Sunday, August 30, 2015

Report from Pillville: How to plan

1) Fill the pillboxes for the next two weeks as if you are sure they will be needed.

2) Thank M and her friend for cleaning up your mom's coffee spills while you were at yoga.

3)  Thank M and her friend for making your mom another piece of toast when she forgot she'd eaten the first one.

4) Spill your own full cup of a perfect latté all over your stack of journals, your lamp, your end table and the white chair in your bedroom.

5) Clean up your mess, but decide that the slipcover to the chair can be spot cleaned, not removed and washed.

6) Talk to your other daughter on the phone about getting her grandmother to Iowa (or not) about getting her into a nursing home in a timely fashion there (or not) about you staying in Iowa longer than planned (or not).

7) In the same conversation decide to take your mom's wheelchair to Iowa. (duh) Decide that the daughter's husband will pick you up from the airport in Minnesota and take you to the airport hotel so your mom can rest before the drive the next day. Decide to get just one room for the two of you. Joke about hiring an exorcist to eliminate the possibility of middle of the night shrieks and hollers.

8) Throw the slipcover in the washing machine. Remove the towel from the bottom of the lamp. Note to self: be careful when switching the lamp on later.

9) Realize that your mom has picked new wounds into the skin on her arms while you wrote this post. And then wonder why the anti-anxiety med worked the first day of the picking, but doesn't seem to be working now.

10) Wonder when you might see this man you love again. Go over the plans and try to make peace with potential failure of said plans.

11) Realize that you started this post an hour ago.

12) Ponder your goals for today: Unsubscribe  to a few more emails. Pay the overdue water bill. Or not.

13) Make peace with sitting on the patio with your mom so you can suggest more ointment if she starts picking at her skin again.

12) Look forward to everything by planning nothing. Let go. Let go. Let go.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Oh, This Feast!

My heart and head were in a whirl--the camera saw that. 
That's Pete ladling Gazpacho into a punch cup while I stand at the ready to re-fill the bowl.
The rest of the menu is below: Mussels, clams, smashed cucumber salad, fruit salad, cubes of feta garnished so prettily they looked like petits fours. There was homemade hummus and little add-ons for the gazpacho. There were brownies and a Greek cake topped with nuts and cinnamon and powdered sugar. There was ice cream and espresso. There were 14 of us feasting and it was perfect.

 There was also my friend Nomi, who knows how to capture a moment.

And the next night there were leftovers for Pete and my mom and me. 
The gazpacho grew even more delicious.

Everything got better and better and better.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Wednesday Morning Beach Report

A cloud of sanderlings in flight.

A cloudless blue sky dropping into a band of fog. 

And unlike the past few mornings, a lone set of footprints following me on the sand.

While the new man in my life has gone back to Indiana to resume his role of caregiver for his father, the love and joy are still here--as wide and deep as the ocean.

Monday, August 24, 2015

State of the State in Margaritaville:

Write your own blog post. Here are the pictures. Make it good.

Friday night mussels by candlelight

Saturday morning coffee on my patio

Impromptu Saturday lunch: octopus salad and squid salad

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Notes from the Afterlife, Advice from Pillville, and Lovelovelove

August 20, 2012 minutes after our arrival, the long drive from Iowa over.
Warning: this might be my longest post ever. But there's love, booze, broken stuff, danger, death, love, and....more, more, more.

I broke a glass yesterday. A heavy tumbler in a slow motion plummet to the tile. The fall, the impact, the shatter seemed to unwind in slow motion. The sound of it too.

That was after I took my mom out for a haircut and barely managed to get her from the car and into the door of the salon. It was a very short walk--a walk that most people would not even describe with the word walk. Enter, maybe, or arrive would describe the track from car to door. I didn't bring the wheelchair. One of those mistakes to which I'll never be able apply the lesson learned because I'm not taking her out again. But we made it. Thanks to the presence of a bench, I didn't have to gently slide her down my leg and sit her on the sidewalk the way C drilled me months ago after the Thanksgiving night blackout drunk face plant.

The hospice nurse came for her regular visit after we got home. My mom was napping by then, looking pretty fabulous in her new haircut. Her pulse/ox was low-ish again, and her blood pressure was really low. 80/60. Yeah. Take a deep breath everyone. My mom is on hospice. She has lung cancer. For the third time. This is the way it is. She was alert and chatty, telling us how her putty-like legs didn't hurt and how she felt just fine. We raised the head of the bed and gave her gatorade. Told her to nap. The nurse and I went into the kitchen and she talked to me while I took the blood pressure meds out of my mom's pill box. She called in a prescription for a steroid. Then we talked about Iowa.

Today is the beginning of our fourth year in Pillville. My mother has said from the beginning that she wanted to go home to Iowa to die. Every time she said it, I told her fine, let me know when so I can buy plane tickets. For months already, we've had tickets for a visit there the first week in October. Yesterday the nurse told me that if there's any chance that my mom might be re-locating to Iowa, that I need to get her there "before the widow closes." That said, my mom ate a hearty dinner last night and walked around the house just fine. She insisted on scooping out her own ice cream--her usual bedtime treat.

Last night I dreamed of Dan. He came back wearing a new jacket, a pair of tinted designer glasses, and tight jeans. He was with a zaftig blonde, whom I disliked immediately. The three of us spent the night in the same house. He slept in my bed. I felt pretty smug the next morning while she slunk around refusing to make eye contact. I was in the kitchen when I heard a certain rhythmic sound coming from the bathroom. When the two of them came out and went directly out the door, I followed them into the street. We were in a big city and a trolley came by. Dan got on. I don't know what happened to the blonde. You could at least say good-bye, I shouted. He raised his eyes to look at me. Fuck you, I said. He shrugged. The doors of the trolley closed and our eyes held as he rolled out of sight.

Dan Paik broke more than a half-dozen glasses in the five and a half years we were together. He broke them at the table, in the kitchen, in the bathroom, and once in the garage. Other than the broken glass our time together was safe and pretty damn beautiful.

Pete arrives today. He's at the airport in Chicago waiting to board his plane right now. The first day of the fourth year of living with my mom is also another sort of beginning. Pete and I became Facebook friends in March. We knew of one another through the T'ai Chi Chih community (he's been a teacher a long time) and he's also a caregiver for his father. After a friend shared a couple of my Pillville posts, he asked if he could have my email address. Over a thousand emails and hundreds of hours of Skype later, we will meet this afternoon in person when he steps off the airport shuttle.

Two dear and trusted friends are coming to eat dinner with my mom tonight. I hope my mom continues to feel well. I hope I remember to eat dinner. I hope I remember to sleep. I hope I continue to trust the universe and that this story keeps rolling along, and that hearts, heads, glasses, bones, and all breakables stay intact for as long as they are able.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Where I've Been (Have I Ever Not Blogged for Six Days?)

Okay, so that's not me exactly, but I do feel like I've been riding the waves.

The light chop of life here in Pillville--nothing big enough to roll a person under, but just enough to make me wonder if I should take a Dramamine. Ha. Great name for a pill. Drama Mine. Which might explain why my blood pressure has been higher than my mother's.

And there have been those other waves too that come with falling in love. That feeling. You know that feeling. It's still all happening over Skype, but in a couple of days we'll see each other in person.
Wish us luck.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Joy

This is what I saw at the spot where I walked onto the sand this morning.

Do you ever feel like goodness and joy and comfort are there just waiting for you? That you didn't really do anything, but all that abundance drops at your feet anyway?

And when someone says "Hi," do you say hello back?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Dinner and Dancing

My mom's favorite vegetable is carrots. The last time I served these red ones, she loved them. I wasn't sure if she'd love them tonight or not. Beloved foods fall by the wayside now and then. Last night she picked every last seed out of her tomatoes (which I'd skinned.) And the little "beans" inside the green beans, she removed too.

I'm happy to say that tonight's veggies were a success. And it appears that salmon is still on her list of edible foods too. I do feel though that anything can be bumped from the list at any moment. Bacon is gone as are Rice Krispies and most soups. In a way it makes cooking easier. She really loves sandwiches and pizza right now.

As for me, I'm going dancing. And post dancing, there'll be a Skype session with the man from Indiana. Still the leash feels short this evening. There's been non-stop moaning for two days, but when I ask if she needs a pain pill or a hot pack, the answer is no. The moaning is unconscious. If I tell her she's moaning, which I don't like to harp on, she says she doesn't know she's doing it. If I timed it, roughly every 3 seconds, she makes a sound. There are three or four sorts of moans in her repertoire. One sounds like pain, another like disgust--kind of an abbreviated "Bah!" as in Bah Humbug, the others sound like little satisfied sounds or maybe like she's surprised. Two days of it non stop. Did I mention that? Maybe I'll keep mentioning it over and over again, okay?

Or maybe I'll just go waltz and rhumba and cha-cha for a couple hours. If my mom could still dance, that would probably help her too.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Lovelovelove: The knowing and the forgetting

I can't remember how it started.

Sometime after the divorce, the refrain that explained everything was lovelovelove. I loved my children and felt their pain and we consoled each other sometimes with simply the chant of lovelovelove. We said it aloud. Texted it. Emailed it. I lay down on the floor with my dogs and whispered lovelovelove into  their ears. They scooted closer, wagged their tails, and professed to know what I was talking about. We were all  then (yes, even the dogs who were traumatized by the loss of the the person who'd walked and fed them) split open, raw to elements, stripped down and so fully present in the center of our love for one another. The thing I wanted most then was not to hurt the people who loved me. That purpose kept me alive, quite literally, kept the wish to die pushing into the background, but still the wish to self-destruct bobbed up and down in the ocean of grief that surrounded me.

Yet I survived. Because of lovelovelove. Because lovelovelove is the life raft. Children are the life raft. Friends are the life raft. Parents are the life raft. Things that you read and write are the life raft. Your practices (yoga, T'ai Chi Chih, meditation, etc.) are the life raft. Trees are the life raft. The ocean is the life raft. Birds are the life raft. Maybe even gin was the life raft for a while. Pick one. Get in it. Paddle the life raft. Now paddle faster. Or maybe just drift. Drift and say the words lovelovelove.

My day here in Pillville has been a mess. (And  a portal.) My mom spilled her coffee liberally laced with half and half about 10 minutes before I left to teach a T'ai Chi Chih class. Nothing stinks like spoiled milk. (Somewhere in my memory banks is a car totaled by an insurance company because of spilled milk.) I had to mop and clean rapidly, but the amazing thing was that neither my mom nor I dropped into the negative. Oh, you fell asleep holding your coffee cup, I said. Yes, that's what happened, she said. She moved out of the way while I mopped. We were okay.

When I came back from teaching my T'ai Chi Chih class this morning I discovered that two half drunk bottles of champagne had leaked into the bottom drawer of the fridge. What to do but mop it up and drink the rest. (Champagne is the life raft.) Working at simple physical tasks that require little thinking always transport me. Scrub, mop, throw in a load of laundry. Soak up the spilled mess. Soak up the love. While actually sipping the champagne, I found that the guys who'd "professionally" cleaned my barbecue grill had dumped their mess into the recycling bin. I cleaned that mess up too.

I was a mess when Dan Paik found me. Date the bass player, a friend said. So I did. And for much of the five and a half years we had had together, I dragged the grief of my lost marriage behind me like a tail. I wept. I moaned. I cursed. I went crazy. He told me over and over again that I didn't scare him. He loved me beyond my wildest hopes, no matter the wreckage I carried.

I'm in love again and the man I love now told me THIS STORY, which he called You Never Know.--a story that Dan told me too. Dan called it Good Luck Bad Luck.

Luck is everything sometimes. And sometimes luck feels like more than luck. It feels like the luck of the universe, not just plain ordinary luck, but some kind of cosmic Knowing. But the thing about knowing is that the glimpse of it can easily slip from our grasp. We forget what we know. Today I'm remembering that I know lovelovelove.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Thank You

Thank you, everyone, for your comments on my previous post. I really appreciate your input, support, and the experiences you shared with me.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Pelicans and Thinking Out Loud

This could be a picture of my heart. I'm soaring so much of the time these days.


This morning as my friend Ellen and I were walking we talked about the death of our parents. How her mother died suddenly, still fully herself. How my father did the same. And I told her how when I dream of him or think of him, I see him just as he was in this life. And that's the most terrible thing about my mom, I said. After she dies and I see her in my dreams, I'll see her like this--the way these past few years have, day by day, reduced her and how that's what is burned into my brain. This is not the version of her I want to remember.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Report from Pillville: How my hair stood up

I wish I still had the Christmas lights on my bed.

I am listening in the dark. My mother is quiet at the moment. If I listen a little harder I can hear the click and hiss of her oxygen machine.

Earlier this evening as my friend Ellen and I sat on the couch, my mom was talking in her sleep. Not just a mumbled word, not just a line or two, but a monologue. Excuse me, I said to Ellen. I have to check out what's going on in there. I stood to the side of her partially open door and listened.

"And now they roam the house at night. Two of them. And they're not really fond of each other." My mom was speaking in a dramatic voice like she was telling a ghost story. The hair on my arms and the back of my neck stood up. I can't even watch TV because the commercials for scary movies terrify me. Now I'm imagining Thing One and Thing Two roaming through my house, stalking one another--stalking me.

If there ever was a night to have a friend staying over, this is it. A few months back, Ellen and I both leapt from our beds and nearly collided at the top of the stairs after my mother yelled at the top of her lungs. For a moment it sounded like my mom was arguing with someone and we thought there might be an intruder in the house.

I may have to sleep with the light on. But then again, that might make it easier for Thing One and Thing Two to find me.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Tuesday Beach Report

The ocean was choppy, the tide low. Plenty of rocks to encourage the hunt for beach glass.
I found a little.

The slope of bare sand was steep enough so that while walking along the water's edge, I couldn't see any houses. It adds to that getting-away-from-it-all feeling.

And the sand itself was firmly packed, making walking easy. That's the way I feel about things in general  these days. I don't have to struggle. Just walk forward.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Report from Pillville: Have I mentioned the harpist?

art by Sulamith Wölfing

THIS  was in today's New York Times.

And since my head has been rising higher and higher into the clouds these past several weeks, I honestly can't remember if I've blogged about the music therapy hospice has provided for my mom  Forgive me when I tell you I was skeptical at first, but when the nurse told me a harpist would be coming to play for my mom, I envisioned something hokey. Please don't let her be wearing an angel costume was the wish that kept circling through my head. I was more than a little bit relieved when a woman wearing ordinary clothes showed up at the door.

The harpist has visited us four times now. Sometimes she brings a large harp and sometimes a smaller one with a set of bells and gongs. My mom sits in her chair at the dining room table since it's usually around lunch time. I lie across the room on the couch and the harpist sits between us, a bit closer to my mom than to me. She talks to my mom between songs and my mom talks to her. I remain silent unless my mom gets confused about something she wants me to straighten out--like whether he twin sister has been dead for one year or two, or if I was already living in California when my father died. These brief conversations are far more lovely than they sound. While there is talk about the dead, there's also talk about love, and about the different places my mom has lived in her 90 plus years on this planet.

I didn't know that harp and vocal music woven into end-of-life care was actually a formal discipline called thanatology until I read the article in this morning's Times. My awe and respect for our harpist's talents is now even deeper. At some level, I think I understood the depth of the experience from the beginning because I chose to do nothing but listen from the moment that very first note was plucked. I'm not quite sure why. It would have been more like me to hover near by, quietly folding laundry or to use the presence of another person in the house as an excuse to slip upstairs to my room. But after introductions were made that first day, I fluffed up the pillows on the couch, stretched out facing the water, and closed my eyes.

The music is mostly instrumental. But twice now the harpist has played and sung that old song by the New Christy Minstrels. The first few lines are pretty good instructions for living.

Today, while the blossoms still cling to the vine
I'll taste your strawberries, I'll drink your sweet wine
A million tomorrows shall all pass away
'Ere I forget all the joy that is