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.

Blur of Red and White (Flower of the Day)

I took this photograph thinking of my oldest sister, gone now almost thirty years. Red and white were her favourite colours, and we decorated her casket with large flowing bouquets.  I was disappointed by the blur, but then decided that the blur is fitting – it is how she resides in my memory – the sharp edges of her now softened by the passing years.

So, my flower of the day is dedicated to you, JoJo.  Red for the fire that defined you, white for the freshness of your spirit.

(Cee’s Flower of the Day.)

 

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.

 

 

Relationship Ruptures

The sign on the community pool clearly indicated that the pool was closed, and the gate was locked, but that didn’t stop my friend from scaling the fence and jumping in.  Our other friend hesitated only briefly before joining her, and I stood by in disbelief.

It was day one of our girls’ getaway, and as I had signed on for the rented condo, I felt the weight of responsibility close in around me.  I turned and walked back towards our unit, listening as the hollers of my fellow travellers echoed through the resort. Regret flooded me.  How did I ever think this would work out?

Friend #1, whom I’d known since childhood, was more of a sister to me.  An extreme extrovert, with a tongue that could win medals for speed, made her the life of any party.  Friend #2, a colleague of mine and longtime neighbour of #1, was quietly confident, and not averse to having a good time.  I, a non-drinker, had been struggling with my health for sometime, and while I enjoyed company and good conversation, I preferred quiet, intimate settings.

“I think this vacation is a mistake,” I told my husband in muffled voice the next morning while waiting for the other two to wake up.

“Well, come on home if it’s not working out,” he suggested.

Except, I had been the one to drive, so leaving meant stranding them, and I couldn’t do that.  I decided to the make the best of it:  be the designated driver, and hopefully, get in some sightseeing.

backoffduckThe fighting between #1 and I started the moment she woke up and announced that she hoped I wasn’t going to be a stick-in-the-mud all week.  I countered that she had a drinking problem, and tempers flared out of control. (Told you we were like sisters.)

As the week progressed, and my stomach turned into a ball of fiery pain, the rupture in our friendship deepened.  I vowed that it was over.

“Let’s go for lunch and talk about it,” #1 said weeks later.  “I can’t bear not having you in my life.”

I acquiesced.  We agreed never to go away together again.  We vowed to resume the friendship.

Maybe I was too uptight, I cajoled myself.  We have been friends for a long time, after all.

“She really does have a good heart,” my husband and I agreed.

And then I got sick.  Really sick.  So sick that I could no longer leave my bed, or even talk with her on the phone.

“Let me know when you can come out again,” she said once during a brief conversation.  And another time:  “Are you better?  When are you going back to work?” And then, more recently:  “I’ve talked it over with others, and we agree you should be working now.”

I haven’t seen her in over a year.  She has no idea what my day-to-day living looks like.

“You don’t need toxic people like her in your life,” my health-care aide once said to me, overhearing our conversation.  “You need encouragement and understanding.”

Black PhoebeI am a dog when it comes to loyalty.  It is hard for me to recognize if a relationship is healthy or abusive.  I am not good at setting boundaries.

We have been home for a bit, and I have not called #1.  I am thinking that I might not bother.  It is causing me grief.

What would you do?

(My poem at One Woman’s QuestA Falling Out, is based on this story.)

 

 

Writing Class #3

The prompt for this week is to consider the vulnerability of new growth and what it takes to protect it, tying it into nature.  Here is the edited version, after the instructor’s suggestions.

Rebirthing

It came in the peak of summer
that most optimistic time, when
sunshine equates with health
and bodies glow with exertion
fit and in their prime – it came

with all the fury of a winter blast
harsh and cold and unyielding –
wrestling me from my complacency
annihilating vibrancy, self-definition
de-leafed, rendering me raw, exposed.

I clung to the darkness, blanketed
against the harshness of light,
the impossibility of sound, or scent –
was de-shelled, ungrounded, ravaged
by volatile nerves and misfiring impulses

praying for the certainty of death
but it is spring that follows winter
and in time, restlessness set in –
the dogged whine of hope willing
my mind to stretch, my body to try

spirit, tired of withdrawal, pushed
against the wall of dysfunction,
bolstered by a shifting acceptance
found roots in an in unspoken faith
and I felt possibility, like a tiny sprout

reaching for the sunshine,
ventured out of my cocoon –
still alive! Redefining purpose
still precarious, highly vulnerable
but optimistic for the return of summer.

(Note:  for those following our travels, we are still stranded…more to come.)

Another Piece Published

(The Story Circle Network published two of my pieces in their quarterly e-journal.  The category is “True Words” and the following article plus my poem “Retirement” were both accepted. )

Dead Ends and Surprise Beginnings

The emails started arriving the morning after I presented at the regional conference—invites and accolades validating my life’s passion. Here I was at a critical juncture, poised to take my work to a new level, and only I knew it would never happen.

My hands hovered over the keyboard, mind searching for a way to express my regrets without conveying the darkness that was settling in. I had gone to the conference knowing it would be my last hurrah. There would be no encore presentation.

Sweat dampened my forehead. Please, God, I begged, give me just enough time to finish things up here.

Within days, I would be incapacitated, barely able to lift myself out of bed, brushing my teeth a monumental effort. Life had chosen a different path for me.

“How do I cope?” I asked the doctor, really wanting to say, “How do I reconcile who I am with what I’ve become?” But words, like movement, had lost their fluidity.

“Set a timer for yourself,” she replied. “Seven minutes for standing, fifteen for sitting. Stay away from television— it’s too much stimulation—and limit phone conversations. You may find it difficult to read, and if you listen to music, try to avoid lyrics. Visits should also be regulated. Myalgic Encephalomyelitis is characterized by exhaustion after exertion, and it is systemic.”

My already slumped body felt like collapsing onto the floor.

“Is there anything I can do?”

She took my phone and downloaded a relaxation app. “This will help; try it a couple of times a day.”

Then, as an afterthought, she added: “If you write, you might be able to do that.”

And in that moment, the clouds parted and the glorious irony struck me: I’d finally have time to write.

Dancing In Heaven

“I’m in trouble!”  My sister’s voice was weak but charged with panic.  “Help me!”

“What have you done?”

She’d locked us all out of her apartment that weekend; said she was tired of being sick, tired of people hovering over her.  She wanted to be independent.

Reluctantly, we gave her space.  I’d held my breath the whole time, anticipating this call.

“I stopped taking the meds,”  she began, and before I could express my disbelief, she continued:  “I just wanted to go dancing one more time.  I thought it was the morphine that was making me so sick.  I thought if I stopped…..oh, V.J., I can’t bear the pain.”

“Call 9-1-1,”  I told her.  “I’ll meet you at the hospital.”

She didn’t want to go to the hospital.  People die in the hospital, she’d said.  I reminded her that they would also be able to get her pain under control.

She did die in the hospital, two days later.  Her white blood count was off the charts, and she’d spiked a high temperature before slipping into a coma.  I was by her side.

“Did you get some of my birthday cake?  They’re serving it in the hall.”

Those were the last words she spoke to me.  It was the night before Valentine’s; we’d celebrated her forty-third birthday in November.

I stayed and watched as death crept in, enveloped her and carried her off.  Her eyes flew open in that last moment and met mine, her mouth made a large ‘O’, as if she wanted to exclaim, but no words came out, just one final exhalation of air.

We’d known her death was imminent; she’d been at war with cancer for fourteen years, and the last year had been a continual decline.

She was feisty, my sister.  Loved a good argument, never content with the way things were, always wanting more.  And she loved to dance.

“There wasn’t a table that Jo didn’t dance on,”  a cousin said of her at the funeral.  “She was a live wire.”

I’d had a love/hate relationship with my sister; we didn’t see eye to eye on many things.  She was the consummate center of attention, thriving on drama.  I was the pragmatic younger sister, trying to keep a level head.  I found her ideas off the wall and, well often infuriating.

“It’s as easy to love a rich man as it is a poor one,”  she advised me once.

Infuriated, I retaliated:  “That has nothing to do with love!”

Thing is, she never had luck with relationships.  She’d thrust herself with passion into any man’s arms, and with equal violence, leave him.  Trust was not her strong suit, nor was patience.

“She’s like an eight-year-old in a woman’s body,” one beau once described her to me.  I believed him.

Despite our differences, it was me she turned to when the diagnosis came.

“Promise you’ll be there with me till the end,” she pleaded.

Of course, I said yes.

In the end, it was mostly Mom and I who cared for her.  Stubborn as she was, she wouldn’t let the home care nurse bathe her, or change her bedding, and Mom had a bad back, so I landed the honour.  Joanne had withered away to nothing, her velvet brown eyes now hidden between drooping lids, her lips constantly cracked, her long limbs sharp.  Although she was fifteen years my senior, I felt as if I was caring for a fragile child.

We fought in those last months, and we laughed, and we cried.  Some days, so exhausted from my responsibilities outside of her care, I would just lie on the bed beside her and hold her hand, both of us dozing off.

When she died, I quite honestly felt relief.  At the time of her diagnosis, the doctor said she had only months to live.  She had survived for thirteen more years.  Some good, some bad, but she’d kept on going.

“We don’t know what’s keeping her alive,”  one of the oncologists told me.  “Whatever she’s doing, it obviously works.”

“I can’t explain how I feel,” my mother said while we were arranging the funeral.  “She consumed so much of our lives for so long, and now she is gone.  It feels like there is a huge whole, and no closure.”

The night before the funeral, I had a dream.  Joanne was on a stage, dancing with a chorus line before a large audience.  She looked radiantly happy.

During the reception following the burial, four others shared that they’d had the same dream.

Joanne had found her paradise, dancing in Heaven.

(Today’s post is in response to The Daily Post prompt: dancing.  Image: www.shutterstock.com)

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.