Sunday, January 15, 2017

My Garden

I think I've said something similar to this before:  while I used to dread an ordinary life, I've since learned to be careful what you wish for.  So, on one level I'm not overly concerned that, as the household centers around the needs of an infant, life has folded down into a quiet, somewhat reclusive routine.  It doesn't leave a lot of room for adventure, this sameness:  work, hockey on the television in the evenings as we pass Harrison between us, my trying to teach him to say "Go" and then I'll add on "Steelers" or "Pens" depending upon the circumstance.  Then bed.  Tum Tum wakes me up at 3:30 AM for food and tries me again a couple of hours later just in case I forgot and might possibly give her a second can  (don't ask me why this timing developed suddenly, but I can practically set my clock by it).  I keep a soft pair of slippers by the bed to throw at her to shut her up - it works for a minute or so (she's a persistent bitch).  Then the sun comes up, Tum Tum settles down to sleep comfortably all day, satisfied in her nocturnal devilry, and we repeat.

Sometimes I stare dreamily out the window and think of places I'd like to go to and things I'd like to do - it's not the baby stopping us (nor would I mind if it were), it's all of the things combined that pull and tug on us as worker bees with bills and obligations to make.  And dogs.  It's really hard to jet off to places when one has a lot of dogs.  I do truly need a vacation, I think to myself.  You never know how long you have, so time's a wastin'....   It's hard in those moments to not worry about being unfulfilled:  never see Europe, never swim with dolphins.  Heck, I've never even made it to Niagara Falls, and it's not all that far from here.  I'm sure many of us have similar moments.  Life can be a grind sometimes.

So, as I was contemplating this on the treadmill a couple of days ago, The Garden queued up on my old iPod.  My brain always stops churning when that song comes on, so it was a little bit of serendipity that it just so happened to be next up out of a possible 4,000+ other songs to quiet my troublesome thoughts.  As I always do with that song, I became immersed in the lyrics.  In the meaning behind the lyrics.  And it struck me.  This is me.  This is my life.  It sums up what I believe I am doing with my life perfectly.

In this one of many possible worlds, all for the best, or some bizarre test?
It is what it is - and whatever
Time is still the infinite jest

The arrow files when you dream, the hours tick away - the cells tick away
The Watchmaker keeps to his schemes
The hours tick away - they tick away

The measure of a life is a measure of love and respect
So hard to earn, so easily burned
In the fullness of time
A garden to nurture and protect

In the rise and the set of the sun
'Til the stars go spinning - spinning 'round the night
It is what it is - and forever
Each moment a memory in flight

The arrow flies while you breathe, the hours tick away - the cells tick away
The Watchmaker has time up his sleeve
The hours tick away - they tick away

The treasure of a life is a measure of love and respect
The way you live, the gifts that you give
In the fullness of time
It's the only return that you expect

The future disappears into memory
With only a moment between
Forever dwells in that moment
Hope is what remains to be seen

Every syllable, I think to myself, is relatable.   It's so perfect.  It's as if Neil Peart reached into me, saw my inner most thoughts and values, and then wrote this song about me.  Of course, I'm not daft, I realize he didn't really.  He wrote it, like all his songs, about things he knows, understands and feels, and it truly may mean something completely different to him.  But that's the beauty of great music (and, yes, we can debate Rush if you want, but they are great musicians with highly intelligent lyrics - just deal with it), literature and cinema even.  What I take away from something may differ from what you do, but we all are touched by it.

For me, in particular, it's, "The measure of a life is a measure of love and respect, So hard to earn, so easily burned, In the fullness of time, A garden to nurture and protect."

I'm indeed trying to build a garden here.  A haven for my child and her child to grow.  And for Rooney and Geddy, and even that devil Tum Tum.  I'm trying to give my little family a good, safe and secure life in an insecure time.

But, even more than that, it's the sage wisdom of the line, "The treasure of a life is a measure of love and respect."  That line that I've heard a thousand times or more took on a new meaning when I think of the current political climate and how a certain nameless individual soon to be our 45th President could stand to ponder its meaning.  Am I perhaps richer than this titan of real estate because I strive to respect others?  Maybe so - maybe I need to work on that some (probably actually), but I think I've got a better shot at achieving it than he does.  Down here at my level, modesty and humility comes a bit easier.  Thank God.

Anyway, I let the song wash over me for the almost seven minutes that it runs, and realized that this is my life.  And this is the song that paints how I feel about my life.  And I'm okay with that.  I'm really more than okay with that.  That's fulfillment enough and more.

What's your song?  And what story does it tell us about you?

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Balance Beam

When Kelsey was born, I developed an irrational fear of leaving the house for a time.  It would absolutely terrify me to step over our threshold out into the world.  As long as I was in our little rent house, I could control things.  Outside, however, anything could happen.  Once I made the leap and was out the door, I was fine, but getting there took everything I had.   The feeling faded eventually, as did the recurring nightmares that I would leave the house and forget her, and then not be able to get back in.  But the temporary fear was so intense that I remember it specifically, and how tight my chest would get, just looking toward the front door, after all these years.

Three decades later they recognize that level of anxiety as an offshoot of postpartum depression, and they probably would medicate the snot out of me.  But back then, I was more or less on my own and worked through it by simply forcing myself to leave the house.  But, while my reaction was irrational, the root cause of the anxiety was real.  The world was scary.  There was the Cold War, for one thing.  Sting was writing songs hoping the Russians loved their children too.  That's not ominous or anything.  But, closer to home, anything could happen:  I could have a car accident, we could be robbed, the heat could get to my daughter.  Of course, I realized all of those scenarios were unlikely, but...

The point is, once I became responsible for another human being, everything changed, and all those "could happens" became daunting, paralyzing worries.  Of course, what I eventually realized is that, aside from the precautions one should take as a responsible parent, there's a lot you can't control, and holing up in the house doesn't protect you from a lot of it - it just makes you run out of groceries.

That's all ancient history, one would think.  I'm a grandmother now!

I know my grandson's new mom lets her imagination run wild with similar scenarios as well on occasion.  She'll fret over the big and little things:  the things he can pull over on top of himself in the house if we don't anchor them properly, and the big things like crazy people who can show up anytime or anywhere.  I can see those worries begin to get the better of her at times, and then she'll put it in perspective and relax a bit.  For a time.  I've been there and seen that, so I wasn't surprised by it.  For one thing, as mothers, we're genetically engineered to want to protect our children.

Duquesne women's swim team
KDKA-TV/CBS Pittsburgh
But I wasn't as prepared to relive those worries myself directly as strongly as I do.  But, here I am now, not a direct care provider, finding that I'm being taunted by those same irrational anxieties in light of a world that hasn't gotten any more secure in the intervening decades.  I realized it fully yesterday when I was reading the articles on the Ft. Lauderdale airport shooting.  I was reading along like I always would until I got one from our local CBS station that reported that a local swim team was waiting in the airport when the shootings occurred.  There was a team photo accompanying the story - all those fresh young faces.  That rattled my cage.  Just too close to home.  Someday Harrison might be on a team and traveling without us, I thought.  How can we protect him?!

I'm still processing that question to a degree, but so far here's what I've committed to do:  I want to protect my family in the reasonable ways in which I can.  I vow to make sure the house is as child proofed as I can make it.  I vow to make sure we all buckle up every where we travel, and Harrison has the best car seats I can get him.  I vow to help teach him right v. wrong as much as I in my role as the grandmama so when he's a teenager - the scariest time imaginable - he has a foundation from which to try and make decisions.  I further vow to act responsibly as an adult to try and make the world a bit better by being in it.  To not teach him hate (aside from a healthy disrespect of the Flyers, Bengals and Ravens of course) or prejudice.  To work for and support the things I think will keep the world one worth inheriting.  But, I think, above all, I just can't stop him or his mother from living their lives because I'm overly worried about what might happen when they're out of my sight.

There has to be a balance between our fears about the ugly side of life and allowing our loved one to be able to experience the beauty and wonder of life.

That all said, one final challenge to myself and to all of us:  let's work together to make the world a better one for all our children's sake.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Facing the Fear

"Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What's important is the action. You don't have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow."

- Carrie Fisher

One thing I didn't want this blog to turn into is a running obituary - which at times it feels like it is, even to me.  But, you just KNEW I had to say something about Carrie Fisher.  I have a Princess Leia doll in my office for crying out loud (along with a Kylo Ren, Finn, Jyn Erso, Rey and an Amidala, but, hey, who's counting?).  But this turned into a very different blog post than it was about to be when I looked down at my Twitter feed in the middle of the first period of the Penguins game Wednesday night and saw that a Rush newsfeed I follow (of all things - not the news source I would have expected to pick it up first) was reporting that Debbie Reynolds, who had been rushed to the hospital earlier in the day with an apparent stroke, had died.

My heart was already heavy.  Suddenly it felt as though it would drop right on out of me like a stone.  That's a lot of loss to absorb for that family all at once, I thought to myself.  And, trust me, I know a little about loss.

But, the original plot of the post would have stayed in tact had I not seen some of the comments and drawings that came out afterwards, including a comment that someone left that they were happy for Debbie Reynolds.  Meaning that she would be spared the pain of dealing with her daughter's loss.  Well, maybe, had she died a month ago, I would have nodded in the affirmative, but I could not disagree with the statement more under the circumstances.  But, let's be clear, I'm not passing judgment on that thought and all those sweet cartoons with their sentiment that the two are happily together again - far from it.  I figured some people would feel that way.  Some people who had lost loved ones recently in particular.  People who are still wondering every day while they're still here when their loved one isn't and struggling to find a good answer to the question.  I'm not critical of them, but I am afraid for them and suddenly this blog post became directed to them.

For those of you who loyally followed my previous blog, you saw my journey through grief in raw real time.  I wrote in the moment, sometimes multiple times a day and put it out there for the world to see.  I look at some of those posts sometimes and think, "Wow, I was a nut case at that moment."  Guilty as charged.  And, yep, there were a whole lot of days I would drift off to sleep at night and sincerely hope I would just never, ever wake up again.  I soldiered on because I had "obligations" and "responsibilities".  And that's how I saw them.  At first.  

I struggled mightily to find the right motivation to make myself get up and out of bed everyday because I had to.  So I went about finding tools and tricks to try and give myself little rewards for doing it (hockey, football, blogging), but still a year went by and then another one, and life still just, by and large, sucked.  There were moments.  Moments when the deer herd I fed back in Texas would come up to me and nuzzle.  When the dogs would snuggle with me on the couch.   When Tum Tum, Kelsey's beloved cat, finally took her first tentative trips downstairs to be with us.    In those moments, I'd forget that the world was completely off its axis and feel normal, but they were fleeting and rare.  So, I get it.  You think it'd be easier to just go and join your loved one.  All that pain, confusion, anger, and fright would be over.  Because it is scary.  I understand.  Being left with all this grief is the most fucking terrifying thing you'll ever face in your life.  Period.  Not even the disease was that scary, because I couldn't actually imagine it would take her; there was always hope.  But once she was gone, well, yeah, that shit was for real and the hope is just gone.   So, don't discount what I'm about to say, because I say it out of the depth of that loss.

But, gradually and with no real "oh, this is it" bright line, there become more and more moments when you find yourself smiling without forcing it.  You enjoy things and find yourself looking forward to things.  The triggers that send you reeling back into deep grief become the exception, not the rule.  Don't misunderstand what I'm promising.  It's always there.  Always.  That loss.  You are not who you were.  The world is not what it was.  It can never be again.  But, it can be something worthwhile.

Why bother with that, and who cares, you might ask?  Well, I'm a strong and sincere believer that we're left behind for a reason.  For one thing, we keep the light of our loved ones' memory alight.  But, for another, all those "obligations" and "responsibilities" become once more what they truly are:  your loved ones.  And they need and want you in their life.  

I pulled myself out of the pit of my despair so I could be present, both physically and mentally, for my surviving daughter and now her son.  Any pain I had to suffer to make that happen was so worth it.  I can't tell you what your path will be or what purpose you will find, but you'll find it if you give yourself the chance.

All I can say is if you're in too dark of a place to see the potential of hope for a future without your loved one, please reach out for help.  Talk to a therapist, your priest, your rabbi, or whomever you trust.  Just please do it.  While it might just have been Debbie Reynold's time, don't envy her her path or think she got off easy.  I just keep thinking about all the things she won't be around to share with her remaining family now, and that makes me so sad for all of them.

And, Carrie, I'll never have the honor of knowing you, but thank you.  For everything.  For being a voice for mental illness.  For bringing Leia to life.  For being funny and honest.  For loving your dog.   May the Force be with You.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Ho, Ho, No!

"Christmas is a season not only of rejoicing but of reflection"
- Winston Churchill

You know, whenever I really think my holiday is getting sucky - which is at least at some point every blessed year without exception, I try to think of soldiers.  Men and women who are not only away from home and loved ones, but in constant danger.  I think about my Dad's generation in particular because there was no such thing as a tour of duty - once enlisted they were just in for the duration or until they earned their points, which became increasingly difficult as the war wore on and soldiers became scarce.  I think about the Battle of the Bulge - all those soldiers hunkered in the frozen ground, dodging bullets, frostbite, hunger and fear.  And then I don't necessarily feel better, but at least I feel ashamed for feeling so sour and buck up.  Hey, whatever gets you through...

But this year I think a lot of people could use a shot of perspective.  That was made particularly clear to me on Monday when someone I actually know got on my chat support line at work and just reamed me for something I had no control over.  I was just there and convenient, I realized, but it caught me off guard.  At this late date, I expect me to be the primary Grinch and everyone else is set to make me mad with their over-the-top holiday cheer. 

Yet, this isn't like other years.  The country is more polarized than it's been in decades due to what has to be the craziest Presidential election in American history.  And with the incoming administration, I hate to say this, but feel it's true, being rude and uncouth is suddenly seemingly acceptable.  You might say it's just being blunt and honest, but I live among people who are refreshingly blunt and honest.  There's a difference from that and just plain being mean and crass.  But however we act, we're all at least a little afraid.  Where we all part company is what we're afraid of.  I get the sense we're, many of us, holding our breath, wracked with tension, for what the New Year will bring.  

Since my unexpected encounter on Monday I've read stories both from people I do know personally and some that I don't about encounters with people who were unabashedly rude, but one thing is clear:  I'm not the only who is noticing behaviors and thinking that something is amiss.

So, while I'm hardly converting to Little Cindy Lou Who and will not be swaying around some tree in the town square (or I guess we would all do it at Point State Park) singing Kumbaya or giving the world a Coke, I think it's time we all take a deep breath here for a second and consider the following:
🎄  No, it does not matter if the Target clerk says Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas to you.  Christmas is a holiday last time I looked.  She doesn't know if you're Jewish, Christian, or a Druid for that matter, so she's doing what she's coached to do and covering her bases while still wishing you something nice.  Don't prove to her that your actual denomination is in point of fact Grade A Jerk if you protest her choice over Merry Christmas.   I'm not a Biblical scholar or anything, but I'm pretty sure Jesus would not approve.

🎄  If you're frustrated, don't shoot the messenger.  Because, trust me, having been guilty of misplaced anger myself many a time, it doesn't solve your problem.  It just makes people hate to help you, and makes them - despite what you THINK will happen - help you the minimal possible amount to get you off their back.  If they can help you at all.  Venting I get.  Sometimes we need to vent.  There's an art form to it.  Yelling is not part of the art.  Choosing very carefully to whom you vent to and how you state your case.  I say this as much to myself as to the world in general - so accept it as advice given out of love, personal experience and extreme humility.

🎄  I've said this before, but I think it bears repeating.  I came out of the womb the color I am.  I didn't select it.  I didn't pick my parents either.  Nor even where I'm from.  You can bet every single individual you ever have chance to meet is the same.  Now we may have embraced our ethic backgrounds once we understood them.  I did.  I'm proud to be Irish (now that I know I am).  But no one has ever looked at my claddagh ring and said anything negative about it.  So why would I in turn say anything negative about someone else's heritage or the color of their skin?

🎄  Likewise, I didn't one day push a button and decide I was heterosexual.  So what makes you think homosexuality is a choice?  If you can explain why you think it is, I'm all ears, but you can't, so...

Rather than getting ourselves in a twist about trying to pass judgment on others and controlling things they cannot control, can I suggest we reflect on what we ourselves have:  a warm place to sleep and a roof over our heads.  Food in the fridge.  That's a big one because a whole lot of people don't have that.  Do you have people who love you?  Then embrace that and forget about the people in line in front or behind you at Walmart or Giant Eagle or HEB or wherever who look or sound different.

I get down on the holidays for all the same reasons many people do - the expense, the time pressure, and the societal pressure (we're currently trying to work out schedules with an infant who doesn't follow schedules to visit the in-laws on Christmas, while having our own Christmas AND watching a critical AFC North matchup - I was nearly in tears over the pressure of trying to pull it off the other day).  But, I think - after having watched all the madness go on around me this year, I'm going to take a deep breath and simply enjoy what I have:  my family, my dogs, my forever home with almost everything now fixed (and not worry about the couple of things that aren't), my good friends whom I don't tell often enough what they mean to me, and this amazing city I get to live in every single day.  If I think about those things, then I come to the conclusion I'm truly blessed and the rest doesn't matter.

Think about it.  Can you say the same thing?  If you're not quite there yet, think about all those soldiers in the snow 72 years ago who were fighting for our freedom so we could continue to say the things we want to say and write the things we want to write.  And now think of the young men and women who are deployed now.  Appreciate what they're doing for us by being grateful for what you've got and quit griping.  It works for me.  Now, go out there and have a Happy Holiday.


Sunday, December 18, 2016

Trust the Force

Obviously, being a mother has been on my mind lately.  I have a front seat to see my daughter working to find her way as a new mom.  It wasn't something my mom got to share with me, which, thinking back on it, is probably a good thing for both of us, even though I didn't really think much about it, one way or the other, at the time.  When she was visiting immediately after Kelsey was born, she suggested I should get rid of my beloved cat, Ana, because cats suck the breath out of babies.  I think I determined then and there that the worth of her counsel was a bit outdated.  (Cats do pose a potential threat to the breathing of an infant if they curl up with them in the crib, I've since read, but not in the Alfred Hitchcock murderous-breath-stealing-devil-cat sort of a way.)  But it let me know that we came from two very different generations in terms of raising children.  And while I was far younger than my mom when I became a grandmother for the first time, it didn't take me very long to realize that a lot had changed since my day as a cat owning young mom.

For one thing, there is the Internet.  Both a great and an evil thing in child rearing.  On the plus side, there is a wealth of information out there for new moms that wasn't as readily available 24/7 in my day.  Want to know why this is happening or what to do in that case?  You can probably find something about it.  On the minus side of the equation, you can also find somebody expressing an opinion about every little thing.  Which might be fine - I mean, when I shop, I read the reviews before I make a decision.  But, there is such a thing as too much information, and there's no real vetting of much of the crap on the Internet - how valid is most of what we read online on a daily basis anyway?

Then there's Facebook.  Social media places our parenting on display and allows for moral support, but also invites critiquing.   I became friends with a young Steelers fan a couple of years ago who had her first child last year.  She's been criticized about some of her parenting since (I always seem to miss the spark and only get in on the ensuing firestorm, so I don't know what she does so controversially - I gather it's related to breast feeding in public though, not anything that is dangerous, just in case you were worried), and she's been very vocal on Facebook about firing back.  At first I was supportive of her, but as it continues on over months, I decided she liked the fight a little too much (something along the lines of the lady doth protest too much), so I just don't comment anymore.  But even if you discount people who pick fights in social media for whatever reason, it's how we "talk" to our friends now - social media, I mean.  We scatter across the globe after high school or college, and this is how we stay connected to our friends.  So, conversations my mom had about me across the bridge table or at her weekly bowling league are now carried on in a much more public forum, which opens them up to a) misinterpretation and being taken out of context and b) unsolicited advice and sometimes biting opinions.

I'm watching my daughter navigate those waters along with just fighting the current of new motherhood and find myself actually grateful that the information superhighway wasn't quite so fast a quarter century ago.  I was riddled with self doubt, just like most new moms are now, but I had to learn to trust my own instincts for most day-to-day issues because there wasn't any other venue available to consult with on an on-demand basis.  And when I thought about that, the places where I really went wrong as a parent are when I drifted from that.  So, I think the best advice I could give to her or any mother is to feel free to ignore my advice, particularly when I just spout it out without invitation.  As I am very wont to do.

And, yes, I saw Rogue One twice this weekend, so soundbites from every Star Wars movie I've ever seen are rolling around in my head including Obi Wan counseling Luke to "trust in the Force."  But, hey, if it works, I'll use it and say something along those same lines.  I think I want my daughter to trust her own instincts and listen hard to her own heart when it comes to child rearing.   She can take bits and pieces of what I say and the stories I tell and fit it into take aways that are helpful, but what I realized pretty quickly is she's got a different child on her hands than I did, and she's raising him in completely different circumstances, facing different challenges, but equipped with different  - and better - tools.  So, if I put myself out there as the expert, I think I'd be outed pretty quickly anyway.   What I did finally say to her recently was to understand that there will be a lot of naysayers out there.  That much has not changed in a generation, since, as modern women, there is a lot of societal pressure to parent exactly just so (problem is, no one can agree on exactly what that means).  Therefore, since you can't please everyone anyway, not even me all the time, you have to trust what's in your heart and what you know/feel is right.  And if you do, I believe the Force will be with You.  Always.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Closer to Believing

"I need me
You need you
We want us to live forever
Don't let the curtain fall
Measure after measure
Of writing on the wall
That burns so brightly
It blinds us all"

- Closer to Believing, Greg Lake

I started this blog with an actual goal in mind, and then like the legitimately adult ADD person I am, I've wandered far astray to write about anything and everything, and probably some posts that were largely about nothing at all, but the original question still stands and remained largely unanswered, at least for me.  Does a single life matter?  Do we matter and make an impact as individuals?  I mean, I realize some of us do without question:  Barack Obama can answer yes to the question, as could have Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and so on. Even Sidney Crosby - because he makes so many of us incredibly happy.  And of course sometimes a life lived is one with a incredibly negative impact:  Hitler, Stalin, some other more recent politicians (you can decide whom I might mean).  Most people fall somewhere along a middle ground.  I mean, I'm grateful to Russell Crowe for giving me - well, Russell Crowe.  Onscreen.  But, is he an awesome person?  From what I've heard, he's complex and mercurial.  So, not entirely.  There's some bad with the good, and good with the bad.  But what about those of us whose names will never be on a marquis somewhere.  The smallfolk, as we are known in Westeros.  They kill them off there with impunity, so is that what we truly are:  small and insignificant? (Of course, in the Seven Kingdoms, they kill off everybody with impunity, so maybe that's a bad example...)

Here's what got me pondering all this again: living in the suburbs of a city in one of the oldest states in the union, I live near cemeteries.  It would be practically impossible not to.  That was true at my last house, and it's true at this one.  But here, I'm directly en route to one, so it's not unusual to see a funeral procession driving past.  Friday morning was no different.  As I was pouring a second cup of coffee, I looked up and there went a long row of cars with funeral flags and flashing lights, headed for someone's final resting place in the slate colored day with a few flakes of snow fluttering like small angels waiting overhead.

About an hour later, my second cup of coffee calling me in a different direction, I looked out the upstairs window this time and saw another long procession making its way up the hill.

I'll never have a funeral procession like either of those, I thought to myself.  It's understandable:  I've not lived here all my life, like it's probable those two poor souls being laid to rest yesterday had.  I didn't go to school here, fall in love here, work here (if you think about it, I work in the Cloud - no one sees me and no one knows or particularly cares where I am, and I work alone most of the day).  I'm shy by nature anyway.  Even if I had done all those things, it's more likely I would have a small, close circle of friends, not a large posse.  But who doesn't, at the end of the day, want large numbers of people to weep for them when they go?  Like somehow if a lot of people follow you up the hill to your final resting place, the life you lead was full and meaningful.  The final popularity contest.  It seemed petty to be envious of those poor deceased people, but there you have it.

Maybe I considered those two caravans more intently than I would have on most other days because the finite nature of life was weighing heavily on me since finding out that Greg Lake, of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, had died the day before.  I loved their music since high school.  Long before Rush, there was ELP and the Moody Blues.  Greg Lake, of the clear, resonating, classically trained vocals, whose very voice could send chills through a listener, was no more.  In the larger scheme of things, he wasn't that much older than me.  And now he's gone.  So, one naturally tends to question one's own mortality in the face of such things.  And so I was back to the original question I posed here and never bothered to answer:  what value does one life hold?

Unbidden, those thoughts still haunted me (if you will) all afternoon to the point of my being paralyzed by them.  I think they call it a midlife crisis:  if you die tomorrow, is this the job you wanted to have spent your life doing?  Is this the relationship you wanted to have spent your life building?  What legacy do you leave behind?  Thoughts like that.  Traditionally, I think the patented response is to go have an affair and buy a sports car to trick yourself into thinking you're younger than you are.  But I'm not interested in either, so I had to look the issue square in the face.

And here you go:  here's my legacy:

They're here because of me and that's pretty wonderful.  That was the answer to my question.

But, for the larger question that pertains to all of us, after a hard day of overthinking it, I came to what felt like truth, and maybe I've said this before, maybe I haven't.  If I have, I'll reconfirm that I still believe it's true after some serious soul searching:  if we touch even one person for the better, then we've mattered.

(RIP Greg Lake, you and Keith mattered to a whole lot of us.)

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Singing the Holiday Blues

Here's the thing:  I think I processed and recovered from the profound grief of losing a daughter pretty well.  Maybe I'll even give myself an A in that department.  It wasn't easy necessarily, and it took a lot of time, but I finally felt as though I "did it" - whatever "it" can be defined as.  Some people in my world - co-workers, casual friends and so on - thought I should have been over it long before I claimed my victory.  Others regard me as being callous because I did seemingly move on.

Over time you find there's just no winning.  People will not ever understand fully - even people who have experienced loss - because every situation and relationship is unique, and we all process things differently.  (I'd do well to remember what I just wrote myself sometimes, but that's another story for another day...)  But the point here is, you just have to accept that people can't walk in your shoes, even if they really, really want to, and the best you can probably hope for is the people who love you the most will just accept you in whatever state you're in, even if they don't truly get it.  And it's to those lovely people who stand by us that I write this.  There will be times we just need you that stretch way beyond when even we reasonably could foresee that we would.  Not your pity, just your support.  And I think the found myself in such a quandary curently.  I was really struggling.  And that will seem super weird to most people because this should be such a happy time with a new grandbaby in the house.  But, read on and I'll explain why in particular I think I got hit with the Holiday Blues so hard this year in particular.

If you know me, you know I think Christmas sucks no matter what.  I do delight in some of the trappings:  I adore Rudolph, for example.  And I'm willing to participate:  I will bake cookies and buy gifts, and the house is decorated from top to bottom, but the stress it all causes is like a ten ton weight on me.  And it has been this way for many years - decades even.  I'd be amazed if there aren't millions of women in particular who secretly feel the same way, but maybe aren't bold enough to confess it - because I have taken a lot of flak for being a Scrooge over the years, so it's a risky stance to take.  I try, I honestly do - but it never fails:  the horrid financial pressure, the time constraints, the expectations and the aftermath of not meeting those expectations.  It's all hard.  I'm not blaming poor Baby Jesus or anything, and I love buying presents for people, don't misunderstand, but - I've said this before and stand by it - we've so corrupted the holiday that the "Christmas spirit" is lost in all the material greed.  So, you walk around with all this holiday weight around your neck, like a holly covered albatross, and then everyone expects you to be happy and you're just wanting to say, "Fuck you.  I lost [insert name of person], so exactly what is it now you want me to be happy about?"  And then, on top of all of that, Real Life happens.  Your boss reprimands you for something that you don't feel was wrong (yes, that did happen, not just a random example), another co-worker was rude to you (and yeah, that happens daily), or - or maybe and - a trigger happens.

I've written in my original blog about triggers a lot - the things that gut punch you when you're least expecting it and send you into a downward spiral.  Over time, as you get stronger in your recovery, they happen less and less - not the things, but your strong reaction to them, but they do still happen and maybe they always will.  Hard to say.  But what's not hard to say is I had not one, but two such events in the course of a few days and it knocked my psyche silly for a while.  I won't bore you with the details, but suffice to say, while they were both unique in their cause and effect, they worked together to send me reeling into a pretty frightening depression for not one, but several days.  And it got me thinking, because it was a lonely, scary feeling, that maybe the best thing I can do with that is use it.  And use it to help all of you understand all of us when we get the holiday blues.

The first thing to tell you is what not to tell me.  Don't tell me please that I ought to be happy.  Or that I have so much to be happy about.  I know that.  And that conundrum of not being happy when you know "you should" just makes it worse.

Don't get mad at me.  It's not personal.  I'm not trying to act the way I do to punish you.  Try listening to how I feel, and you will likely see that.  By listening, it doesn't mean I expect you to know what to do or say.  But accepting me goes a long way.  And just knowing that someone knows what I'm going through and isn't judging me as a result goes still further.  But if I don't want to talk about it, I ask that you're okay with that.  Leave the offer out on the table.

I understand it's perplexing to deal with me in that state (try living it), so accept that I'm doing what I can to shake it off.  If I can't for some reason, then support me to reach out for assistance.  It's okay to ask for help, but sometimes we need a little help (if you will) to know that.

The bottom line is I missed my kid.  I felt the big hole where she is supposed to be.  I'm not entirely sure that's a bad thing.  I mean, I miss her constantly and wonder about her:  what she would have turned out to be like and to do with her life, but also where did her soul go and is she okay now.  But I'm normally fine leading a full life with that "little" caveat.  But every so often I get out of balance.  I'm good at recalibrating myself.  I used my go-to coping skill - hockey - to shake the blues off of me.  Of course it helped that Sidney Crosby was amazing.  Others might not have the coping mechanisms I do.  Help them find their version of Sid.