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Archive for the ‘Rites of Passage’ Category


Do these words, taken in the same sentence, seem like an oxymoron? It is not.

I’ve pondered my reactions to things I read and how I respond to them. Sometimes charged up and angry; sometimes sad and maybe even weepy. I can cry at the drop of a hat; a greeting card, a thought about one of my children, frustration at not being able to solve a problem for someone I love. But no one (not even me) would argue that I am tough as nails.

To summarize my life, I have lived through enough major challenges for several lifetimes. A divorce, widowhood, a miscarriage, cheating death three times, coma, and severe pain for extended periods of times that made me beg for death. When I made those conscious or unconscious “decisions” to carry on in the face of the impossible, there were factors driving it. Twice, when on the brink of death, my children kept me alive. They were too young to be motherless, so somehow I must have willed my body to stay alive. When I was widowed at a young age, I held onto knowing that I had not yet done many things I wanted to do. Making a life with someone, having children, traveling the world. And the “normal” losses like the deaths of my father, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and many, many pets.

I’ve wondered from a young age how some people seem resilient; impervious to what could be devastating to others. I’ve wondered if it is constitutional, like genetics, personality, or how much it is affected by nurture. I still wonder, as I have not figured it out.

I began this inquiry as a twenty-something-year-old, riding the bus in NYC. A young disheveled, clearly homeless and mentally ill woman spewed horrible words. It appeared she was talking to (or yelling at) an imaginary person. She was distressed and said things that made me think she had been badly abused. I wondered sadly what could have broken her. As I grew older and heard many stories of people triumphing against all odds, not merely surviving, but thriving (Oprah Winfrey). How is it that one person is so damaged that they cannot function, and another succeeds? What factors influence it?

There has been much research on resilience and books written about which factors influence it and how to develop it. But I don’t know that it is something we can quite “bottle.” The human being is such a complex bundle of biology, genetics and environmental influence that no two are alike. No matter what we discover, it will not entirely explain the various outcomes, given similar, even the same inputs.

So for now, I will have to settle for feeling fortunate be resilient, whatever that means.

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As I sort through the incredible volume of possessions accumulated over 40 years of my life, I am ready to let go of more than I ever have before. Maybe it’s the practice I got emptying my mother-in-law’s home, which had more years of accumulation than I have. Maybe it’s the “clean start” one wants when moving to a new home. Maybe it’s the realization that I will never learn guitar, I will never need 2 shredders, I’ve long since replaced the china closet with another, my kids have taken or stored everything they want to take from my collections, and the overwhelming feeling of organizing and packing what I want to keep.

As I put my guitar into the hands of its new owner, she admitted she might never have the time to learn, what with a job and a small child and all. I smiled and nodded in recognition of my 35 year old self. The kids didn’t want the furniture, so it was time to move it out. And all those duplicates? Time to reduce to one of anything, sell some things online, some through local tag sale sites and prepare for one helluva tag sale.

The difficult thing is that some things are attached to dreams. The guitar for instance. I always wanted to play it. Now I forfeit that opportunity because I no longer have the instrument to play. There are others. It doesn’t really matter what they are; I let go the dream of doing, with the disposal of the object.

The great thing is that every time I shed a piece, I feel lighter. I am freeing myself of something that needs care, cleaning or attention. I am replacing money in the coffers for the incidentals that will be needed in my new home. It’s all good. Lightening my load, lightens my head and heart.

Except for art supplies. I am parting with but a tiny percent of an entire room full of things that could create art by combining them, when creativity strikes. Yeah, that stuff is going to take a whole truck by itself. I’ve already identified the beneficiary of all of it when I die, so all it will require is one phone call by the family.

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BRAVADO: Real or pretend?

It hit me today, like a ton of bricks. What was it going to take to get me to feel fear? Real fear.

I left the doctor’s office today, aware of the long wait ahead. News about the test he had performed and the ultimate decision it would require. On top of the news I am waiting for about a genetic test that could also change my life, as well as that of my children.

Sure, I tell everyone, “I don’t worry until I know there is a good reason to worry.” And I largely convince myself of it, until today. I am driving home when something akin to panic sets in. I cannot cry, so it is more like a grip on my gut.

I realize I have fooled and pleased the doctor with my bravado performance, and I get complimented for it. It hits me – my pattern. In order not to deal with pain, worry, anxiety, I pretend to be strong. I am strong, for sure, but is it right to always be strong when unsure of your future? I have always sought to please people. A habit I intellectually disdain and think I have overcome, but I suddenly realize it is in the very fabric of my being, and is still very much my modus operandi.

I question why I need to be so independent and strong all the time. It’s not even natural. I know that we are all driven to be liked, and who likes a needy person anyway? But my emotions are on a roller coaster today.

I struggle to even share my feelings with my husband, who has given me no reason to doubt his loyalty. I go to the doctor alone, when all three people I interact with ask me if someone has accompanied me. I find this to be a strange question. I always go to the doctor alone. Oh, I realize now. This is a cancer center. Most people come anticipating potentially bad news, instructions, things they need another set of ears to hear. Me? I’ve been through so much already, I can handle it. I can ask the questions, take notes and put things in my phone calendar by myself. Besides, I think the exam is over precautionary – my doctor is so conservative. But this new doctor says he never has an inappropriate referral from my doctor.

So each piece comes together to paint a picture that tells me maybe I should worry – at least a little. Perhaps this is another false alarm – this is what I have been telling myself. And I will be truly grateful if that is the case. But for now, I think I should allow the feelings that sometimes overwhelm me, rendering me incapable of thinking straight, their proper place.

That would make me more normal, wouldn’t it?

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Why do we get more sentimental as we age? Is it the feeling (and reality) that our time is growing limited? Is it a yearning for days gone by? Or is it a combination of these factors?
I am joyful beyond measure for the time we get to spend with our family. It is so rare now to have them all together at the same time, and usually not all to ourselves. With friends in their lives, we are sharing our boys with other people. I am happy about the kinds of people they choose to be in their lives, and enjoy the young adults sitting around the dinner table having mature conversations. I love the amazing meals my son and his friend turn out for us to enjoy. I love the physical closeness phone calls can’t provide.
Then why am I also sad?
It’s because I know this time is limited.
It’s because they will be wretched from us once again – each parting as difficult as the first.
It’s because I do not know when we will next see each other.
It’s because we will be moving away from where they grew up, and when they go “home” maybe it won’t be where we are moving to.
It’s because all parents carry guilt about what they didn’t do even though the outcome was good and there is no logical reason to feel that way.
It’s just because sometimes.
So, now I will put it aside and go back to enjoying the time I DO have with my sons and their friends. They need help in the kitchen!

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In November 2012, I posted about a decision my husband and I made to relocate to Pittsburgh “some time in the future.”
We did end up buying a home about 15 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh and have rented it out since then. Our move was predicated on two events: my son’s graduation from college and the passing of my husband’s mother, whose health had been declining for years.
Both events happened within weeks of each other, signaling the time to begin preparations for the move. I realized the timing of events meant we could be relocating in under a year. Fear and panic set in. I asked my husband if he really was ready to go so soon, or did he want to extend our tenant’s lease. “I want to go,” he said.
I learned quickly, that fear and excitement can thrive side by side. I also realized what it would take to get this done – a lot of time and substantial about of money. After the grueling task of disposing of mom’s assets and home, I had to begin our own weeding and pruning. The task has been made more difficult by the uncertainty of my sons’ needs for household articles in the coming months. Much of what we need to reduce is serviceable, so I’d like to preserve whatever they could use before dispensing with our excess. Also, our new house is larger and can accommodate a lot of what we have, – so I don’t want to dispose of things we might need to furnish it.
At the same time, we need to make room just to begin the repairing, painting, etc., to make the house salable. That’s why some days I am overwhelmed.
When I get started, I can usually make some decisions and put things into the tag sale or a Goodwill piles. But after a few hours, I am stymied. It feels like it will never get done, even with so much time ahead to do it.
I realize that some of the obstacles are emotional. While a new adventure awaits (and I love the idea), we leave friends behind, and will have to start all over. And that makes it hard to pack up.

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I work in a hospital as a Registered Dietetic Technician. I screen patients for nutritional risk, provide education for  theraputic diets and food/drug interactions. But that isn’t the greatest part of the job. The most rewarding times are those when a deep connection is made with a patient or family member. I’ve tried to analyze how or why it happens when it does, and concluded that it isn’t so simple.

Human connection is obviously found in lifelong friendships. But it is those fleeting, temporary connections that intrigue me.

A patient with Parkinson’s disease struggled to communicate with me. His tremors were so bad, speech was excruciatingly difficult. Time slowed as I stayed with him, watching him painfully, frustratingly, trying to say something. Word by word, I was able to discern that he was very intelligent, educated, lucid. And that he wanted to die.

When I asked if he wanted to speak with a member of the clergy or a counselor, he struggled to say, “I’d like to speak with you.”  There is a fine line professionally, between doing the job I am employed to do, and providing patient care, in the full sense. And I am drawn to those who need to talk about their feelings about their wish to die when they are suffering, and their families can’t hear them.

So I pulled up a chair, took his hand in mine and listened as he shared his wish to end his suffering with a terrible disease that has trapped his agile mind in a crippled body. I returned to visit him a number of times, even though he was not on my daily list of patients. I listened to his younger wife, who seemed still to believe he should be fighting for his life.

I heard his suffering. I could do nothing to ease it, but listen.

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There comes a point when we know a loved one is headed into the final chapter of his or her life. The hospitalizations become more frequent and the recoveries slower. The mind forgets what date it is, what foods one enjoyed eating, what objects are called. Adult diapers become necessary. Walkers, wheelchairs and physical therapy equipment, become our survival tools. Daily activities like dressing, bathing, cooking and laundry are no longer possible without help.

One can question the value or purpose of living like this. Indeed, I have, and know I don’t want to live in such a state. I don’t want to be a prisoner in my own body or mind. I don’t want whatever assets I have left to be obliterated in short order, by the enormous cost of sustaining my life in this manner.

My family knows my position on this. Only we can make these decisions for ourselves and it behooves us to share our wishes with our families and friends. It would be unfair and terribly burdensome to ask them to make these decisions for us.

My husband’s mother has been living for some time now, blissfully unaware of the rest of the world. She isn’t suffering physically, nor mentally. She is fortunate to be able to afford full time care. She smiles when anyone comes to see her and expresses pleasure to have visitors – even though she doesn’t remember who we are from one time to the next. She seems content, even in the face of her declining health. She never complains and is ever sweet. In her innocence, acting like a child, she agrees with our request to leave the IV in her arm this time, but soon forgets and takes it out again. Having forgotten her food preferences, she now eats things she wouldn’t have in days past. She takes our hand and tells us she loves us; something she never did before her dementia.

Her clock is not the one we all March to. She sleeps when she is tired (which is much of the day), and gets out of bed when she is restless (day or night). She is obsessed with the clock and remarks frequently on the time. She still compulsively feels the need to clean up her surroundings, albeit in a more physically limiting way now. Some traits remain while most of them have vanished along with her mind.

She is so different from the person she used to be, so it is bittersweet to be with her. For now, I find comfort in her apparent pleasure during my visits. But when I return home, I am deeply saddened that life has to wind down in such a manner.

While this isn’t what I want for myself and I can express this while of sound mind, I can only hope my family will have the strength to let me go when it is my time. Even if I smile at them and tell them I love them.

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