The Mysteries of Grief

We lost my mom exactly 6 weeks after she entered the hospital with the diagnosis of leukemia. My sisters and I often spoke of the gift of those last 6 weeks, though difficult they were. It gave us a slight opening to get ready for the inevitable, but we did have hope up until the last day. After she passed, we talked about what was better: quick and sudden death or having a period of getting ready. These are the kinds of things people discuss when they are in the depths of grief, trying to make sense of something that almost everyone will experience yet is still so hard to fathom and so difficult to trudge through. My mom’s last day was ugly. She was scared and very, very much not ready to die at age 53. The fear that she experienced still haunts me. I think we like to imagine our loved ones having a good death — a death where they have accepted what is happening, made peace with it somehow, and are “ready.” I remember when my Grandpa Al was in the hospital on his last days, he told my dad that he was ready, that it was okay. I know this gave my dad a lot of comfort. I suppose it gave me comfort, too, and still does because I recall the conversation I had with my dad on the matter 30+ years later with the idea that Grandpa Al’s was a good death.

My own dad was not one to acquiesce to anything in life. He was unlike his own father in the acceptance department. My dad lived every minute of his life as he saw fit, and it seems he left this world with that same attitude. I would imagine that my dad could have lived to 100 and still not been ready to die, not ready to leave his family. In large part unable to accept the Parkinson’s diagnosis itself, my dad butted heads with the reality of his situation up until the end. I think sometimes we hope to have end-of-life discussions with loved ones wherein they share wisdom or some other sentiment to help the living continue on without them. My dad could not speak in the end, but it seemed he could listen until very close to his death. So he may not have given us nuggets of widsom to carry with us, it was evident that he was sad and scared and not ready to go. My brave sisters (all three of them: Chris, Stacey, and Wendy) and my stepmom all told him things and talked to him and told him it was okay to let go.

I was somehow unable to do this. In my heart, I wanted him to be free and I wanted his suffering (and ours, at least that part of it) to end. But I found it really hard to speak when near him, so I hoped that he could feel my feelings like I could feel his. One day after a visit there, I felt psychically connected to him. Is that real? I feel like it is, and I felt the same with my mom when she was dying. I felt I could feel my dad’s pain. And in that moment, I told him psychically that he should let go. I hope he heard me.

My dad’s passing took much longer than we all thought it would, and this was excruciating to watch as his state was for the most part the opposite of peaceful. I have to say that I am amazed by the strength of my stepmom and also Wendy; they have been watching him suffer for YEARS on a daily basis, and the grace and compassion they showed until his last breath is something I will always be grateful for. It’s amazing what people are capable of when they approach difficult or even impossible situations with love.

I think there is no easy road for the living. A quick death without warning is a shock and filled with what-ifs. A long, drawn-out illness tricks us into thinking we have prepared, but the ending of a person you love still feels like a shock and the pain is still just as acute. While the death of an “older” person (though I would say 75 isn’t THAT old these days) is not necessarily tragic, the void they leave in the world is still a huge one. I can’t imagine a world without my dad in it. I am unsure of my place in a world without my dad in it. Our relationship was complicated and unsatisfying at times, but I know the world was better with him than without him. And I know he loved me the best he could. I will not stop missing him, and I will not stop grieving for him, just like I’ve done for my mom for the past 21 years.

I may not have gleaned any words of wisdom from either of my parents before they passed, but I am wiser now than I was 21 years ago simply because I have already survived my mom’s death and I am older and more experienced. So I know that the road ahead of me is a long and winding one, but I am confident that I can handle it. Many, many thanks to those that have reached out to me on Facebook and via text or phone messages. It helps.

Waiting

My sister, Chris, arrived a week ago today at the San Jose Airport. Stacey, Jeff, and I grabbed her on our way to Gilroy, all of us masked and worried about everything – the potential spread of COVID among us (though we did everything in our power to reduce the chances of spreading it if any of us is asymtomatic) and what we were to find when we arrived to see my dad.

I want to say: I am not here to tell my dad’s story, I’m here to tell mine. So I am not going to share anything that does not belong to me. I want to respect my dad and my stepmom and their privacy and feelings.

Anyway, when we first arrived, I felt pretty overwhelmed with sadness to see him so small and frail, although I was expecting that. Parkinson’s does a number on people, let me tell you. I keep thinking of my dad in the 80’s at his house on Colville Dr. in San Jose, in the backyard, fit and tanned and diving into the swimming pool. It is hard to even know what do to with oneself…I mean, I could sit near him and talk to him and hold his hand, which I did. But sitting alongside him and weeping felt like a bad idea, too. So I came and went and tried to maintain myself in what my sisters and I have named a “solid” mental place, meaning when we are fully acknowledging what is happening but can somehow take it in and remain in a logical place with it. It was an emotionally exhausting day for me, and just a week later I think I’ve blocked parts of it out because I can’t see it all that clearly in my (usually very sound) memory.

I returned on Saturday, this time with Pete. Pete is really good at facing hard things directly, and wanted to come to see his grandpa one last time. It makes me cry even writing that down, but if I’m being honest, I don’t think Pete will be seeing my dad again in this world. Another reason Pete wanted to join me is because his cousin, Kevin, was also visiting along with Stacey. Pete and Kevin are very close and have not seen one another in over a year due to the pandemic. Pete has actually had very little contact with any peers during the pandemic aside from Zoom. Seeing Kevin and actually seeing the boys so happy together was a great tonic for my broken heart.

But let me back track a little. I learned early Saturday morning, before heading out to Gilroy, that a dear friend’s husband had passed away in the night. He’d been ill for a long time and this was not unexpected. The man was 50 years old and had fought a hard battle against cancer. His daughter is a close friend of Pete. Despite knowing this was coming, it still felt like a blow to learn of his passing and to imagine this family in grief. I had texted with the daughter and she wanted to make sure Pete knew of her father’s passing, so I told him as soon as he woke up. For this reason, and for the fact that we were headed to see my dad, the topic of death was very much on our minds as we pulled away from our home.

Pete had a lot of good questions for me in the car. I was crying my eyes out by the time we got on the freeway, but I wanted Pete to know that his questions were valid and it was okay that I was crying. I was crying because I’m sad, not because I can’t handle this. I want him to know that crying does not equal weakness and it’s okay to get your sadness out through tears. This conversation included a recap of my mom’s last hours and my realization that while I was not emotionally mature enough to sit with my mom in her final moments, I am now able to face that with my dad if I can. We also talked about Paul’s death. Hard but necessary conversations. I guess we all experience sort of a reliving of past deaths when someone you love is very sick. It’s crazy to me that after all these years (21) I can still feel exactly what it felt like to lose my mom.

Saturday was different from Thursday. We kind of naturally shifted in and out of my dad’s room and took breaks outside or in other rooms as we needed. Barbara went and took a well-deserved nap at one point, and my dad was clearly feeling anxious or agitated. My sisters and I did not know what he needed, so we called Wendy. She is so much more experienced in understanding his non-verbal cues than we are, and we felt really grateful for her knowledge as she helped to make him comfortable again. I can only imagine the emotional toll my dad’s illness has taken on both Wendy and Barbara, being there for him 24/7 for so many months. He is lucky to have such attentive and loving care.

Long lost cousins reunited!

Probably the moment of the day that we will all remember for years to come was when Pete went to greet my dad. He stood over him and took his hand, at which time my dad looked up and it registered — PETE. His whole face lit up, his eyes smiled (if that makes sense). It took our breath away, it was all at once amazing, beautiful, and heart-wrenching. It reminded me of the depths of my dad’s love for his family and how special Pete has always been to him. It also made me feel proud of my son for being brave and compassionate. Pete said on the drive home that grandpa always called him his “best friend.”

Pete and I listened to Duran Duran radio on the way home and talked about everyday things. I was so happy that I had his companionship on this difficult day. What a joy to have a son who is a young adult who still enjoys hanging with his mom. I had a big cry when I got home as I recounted the day to Luca, who hugged me and listened and comforted me. Again, how lucky am I with these boys?

The next day, we had the honor to be invited to the home of the friend who lost her husband. We have not seen these friends for a long time due to COVID, but we really wanted to show our love and support to them. Pete and I met in their backyard and we had a nice visit, amazed at their strength and resiliency, even as they processed this terrible loss. I was worried I’d be a mess because of my dad, but once I got past the first 10 minutes or so, I felt solid and it was fine. I did not want my emotions to overtake our purpose there, which was to show support. Whew. Sometimes a lot happens in life all at once.

On our way home from our friend visit, I sighed and said, “what a weekend.” Pete said he thought it was a good weekend because we helped our family and our friends when they were sad, and we got to be together and talk and listen to good music in the car. I tried to absorb this wisdom.

How Do You Say Goodbye?

My dad has been in the hospital for the past 10 days or so with a serious health crisis related to his Parkinson’s. Barbara, my step mom, was alarmed enough that she got him to the ER almost 2 weeks ago. There was a bed shortage at the local hospital, so he spent about 3 days in a room in the ER and was then transferred to a hospital in Oakland, which is about 20 minutes from me. Unfotunately, due to COVID, I was not allowed to visit him and he remained without family support for all these days. Barbara says the hospital staff is wonderful and loving, and I believer her. So that is a small consolation.

We have known that we might not have our dad around much longer for a while. “We” = me and my two sisters. We talk about it weekly on our Zoom call on Sunday — sometimes we are angry (he has not done a really great job of following doctor’s recommendations on slowing down the progression of his disease), sometimes we are so sad we’re crying. Sometimes we laugh at the absurdity of the person we call dad. He is a character, that’s for sure. And he seems to be staying in character til the end — always headstrong and stubborn. He has pulled his feeding tube out since he’s been hospitalized at least 4 times; he is in restraints to prevent this. And mittens! But he still manages to exert his will. We wonder: is he trying to stop the feedings? Is he just uncomfortable? Is he just ornery? He can’t really speak due to the Parkinson’s, so it’s hard to know beyond the fact that we know he is a person who does what he wants.

I would assert that there is nothing more painful than watching someone you love suffer, and the person whose suffering I feel right now is Barbara’s. She has been an amazing example of selflessness during the long ordeal of my dad’s decline, and this past year with having to deal with that AND the pandemic is honestly more than most people could endure. To say we are grateful for her love and care to our dad is a gross understatement. I’m pretty sure I haven’t hugged her since December 21, 2019 and I haven’t seen her since late July (masked, in her backyard).

This is going to change because Barbara has decided (with the complete support of me and my sisters) that it’s time for my dad to come home with hospice care. He can’t go on like this, and his quality of life has taken a steep decline that he seems unable to bounce back from this time. So my sisters and I are quietly planning a visit back to their home, so we can support Barbara and say goodbye to our dad.

How can something you saw coming for at least a year still feel so startling? The impending death of a loved one is a surreal feeling, and brings to the forefront of one’s mind all the sadness and suffering in the world. It’s mind-boggling to think of the millions of people who are slogging through this kind of grief on a daily basis, and it’s not lost on me the uncountable people who have been where I am this past year with a loved one in the hospital, unable to visit.

I spent the day yesterday thinking and crocheting and crying mostly. I have not had an easy realtionship with my dad, and that makes this situation complicated for me. I am trying to come to terms with some of this, I have come to terms with many things around my relationship with him over the years, and I am trying to be gentle with myself over what my failures might be. Over what will never be that I had wished.

I thought yesterday of the details of my dad’s mother’s death, because it was the first (and I’d say only) time he every truly showed his vulnerability to me. Grandma Marie had been in and out of the hospital and then in an assisted care place for a bit. I had seen her in one such place several weeks before as she was recovering. But then her health had taken a very serious turn, and my dad called me at work to tell me. I was the only sister geographically close enough to come at short notice. He wanted to come pick me up and drive me from San Francisco to San Jose, and I let him — I somehow knew he NEEDED to do that. I took BART home from downtown and he retrieved me. I recall exactly where we were on the freeway when he began to cry about the fact that it was unlikely we’d have Grandma around for much longer. We cried together. I lost my own mother only 5 years later, and I do remember the comfort I felt at his presence then. Barbara’s too — that was a time when I felt like I would not survive without someone being the grown-ups, you know?

The thing is, although my dad my have fallen short in the parenting department, you would never, ever question if he loved you. Never. His love is overbearing and obsessive and selfish. But he is loyal in that Sicilian way that is both infuriating and comforting. I don’t know how life will feel without it.

When my mom died, the first thing I did was call him from a pay phone from the ICU. It was the middle of the night. I remember my words: “We had to let her go.” I don’t remember what happened next, but I do know that he and Barbara came to my mom’s house the next morning. I can picture them sitting in my mom’s living room, and I remember the incongruity of that, but also that I felt relieved that they came over. My dad cried and he told me he kept thinking about when they were young and everything was still in front of them.

Yesterday I worked up the courage to tell Pete what’s going on. The uncertainty of the timeline for my dad moving forward is a stressor to Pete, and I know this so I wanted to tread lightly and tell him the facts so he can digest it in and be ready. I tried not to cry but I failed at that. I heard the words, so similar to 20 years ago, coming out of my mouth: “It’s time to let him go.” Pete just wanted to make sure Grandpa knows we love him, and I told him that he does. Luca found me crying earlier in the day and hugged me a long time, asked me how he could help. They are not close to him like I was to my grandparents, but having lost their own dad, they are familiar with the pain I’m experiencing.

My family is small, with no aunts, uncles, or cousins. I can feel pretty untethered a lot of the time, and the thought of this loss makes those feelings increase. Some of that was dispelled as soon as I got my step dad on the phone though, as he listened to my update and cried with me. And again when my best friend forced me out of the house for a walk yesterday. Family doesn’t have to be bloodlines. I hope Barbara knows that, too. That me and my sisters are not going anywhere, we still belong together with her.

I’ve been up since 4:00 AM and just thought maybe writing some of this down would help me, and maybe help somebody else out there who is grieving.

Goals for 2021?

Hello and Happy New Year! Although things don’t feel too differently yet, I do have some hope as we approach the last days of 45 in the White House. All the stupid things he’s tried to do since the election have failed, and while I don’t imagine him leaving his residence with any kind of dignity, I do believe he’s going. Vaccinations are rolling out, though I have no idea when I or my family will be eligible to begin that process. I am hoping that our new president will put in place some federal mandates regarding COVID so we can actually make some progress with getting the virus under control in this country.

Last year I had a lofty set of goals I hoped to achieve in 2020, but that was all derailed by the pandemic and the fact that I basically couldn’t leave my house. I met a couple of the goals, but I honestly stopped even looking at them by about May. I’m not mad at myself about this — in fact, I’m pretty proud of myself for surviving last year, for being focused enough at work to not lose my job, for keeping my kids safe and fed and relatively happy despite all the hardships of 2020. Still, I have things I want to achieve and experience so I am going to make another list of goals with the hopes that quarantine will let up and we can safely move about the world eventually this year.

Besides the above, probably the best two things I accomplished last year are the renewed strength of my relationships with my sisters and learning to crochet. Both of these have given me joy. My sisters and I are already plotting about what we will do when we can see one another again and have basically decided it’s ridiculous that we don’t spend more time together in non-pandemic times. I think this experience has awoken us to something really important, and I’m grateful for that.

Here’s a couple of my attempts at crocheting lately:

Christmas was a bit flat, with us not being able to see anybody outside our household. I made spaghetti and meatballs for Christmas Eve dinner, a delicious hash brown casserole for breakfast, and raspberry chicken, schnitzel, and baked potatoes for Christmas dinner. It was a lot of work but everyone seemed to enjoy it and that was a small consolation. We also had Solid Gold Christmas with the Samboys on Christmas evening via Zoom. We did the best we could in the circumstances, you know? Pete’s joy at receiving this tiny Bert plushie was one of the best parts of my Christmas:

My sisters and I did this cool thing where we sent one another a box of our favorite things, with the theme of self-care. It was really fun to open them together on Zoom! Highlights were the matching pajamas that Chris got us and the Regal Lanes t-shirt from Stacey. My grandparents ran Regal Lanes in Ohio when my mom was growing up, so having a t-shirt with the logo is sort of amazing.

Ah, back to goals. I’m going to hold off on actually writing any goals that have to do with travel or adventures outside my home for the time being. But I do know that I want my theme this year to be “STRETCH” — as in stretching myself out of my comfort zone and hopefully stretching my body, too. I watch videos of people dancing and I feel like crying (sometimes I do cry!) because I KNOW HOW IT FEELS to do that, and I want to do it again. Motivation is hard to come by and most days I am surviving only. But the deepest part of my soul is telling me that I should seek that out, and I gotta listen. Other things I know I want to tackle are my reading goals, which tie in directly to my no social media before bed goal. I want to renew my efforts to learn French, and I’ve begun to practice Italian again after watching the show Dream of Italy on Hulu. Not a great show, but has great locations and people. I am working on my new list and will share it when it’s done — are you setting goals for 2021?

Lastly, I am sure I’m not the only one around here who is struggling with mental health during the pandemic. Joy is not something I am feeling a whole lot — it’s hard for me to drudge up the effort to be open to joy quite frankly. I know it’s a thing I need to work on, too, because it’s essential to my happiness. I’m trying to be gentle with myself and quietly celebrate anything positive (ie. I made a good meal, I went on a walk with Pete, I watched a funny movie with Miles). So I was just as surprised as anyone when I spontaneously decided to do the Hustle on New Year’s Eve so I could send the video to my sisters and Krista. Here it is, if you want a laugh:

Nurse Jackie

One of my feel-good activities that I do to maintain my sanity is binge-watch TV and knit simultaneously. I look forward to this every day. I’ve watched some great stuff during quarantine, and my latest binge was Nurse Jackie. It’s been on my List for a while, but I think I was sort of avoiding it a little because I knew it was about addiction. I want to learn more and understand addiction, but because of my experience with being married to an addict, it can be a painful subject for me to immerse myself in.

This is a great show with incredible acting. So I do really recommend it. I think the writers did an excellent job at showing (at least some of) the realities of addiction and the message is not rosy at all. Rehab fails most people. Addicts ruin every relationship in their lives if they are actively using. The cravings are untenable. And to me, as a person affected by someone else’s addiction, the saddest part is the secrets, because I think if you are keeping those kinds of secrets, no one can ever truly know you, which must make for a very lonely existance.

I have thought about this about a million times since my divorce. It used to bother me a lot — the thought that Paul had so many secrets and I didn’t know any of them — that he was holding them throughout our relationship. At first I wanted to know all of them from all topics including his infidelity and his drinking problem. But as time passed, I was able to let go of needing to know. It feels funny and wrong to think that a person you felt you knew and loved was actually someone else you never knew at all. But my wise friends have told me that who I thought I knew is who I loved, and it’s not on me to rectify the lies. I loved what was presented to me and I had no reason to think it was false when presented.

Watching Nurse Jackie also activated a piece of compassion I do have inside of myself for addicts. It’s hard to feel a lot of compassion when a person is hurting you and your loved ones. But I do believe addiction is a disease, a very complicated one where the cure demands that the afflicted fight for the rest of their lives to be healed. Watching Jackie relapse over and over (and as an audience, you are pulling for her recovery) was shocking. There is no end to this disease, except in death. I wonder sometimes if I knew what Paul was going through, could I have helped him? I tried to help him even when I didn’t know, and he refused my help. So maybe there’s my answer.

What I do know for sure is that people are complex, and there is no 100% good person (and very few 100% bad people) and we are all works-in-progress. Pete has a need to discuss his dad’s good points frequently, and I get that. We talk about how smart Paul was, how much he liked helping people fix their cars or computers when he was sober, and what a great sense of humor he had. Pete likes to think of qualities that he has that are like his dad. These conversations always make me so sad but I know they are necessary to my son. We also talk about how addiction is no joke, and that he and Luca are going to be prone to it and must always keep that in mind.

Near the end of the series, different characters are talking about Jackie, everyone finally aware of her debilitating addiction. The word that comes up a lot is disappointment. That it’s very hard to be disappointed constantly in someone you admire and love. Being disappointed in someone who should be taking care of you is painful. In the end, I think that’s how Pete and I (and maybe Luca, too) feel about Paul. We are so disappointed that things didn’t turn out the way we had hoped. Profound disappointment in one’s own parent is a heavy load to carry, and I hope that I am somehow lightening or helping Pete to shoulder that load by our many conversations on the matter.

With that I will wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you are staying home and safe xo

Freedom

I’ve been reflecting on the past 6 months and feeling amazed at how much things have changed. I am not talking about the obvious comparison of pre-COVID-19 to now, but rather the beginning of the crisis versus how we’ve developed a new way of life now that it has continued for so long.

I was thinking of the first few days and weeks of quarantine and how afraid I felt. Miles had been gone visiting his mom in Arizona that week, and things began to unravel and I felt a lot of fear about him flying home. By the time he got here, the world was a changed place. We went out that Friday night in search of yes, toilet paper and other essentials as the news reports predicted shortages already. We drove to our local Safeway about 8:00 PM and found it was CLOSED. I cried in the parking lot. I was really scared.

We discovered bodegas and mini-marts in Hayward whose locations we put at the back of our minds should we experience future need. We stocked up on canned food and dog food and flour. We felt panicky but tried to calm one another. I really didn’t want the kids to see us freaking out. I think the main issue was we had no idea what we were dealing with, really, and we had to try to prepare for it nonetheless.

So many months later we have a better handle on what to fear and what to let go (we no longer clean cereal boxes and canned tomatoes) and we’ve created ways to see our friends occassionally with very calculated risks. Miles and I take turns being miserable and optimistic. The kids are doing really well considering all they’ve lost, and I am so grateful to our school system for supporting them through this.

A couple weeks ago Miles and I headed to the coast. Our plan to hit Half Moon Bay was derailed by terrible traffic (I’m sure due to being in the vicinity of beloved pumpkin patches at this time of year) so we took a detour to Ocean Beach instead. This turned into a Tour of Karen’s Past which was actually really empowering. I tend to avoid places that bring up difficult memories for me, but I was ready to immerse myself in my past in this way without even knowing it. We had lunch at the Beach Chalet and by some stroke of luck ended up at the most perfect table: outside in the corner with nobody behind us and the next closest table at least 30 feet away. It felt very safe! This was the first time we’d eaten out since the beginning of March. Then we walked on the path up to the Cliff House (more ghosts to meet) and headed home. It was perfect and it felt great to be out and about but still managing to follow the safety protocols that we’ve decided we need.

When we got home, I was texing with Christy and telling her of my adventures and the places from my past, OUR past, that I had driven by or visited. She said something that I’ve been thinking of ever since — that she was grateful for all the freedom we enjoyed in the 90’s. I tend to view my past in periods of great angst and sadness and often have trouble reclaiming the things that were good. For me, the 90’s generally bring to mind a version of myself I don’t even recognize anymore. A person who allowed life to happen to her rather than take hold of the reins, you know? I admit I had never really thought about this part of my life – my 20’s! – as the time of freedom because in hindsight all I can see is a very broken, flawed person.

I like thinking about freedom, though. I thought of all the shows Christy and I went to, how we went to ALL THE SHOWS because they were not that expensive and we had nothing else much to spend our money on anyway. I thought of how I’d go out on work nights or whenever and not really worry about the consequences. I never drank a lot or anything like that, but I did my share of going to work on too few hours of sleep as 20-somethings should do! I used to go visit Stacey in the different cities she attended college, even when I had lots of schoolwork to finish or other dance responsibilities… I remember getting back to SF just in time to go work tech on a show after spending the weekend in San Luis Obispo.

I wish I’d travelled and done some other things. But all in all, the 90’s were fun and I did enjoy a level of freedom that I can appreciate now. I did make some choices that I still stand by, like going back do school for my Dance degree and then my MA, like surrounding myself with people who are still in my life today. Even with part time jobs, I could make my bills and have enough left over to have sushi with Christy whenever I wanted and to go to the Olive Garden with Krista after dance classes. I am really grateful that Christy’s passing remark helped me to own these memories again.

Our current situation has put the brakes on feelings of freedom, however. I hate that my children (and all young people, all people!) cannot move freely and also be safe. Luca has barely left the house, aside from dog walks. He finally went out last Friday, just to the Village for a take-out cheesesteak, but he was so happy and felt that small taste of freedom he’s been missing. He’s almost 17. He should be wandering around with his friends and experiencing things. I look forward to a day when he can. Pete’s freedom will come with his community outings with his school program and bus rides to Chabot College. In the meantime, its all on Zoom. It’s not perfect, but it’s something, and I guess we should also be glad we live in a time where this imperfect kind of meeting is even possible.

I mentioned in my last post that my friend, Ronda, gifted me a giant box of yarn several weeks ago. Here are some of the results of that donation:

I also wanted to share the incredible Bev Mo shopping spree finds and a photo of the Chicken Marsala I made last weekend:

That’s all I’ve got, folks. GO VOTE if you haven’t already! We voted last week and it felt GOOD.

How Will I Survive the Next 25 Days Until The Election?

Everything is terrible. Okay, most things are terrible. A lot of things are terrible. It’s a struggle to be a person right now.

The president has COVID (we think he does, it seems he does) but he only stayed in hospital for 3 days, then went back to the White House to expose anyone in his path by not wearing a mask. People say we’re jerks for wanting him to die and/or suffer, but I believe it’s really a normal feeling to wish ill on your oppressor. His negligance has caused so much death and so much suffering. And he’s directly responsible for countless cases of pain and damage. His presidency has damaged me. So I’m not going to feel bad about my normal, human urge to wish a person who harms almost everyone he comes into contact with, either directly or indirectly, some karma payback.

He’s about to put a handmaid into our Beloved RBG’s slot on the Supreme Court, too. Every day is more bad news. I’m so tired.

Last night was the Vice Presidential debate. I think we all agree the biggest star was the fly on Pence’s head! Hahaha (that is me laughing crazy). Pence spewed lies to support the dictator, and Kamala gave the best expressions and side-eyes. For me, it is exciting to see such a talented women on the national stage. We need more of it. She is a force and a badass.

Here’s a couple things to be happy about.

The above tweet is from my 16 year-old son. He has become quite the activist and is also in his second year of ASL.

My girl, Ronda, came by last week with a HUGE box of yarn for me. Like skeins and skeins of yarn, gorgeous silk and bamboo and wool. The good stuff. I’m so grateful and excited about all the things I am gonna do with it. The project picture is a blanket I’ve been working on that’s at least twice that size now. It’s for Krista and her newly renovated living room. Knitting is a life-saver right now. I crave it and it helps! If you want/need something knit or crocheted, let me know!

I made pizza last weekend. It looks really “rustic” but it tasted so good and the boys loved it and yes, pizza makes people happy. Also, I grew the tomatoes on there!

Since my last blog, I participated in a protest in my town in honor of Breonna Taylor. Stacia and Miles attended with me. We walked from the high school to a main intersection in my town. We blocked the intersection. Most motorists were really cool and patient. We moved out of the way for anyone who really needed to go. Eventually the police came and I admit I felt scared. But I decided that as a white, middle-aged woman, chances were slim that I was going to be in serious trouble. I was in awe of the high school students who planned the protest; they are so brave and willing to put themselves in danger. I like to think it was “good trouble” we were causing, to quote John Lewis. With this in mind, I found the following image to be particularly powerful:

We have hit the food trucks behind Trader Joe’s the past two Friday nights, but felt it was too crowded to stay there and eat. Still, it’s been a small outing that we enjoyed and will go again this Friday.

That’s all I’ve got. If you have any good news to share, bring it! xoxo

May Her Memory Be a Blessing

Like most liberals and humans who care about others, the news of the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg hit me hard. I cry easily, so it’s no surprise that her passing brought me to tears. But I surprised my own self with the depth of my sadness. I don’t think I’ve cried over a person’s death I don’t personally know since David Bowie left the planet. I was comforted to see many of my friends feeling the same grief, and buoyed by the many tributes and calls to action on social media following her death. Future generations need to know of her impact on this country.

I wish I could say that I’m doing great and feeling groovy. Friday was a terrible day; besides the death of RBG, Buttercup got his toenail stuck in the zipper pull of a sleeping bag and we had to take him to the emergency vet. The clinic itself was wonderful, but it was a violent way to start the morning, filled with adrenaline and angst. Later that day, I was looking at my online banking app and saw that someone had charged over $1000 using my debit card. So I got that cancelled and made the phone calls. On a regular day (and not during a pandemic) this would have been a huge bummer, but it was sort of the straw that broke me and I felt really violated and angry and sad.

One bright spot of last week is that I got to see my friend, Ronda, for a short outdoor visit. I also saw her husband (and also my friend) Ken briefly. I have not seen them since this all began. I have such an internal struggle over wanting to have more social time with friends but being so afraid of COVID that I mostly practice very conservative isolation practices. I know I am much happier when I can see friends, so I need to figure out ways to do this that are safe, I suppose.

Another good thing about last week is that I got my hair dyed blue. Two shades of blue. Here is the result, along with Luca’s latest dye job (he got his about 6 weeks ago):

Miles and I have been doing Richard Simmons’ Sweatin to the Oldies workouts in our living room. I know this is both funny and somewhat sad, but it’s actually pretty fun and so sort of over the top that we can laugh our way through it and get a very good workout. I’ve been having extreme pain in my hip flexor, I’m sure at least in part due to the fact that I sit down all day long and the air has been so bad for the past several weeks that I am not even going on walks anymore. So I’m trying to take care of myself.

I can see my kids cycling back to a place of struggle, too. Luca’s teachers are so good and fair and understanding, but nothing can solve this situation and the isolation — the feeling that we have nothing to look forward to. Please make no mistake; I am not in any way suggesting that he should be in a classroom right now. But I can see that he’s feeling despondent, and it’s really hard to pull him out of it when I feel the same way. Pete has a college class that’s really hard (it is for disabled students, but when you’ve spent your life in special education, you have missed some major pieces of a basic education, so he has some gaps that I’m trying to help fill). I have to sit with him and tutor him through each assignment. I am not complaining. I would do anything for this kid. But I’m exhausted. Over the weekend, we were catching up on some late work, and I was reading him aloud 20 pages of The Alchemist. I am not used to this! My voice was all scratchy by the end.

I will say that I am loving the things I get to learn by tutoring Pete. I have never read The Alchemist. We also read an article by Frederick Douglass and a beautiful poem by Luis Rodriguez. I just wish I had the energy to be fully present.

I was craving coconut and made these Almond Joy Cookies:

THEY WERE SO GOOD

I will close with some lists:

Things I’m Grateful For:

  1. My kids, Miles
  2. My sisters
  3. My stepmom and stepsister for taking such good care of my Dad
  4. The dogs
  5. Krista and Mike
  6. Having enough and not struggling financially
  7. The excellent teachers in our district (and all teachers)
  8. Books
  9. Friends who keep texting me
  10. Clean(er) air

Things I Miss:

  1. Gathering with friends and family
  2. Hugging people (and I don’t even consider myself a hugger)
  3. Eating out
  4. Driving places and doing things
  5. The OCEAN (so much)
  6. Having things to look forward to
  7. Seeing my sons happy and involved
  8. Waking up knowing Barack Obama is my president

Love to all. Add your own lists in comments if you want! xoxo

Life is Messy

I think I used to imagine that my life would be like a straight line, maybe because that’s how it seems on TV or in books. That I would marry Paul and then anything messy before that would sort of be cancelled out because I had achieved what I was supposed to (marriage, long-term committment, not being alone) and then everything else would just fall into place. Because Paul and I met when we were young (I was 21 and he was 23), we were literally together my entire adult life up to the point I left him.

I did an excellent job putting all of that into some compartment in my brain when I divorced Paul, and he made it all the easier by acting like a complete fool from that day forward, never to return to any semblance of the man I loved ever again and then he died. This is hard to describe. I realize I am not the first person to have experienced something like this, but I don’t really know anyone else personally who has gone through what I have gone through and accessing these memories is painful and feels somehow taboo, too. Like I should not go back there mentally. I should close that compartment again.

The only thing is I can’t. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of Paul. Many days I’m mad at him, but other days I remember something nice from a very long time ago and I’m so broken inside about him and how it all turned out. There will never be any true closure. I know it’s up to me to find ways to let go of it, and I have and I do and I will continue to work on this.

I miss the Ditos. After all these years, it’s hard to admit that, but I do. Adria, Paul’s sister, never spoke to me again when I left. Like, never. She was one of my best friends and part of my inner friend group. She refused my calls and emails and acted like we were never friends. She ghosted me before that was a thing. When Paul died and I was in conversation with Owen, he said his sister did this out of loyalty to her brother. I get loyalty, I really do. But Adria knew all the details. I did not cheat on Paul. I did not abuse Paul. He did those things to me. What was she punishing me for?

I dreamed of Grandpa Pete the other night. I dreamed I was at their house on Beach St. Sandy was gone, Paul was gone — just like in real life. It was current times because COVID was a worry. It was their house but it wasn’t, you know how that happens in dreams? The boys were in my car in car seats. I guess cause that’s how small they were the last time I brought them there in real life. Out of nowhere, Grandpa Pete came out and hugged me. He actually hugged me twice. I remember feeling worried about hugging and COVID, but I wanted the hugs and I took them. I told him we thought he had died. Clearly he hadn’t, not in this dream.

The truth is these people were my family. I was married to Paul just shy of 8 years, and we were a couple for 8 years prior to that. I have now been divorced from him for 14 years, so in just a couple of years, I will have equal time with and away. Then I will have more time away, and those 16 years will get smaller and smaller in my rearview. Won’t they?

One day recently Miles was being super cute and attentive, always worrying about my comfort and mental state and trying to make me feel better. He is nice to me in a way that Paul never was, not even when I was pregnant. I feel so grateful that I get to experience this kind of love. I have lots of love in my life besides Miles, too. I’m very lucky that way. So my longing or nostalgia or whatever this is has nothing to do with a lack of love.

I read recently that my Myers-Briggs type (INFJ, if you care) is very rare and one of the hallmarks is that we understand people well but never feel understood and KNOWN. I get that, and I know the deep joy I feel when it seems like someone gets me. I think that, in part, is why I still miss Paul on some level, even after all the terrible, life-altering things that he did to me and my kids. It’s hard for my brain to reconcile that I don’t love him, I would not want to be with him in any way were he still alive, but there is something I miss from deep in the past and I probably will always miss that. And maybe that is okay. Maybe I am allowed to have that memory that sort of makes no sense but just is. I don’t even know if it was true, I only know how it felt. I am sure part of that had to do with my age and experience at the time, but I can’t separate that from the feelings the memories conjure.

It’s tricky trying to let so many conflicting thoughts and feelings dwell side by side in my brain. I cannot easily catalog them and have them available when I want them like a library. They are all mushed together, sometimes the same memory causing me pain and happiness simultaneously.

Life is full of loss and love and joy and disappointment. I really doubt it’s the straight line I had imagined it to be for anyone.

More Isolation

It seems crazy that our situation could get worse than a global pandemic where we are socially isolated from everything that makes us happy, but here we are. There are hundreds of wildfires burning in California, and the air quality around the state is somewhere between bad for people with breathing issues to dangerous for all living things. Last week, we were also having a heatwave at the same time, so we were unable to open our windows, even as it got cooler in the evenings. For me, this meant that my house was at times 100+ degrees. I literally couldn’t even sit still with a fan blowing on me without sweating. I am juggling this new terribleness with my sons returning to (virtual) school and me playing cheerleader to all of it. Low point was last Friday evening when I realized, moments after I finished my cold shower, that I was already sweating. I would truly like to block some of this out with alcohol or drugs (I don’t do drugs) but it’s just not in me. I am pretty sure I’d be behaving differently if I didn’t have kids.

At least we have the bright spot of the Republican National Convention. Hahaha. I can only watch the clips as told by late night talk shows. I feel sick inside when I consider another 4 years of this, and I do not feel confident in the polls or anything else, not when our postal service has been attacked, and the dictator we have in office has “joked” about another 12 years.

Are there any bright spots? Well, Pete’s friend, Jessi, celebrated her 21st birthday last week, and we participated in a “drive by” which was fun. We got out of the car and visited for about 10 minutes, all masked and distant but it was the first time Pete had seen any friends in 5 months. It was not an ideal 21st birthday for Jessi, but she seemed very happy to see friends and we all promised her a do-over when this is finished. She is an A’s fan so I made her this:

Pete has started his English class at Chabot (I can hear him on Zoom right now) and wrote a beautiful biographical essay about himself. After he wrote it, he said, “I didn’t know I could write an essay!” That child is something else. Luca was able to get his schedule altered slightly and now he has German 1 in addition to ASL 2. He is so happy to begin his formal education in German as he’s been teaching himself for almost 2 years now.

A dark spot is that my dad’s best friend, Ivan, died on Saturday. He had been sick for a while, and sadly he had a stroke a few days prior to his death. I did not know Ivan well myself, but I do know he was a loyal friend to my dad, calling him daily up to the point of the stroke. I felt very emotional for my dad upon learning of Ivan’s death — I don’t want my dad to lose anything else as he’s lost so much already. It also made me think of how I’d feel if I lost my best friend or one of my sisters, and I can’t even completely allow myself to imagine that too much. I talked to my dad about it and he was pretty stoic about it. I don’t even know what to do with that, you know? It was also the anniversary of Paul’s death on Sunday — two years have passed since he left this world. That plus Ivan brought up a bunch of painful feelings for me that I was luckily able to discuss with my sisters, and for that I am grateful.

I’m reading a great memoir by Susan Burton called “Empty” which I highly recommed if you like memoirs and are interested in delving into the story of a woman with eating disorders. I have a new boss at work and she’s pretty great, and I have a feeling about my job that I have not had at this company, EVER. I think I’d call it hope. So there’s a bright spot. Today is Nicole’s birthday and I’m super glad she was born, so that is a sunshiney spot, too.

I guess I’m really in a one-day-at-a-time mode. Maybe even smaller increments than that. Like I just walked upstairs and saw Luca online with his German class, and in the back of my mind I was like CHECK! Luca attended all his classes today. Because everything feels like my responsibility now. Like we’ve moved in reverse and now I’m once again in charge of the boys’ schedules because we are all at home. I just prepped for dinner during my lunch break. There are no divisions.

I’m still dreaming about the ocean and will find a way to get there once the air quality is safe. Miles’ birthday is coming up, my brother’s 40th birthday is also on the horizon. I guess we’ll keep trying to celebrate in small ways and bide our time until we can gather with the people we love again.

Sending love and calm to you wherever you are. xo