replied, "but you’ll say it all in 15 minutes." True. So it was settled that I would take her but then I wound up getting a 3 hour lecture from Martha about everything I should talk to Peachie about. Oy.

Because I was really unhappy about Peachie being all alone her first night, Beanie offered to stay with her and drive home the next morning. Then Martha was concerned that the girls would stay up all night and Beanie shouldn’t drive home alone, so she arranged to stay with a friend nearby and come home with Beanie in the morning. After we lugged entirely too much crap up 3 flights of stairs, rearranged the room numerous times to Peachie’s liking, made the bed, set up the electronics, and went out for an early dinner, I gave my baby girl a big hug, and whispered my last "I love you." I then left my entire family there and drove home alone.

Big mistake. I had barely left the parking lot before I had to pull over and wait (a long time) for the tears to subside. Then I had to drive through the city where the sexual assault took place, (which usually does not bother me) but with the loss of my therapist it seemed too raw and I had to pull over having an anxiety attack.

I finally managed to get myself home and found this on the kitchen counter.




 
With it, a note:

Here’s a little something to help lift your spirits. Enjoy!

It was left by Beanie’s friend from Bet Freds days who had come to feed the pets, and her mother with whom I have exchanged a box of chocolate many times over the years.

I sent a 'thank you' text - This will definitely lift my spirits. Unfortunately it will have the opposite effect on my ass.

Then I took my chocolate and curled up in Peachie’s empty bed and cried myself to sleep.

God I am going to miss her.


And then I get to do it all over again next week when we take Beanie back to school.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Full of Grace

1. Feeling the bittersweet sadness of my baby girl leaving for college tomorrow.

2. Taking a delightful walk in a warm summer rain with her.

3. Having her tell me that there has not been one day that she has not felt loved.

4. Her friends all crying in the basement together, and still laughing through the tears.

5. Appreciating every day how much my children have given me.



Friday, July 29, 2011

The day after

The day after marriage equity passed in New York State, our town’s marriage officer quit stating it was against her Catholic beliefs to perform same sex marriages.  This was a shock to me.  We had been friends for years and years.  I told her that although I respected her decision, I would have difficulty continuing a friendship with someone who thought I did not deserve the same rights and benefits as they had.  It has been very sad for me.  I do not give up friends easily.  It also got me wondering if there were other people I thought were true friends, who harbor some levels of homophobia or other bigotry.

Shortly after that hit the press our town supervisor came to see me and apologized.  I said he had nothing to apologize for and that he had always been supportive.  And he said that he felt the marriage officer’s position was an embarrassment for the town and he was sorry if I felt any negativity because of it.

On the Sunday that marked the start of same sex marriage being legal, our town board convened for a special meeting to appoint three new marriage officers - all who stated that they would be thrilled to marry anyone and everyone who could be legally married.  On Tuesday a lesbian couple was married here amongst quite the hoopla of press.

I have noticed the tension between my fellow co-workers.  Those who obviously support the original marriage officer and those who came out to celebrate with the newly married women.  I can barely speak to my former friend while other people seem to now be avoiding me.  Or perhaps I am imagining that. It is obvious that the issue has made some people very uncomfortable.  And that people who thought they were unprejudiced when they didn’t have to encounter queerness so openly, were not very comfortable when faced with these two women kissing and celebrating their wedding.  It has been an interesting social science experience in one small governmental office.

I am well aware of the “It Gets Better” campaign and so much of me wants to believe that.  Certainly having positive gay characters on TV and the marriage equity inching slowly forward is progress.  But I am more in tuned to the stories buried on page 20.  The gay bashings, the “corrective” rapes, the criminalization of homosexuality in many African countries, the violence against transsexuals, etc.  Things are not getting better when it comes to violence and hate.

So I have been feeling pretty down about it.  Loss of a friend.  Homophobia rising to visibility where I never saw it before.  That “sometimes it sucks to be gay” feeling.

And the endless, senseless violence.  I am so tired of it.  Will that ever get better? 

Then we received this thank you note from one of Peachie’s friends.  Raised in a very strict Catholic family, she has often lived with us for short periods when things were tough in her household.


“I am so lucky to have you two as my second mommies”  - your 3rd daughter

Maybe there is hope.