Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Picture It: Hawaii, 1977

It's funny how you never know where things will lead.

Back in early 1977, my parents - aged 34 and 44 - booked a trip to Hawaii. Because it was my dad's first trip, they went with a tour group. Elsewhere in Illinois, two 20 year old best friends were eagerly awaiting the same trip, dutifully going to the travel agent every month to pay their installments and dreaming about a vacation full of sun and sand and fabulousness. When my parents first met these two young ladies, they figured they were "spoiled brats," as they would later recount it, whose parents had sent them to the Islands for their high school graduation.

(Let's ignore how, two decades later, my parents took my best friend and me to Hawaii when we graduated high school, shall we?)

As it turned out, though, those two gals, Bev and Tres, were really pretty awesome, and for whatever reasons, the somewhat mismatched foursome really clicked. And in the days before texting and Facebook and instant access, they still managed not to drift apart when the magic of the mana wore off and real life returned. Later the following year, Tres had a daughter, and a few weeks later, so did my mom.


That's me on the left. Seriously. How cute were we? See those red strings? Someone tied balloons around us.

Selina and I, and later her sister Erin, grew up together, more or less as cousins. Carl and Tres and the girls were a constant as the years went by, and we created memories together too numerous to count - drinking "kiddie cocktails" on the big squishy mat in my basement, hiding in the loft of the barn in their expansive backyard, and perhaps the one we reference most often of all, going to the Gnome Festival to get our yearly tassels for our gnome hats.


I know, I know. The cuteness never stops around here.

Time would pass and we would drift a bit and then reconnect. Weddings, birth, death, things changed, and they stayed constant. In some brilliant twist by the Universe, my uncle Carl got transferred to North Carolina about two months before the Match sent me here as well, and we ended up living just a few miles apart. My actual mother quickly started referring to them as my "Southern Parents," and frankly, there is no more truth than could've been added to that statement. They were the best southern comfort I could've possibly come to. We made even more wonderful memories. They had me over for holidays and random Tuesday nights. My aunt freaked out when she discovered I had never seen A Christmas Story and made its viewing into a major event. She helped me pack up my apartment more times than I want to remember (why DID I move so much when I first got here?). Carl installed my washer/dryer over and over and over again. They cooked things and built things and took me on adventures.

And then, a few years back, my aunt found out there was an invader in her body - The Big C. She grumbled and grumped a bit, but the truth was she was the bravest, most organized, totally on-top-of-it cancer patient one could hope to be, through the breast surgery, chemo, and radiation. The family rallied, of course, and I was the local voice of the girls when they couldn't be here (although the times they WERE here were way better. There's a great picture of Erin and me, sitting in the hospital on the day of surgery, knitting our little fingers off, smiling our anxious grins, and just so glad to be together at such a stressful time). I interpreted the surgeons and summoned the Nurse Navigator and in the end, this turned out to be tremendous practice for when, just as all that was finishing up, my mother got sick. Carl and Tres and the girls were a huge support for me through all that went down, and I can't imagine how I ever would've gotten through it without them. Ultimately, they decided to move back to the Windy City, and although I teased Tres about abandoning me, I was glad to see their nuclear family back together again. Tres would still send me epic text messages that were too long for the iPhone to display except in their own window. She would still end every conversation with "Alright! Okay! Bye bye!" And then, last year, she called me, and I knew from the tone of her voice at "hello" that the cancer was back. We cried. And she was going to fight.

She did just that, going in full-force despite having sworn up and down that last time was The Last Time. She cheerfully updated me, and fortunately, my cousin Erin (now a physician's assistant) would follow up behind her and give me the real medical lowdown. I kept saying I was coming up to Chicago. I kept meaning to go up to Chicago. Life here was chaos, but when wasn't it? No, really, I was coming soon. And then.....sometime in December, this nagging in the base of my soul got louder and louder, and I booked a flight for mid-January. I knew the facts of what wasn't going well, but my heart was hearing something else. Kate. Seriously. Get a move on. And then, last Friday, less than a week before I was supposed to fly out there, my cousin Selina sent me a text. "Hey I want to call but I'll lose it. We are putting my mom on hospice tonight."

Oh God. Go, the voice commanded.

"Do I need to come sooner?" I asked her. YES, was the resounding response.

"We'll decide first thing in the morning." She said.

You two are being idiots. Get off your ass and start packing. (The voice may have had some less-printable things to say as well.)

I sat, and I cried, and as I texted with all of them, we agreed sooner seemed better for the whole lot of us. My plane tickets were ridiculous to switch, so the next day, after my Saturday office hours, I jumped in the car and headed north.

I got there Sunday, just in time for my little niece's first birthday celebration. We laughed. We took too many pictures. The kiddo was like, "Why is all this cake in front of me?" We didn't have birthday candles, so we stole a taper out of the Advent ring and she had one giant candle that was almost bigger than her cake.

"I'm dying." My aunt told me.

"I know." I replied.

Things were way worse than I had anticipated, though.

For the next few days, we sat. We tended to her and to each other. Selina and her family live right across the alley, but Erin and her husband and I all moved in. Carl slept on the couch next to the hospital bed. We sent people on outings, practiced the best self care we could, and we leaned on each other when the moments were rough. We talked about the inevitable. First openly with Tres, then in hushed whispers as she started to fade. "I want to go home," she told us. She rested in the hospital bed in the living room, and life went on around her. We made meals, we told stories, we laughed loudly, we cooed at the baby. We leapt to her side when summoned in one way or another. We held her hand and we lotioned her skin. She was consumed with this horrible, intractable itching that was just impossible to control, which we first blamed on a horrible drug rash (which was indeed part of the issue). We threw everything we could think of at it, including this ridiculous homemade calamine lotion I brewed up that I kept joking with her was a mud bath spa treatment. It all seemed to help, at least a little, until it didn't. Erin and I wracked our medical minds until we finally came upon a combination of meds that gave her some relief. It finally dawned on me, like a light bulb that made an audible pop, that her liver wasn't breaking down what it needed to, and that was producing a good portion of the itching that we couldn't control with antihistamines and steroids. So we altered the cocktail. We all took our turns going toe to toe with the hospice people a few times, but in the end, there were a few there that did an amazing job. She stopped being able to swallow or speak on Thursday morning. We kept vigil Thursday night, monitoring her comfort, but she finally seemed restful.

Friday, the hospice team leader and the nurse we knew came out. They talked with us, they assessed her.  They were sweet and wonderful. The nurse asked me when I planned to leave, and I told her that I had originally intended to leave that day and we were still debating that. She leaned in close and said, "If you can, you should stay. She needs you. They need you. You need this." And so, that was the end of that discussion (the voice, who had been actively arguing with me again, was pleased). She also told me that I was the one who could tell her it was okay to let go. And so I did. I stroked her hand and I whispered in her ear to tell her, as I had been for the past few days, that she was so loved. That we would be okay together, because of what she had brought us. That we would always have each other because of her. That what she had come here to do, she had accomplished, and if she was ready to let go, it was okay. That she could move on and care for us in this new realm. And I meant all of it from the very bottom of my heart.

I don't know if it made a difference. I don't know what anyone else had to say to her. I strongly suspect she knew all of it anyway. But she seemed peaceful. We pulled out the old photo albums, and we laughed and exclaimed and cajoled each other over the old pictures for hours and hours. We girls drank kiddie cocktails. We didn't keep vigil that night, because we felt like things were under control. Maybe not ours, but she was comfortable.

I was already awake when Carl called at 4:47am on Saturday, the 24th, the two year anniversary of my dad's death. "Do you want to come downstairs?" was all he said. I told him I was on my way. And though I didn't know what exactly was waiting for me, I didn't feel panicked. I didn't feel scared. I felt, in fact, sort of light. Her breathing was shallow and erratic when I got to her bedside, and it wasn't much longer until it stilled completely. Some day I'll write about the actual experience of her death for me, but suffice it to say that peacefully, and surrounded by love, she moved into whatever comes next. We cried, and we held each other, and we told stories. A different nurse came, and pronounced her, and asked us to tell her more stories while she gently bathed the body and dressed her in what we thought would make her happy (Snoopy pants and a mock turtleneck. My aunt was a lover of all things Snoopy). She stayed with us until the funeral home came to take her worldly shell, and with it, her last selfless gift - she donated her body to the Anatomical Gift Association, destined to be a cadaver to teach the budding medical minds of Chicago.

My aunt is going to med school, y'all. I couldn't be prouder.

In the end, the week was an amazing experience. Sad, yes. Undoubtedly. God, I already miss her. I drove back this weekend, which was rough. I'm pretty sure I cried straight from the Northside to Indianapolis. I stayed overnight in Ohio with other (genetic) family, who also mean a great deal to me and cared for me well. My friend wisely convinced me Sunday as I struggled through the trip back that going into work yesterday was a bad idea, and so I stayed home and I slept through most of it. Today, I wandered, irritable and disorganized, through my hectic day full of demanding people. Blissfully, my coworkers also convinced me to take some bereavement leave, which admittedly won't even amount to a complete day off (long story), but I think will give me time to sit and feel and process. I have to say, though...this week is one I wouldn't trade for absolutely anything. That time we had together, being in the true meaning of family, was such an incredible gift. I truly struggle to remember a time when I felt so loved. And the fact that I could be there, be part of something like that, not The One Responsible For Everything, The One Who Holds Everyone Else Together, but someone with a role and also with feelings and grief and joy and love and able to be all of those things in a safe place. That, that was priceless. To be able to acknowledge how significant every single one of those people is to me, to have them hold me when I needed to cry and to be able to return the favor, that is something I could never repay. That, that is family.

I love you, Tres. I love everything you brought into my life and everything you will bring me from this point on (because I know you haven't stopped moving, and in fact, I suspect you're even a little faster now, which I didn't think was actually possible). I am so honored to be part of your legacy. And I am SO FLIPPING GLAD you and Bev picked THAT tour. Not that you had much of a choice, I suspect - the intersection of our lives was planned long before any of us could've thought it so. Enjoy your new freedom. I'll see you when I see you, and I promise to take care of the rest of the clan, and - you know how hard this is for me - to let them take care of me.

Alright! Okay! Bye bye!

Saturday, January 03, 2015

My Annual Blog Post

No, hopefully not. I didn't actually realize it'd already been so long. Where the hell did 2014 go?

Well, it's a new year (happy 2015!!). I decided today would be a day to clean the heck out of my house, finally. It's so gross - I spent September and October cramming for the Integrative Medicine boards, and when I got back in November I promptly came down with mono, and then because both my functional T cells were busy I then got the flu as well right before Thanksgiving. I am actually still trying to drag myself up from all that, and was already being treated for adrenal fatigue before that happened, and blah blah blah. Maybe I shouldn't have fired my housekeepers...

However, I had possibly the worst night's sleep I had in a while last night, and so I went to the coffee shop this morning, where I had a very very wonderful surprise meeting with my Gay Boyfriend. He lives out of town and so when he pops up for these unannounced whirlwind stints, it is always a lovely, lovely discovery. We were chatting this morning about recent events, and he looked at me very pointedly (we're cut of the same sensitive cloth), and said, "I don't like your energy in this new year."

He's not wrong.

So it seemed like the thing to do, frankly, before the very literal act of cleaning the house, was to examine the metaphoric place I'm in about cleaning out my life. I've been working very, very hard this year at further examining my inner world. I have a fair amount of external stability (relatively speaking, of course; there's still plenty of external chaos. This is still my life we're talking about), so the journey has become much more inward. And it strikes me today that now is the time I'm starting to transition from examination to action. So I thought I'd spend a few minutes writing about what that means. I guess we'll see what comes out.

I have too much stuff. That's the first thing that strikes me. This is true both in the metaphoric and literal sense. I have way too much crap in my house that needs to move to a new home, and I have far too much of other people's emotional and energetic stuff I'm carrying that also needs to go. Releasing that is probably harder than letting go of any of the physical clutter, and it needs to be done.

I have so much difficulty prioritizing myself. Both what I want and what I need. In truth, I have a very hard time knowing what either of those things are. GB and I were also talking this morning about my difficulties with not taking on other people's issues when I know that I can help but it isn't the right thing for me. He made some very sage statements about the time we invest, and how we need to move towards things that will bring a better return instead of being black holes of our time and energy. The things that complicate this for me are (at least) two-fold. One, because of the path of my journey so far, I am very very adept at taking whatever is offered and making the best of it, instead of figuring out what it is that I want or need and moving towards it. The other, of course, is that I need to feel like I'm worthy of saying "Yeah, I would get more benefit from something different than what is offered, and that's okay." Of holding out for something else - something better, at least in terms of fit - instead of taking what crumbs are offered because I feel like nothing else will likely ever come along. The truth of the matter is, though, I most certainly am worthy of what suits me, and beyond that, I deserve it. It's just true, no matter what the mean girl in my head says.

I also have a serious passion for experiencing the new and unknown. That's been on the back burner a lot in the past few years. And it doesn't have to be big, "let's travel the globe!" adventures (although how cool would that be?!). It can be small, fiscally responsible ones. My cousin has made a resolution that, instead of starting a new diet this year, she is going to start working through all the recipes she's been hoarding and has never made. I like this idea, and I am going to resolve to try 52 recipes I've never made before. I am also going to try to get out with my camera more. And while I'm saying "no" more to people who are testing my boundaries in unhealthy ways, saying "yes" more often to new experiences. Not that that's scary or anything (useful! Healthy! And also, scary).

The other thing I really want to do this year is work hard at reconnecting my soul and my body. I'm still unsure of the particulars of that, but I suspect it will include a lot of self-compassion, mindfulness, still quiet listening, moving, stretching (again, literal and figurative), and being. Full-throttle living doesn't need to be reckless, it just needs to be open.

Well, that seems like a pretty good start. Now to work on that "less examination, more implementation" thing. Perhaps I'll start with the laundry...

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Good Morning, Sunshine.

So I woke up this morning, and the first tendrils of daylight were creeping across the inky sky. I could've stayed in my oceanfront room and watched the return of the light, but it just isn't the same as being actually on the beach. So I dragged my butt out of my warm bed (it was a rough, restless night) and down to the sand in the 30 degree weather. I bundled and climbed up to perch on the lifeguard tower (technically not allowed. Oopsie). And the sunrise did not disappoint.



I am now back at the local coffee chain (can we get some of these where I work, please?) trying to do a bit more journaling and drinking too much coffee (but it's so GOOD). They even have a gluten-free breakfast sandwich. How cool is that? It's been a good weekend. I did a lot of writing and shot a bunch of pictures and actually did gain some insights this weekend, I think. Yesterday I walked the beach shooting and then wandered down the boardwalk and the little shops by my hotel. I wandered into this shop that looked like the usual jewelry and beachside tchotchkies but also turned out to be full of new age-y things. There I found this ring, as well as a delightful indulgence of my woo-woo side.



The ring is Labradorite, which is supposed to be good for insight and offer protection.The owner also gave me some intuitive advice on a conflict in my life of late. I've been trying to get more in touch with my less concrete, more spiritual side lately. I had a tarot reading a couple of weeks ago, which didn't tell me anything I didn't know but certainly helped catalyze some things. I have been looking into learning to do some energy work (my friend teaches Reiki) and would like to get a meditation practice going for real. I've been reading about being a Highly Sensitive Person and I've picked up a little more Jungian stuff. God and I have always been on good terms, but sometimes I take that for granted. I think I often neglect my more spiritual/mystical side, which I also suspect is a fairly big piece of who I am.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Happy 2014

I truly have no idea why it's been well over a year since I've blogged. So much has happened. Maybe it's the fact that SO MUCH HAS HAPPENED. I think it's felt overwhelming to try to detail what's been going on in my life.

I won't try to give you the full list, because there just isn't enough room on the server. But my dad died in January of last year. I bought a new car just before that. That car was totalled a couple of weeks ago (along with the integrity of my left eighth-or-so rib), and I now have a Subaru, which is what I intended to buy in the first place. I traded the underpowered Honda in for a freaking awesome Harley-Davidson. I dropped that bike, but fortunately she was fixable. I fell tremendously in love, which has turned out to be quite complicated and problematic. I was deeply and terribly hurt by a whole different man, who, well, we're working on repairing that, and making reasonable progress. I have a whole new motorcycle-related family, thanks to the somewhat impulsive purchase of the Harley. My biological family rallied a bit. I've acquired important new friends who feel like family. My Village is going strong. I have a new job...actually, that job turned into a different new job. The new job is not committing fraud like the old job, and this pleases me. Plus I like being a real ACTT doctor, it turns out. The private practice has been...oh, wait, I don't think you knew about the private practice. I joined a private practice as well and that's been in much flux, at my hand. I moved my mom into a different retirement community. I lost sixty pounds (well, 75, but I've gained some of it back over the past couple of months). Olivia is no longer a kitten but a full-grown and hilarious cat. Lucky tends to go by Lou these days (his middle name, of course), and is such a delight. He's by far my best snuggler. Maggie is still the Grande Dame of the house and will be TWELVE next month.

Strangely, as I reflect on this time of love and loss, of tremendous tumult and change and upheaval, it's the past two months that feel like they've been the hardest. I have no explanation for this, except that maybe I forgot how hard things were previously. And, I'm exhausted. But things are leveling out. I'm taking more time to focus on my own needs (which you know I can never identify). I truly feel like I can't see the issue even though it's there in front of me. Which is a weird and unpleasant feeling.

I'm currently writing this from a coffee shop at the beach, by the way. I had lunch with my old officemate earlier this week, who (perhaps inadvertently) suggested I needed to get the hell out of Dodge for a minute. I'd been saying that for months, but something about her suggesting it jarred me loose. So here I am, on my first solo vacation ever. I didn't even bring the dog. I have an oceanfront hotel room for the weekend and my laptop and my journal and my camera, and my phone (to keep me connected to the ones I love). I can't imagine what else I could need. Oh - coffee. Check. I'm hoping to get in some serious reflection and gain a little perspective on my life right now. Here's hoping.

Let's do this.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Ushering in the Christmas season

It was a tough day.

But then, I was trying to put together my Christmas cards online. I was searching for the perfect photo for the last slot on the card and Lucky did THIS.


My good boy...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Turkeys and Thanks

So it's Thanksgiving. And I know I have a LOT for which to be thankful. Texts and phone calls and Facebook messages have been pouring in all day to remind me of the friends and family far away who I miss desperately. This morning I started my day with the Village, as our coffee shop opened from 7-9 to accommodate us (they didn't expressly limit coffee to us, but we like to think we're the reason they opened today). Between Village Thanksgiving last weekend and coffee today, I can't help but feel especially thankful to be part of such an amazing group of friends that feel like family, particularly this time of year. I spoke to my sisters and was reminded of how wonderfully our relationship has grown this year. I am so thankful that's come along so well, and for continuing to know them better as well as my nieces and nephews. I got a text from my godson, who's all married now and headed into the Navy (I still think of him as a toddler, chasing a rabbit around the pine tree in my front yard). I heard from local friends that I adore. And I spent the meal in the community which has helped take such good care of my parents. And then I came home and hung out with the three best pets on the planet. Lucky and Maggie even snuggled up with my at nap time.

Of course I spent a good deal of quality time with my folks today. It's been a rough week for us; my dad fell, of course, and hasn't been feeling very well. Yesterday we were given the opportunity to move him to Assisted Living at the beginning of next month. It's probably greatly overdue for him, and frankly, I'm trying to get my mom in as well, because I think their quality of life would go up so dramatically. My mom especially is resistant, and I think my dad feels a little defeated. This stymies me a little. I think they're mourning the loss of their independence a bit, but I also think they have this idea that it's a nursing home, and it isn't. AL is just that - assistance. And the cold hard fact is that their limitations already exist. Not fun, no one is denying that. But frankly, if I could pay someone to cook me three meals a day and do my laundry and be on demand to meet all my needs, I might be all over that (this place has a SPA, for Pete's sake). And the particularly nice thing is that this AL is in the same building they already live, so my mom can visit all day if she wants. Plus they'll let Maggie visit. It's going to be expensive, but worth every penny, for my dad's comfort as well as my and my mother's peace of mind. Having said all that, it was a very difficult decision to make.

Today was lovely, though. I brought them coffee and breakfast, came home and put the finishing touches on a pie (I was recently reminded of how my grandmother used to make my mom a lemon meringue pie every Thanksgiving from when she was little because she didn't like pumpkin) and went back to share the meal with them. Dad was feeling pretty good today and we all managed to go down to the dining room to enjoy the festivities. It was really delightful. I stayed and visited a while after and then let them rest (and came home and took my own nap).  I'm about to head back over there to help my dad get tucked in for the night.

Post nap, I also started putting up my Christmas decorations today! My tree - which I bought last night - looks lovely. And I got all nostalgic pulling heirloom decorations out. I also found our stockings - I need to get another one for Olivia this year. And this year I have a much nicer mantle on which to hang them.

It's a nice little life I have.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Twenty

1. I'm grateful for a job that I love. It wears me out and is a lot of work, but it's rewarding and ALWAYS interesting.

2. I'm grateful for the lessons my parents have taught me, and how that's shaped who I am in so many ways.

3. I'm grateful for the sweet puppy sleeping next to me right now. She's been with me through an awful lot.

4. I'm grateful for the two crazy cats who wandered into my life and my house. They keep trying to knock everything off my coffee table, my counters, and my nightstand, they run amok at all hours of the night, and they create general havoc. They're hilarious.

5. I'm grateful for the love and support of good friends.