Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Crab Molts Its Shell

I found a spider crab shell on the beach last week. Purplish pink with the horn-like protuberances seen in the video above, it was too weird (and too large--bicycle helmet sized) to pocket. I poked it with a stick and flipped it over. Alas, it was not a shell that had been molted, but a casket for the remains of a creature who perished. Not picking it up was a wise decision. Even after the waves cleaned it out, I didn't want it in my arms.

I feel like I'm molting. Dashing around to distract myself while there are bigger things happening as the second anniversary of Dan's death approaches. Yesterday it was as if I stepped out of bed and into chasm, dropping down into a place airless and dark. I lay on the couch and dozed, too stupefied to read or muster the good sense to go out for a walk, meditate, or do anything.

Today it felt as if the sun was pouring in despite the May-gray skies here, yet there are more dealings with the dead. Another beneficiary form to fill out as we close my mother's last bank account.  And her supplementary insurance continues to send emails (despite my emails announcing her death and the attaching of a jpeg of her death certificate.) They're asking for her to sign the cancellation form, asking if she'd agree to serve on some patient  panel and fill out questionnaires about how they're doing.  While I'd like to impersonate her and participate with scathing commentary, I don't have the heart for it  right now. Darn. I know an opportunity for a heck of a good time when I see one, right?

From the New Yorker

Meanwhile, I continue to tend to my health. Beset with swollen knees, fingers, and hands and in pain since I returned from final visit with my mother in Iowa in March, blood tests show no Lyme disease, no autoimmune diseases. I have paid my thousand dollar bill and have letters from my primary care physician and a rheumatologist proclaiming the good news. A week ago I took my swollen self to a Functional Medicine doctor. Of course he told me to change my diet. No dairy. No gluten. ( I used to be a gluten free vegetarian, but converted back to being a regular omnivore about a year ago.) My cynical self didn't want to believe that I needed to give up dairy and gluten, (I mean, c'mon, it seems like such a knee-jerk alternative thing) but my desperate self was, well, desperate. After two days the swelling in my knees and fingers was pretty much gone. My right hand is still deciding whether or not to go with the miracle. But maybe it's lagging behind because it actually poured the milk and put the toast in the toaster.

And back to the molting--my caregiver skin is nearly shed. Another form/email or two and I am something new. The ex-wife skin, while only able to be gotten rid of when either or both The Someone and myself meet the same fate as the crab I found on the beach, feels like there's been  at least some exfoliation or a nip and a tuck. July holds its own treacherous anniversary. This year it will be nine years since my marriage ended with a three-sentence conversation. I lost my husband, my family, my house, my town. Three decades of personal history became a fraud. Half my life felt like a hallucination.

But I'm all right now. Quite wonderful, in fact. A new person, alive and well. There is that chasm.  But I think I can remember to climb out.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Friday Morning Beach Report

Today's Ocean

Green and cross-hatched with waves, frothy fireworks explode over the breakwater.
Gulls fly drunk while I search for treasure.
I pocket beach glass and covet pieces of driftwood too heavy to carry.
I cheat the great Pacific garage patch out of two toy shovels, one blue and one green, matching the clothes I'm wearing.
I might look ridiculous. 
Trudging into the wind, I think:
It's the walk itself that is the treasure.
And this very breath, and the next one
and the next.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Maybe She's Not Dead After All

Ghostly Martini

05/18/2016 03:31 PM

Dear Ethel,

This response is in reference to your email dated May 17, 2016 7:32:36 PM, to inform you that your inquiry is still in review and will be responded to as soon as your concern has been resolved. We appreciate your patience during our review process.

There are instances in this life when automated email responses are nothing short of idiotic.

My mother's life was not complicated. No real estate. No car. No investment accounts. Not much actual stuff since she moved out of her own place in 2009 and lived with one or another of her children. All that's left is a small box (think of a shoe box that  would house a large pair of boots)  of keepsakes, a plastic file box, some costume jewelry, a tin of pretty postage stamps torn from years of mail, those damn rip-off "collector" coins, and some family photos. 

She did, however work for a large municipality in a union job (she was a janitor and cleaned office buildings) and had a myriad of benefits. A small (really small)pension, a modest life insurance policy, supplemental health insurance (so pricey her pension didn't cover the cost) and a catastrophic health insurance policy that she also paid out of pocket for. She also had a small amount of money remaining in her credit union accounts with said large municipality. Are you counting? That makes five entities (from just this one job) I have notified regarding my mother's passing from this life into the next. 

Things went swimmingly with the life insurance folks. So easily that I thought they might spread the word around since anything having to do with employee benefits pretty much begins with that same phone number. Like I thought the life insurance folks would let the pension folks know--hey heads up, stop paying this person her pension because she's dead. And then I thought that maybe when the pension checks stopped showing up in her credit union account, they might be like, uh, what's up? Nothing's happening here, did this person die? And when I stopped paying her insurance premiums, I thought that along with the fact I'd filed a life insurance claim....well, you get the picture. So that didn't happen and I made the appropriate phone calls, and sent in the appropriate forms, and yet the mail for the dead keeps coming. So yesterday I logged onto the website for her catastrophic insurance and sent them a message. And they got back to me. I hope they "resolve her concern." And I'm so glad they "appreciate her patience." 

Is there anyone more patient than the dead?

Thursday, May 12, 2016

What the Yoga Teacher Said

Stay close to anything that makes you glad to be alive.--Sufi saying

All these hearts were found on various beach walks, the skies of Southern California and New Mexico.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Happy Mother's Day

Jacaranda Trees in Bloom at Grand Park, Los Angeles
I rode the train into downtown L.A. today.
Time travel.
There I was at the Oxnard train station, walking along the platform where two years ago, I would have met Dan as he stepped off the train, coming to see me for the weekend.  
Time travel.
There I was with a ticket marked "senior fare." As if I'd been asleep and awakened to find myself a senior citizen (by Amtrak standards anyway.)
Time travel.
I swear this park didn't exist the last time I was downtown, its wide swath of trees and fountains leading directly to the Music Center.
Time Travel.
It's Mother's Day. Last year I had a mother to celebrate with. This year I do not.
You go along and you go along, and then all of a sudden you are without the people you can't imagine being without. You yourself are old enough to get the senior discount, and a technicolor park emerges from the gray cityscape of the City of Angels.
There's nothing to be done but weep and celebrate, drink champagne, eat escargot and mussels with  the beautiful young woman who was once a baby in your arms and take the train back home.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Things that Can Go Wrong After You Die

This room used to be my mother's room, so I'm using it to "sort out her affairs." Affairs take quite a bit of sorting out after you're dead and you're not going to be the one doing it.

Things can go wrong in the sorting out of affairs. Checks can still arrive in the mailbox for the dead. If you have not already closed the dead person's account, you might be able to deposit them by endorsing the check as power of attorney (even though power of attorney expires at the moment of death) and just depositing the thing. If you're lucky.

You might assume that you proved everything that needed proving for your beloved dead person when they were still alive and got on Medicaid. You're wrong. You have to prove they have no money again when they're dead. This is harder when the person is dead if you've already closed their checking accounts and saved a million trees by not printing out statements. There is no online access for an account that's closed. That account is dead. Just like the dead person. And the bank might snub you when you ask for a bank statement. That account is closed, they might say. Your power of attorney is expired, they might add. We need a will with the seal of the court showing you as executor might be the last thing they say before you hang up the phone.

You might have some second thoughts about things you did when your person was still alive. Like that free online do-it-yourself will. It seemed great. Your beloved dead person loved free things. Free online wills do not have court seals.

You might assume that if you report the dead person as dead in order to collect her life insurance (an employee benefit) that the other arms of that benefit system will get the word. Push one for pensions, push two for life insurance does not mean these person's desks are next to each other. Things can look different inside your head than in the real world when you're taking care of business for someone who's dead. Because things are always different inside your head.

If your now dead loved one was in a nursing home, you might assume that "funds held in trust" for that person's miscellaneous expenses like hair cuts and pedicures with be returned to you if there is an unspent balance. Even if the state regulations stipulate that's what's to be done with these funds, good luck getting it. Don't trust the trust.

You might not realize that you need this paper and that paper regarding this or that for the dead person. You might think, well, that's done. She's dead. And you're dead wrong. Save everything. Print things. Kill all the trees. Stack up the papers. Spread them out. Photocopy them. File them. Look for them. Lose them. Find them.

They are what you have left.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

This Earthly Life

I went to a party last night--a birthday party for the 87-year-old father of a dear friend. We gathered on a patio in the setting sun with frogs croaking in a creek down the hill. Next door in a grassy pasture, a deer grazed, its back to us, oblivious of the humans devouring cheese and conversation.

It was a small group--a dozen people, some of whom I've know since I moved to California in the 70s. Some I'm getting to know better and better each occasion I spend time with them. Others I'd met at a party or a dinner here or there over the years, and there was a couple I don't recall ever meeting before. It was one of those evenings where the light cast all of us in a glow and each morsel of cheese, each piece of fruit, each swallow of wine seemed more perfect than the last.

I frequently feel awkward in social gatherings. I sometimes drink too much or refuse to make eye contact or conversation with anyone who is not a trusted friend. I can't remember names and write off anyone I'm meeting for the first time while monopolizing the people I already know, following them around like a insecure rescue dog.

I don't know why exactly, but last night felt different. As if we were all there for a reason, intertwined whether we really knew each other or not, as if the ghosts of beloved departed ones were whispering in our ears, telling us how lucky we were to be at this earthly gathering in the company of one another's warm bodies, enjoying the creatures and fruits of this earthly life.