Tag Archives: life

the weight of a sweater

It’s not my life hIMG_5429_edited-1as been any more or less difficult. There are no new crises pressing down on me. The old ones still wrap around me, their weight about the same as a heavy sweater, one that you sometimes forget that you’re wearing, and one that you sometimes wrap yourself up in, hiding your hands in the sleeves and your head in the collar. Sometimes I panic at the sight of its heavy, tattered cloth, my heart grows cold as I notice the bits of frayed thread and my world feels terrifying. These are the times I grow quiet, the times I pull inside myself and sit.

Outside it’s somewhat grey, cold and damp, sweater weather. This morning I slept late and moved slowly. My dog has gone from running outside to sleeping by the fire. There are birds in the feeders, cardinals, chickadees and a squirrel dashing from tree, to tree. For hours I’ve said nothing except the to the dog, and written very little.

Sometimes I think I could be silent forever, pulled inside myself, wrapped in my sweater.

I didn’t plan to do nothing today, there are many important and pressing things that I should be doing, but the stillness and silence had a greater pull so I leaned into them.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow I will do important things.

and so this is Christmas

 

And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun   – John Lennon

And so it is Christmas and I  won’t be spending it with my son. Today I took him to the latest facility, to the latest attempt to save him. He won’t be home again for awhile, if ever.

We’ve been in a downward spiral for weeks (months? years? a lifetime?), and this could be our last chance at helping him. After this I’m officially out of ideas / money / hope / whatever.

and so this is Christmas

We’ll have just two stockings on the fireplace this year. I know we’re not the first family to go through something like this, but it is our first go at it.

and what have you done

I packed his bag this morning and took him in expecting a fight, expecting him to be a jerk. He wasn’t. He opened the advent calender I got him, and ate his chocolate while sitting in the waiting room. I don’t know if I’ve seen anything sadder. When it was time to go he just said thank you. I would have been easier if he had been an ass. He hugged me and I left.

Another year over
and a new one just begun

Last night I bought outside Christmas lights. Something we haven’t had in years. I bought suet wreaths for the birds and gave money to the Salvation Army. I’ll set up the lights today, hang the little wreaths and start decorating the house. It seems insane on one level to be doing anything at all, when what I want to do at any given moment is curl up and wish this all away. But life’s not like that. You keep living. You keep loving. You keep moving forward, and you keep hoping and planning for something better.

And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun

“Oh no, I’ve said too much…. I’ve said enough”

ImageSo. I’m a bit overwhelmed. 

I’m in that hamster wheel section of my brain where the thoughts spin faster and faster and get crazier and crazier. Not fun.

This is what’s spinning around:

  1. I need to move on from where I am now – career, relationship, life…
  2. I should get divorced. I WANT to get divorced. I can’t afford to get divorced.
  3. I need to get a job that pays me enough to live on, has benefits, and sick days. (divorce = no health care)
  4. I was trained as a nurse in Canada, but have to back to school to do that here.
  5. I need to go back to school – see 4.
  6. I need money to go back to school – see 1,2 & 4.
  7. I have a daughter in University.
  8. She needs money to go to school. 
  9. I need to borrow money – see 5 & 7.
  10. I already owe money – see 5,6,7, & 8.
  11. Going back to nursing would let me live on my own – see 2.
  12. I need health care – see 2 & 3.
  13. My son is making life very hard, mine and his own.
  14. I can create. I can write, I can’t get organized, display or sell my work.
  15. My office is an unorganized disaster that keeps me from getting anything constructive done.
  16. I’m tired. see all of the above.
  17. I need to get organized – see all of the above.
  18. I have no idea where to start or what to do next – ditto.
  19. I feel badly that everyone seems to handle their lives better than I do.
  20. Other people have been divorced and remarried since I got separated.
  21. Other people have kids in university and do not turn themselves inside out trying to pay for it and organize it.
  22. Other people are in school themselves and have managed to pay for it, and organize themselves.
  23. Some other people are in school and have kids in school.
  24. Other people get organized and display and sell their art/writing/photography.
  25. Thinking about other people doing everything better is making me nuts.
  26.  I need to see a neurologist. 
  27. My son ate up almost all of our new and unimpressive health insurance – see 13.
  28. I want to take yoga teacher training, it will cost money – see 1, 5 & 10.
  29. I don’t know if it’s just stress making my head hurt – see 13, 16, 25 & 26.
  30. I don’t like getting head aches because they have already caused permanent brain damage and I’d like to keep what marbles I have left – see 26.
  31. I don’t think I have enough marbles left to go back to school – see 1,3,4,5,6……

 

Right. Well there you have it. Take all of those, spin them faster and faster and that would be my brain right now. No wonder I have a headache.

 

 

how to save a life

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When he was four, I carried my son into the Emergency room while he screamed in pain. He had, as it turned out, appendicitis. For the hours leading up to our dramatic entrance he had been at home not feeling well with a stomach ache which had become worse and worse. I had called a physician friend of mine and gone over his symptoms, which were basically pain, no vomiting, no fever, no right sided tenderness. I was worried it was appendicitis, but I wasn’t sure and wanted someone to tell me what to do. My friend ended up saying it was likely just a GI bug, but it could be appendicitis – ha ha!! Well it was, and his appendix burst that night before they could operate. He had peritonitis by the time they opened him up and they cleaned him out as best they could. That was the longest night of my life. I sat alone in the waiting room while the surgery they had told me would be 90 minutes stretched out for hours with no word to tell me what was going on in the OR. A week later he was sick, his stomach bloated, his incision oozing. They took him back into surgery and cleaned out the peritonitis again, this time leaving the incision open to drain. For weeks afterward the wound oozed and had to be debrided daily. There was no pain medication that helped and these sessions were essentially me holding him down while a nurse pulled out the gauze from hole in his abdomen, irrigated the open wound, repacked it with new sterile gaze. Eventually he healed, and all that is left is an impressive scar.

That was an exceptionally difficult thing to go through. When they finally took him into surgery I didn’t know for sure what was wrong, or what would happen. I was terrified and could do nothing but sit with it for hours in a small waiting room by myself. Difficult and terrifying to say the least, but at least there was something to be done. I took him to Emergency. I jumped up and down like only a mother whose four year old is in agony can until they got the on call surgeon in to see him. I held him up to, and right after surgery. I never left his side in the hospital, and when he had to get up and walk for the first few times after surgery and he cried and he screamed, I held his hand, and made him walk with tears pouring down my own cheeks. I held him down during the painful dressing changes and sang to him. I read him story after story to pass the time and to distract both of us. I felt helpless in the face of his pain and would have taken on myself if only I could have.

Now he is in pain again. He has been in pain for years.  I have done everything I can think of to help him. There have been countless doctors, specialists, counselors and therapists. There have been expensive in hospital treatments, year long out patient programs, support groups, and meeting after meeting after meeting. There have been successes, and there have failures. We have watched his peers struggles, sometimes they succeed, sometimes they fail, and sometimes they die. I can’t say it hasn’t worked. He’s still alive. He’s graduated from high school. Those are successes. But he is struggling more and more and now there isn’t a surgery they can perform to take the poison out of him. There isn’t a song or a story I can tell him to get us through this. I’ve sung all my songs, and he doesn’t like my stories any more.

There is another way we can help him, it is loving but also it is difficult. It is not an easy way, but may be the only way to get through to him and help drain the poison himself. It won’t be any less painful that before, but it could save his life.

On facebook today there was a picture of a young family. Two happy looking parents, three young beautiful children. The caption was “Father needs new cancer drug to stay alive”. You want to help this man, his family. Cancer is an awful disease and we all know and love people it has harmed or killed. There are fund-raisers for beautiful children ill with cancer. Everybody wants to save them, and they should.

Nobody has fund-raisers to help pay for an addict’s treatment. Nobody puts photos of their addicted son, daughter, spouse, parent, or friend and asks for support. They just aren’t that likable. You don’t get the same good feeling about helping them, and addiction is every bit as much of a life threatening illness as cancer. It is an illness, (more about that here) and it affects more people that most of us realize. There are treatments, and people do survive. People who become profoundly grateful and beautiful, in the way only those who have been through hell and made it back can be. They go on to help others going through this nightmare. This isn’t something that people generally share because of the stigma associated with the disease of addiction.

So. There is another program, in Utah, that would help my son. One that could save his life. And I don’t know how we will manage it. I am so overwhelmed I don’t know how to begin to figure this out. I still want to pretend this isn’t happening, but t is, and I will have to figure this out too. And one day, maybe, we may save his life.

 

“How To Save A Life”  – The Fray   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DF0zefuJ4Ys

Step one – you say, “We need to talk.”

He walks, you say, “Sit down. It’s just a talk.”
He smiles politely back at you
You stare politely right on through
Some sort of window to your right
As he goes left and you stay right
Between the lines of fear and blame
And you begin to wonder why you cameWhere did I go wrong? I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life

Let him know that you know best
‘Cause after all you do know best
Try to slip past his defense
Without granting innocence
Lay down a list of what is wrong
The things you’ve told him all along
Pray to God, he hears you
And I pray to God, he hears you

And where did I go wrong? I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life

As he begins to raise his voice
You lower yours and grant him one last choice
Drive until you lose the road
Or break with the ones you’ve followed
He will do one of two things
He will admit to everything
Or he’ll say he’s just not the same
And you’ll begin to wonder why you came

Where did I go wrong? I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life

Where did I go wrong? I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life

How to save a life

How to save a life

Where did I go wrong? I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life

Where did I go wrong? I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life
How to save a life

How to save a life

try a little tenderness

Twelve years ago today I was at work. My children were 8, 6 and 4 years old and were at school when a patient came into the office and told us someone had flown a plane into a World Trade Center building. The rest of the day unfolded in horrifying and heartbreaking images  It was a terrible day,

For many people it still is. A day full of pain, heartbreak and fear.  This article The Falling Man – Tom Junod – 9/11 Suicide Photograph – Esquire  is going around social media sites today. It is a very powerful photo and a very powerful article.

“They began jumping not long after the first plane hit the North Tower, not long after the fire started. They kept jumping until the tower fell. They jumped through windows already broken and then, later, through windows they broke themselves. They jumped to escape the smoke and the fire; they jumped when the ceilings fell and the floors collapsed; they jumped just to breathe once more before they died. They jumped continually, from all four sides of the building, and from all floors above and around the building’s fatal wound.”

It bears witness to the horror and heartbreak of that day. I think this is important and necessary that we have these images, and the stories that go with them, but I believe it is more important to be respectful of people’s emotions surrounding the events of September 11th. For some this is too much to look at. For some this hurt is still too raw, and these images are still too painful to look at.

They are important, they should never go away, but maybe it is still too soon. Years from now when my children are adults, when their children are adults and the events of September 11th are not a memory, but a story told to them, then the videos, and the photos will be crucial, they will make what happened real for those who never experienced it. They will bear witness in perhaps a similar way as artifacts from the Holocaust keep that from becoming just a story. These images will not, and should not ever go away, but who sees them and when should be a matter of choice. It has been suggested on one facebook page that not showing the image of the Falling Man is  “Political Correctness and it’s sniffling sanitation to protect people (keep them ignorant) who will not deal with truth and what needs to be done.” I don’t agree. I think when someone finds an imagine too painful to look at it indicates that they are not ignorant of the events, on the contrary, that the events are very real to them and still very painful. It is not the same as someone denying an event occurred or sanitizing how it did. It is very real people dealing with very real and powerful emotions.

I think we could all do well to treat each other with a little more tenderness, and a little more compassion, today and always. We’re all fighting our own battles and our own demons and absolutes and judgements do nothing but isolate and cause more pain. I may be wrong, I may be missing the point of absolutely everything. I may be naive and do not understand the nuances and implications of the situation. All of these things may be true, but in the end I believe it is more important to be kind than it is to be right, that people are more important that news. I believe that whenever possible I should be kind, and as the Dalai Lama says it is always possible.

“Try a little tenderness (that’s all you gotta do)
It’s not just sentimental, no, no, no
She has her grief and care, yeah yeah yeah
But the soft words, they are spoke so gentle, yeah
It makes it easier, easier to bear, yeah…”

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(thanks Bilbo)

I just got home from a 3,368mile (5,420kms) drive (there and back again) from my home in Naperville, IL to Wolfville, NS. Two days driving there, one day stop-over, Two days driving back. About 54 hours driving time. It was the longest drive to and from school I have ever taken one of my kids on.

I spent the days leading up to the drive randomly being gripped in terror. I would suddenly feel the ground drop from under my feet and my stomach would leap into my throat, my heart would pound and I would want to cry. I felt certain that I was making a huge mistake, or at the very least doing absolutely everything wrong.

I get angry at myself for remaining in situations that do not serve me, my marriage, my job, my home, okay, my life in general, but then I’ve always had that terror and painful certainty that pin me down. With any major, and most minor decisions I am generally quite certain I have, or I will make the worst possible choice, and that sitting and doing nothing is my safest option. I assume that everyone else on the planet, or at least my peers, or my betters (which is where I put most people), would be handling this, or have handled this so much better, or have, at the very least, been better organized about it (my disorganizational skills are legendary). Other people, I dangerously assume, have the support of a partner, of parent or if they’re insanely fortunate, parents,  or at least some close friends to reassure them they are making good choices. I have none of these and as a result am left with the really not nurturing voices in my own mixed up head. It’s a motley crew, the voices in my head. Part my mother (appearances are everything), my father (appearances are bullshit), my step-father (you’re utterly worthless, stupid and will make utterly worthless and stupid decisions unless you think and act as I do), ex-partners (I didn’t love you and I will leave you shortly so you better get that wall up to protect yourself), the occasional friend (hey, you’re awesome!  *but if they really  knew me they would get over that notion pretty quickly), and finally, in the back ground, usually jumping up and down like a far away but hyperactive 3 year old, is a  small fierce voice that is the part of me who hopes and tries for something better. That small voice is the one who talked me into the 50+ hour road trip, it’s the voice that took me scared shitless to surfing lessons, the one that had me running around London and later the Dominican Republic on my own while presenting this brave adventurous face to anyone looking. Inside I thought I was an idiot, and doing everything wrong.

So, my monster drive, that I still can’t decide was brave and meaningful or crazy and stupid, or maybe it was all of these. I can present a very believable case either way. It did allow me meaningful time with my daughter, to process her going onto this next important stage in her life, to honour what she has done, and to be present for part of the transition which was painful for us both. That was important and I’m very glad we had that time (not sure if we needed so many hours of that time, but that’s done now).  I brought several books to listen to, and was lost in stories for much of the drive. I drove past and through many landmarks of my life, in places I’ve lived and by people I have loved.  So many places, so many people, so many memories.

In the end, truth be told, it wasn’t really that brave a decision. I could not afford a plane ticket, my husband, who could afford one,  would not discuss it, so I did what I thought I had to to get my daughter to school. I could have pushed the issue, but decades of experience have taught me that I am on my own with this sort of thing and I rarely bother anymore. Now, of course, he is organizing for her to fly home for breaks and is the hero, where I am the one that took her on the never ending car ride. Part of the reason he is adored by both our families and I am not, that and he is a much better schmoozer than I am (to be honest I suck at schmoozing, alas…).

I try not to listen to the less than caring voices in my head. To focus on the little fierce one. I don’ t know if this is wise, or how much wisdom that voice has. In many ways it is a toddler with very basic and primordial needs, so I’m not sure if this is my Id jumping up at down, or at least my ego, but has kept me going when there was nothing else that would, and for that I’m grateful. It has kept me moving forward even when I am certain I will fail, it kept me driving all those hours, it help hold my my head up (even when I’m looking like a complete idiot), and it, usually, keeps me from curling up into a ball and giving up.

I think I need to be kinder to myself, maybe even forgive myself for not having this whole life thing figured out. Maybe even let the kind voice be heard among the rabble-rousers carrying on in my head. I think this is a rather poor ending to this blog, that I could have done better, but maybe this one will do.

kindness, pets, and kids, and the lessons they taught me

Whether one believes in a religion or not, and whether one believes in rebirth or not, there isn’t anyone who doesn’t appreciate kindness and compassion.

Dalai Lama

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When I was about 10 we had a small mutt my mother had found in the alley behind the library where she worked. We called him Book. He was a street smart, funny. lovable small black mutt. He was my little brother’s and my first dog, and we adored him. One night when my mom and step father were out I had a terrible feeling in my stomach about Book. That night I played with him, rubbed his belly, and must have given him half a box of dog cookies. Nothing bad happened, and I went to bed. When my they got back, my step father drove the babysitter home. We think Book must have got out and tried to follow the car. My mother woke me early the next day after she spent a sleepless night worrying and we all went looking for him. We lived about three blocks from a main street, and on the far side of that street, laying on the grass beneath a tree we saw Book. I rushed to him, and reached out my hand to wake him, and only then when my fingers touched stiff cold fur did I realize he was dead.

We buried Book in the backyard under a bed of flowers, it was the only time I ever saw my step father cry. My mother said that some kind person must have picked Book up off the road after he had been hit, and laid him gently on the grass for us to find him. Tied up with the sadness of losing our dog was the thought that someone had been kind to him, and also to us by taking the time to stop, pick up his body and gently place in on the grass.

Late last night I was coming home with my daughter and we saw the body of tortoise shell cat on the road. We circled round and stopped just behind it. She looked like she had been a well loved pet. She looked like she had died instantly. We stood and looked at her silently, my car’s headlights illuminating her. After a moment I walked back to my car and got a small white gym towel from my yoga bag. I knelt down and wrapped her still warm and pliable body in it and carried her to a grassy area under a small tree. Her back legs and fluffy tail stuck out from the end of the towel and her fur stirred slightly in the wind. I placed my hand on her side and said how sorry I was she had died. We stood a moment more and got in the car and drove the rest of the way home.

Four years ago when our young, beautiful, and foolish dog Willow got out of the yard and was run over, many people stopped, someone called me and we rushed to spend our last moments with her before she died. Someone brought a blanket that they never saw again, another person brought a board for us to lift her shattered and dying body into our car. My daughter sobbed, held her face, and said her name over and over again. The driver of the car stood crying. Before we got in our car to rush Willow to the vet in some mad hope that she could be saved, I went to the driver and told him it was not his fault. She was a skittish dog, and very fast, and he could not have avoided her. I didn’t want him to carry any more grief and guilt than he was already going to. I don’t remember anyone from that day. I have never been able to thank them for stopping, for helping our dog and us when it was most needed.

We never knew who carried Book from the road that night almost forty years ago, but that act of kindness stayed with me. It helped me tell the driver it was not his fault; it is what guided me when I carried the cat from the road last night. One act of kindness decades old still touches me and through me touches the world. Such is the way of kindness.

get used to it

ImageWhen I was pregnant with Catherine my first child, I worked as a nurse in a very busy pediatric hospital in downtown Toronto. It was here I was the most perfect parent, before I had my own kids, and for the most part, when I was surrounded by people were making mistakes with their own. Things I promised myself that I would never do. We liked to say our ward saw everything (it was actually nicknamed “Nam”, as in Vietnam) and even now I don’t think we were too far off. There were so many worst case scenarios, shaken babies, cancer, home births gone wrong, babies born with AIDS (when it was new and unknown), abuse, neglect…. for me they all were warnings about what not to do. There was one baby, Sheeva, that I will always remember. Her mother was beaten so badly during her pregnancy that the baby had seizures before she was born, and her short life afterwards was little more than seizure after seizure resulting in increasing brain damage until she died. Heartbreaking, and terrifying.  When I was pregnant I would take just about every normal prenatal symptom as a sign of something dire, and I drove myself insane with worry. One evening shift Catherine was hiccuping or kicking or just jerking around as fetuses are apt to do, but I was taking care of Sheeva that night and was terrified my baby was having seizures. I was not my most rational when I was pregnant, and when it comes to my children, I’m still slightly manic. I turned to Emma, a nurse with two young children, and asked in a semi-panicked state if she thought my baby was having seizures. She said, in a very Emma like fashion, “well, she might be having seizures, OR it could just be hiccups”. Somewhat calmed I asked her how she coped with the constant worry that I was experiencing and she gave me the best piece of parenting advice I have ever received, “Get used to it”.

Get used to it. There would be no magic day, birth, grade 1, adolescence, adulthood that a parent gets to say, whew! that’s it I don’t have to worry any more, there would always be something new to worry about. Am I reading the right books to them? Should I let them eat fast food? Do I make them clean their plates? Do I let them cry themselves to sleep? When do I wean them? Is so and so a good enough friend? What about piercings? tattooes? sex?? and will I screw them up forever if I make a wrong decision along the way? What if I’m doing everything wrong? What if ??

When I was five months pregnant with Catherine I had a routine blood test come back as positive for spina bifida. Actually, it was a could be positive and more testing would be required. Again I had taken care of some extremely disabled children with spina bifida and in my young “all knowing” mind had decided that I could never “deal with it” in my own child. Things were so much easier, so much more black and white when I was younger and knew the answers to everything (like all of those “should I?” parenting questions that became much fuzzier with each baby). So they sat us down and explained our “options”, which were, level 2 ultrasounds, amniocentesis, and termination of the pregnancy (we lived in Canada where termination is a medical decision), and there I was, my previous black and white world turned upside down by a blood result. Everything I has regarded as unchangeable fact was now up for interpretation. It was excruciating. In the end I wouldn’t even take the risk of amniocentesis, and opted for the ultrasounds, and my daughter was born healthy with an intact spine. The prenatal worries I had were, mostly, erased by the time Catherine was a a couple of weeks old, but now I was on to a whole new set of worries, and I realized how true Emma’s advice was.

Get used to it. Yeah, well that really sucks.

I was sitting the other day thinking I just had to get through the next two months with my son and then I would get a break, and then it occurred to me that the worries would not end when (if) he got to boot camp, that if anything I would find a whole new set of things to worry about, and when (if) he finishes there was another set of even bigger worries waiting for me. Get used to it. Damn.

So this is life when you love. You are open, and it will hurt, it will hurt a lot, and the answer is not to close yourself up in hope of protecting yourself from the pain, the answer is to stay open, to be hurt, to be heartbroken over and over again, because this is what will help you be kinder, gentler, more empathetic, and able to deal with life’s heartache, because you don’t get to be alive without heartache. Closing yourself off and hiding from life’s worries and pains makes you hard, brittle and frightened. I know, I’ve tried, and it was horrible.

“The term “kintsugi” means ‘golden joinery’ in Japanese and refers to the art of fixing broken ceramics with a lacquer resin made to look like solid gold. Chances are, a vessel fixed by kintsugi will look more gorgeous, and more precious than before it was fractured. Some say we need to cherish the imperfection of a broken pot repaired in this way, seeing it as a creative addition and/or re-birth to the pot’s life story. Others say that when something has suffered damage and has a history, it becomes more beautiful.

And so are we, more beautiful with our wrinkles, our cracked and fractured hearts, and with our worries. This is life, get used to it.