Body Count

Behind the restlessness
behind the shortened fuse
behind this continual gut ache
lies a wall of grief.

First four cousins
then another
a grandmother
a favourite uncle

the ongoing knowledge
that at any point my sister
would slip away, disappear
in that great abyss

But first, another cousin
a childhood friend
a suicide
an accident

As promised, I held her hand
as sister succumbed to coma
then death, by then the body
count mounting

Remaining grandma
another cousin – my rock
aunts, uncles,
Father

I chose to turn experience
to support, stood with others
young and old, lives so bright
dimmed in an instance

Behind this unease
a weariness, a fear –
how much loss can one endure
the virus stalks –

daughter
mother
sister
It cannot end well.

(Note: my challenge this week was to examine what lies behind, and for me this involved first an acceptance of the depression I am feeling, and then an investigation of what fuels it. While my daughter’s health is on the mend, the virus has hit the nursing home where both my sister and mother live. They are both currently well, but many cannot say the same for their loved ones. This plague is ruthless. Separates and tortures us. Many will experience loss at this time. Let’s be kind to one another, and most importantly, do what is needed to stop the spread.)

Thanks to all who participated this week. Most of you much light than me, lol.

Dreamz, Reena Saxena
Easter Surprise, I Write Her
Golden hours, Eugi’s Causerie
Sharing Thoughts
Strokes of Courage, radhikasreflection
Ourselves Unworded, parallax
Perspective, Curating Thoughts
Transformation, Stuff and what is…
What Lies Behind, Sgeoil

See you tomorrow for a new challenge.

Pondering Abstractions

The certainty of yesterday
has slipped our grasp
light deflecting truth
tossing us into the abstract

I ponder process
and outcomes,
will my mind to carry me
gliding between thermals
dissolving into vapours

Some realities too hard to bear –
dislodged, we tread the indeterminate.

(I submit these images and poem to the challenges of Lens-Artists and Ragtag Community. While we try to stay focused on the upcoming holiday celebrations, our hearts are heavy with recent loss and the news of cancer striking close to home. I am reminded that Christmas can amplify tragedy. Be extra kind to one another.)

Brief Connections

THstreamThe morning drizzle gave way to sunshine by noon and even though I’ve been tired today, I decide to take advantage of the clearing before retiring for the evening.  I grab my camera and go in search of worthy images, but my legs are useless today,  so I decide to sit instead, on a picnic table beside the stream.  I hear, before seeing, the family of geese I’ve been tracking making their way towards the water.  A I raise my camera I see movement in my peripheral vision.

The man approaching is a regular here; I see him walking past several times a day.  I raise my hand to wave.

“Do I know you?” he asks.  “I’m sorry, but I’ve had a stroke and this doesn’t work very well.”  He taps on his temple.

“I know how you feel,” I say.  “I have inflammation on the brain.  Mine’s not in the best working order either.”

MakeawishHis eyes open wider and he steps closer to me.

“I’m Ric’s wife,” I say and point to our motor home.

He nods.

“I’m photographing the baby geese.  Trying to keep track of them.”

He nods again and then steps back as if he’s in my way.

“You’re okay.”

“They grow fast.”

“Sure do.  Good thing kids don’t grow that fast.”

He smiles, then blurts out:  “The hardest thing is that I feel like such a burden.”

He has caught me off guard – hit a nerve.  I glance at him and see that his eyes have filled.  My tears come too.

“I do, too,” I croak.

“I came here thinking I could make a difference,” he continues.  “I wanted to help out, and now I rely fully on my sister.”

orangehammocks“We are lucky to have someone who loves us enough to care.”

“We are.”

“All we can do is focus on our progress – even if it seems awfully slow.”

“Oh for sure.  They thought I was dead – had to force feed me.”  And then:  “I’m sorry about that.  I’m over it now.”

“You’re doing well,” I say.  “I see you walking every day.”

“I made it through the winter,” he says, still fixated on his own story.  “I guess that is something.”

“It sure is!”

“I was here all alone, too.”

“Wow.  That is something. Good for you.”

He thanks me for my time and walks away.  I linger and take a few more pictures of the goslings, then limp my way back to our home.

Everyone has a story.  Everyone is battling something. The best way we help one another is just to listen.

 

 

The Spirit of Wild Horses

tranquilityWe’ve come back to Coon’s Bluff in hopes of seeing the wild horses.  The day is crystal blue, without a cloud in the sky.  My heart is heavy.

I woke up in the middle of the night, with the lines of a poem running through my head.  Without turning on the light, I reached for my phone and wrote them down:

Let us line our memories, side by side, build a raft to hold her; let our tears flow as one, form a river to carry her…

I hadn’t heard from my friend in days and I knew this wasn’t a good sign.  I messaged her daughter with no response.  Dini has been fighting an aggressive form of cancer for a little over a year now.  It’s our habit to communicate everyday, if only through our ongoing games of Words with Friends, but she hasn’t been playing for a while and her last message was short, strange:

I’m ok.  Going to sleep.  M6

There is little I can do, so far from home.

mntnhorsesCoon’s Bluff is a strip of land with the mountain on one side and a drop overlooking the Salt River on the other.  Spotting the horses up on the mountain top, I head that way, while Ric is drawn to the water.

The horses are magnificent, and it feels like such a privilege to be here with them.  I capture a few images and then push my walker farther along to a point where the mountain becomes sheer rock face.  The colours here are spectacular:  the reds of the mountain, the green of the mesquite with their dark, almost black trunks, the greys and caramel of the rocks leading down to the deep blue-green of the water.  I would love to follow the path around the mountain, but note that it narrows and drops off at one point, so I choose a more sure-footed route, along the bluff, towards Ric.

happybirderFrom every direction I can hear birdsong, and I pause and ready my camera, but the motivation is lacking.  Today, I am more interested in communing with nature than photographing it.

There have been silences between Dini and I before, typically when one of us is too ill to cope with screens, but it seldom lasts for more than a couple of days.  Through another friend, I heard that she is in hospice and I wonder if this means the end, but Dini has rallied before; she is a fighter.

I move close enough to Ric that we can communicate, and hesitate.  The path before me dips considerably and I’m not sure how to proceed.  Besides, I sense that he wants to be alone too.  Before I can do anything, he signals for me to be quiet and turn around.

The mare and her foal stand right behind me.  A gentleness eminates from their presence, and they linger a moment before heading down the steep hill to the water.

boots“There are more,” Ric warns.

Not wanting to interfere with their passage, I push my rig behind the nearest bush and sit down.  A parade of horses files by and then an old grey appears, drops down on the ground and rolls, and rises again, shaking off the excess dust before heading to the water.  The stallion is next, neighing and stomping.  He is clearly agitated.  I take the cue and carefully move over by Ric on the other side of the dip.  The horse picks up pace and follows the others.

“Wow,” a woman exclaims stepping out from behind a tree, her hand over her heart.  “Wasn’t that something?”

“They are amazing to see, for sure.”

The sound of hoof beats alerts us to a straggler and a beautiful chestnut horse trots past.     We watch as the pack, having crossed the river, disappear into the woods on the other side.

eagleflight“There are two eagles nesting at the top of that peak,” Ric indicates the direction I’d just come from.  “The man who told me said they’d been scared off by some people with a dog, but they should come back.”

We look to the sky, and there they are, their white heads gleaming in the sunlight.  They sail above us, then over the land, then the water, making several tours before disappearing again.

redflycatcher“I need to sit,” Ric announces wondering if we should move on, but I’m not ready to leave.

“It’s so beautiful,” I respond, and he understands my need and finds a seat on a nearby picnic table.

I sit among the trees and watch as two Gila woodpeckers flutter about noisily.   A squirrel darts by, and I notice some ground birds foraging within camera range, but still don’t bother.  A flash of bright red, however, draws me out from my cover.  A Vermillion flycatcher.

blackphoebeI notice quite a bit of activity on a tree that hangs out over the drop, and I decide to set myself up there, in the shade.  Large rocks line the side of the bluff, and two little birds chase each other over the water and back, and a small brown head bobs in under the rock crevices.  A Rock squirrel watches from his hiding place between the rocks, and I can’t help but line up the shots, capturing the Black phoebes and the Rock wren, and eventually the red head.

I just want to stay in this moment forever.

sweethorses “My wife was bedridden for over two years,”  I hear Ric telling someone, and think how far I have come – not just in miles – but also in healing.   My disease, while debilitating at times, doesn’t carry the same threat as cancer.  I have been the lucky one.

The horses are back at the water’s edge, and watching them I feel a deep sense of calm and peace.

Life is mystery.  It is beauty and sorrow and unapologetic.  It just is.

(Afternote:  My dear friend died in the early morning hours, although I would not hear of it until the following day.  I will always associate the day she died with wild horses.)

 

 

 

 

Illness is Loss: Encouragement Needed

Frankenstein legs, I call them, these long, slender appendages once a treasured asset, now stiff and unpredictable.

Hunchbacked is my stance thanks to weakened back muscles.

Cruella de Vil has nothing on me, my formerly auburn waves salt and pepper with a shock of white at the front.

And when I speak there is hesitation and frustration as the words combat confusion and fog to find expression.

th-7I think back to a time, post divorce, when I was fit and thin and full of energy.  I remember how men held doors open for me, and women smiled easily.  I looked and felt like I could do anything, and life was limitless.

Today, having forgotten to bring along my walker, I stumbled through the mall, relying on rails and walls for support.  People moved out of my way in large, sweeping arcs, disdain on their faces.  Did they think I was drunk?  Crazed, perhaps?  I tried to smile through my discomfort, no doubt more grimace than welcome.  I’ve become a freak.

“I hate to go out in public,” my friend who is battling cancer told me yesterday.  “I am afraid of what people will say to me.”

It is obvious that she is unwell – her head wrapped in a scarf to cover hair loss, her body emaciated from brutal treatments and accompanying nausea.  My illness is not that apparent – invisible they call it.  Some even think it’s ‘made up’, although a recent news report indicates that over 1/2 a million people in Canada have been diagnosed with ME/CFS.  Some days, I even look normal.  No one would guess.

th-5Everything changed for me in 2014.  Almost overnight, I lost my ability to work and care for my home.  Vitality gone, each day became a challenge just to eat and dress myself.  Some days the most I could manage was brushing my teeth.  Two years I spent primarily in bed.  Trips to the doctor would wipe me out for weeks.

Slowly, imperceptibly, I improved.  I could sit up longer.  I could tolerate t.v.  Visits from friends didn’t tire me as much.  I started to go out.  Now that we are living in smaller quarters, I can do a bit of housework, and some days, even cook.  Today I went to the mall for the first time in years.

One might argue that I should be proud of myself, that I have made progress and I’m doing well, but for some reason, the reality of my situation was less horrific when I was sicker.  I am by no means cured, but I am better, and it seems the more that I can do, the more I am aware of what I can’t do and the vastness between me and the hale seems even greater – if that makes any sense.

I caught my image in a mirror today and what I saw shocked me – a monster was looking back.

th-6Yesterday, I wrote about needs and relationship, and mentioned that my therapist suggests my greatest need is for others to see my awesomeness and not my disease.  I feel that now more than ever.  I need to be able to see myself as more than ME, and it will require the help of others.

If you know someone who is suffering, from visible or invisible illness, please remind them of their awesomeness.  Do it for me.  Help us feel human again.

 

Divorce Through the Rear View Mirror

Perspective is everything and seldom appreciated until the offending circumstances are well in the rear view mirror.th-2

When my former marriage fell apart, I did the unthinkable and moved out.

The one that leaves loses, I’d heard over and over.  I was hell-bent that I would not lose.

What I failed to do was consider just what it was that I was set to lose.  I was so focused on gaining my share of the equity and assets along with support that I didn’t factor in the emotional toll on all involved.

Four years I dragged my case through the courts fighting a battle I could never win: my opponent was a brick wall narcissist, whose sense of self existed outside the realm of common law and ethics.   Four court decrees in my favour held no sway over my ex’s intentions:  he was not going to pay.

In the end, I was able to reimburse my lawyer (more than half of the settlement I received) and I had a small lump sum I used as a down payment on a home – a paltry amount considering what I’d figured I was owed.  I had to waive support arrears to get it.

That was many years ago, and the resentment burned in me in for a long time.  Everyone was right, I told myself, the one who leaves does lose.

In hindsight, I have a different take on what happened.  Yes, I lost the equivalent of seventeen years of invested time and money, but that can happen in life anyway – economics change and losses occur.  If I had managed to get him to leave (unlikely, since he worked from home) I would have soon lost that house as I had no appreciable income to sustain the upkeep.  As it is, he held onto the home, and the children have at least one structure from their childhood in tact.

Financial losses can be recouped.  It is the underlying pain and suffering that is hard to replace:  the damage done to the children.

th-1I recovered – raged, despaired, railed against the injustice, and then got on with my life.  My children, caught in the crossfire, were not so fortunate, and I wish I had been more aware of that at the time.

Divorce is hard, I get it.  Typically, the adults involved revert to childlike behaviours in response to the emotional pain, which is understandable, but not helpful.

I was at least conscious enough not to make the children pawns; I didn’t threaten to keep them away from their dad if he didn’t pay up.  Having a relationship with both parents, I realized, was their birthright.  I did, however; involve them in the fight.  It only served the purpose of forcing them to take sides – a choice no child should ever have to make.

If the kids never really know what happened that’s okay.  What they need from their parents is reassurance, and a role model for how to overcome adversity.

I told myself at the time that at the very least I needed to conduct myself with integrity and civility – a goal that is only ever possible with the right therapist on board.  I was not always successful.

When weighed against the losses, the gains of ending a disruptive marriage ultimately win.  Post divorce I was able to receive the counselling and personal growth that I needed so that I was ready when a healthier relationship came along.  I embraced opportunities that I never would have before, and most importantly, I reignited a sense of self that had been slowly extinguishing over the years.

And….the greatest gift of all:  my three children.

Divorce is not the end of the world.  It is not about who is right and who is wrong.  It is a loss of a dream, and an opportunity to follow a new path.  Yes, it hurts.  Yes, it is humiliating.  Yes, it feels like insurmountable failure.  How the challenge is navigated determines who and what is lost and gained in the end.

Of course, that’s easy for me to say, in hindsight.

Dreams Compensate

In dreams, I walk, no concern for the distance.  I ride a bicycle, or drive a car.  I move with purpose and direction…

…until lucidity snaps me back to reality and then I plummet into the despair of knowing these are no longer options for me.

In dreams, I confront life’s issues, face my foes, am determined…

…and then I awaken, and realize that my well-being is dependent on the charity of others, and that I am in no position to be rocking any boats, especially the ones keeping me afloat… and that in sickness, my emotional state is compromised.

In dreams, I teach, am engaged in life, and financially rewarded.  I am alive with the adrenaline of deadlines, lessons to be prepared, classes to get to…

…and then I awaken and realize that I am a student again, enrolled in a course I would never have signed up for, unprepared for the tests thrown at me daily: a monetary burden.

In slumber, I am everything I used to be – a compensation for this waking reality called ME/CFS.

Is it any wonder I prefer sleep?

(Photo from private collection)

Dreaming Of Work

I dream that I am teaching again, have two classes:  a grade 9 Math first thing in the morning and a senior History last period.  I am late, so someone else has to start the Math class, and when I do arrive, I am unprepared and uncertain that I can proceed.  Last class is more club-like than a classroom and I struggle to be heard until another teacher comes to help.  Nothing is working and I have to admit that it is all beyond me.

One of the functions of dreams is to aid in processing prevalent life issues.  Since illness struck in 2014, I have not been able to work: a situation that haunts me relentlessly.  I truly believed that teaching was my life’s calling. th-1

I go over and over in my head, how I could make it work.  Teaching only one or two classes is a solution I always land on, but the dream reminds me that I would have no control over my schedule, nor what I taught.  Having two classes at either end of the school day would solve nothing in terms of managing energy.  As the dream reminds me, I could be asked to teach anything (and have) whether it’s in my area of expertise, or not.  (Math and History are definitely not what an English/French teacher would choose.)

The crucial message in the dream, though, is that I would arrive late and unprepared – two things I’d never do when I was well.  Mornings, I am reminded, are my worst time of day now, as battling the fatigue and lethargy in my body is a constant challenge.  Even at the end of my teaching days, I would fall asleep at the wheel on the way to work – part of why I conceded to go off in the first place.  That has not changed, in fact; I no longer drive.

I also would not have the energy to prepare for classes that I once had.  In the past, I would spend hours each day putting together lessons for the days ahead, trying to be organized enough to handle any situation that might present itself.   I just don’t have the stamina necessary to do that right now, as the dream gently points out.th-3

Before I was diagnosed with ME/CFS, I struggled each day with being able to get enough air to project to a classroom.  Standing and sitting became a struggle.  I would sweat, and the harder I tried to pull myself together, I felt on the verge of passing out.  I now know this is characteristic of the disease, and as much as I’d like to think I could overcome the other challenges of teaching, the reality is, my body is just not capable.

Disability is so much more than just a physical challenge.  It is about loss of livelihood.  It is about losing a sense of self, purpose, and conceding to a path no one would choose for themselves.  It is mentally coming to terms with the fact that how you once defined yourself is no longer relevant, and that going back is not an option, no matter how much your soul yearns for it.

At the end of the dream, I surrender to the fact that I have a long way to go before I can teach again.  Maybe, I’ll never get there.

Maybe, hopefully, in the letting go, I will find renewed purpose.th-1.jpg

 

Love As a Four-Letter Word

My aunt gave up her daughter for a chance at love.

Can’t remember which marriage it was – there were seven in all – but he didn’t want children, so she just asked around if someone would take M, then sixteen.

A few relatives tried, but my cousin, the depths of whose rejection is unfathomable, strayed to the dark side.  When she ran away, no one chased her.  She was dead by eighteen.

I was twelve when I got the news, and lacked the inner tools to process the information.  M was always so vibrant, and fun – I couldn’t imagine anyone not wanting her.  How does a mother throw away her child?

The marriage hadn’t lasted.  At the time of her death, M had been living with a man.  A few days after the funeral we dropped by my aunt’s house to see if she was okay.  We found her in bed with M’s man.

This aunt was shunned by most of the family, understandably, except that no one stopped to question the source of the pain that drove her to such depraved actions.  stay-safe-seek-real-love-feature-image

When she was young – likely no older than her own daughter at the time she threw her out – her grandfather dragged her out behind the barn and raped her.  No one stopped him, although one uncle got the shotgun and threatened.   They killed my mother’s sister that day; Mom says she was never the same afterwards.

Great grandfather committed many sins, for which he was never held accountable.  An innocent young woman bore the brunt of his sins and was punished for it.  She re-perpetrated the sin, raping her own daughter of a chance at life.

In our family, the game of male/female relationships had a very sick and sinister side.  We knew who we didn’t want to emulate and how ugly love could be.

Trouble is, no one knew the alternative.

(Image:  www.lifehack.org)