Grateful for Grief

Gosh, I can’t believe that I haven’t written since May! I write in my head all the time, but I somehow just don’t seem to make it to the keyboard, if that makes any sense. Today, however, my spirit hurts and sometimes the only way to get relief is to let the words flow.

On Saturday, I attended and spoke at the memorial service honoring a very dear friend of mine. I don’t know if we met in 1991 or 1992; but, whichever it was, it was a long time ago. I may not know the year, but I know that it was late spring and early morning. I was working my first flight of the day in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, when this pilot from the training department was in my office, asking a bunch of annoying questions and just generally getting in the way. Finally, I looked at him and said, “Captain, they don’t pay me to babysit pilots. Find another place to be.” He did and thus began a very complex, sometimes convoluted friendship.

I hadn’t seen Lance in over a decade, I realized on Saturday, but that didn’t seem to matter. He was never far from my heart and we checked in with each other every couple of months, just as we have done for the better part of 30 years. We were friends through a baby and hurricane (mine), a marriage (his), and jobs and moves for both of us. It is inconceivable to me that he won’t be texting some joke in a couple of months. While he hasn’t been a physical presence in my life for a long time, he’s always been out there and I’ve always known that if ever I needed him, all I had to do was call. I believe he knew the same thing. I certainly hope so.

Lance is my third friend to die. My 82-year-old dad says it doesn’t get any easier to let them go. On the one hand, I think my dad kinda sucks at pep talks; but, on the other hand, grief is the proof of love, I think. If I had not loved Joey, Sandy, and Lance, I would not grieve their absence. Certainly, not grieving for them would have made a few days of my life easier, but not having known and loved them would have made my whole life so much emptier. I am already grateful that the loss of my friendships with Joey and Sandy were worth grieving. Someday I will feel that gratitude about my friendship with Lance.

Someday.

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Tending to Bloom

I’ve always hated Valentine’s Day. Growing up, I saw myself as a fat, smart, teacher’s kid whose social skills were somewhat lacking. I don’t know how others saw me, but I always saw myself as Less Than. Most of the time, I could just muddle along without what I believed was my weirdness and unattractiveness being called out in neon letters. Except on Valentine’s Day. That was the day when the pretty and popular girls got flowers, balloons, gifts, etc., from friends and/or boyfriends. I didn’t get those. To be fair, lots of girls didn’t get those things, but it didn’t hurt me that they didn’t get gifts. It hurt that I didn’t get them. I saw it as just one more way that my being Less Than was publicly noted.

Except one year.

That year, the student council sold carnations just like every other year – red, pink, and white. Red was for love, pink was for secret admirer, and white was for friends, I think. And just like every other year, there were girls walking around with bouquets of blooms and other girls with book bags – mine was blue, heavy, and the only thing I expected to carry all day. But, then, when a student council representative was delivering blooms to one of my classes, he had one for me! A pink one! I was convinced it was a mistake, frankly, but he said it wasn’t. Someone had bought a secret admirer flower for me.

All day, I felt like the Ugly Duckling that was suddenly a swan. I wondered who could have sent it, hoping it might this guy, afraid it might be that one. I spent the whole day feeling special. Like the flower in my hands, I bloomed.

As it turned out, the flower was from my sister Chele, who was away at college. She and I share some of the same insecurities and she wanted me to feel special.

I’m not going to lie, at the time, I was 17 and little bummed that the flower was from my sister and not the guy I had a crush on. But, you know what? I can’t even remember who I had a crush on anymore, but my sister is still here.

For the most part, we are like chalk and cheese, my sister and I. We don’t look alike. We think differently. We have different priorities and tastes. We fought as children. We have fought as adults and we will likely fight again. But, she is my sister. When I needed to feel special, she did that for me.

For the last couple of years, my sister has been my roommate. The last time I lived with someone I hadn’t birthed was nearly 30 years ago. It takes some adjusting to live with another adult and, for the most part, I think that we have done a pretty good job. I believe that she is a gentler person than I am and that living with her makes me a nicer person. I have to be more aware of what I say and how I say it. I have to be more mindful of my thoughts and of the attitudes that I allow to take root in my mind.

Family relationships, friendships, romantic relationships, marriages, all require work on the parts of every party involved. I have said it before and I truly believe it: relationship failures are never the fault of only one of the parties involved. We have to be honest with ourselves and own our own parts in the failures. For many years, I was careless with my relationship with my sister. I was careless in my words and in my attitudes, and I did a great deal of damage to our relationship. I am still working to repair that damage and to avoid doing further damage. We are our parents’ only surviving children and she is important to me. I try to show that in small things, but I could do better. All relationships need to be nurtured.

This Valentine’s Day, it is my goal to think less about how others see me or whether others love me. It is my goal, rather, to give love to them, to tend my relationships to help them bloom – in red, pink and in white.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Keep Your Prayers

We’ve got work to do.

I’m sure that I’ve mentioned before that my son and I lived in New Orleans when Katrina hit. We left before she made landfall; but, we lost nearly everything we owned in the storm. A renter, I could not afford renters’ insurance; so, when I say that we lost nearly everything, I mean that we lost it.

An experience like that really colors your view of things afterwards. It becomes a watershed moment of your life and you are forever changed.

I became angrier. Well, not angrier, in general, but certainly angrier about particular things – hypocrisy and sanctimony to name two.

A friend of mine asked her brother whose friend owned a climate controlled storage unit to call his friend to see if he had a unit available for her to rent. She didn’t ask her brother to ask for a donation or a discount, she just asked him to make a phone call. She would have done it herself, but she was elbow deep in vat after vat of the reconstituted sewage that she was washing from the belongings she had actually been able to salvage from her house. Let me reiterate: she asked him to make a phone call. That’s it. A phone. Call.

You know what he said? He couldn’t. He had to go to his church to participate in a prayer walk to pray for all the victims of the hurricane.

Say what?

His sister had lost nearly all of her belongings – a victim of the hurricane if ever there was one – but he couldn’t actually help her by making a phone call. He had to go pray for a bunch of strangers.

Right.

This week, I shared a GoFundMe page benefiting a former colleague whose fiance had an aneurysm nearly a month ago. He has been in neurological intensive care ever since and the prognosis is not especially good. Between them, this couple has five children. They both work hard at unskilled jobs, but are living paycheck to paycheck. Now, their income is 40% less than it was a month ago since he is on medical leave in the hospital and she is on intermittent leave to be there with him. In my post, I tagged about 80 people – some of whom worked with her, some of whom didn’t. (Honestly, I couldn’t remember who had and who hadn’t.) Several people commented that they loved her and were praying for her; but, guess how many contributed. That’s right. None. Not one of the people who said that they loved her, were praying for her, were sorry she was going through this, etc., had five bucks to send her way to help her keep the lights turned on.

I was, and am, livid.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that people have to contribute to every little thing that comes across their screens. I don’t think that people have to contribute to everyone they know. I don’t think people are required to do anything, really. Don’t want to give? Then don’t. But don’t claim to love someone while you turn your back on their need. You can do something – babysit, make dinner, clean their house or maybe you’ve got an extra five bucks laying around somewhere. If 50 people gave just $5 each, that’s $250. That’s the electric bill and maybe a tank of gas. Trust me, when you’re down to your last $10, you are thrilled with anything someone chooses to give you.

While my experience after The Storm certainly made me angrier about some things, it made me more grateful for other things. I am so grateful to the sweet friends and strangers who saved me from bitterness by reaching out to us – those people who prayed for us, but who also made sure we had food and clothing and shelter.

Sure, pray for people, if that’s your thing. Pray for the Afghans who are reeling from yet another bombing in Kabul. Pray for our country with its idolatry of ignorance and malice. And, yes, pray for people you know, but help them. Prayer is all well and good, but when you’re drowning, you need a rope or buoy. When you need to keep the lights on, you need a little more than “thoughts and prayers.”

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and :thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” – Matthew 7:15-20

 

 

Choosing to Love

 

“Love stinks.” – The J. Geils Band.

Basic survival instincts send an animal away from something that causes pain. We flee fire. Dogs cower from raised hands. We are programmed to avoid pain; however, in the case of love, we actively seek out something which can cause us tremendous pain. Why?

You might make the argument that we risk the pain of losing friendship because the benefits from the friendship make the risk worth it. The sense of community and the support of friends increases a person’s chances of survival and even quality of life. But pets? Cats? Dogs? What do we get from them?

I was upset when Blu disappeared; but, I was gutted when my sister found his body under the house. This is the second of my feral colony that has chosen to die at my house rather than wandering off, as animals so often do. The White Queen died at my back door and is buried in the back yard. Sunday, Blu joined her in the little feral cemetery. I cried all day over this cat I’d never even petted. Why? Why was I so upset?

Three of the kittens of the feral colony are in my house (Wallace, Link, and Lucy); but, the colony was much larger than that. At one time, there were 14 of them. Of the eleven who lived outside, only The White Queen let me pick her up, pet her and brush her – she loved a good brushing! Twin lets me pet her from time to time, but only with one hand and only scratches around the head and neck. The others observe a strictly No Touch policy. But I continue to feed them, talk to them and, yes, love them. Why? It’s not like they give me anything.

Or do they?

MANY years ago, before I realized that he was Jerry Springer without the folding chairs, I watched Dr. Phil’s show. A broken clock is right twice a day and even the doctor was right at least this once: we engage in behaviors because there is some kind of payout in it for us. After I’d fed the ferals for a few months, the man I was seeing told me that I was going to have to stop feeding them – they were just costing me money. (He was right, it was a little tough on my budget; so, I rearranged some things. I continued to feed them, but he’s not around anymore. Draw your own conclusion.) It’s a real honor to me when these feral animals allow me to approach, verbalize to me, or even just blink slowly at me acknowledging that I am not a threat. After much contemplation, I think that my payout is that they trust me. And, in trusting me, they somehow validate me. The trust they give makes me want to be the kind of person who deserves it. Like Helen Hunt to Jack Nicholson, the cats make me want to be a better (hu)man.

Maybe that’s the payout for love – that it makes us want to be better. It makes us become people we like more. It makes us worthier in our own eyes. In the end, though, as I sit here with a dog at my feet and cat hair on my shirt, I’ve concluded that it doesn’t matter Why we love. It only matters That we do.

 

 

It’s All in Your Perspective

I didn’t write yesterday because I was dealing with a crisis. A crisis, I tell you! There was a crime at my house! The perpetrator was the cutie pictured above.

Many of you, I’m sure, have read the humorous account of this family’s Poohpocalypse when their Roomba ran over their dog’s poop and spread it all. over. everywhere. I also read the post and giggled. How funny! Right?

Well, it wasn’t funny yesterday.

The Roomba my sister and niece gave me for Christmas wasted no time in becoming a valued and beloved member of our household. With four cats and two dogs (I know, I know) living in my 1200 square foot house, I needed to vacuum daily or all the hair on the floor looks like a small shaggy pony has exploded in the living room. I said the I needed to vacuum daily – not that I did.  It was just kind a pain in the butt to deal with; so, I dealt with in the most adult way possible – I wore house shoes all the time. Grit doesn’t count if I can’t feel it.

All that changed when the Roomba (which I named Jeeves) joined the household. He runs every morning at 1:30 AM, ensuring grit-free floors when I wake. I LOVE that! Sometimes he gets caught on things and I find him in the hall or in the bathroom – no biggie.

Except Wednesday.

He got trapped on a loose piece of carpeting at my sister’s door. The reason he got stuck was that he was the victim of Stella’s poop. He had run over it in the kitchen and had spread it all. over. the. house.

Y’all. That was just a whole new level of nasty. And the urge to just pitch it was strong, I’m not going to lie. But, first, I love Jeeves, and , two, Jeeves was not inexpensive. I had to clean him. Can you believe this? I could not find a single video to tell me how to take the bot apart enough to clean it! I found lots of stories on other people who had a Poopapalooza; but, nothing on how people fixed it. So, I just figured it out by myself – wearing hazmat gear, of course – gear that I also wore while bleaching my kitchen and mopping my floors with vinegar.

I will be posting a video to YouTube sometime in the near future to help others clean their poopy Roombas. And I hope I never have to do it again.

 

 

That Time Garth and Mick Got It Right

Years ago, Garth Brooks thanked God for Unanswered Prayers. I’ve often felt the same way even though I don’t believe in unanswered prayers. After all, “no” is an answer.

I’ve told you before that I’m a single mom (acknowledging that “single” is hardly “alone” given my fantastic support network of family and friends). What I didn’t tell you is that I’ve been a single mom since pretty much about three days before I found out I was pregnant with him. That was the night that his father broke up with me. I know you’re probably wondering; so, I’ll go ahead and answer the question: no, I did not get pregnant on purpose. However, I wasn’t all that worried about it, either, since I thought our relationship was solid and had a future. I thought that right up until he came back from a trip and announced that he didn’t want to see me anymore. (I’ve had that happen a few times in my life – been blindsided with a break-up. I guess maybe either I don’t read men as well as I should or I don’t pay close enough attention. Whatever. That’s why I have cats now.)  To be honest, I prayed long and hard that he would love me and want us to be a family. When it didn’t look like that was going to happen, I prayed long and hard that he would want to be a father to our child. That didn’t really happen, either. It was my belief at the time that fatherhood just wasn’t for him at that point in his life. The answer to my prayers was no. I was heartbroken and just plain broken for a very long time.

That was 22 years ago – 22 years of rebuilding a stronger version of my Self, of scratching out a living, of trying to be a good mother, of recovering from various catastrophes and of watching my son grow into an amazing human being. His father and I have spoken on three occasions during those years when I initiated contact – twice for legal reasons and once because my son wanted to know if he had siblings.

To say that I was surprised to see his name in my email list in February is putting it mildly. The failure of that relationship is one of the most painful periods of my life; so, quite honestly, I didn’t know whether to vomit or cry when I saw it….so I did both. Then I put on my big girl panties and read the email. In short, he wanted to try to establish some kind of relationship with my son. I was so overwhelmed that I threw up and cried again before I composed myself enough to make some kind of response, which was that my son is grown and any relationship would have to be his decision, not mine. I forwarded the message to my son and told his father that I hoped that they could work something out.

Now, please understand that although this was the real desire of the more developed part of my brain, the petty, childish part was saying all manner of nasty, hateful things. However, we’ve talked about that part of my personality before and that she spends most of her time getting put in the corner – deservedly so. After forwarding the email, I spoke with my son about his feelings on the matter, my feelings and my opinion on how he should proceed. Since I’ve told my son little about that period of time, he doesn’t carry any of the baggage that prompted the rantings of that troll portion of my personality. To prevent his having baggage borne of my perceptions is precisely why I didn’t tell him anything.

So, the men have been talking since Spring and, in September (on his birthday weekend), my son traveled to Dallas to meet his father for the first time. The Henny Penny Mother was worried that my son would be hurt in some way, although the Practical Mother knew that wouldn’t happen. And it didn’t. By all accounts, they had a really good visit. His stepmother baked my son a birthday cake – a personal touch I thought was really kind. They are defining and creating their relationship as they go on and, you know what? I am truly thrilled. My son had a family he didn’t know; but, that is changing. He will soon be meeting grandparents, an aunt and cousins. His world is widening and, I think, becoming more complete. And you know what else? I am freer, as well.

The universe didn’t come crashing down with the contact that I both feared and craved, and I didn’t revert to the woman I once was. I’m still the strong, independent woman I’ve striven to be – the woman I actually like, the woman I don’t believe I’d be if I’d gotten what I prayed for all those years ago. So, like Garth, I’m thankful for those “unanswered” prayers; and Mick was right – you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime you just might find you get what you need.

The Growing Cold

“She can’t breathe, John!”

I remembering hearing my mother say that to my father as I sat coughing, watching television one night. (No doubt we were watching Gunsmoke or something.) Anyway, I remember her sounding alarmed and me thinking that it was just a cold. Well, my dad picked me up and took me, wearing my flannel nightgown covered in Pirouette-style clowns, to the hospital where I was admitted with pneumonia. The doctor tried comforting me by telling me that he was building me a playhouse. (What fun!) I told him that it wasn’t a playhouse, that it was an oxygen tent. Who was he trying to kid? I watched Medical Center and I told him so. I was between three and four years old.

(The whole experience was humiliating! They made me sleep in a baby bed, for crying out loud! AND, big girl that I was, they made me wear diapers. Ugh!)

My next experience with the illness was about eight years ago when, while splitting firewood (something I well and truly suck at) I began to cough up blood. On account of I’m so smart and junk, I knowed right off something was wrong. (Okay, I didn’t. I totally called my dad to see what he thought. You can guess what he thought.) This time I wasn’t admitted to the hospital, but spent the next week recovering on my sofa snuggling with Trey. I highly recommend big, black dog snuggles to cure what ails you.

As breathing became a greater and greater challenge last week, I began to wonder if I was up for round three with it. So, I dragged myself to a doc in the box on Saturday who diagnosed acute bronchitis and infected ears. Ugly, but not pneumonia. So, I’ve got my steroids, my antibiotics, my inhaler, my sorbet (better than sherbet, methinks), my Powerade Zero, cough drops, and vegetarian soups. I’ve got books to read; but, sadly, no coloring books to color. Maybe when I feel a little better I’ll go on a hunt for those.

As I recall, they were a pretty good curative, too…not as good as a sweet, black Labrador, but, then, few things are.