Grief is Grief, View from the Shoe

The Handoff

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My father died last week . . . at 94. His left behind 3 living children, 10 grandchildren, 17 great grandchildren — and a boatload of complicated emotions.

To be honest, this a tough post to write. It’s so much easier to be funny than painfully authentic but writers need to say the hard stuff, too. And what’s harder, more precious, more frustrating and intrinsic to us as humans than family?

Since the night my dad died, people have expressed heartfelt sympathies I felt unworthy to receive. I’ve struggled to reach inside to the depth of grief that losing a parent brings. Maybe losing my still vital husband so suddenly anesthetized me to old age’s inevitable end, even in a parent. Or, just maybe, the empty, numb feeling is self-protection from a hurricane of emotions just waiting to be unleashed when I’m least expecting it.

If that tv sitcom. Leave it to Beaver, (does that make me old?) was truly an icon of a normal family, we’re all screwed. Life out of central casting is not real life, but I suspect we all secretly want a teeny bit of that warm, fuzzy family picture. Instead, we peel through layers of frustration, hurt, love, and longing that surface with a vengeance when the main players of family of origin are gone. We may not recognize those layers as grief, but they can define it just the same.

When my mom was alive, my dad hated talking on the phone but he certainly made up for it, in spades, the last 13 years. Though conversations were rarely about how I or my family was, he was at long last verbal. He now depended on family for needs my mother hovered over and finally seemed to enjoy (tolerate may be a better word) the ‘kids’, including the oldsters who lived 2 hours away. (If there was any doubt that my husband loved me, I have just to remember our bi-monthly parkway pilgrimages. Muttering through road rage, a body protesting often from cancer side effects, he still took on legendary shore traffic – for me. That’s love) After he died, I continued the trip until a police call reporting my dad seeing 9 people dressed in khakis and red shirts (think Jake from Allstate) made it necessary to move him someplace both nearer and safer.

Welcome to assisted living.  Just picturing how I’d feel when it came time to trade my own house and car for a 2-room studio far away from where I called home for the last 20 years, twisted my heart. But having your parent’s care solely on your shoulders is layered with many emotions, even in the happiest, Hallmark families. Out of three kids, I was now the only game in town so, along with being critical dad’s go-to, choosing the right senior living facility was the could best I could do. We were suddenly both stuck and we both struggled to make the best of it.  Like I said, it’s ‘complicated’. Continue reading “The Handoff”

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View from the Shoe

Ancestry Addiction

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It all started so innocently. Curiosity is a gateway to becoming a chronic Ancestry addict, chasing down roots and unheard of relatives. If that wasn’t bad enough, along comes DNA testing. Somewhere along the stages of ancestry dependence, circles of people pop up, who may or may not have bloodlines to you. Cool. But I have enough trouble keeping up with relatives I know.

Whoever got me started on this particular obsession, it’s on you.

Then again, DNA reports give a handy heads up about sneaky diseases waiting to snag you. To be fair, there were some scary sounding ones that I may have dodged the bullet on, so there’s that. Anyway, I heard enough commercials and friends’ excitement about the hunt for random family members that I thought I’d give it a shot, so here I am. That was 5 years ago and since then, I’ve dropped in and out, spending hours tooling around the digital ancestor graveyard. Hey, who doesn’t want to know if they should be wearing a kilt or lederhosen, right?

Five days before my husband died, he gave me two birthday gifts, both of which I must have ‘hinted’ about. One was a new iPad to replace my 7 year old model; the other an Ancestry DNA test kit. Unfortunately, by the time I spit in the tube, dropped it in the mail and got back the results — my man was gone. No one would have laughed harder than he when, unlike my lifetime denial that I was anything but Italian (and a tiny bit German), the results showed I was also — Irish. Wait, what?

Once you catch the ancestry bug, it’s hard not to be hooked. Though, to be fair, it’s too pricey for me to be a lifer. I pop in and out, getting a heritage high whenever I find one person who leads to another and another. But, you do need to curb your enthusiasm. In your haste to populate your tree, it’s easy to throw in a few Waldos that don’t belong there. When your tree suddenly blooms like you showered it with Miracle-Gro, there might be a few misfit branches don’t fit the profile. That can take the edge off congratulating your inner detective! Continue reading “Ancestry Addiction”

Politics and other awkward stuff, View from the Shoe

Not In Kansas Anymore

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Boy, has this place changed, Toto. Some days our America seems as unfamiliar as Oz. We’ve seen odd characters with no brain, heart or courage in abundance but enough about politics. We’ve been in twisty, scary situations before. In fact, history is full of times when the red, white and blue was as divided as the Hatfields and McCoys, complete with messy family food fights.

It’s been said this past election didn’t divide America – it revealed it. Racism and xenophobia are hardly new; they are just more butt naked than we’ve seen them for awhile. Did we think political paranoia left the building when Joe McCarthy did? Ha! We might have been a teeny bit convinced that we made healthy improvements in womens’ rights and sexual choice tolerance, but no. And immigrants? Fear of the ‘other’ is stoked daily, as you wait. Every culture has gone through a purgatory of prejudice and alienation when they arrive on our shores, but, these days, the Statue of Liberty hides her face in utter shame.

For 243 years, America has invented, innovated, inspired and banded together for better. We’ve dominated both outer and cyberspace. Baseball, blue jeans, jazz and rock ‘n roll are as American as too many guns, slavery and the atomic bomb. Everything is big in America – buildings, landscapes, cars, business – and dreams. To many, their dream is elusive along their respective Yellow Brick Roads.

But few things in life are linear – and history isn’t neat.

Over the decades we’ve seen riots, scandals, assassinations, world wars and cold wars. We’ve struggled with healthcare, financial reform, racial strife, taxes and political mayhem. There’s little we haven’t seen. When elections were over, protests were heard, amendments enacted, and we usually went back to business as usual. No matter how politics, cultural roots or societal platforms differed, we united as AMERICA, not a polarized land of misfit toys. Continue reading “Not In Kansas Anymore”

Politics and other awkward stuff

I. See. You.

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Three little words – that speak everything. When that Pandora heroine in Avatar says to her human, “I see you” it’s a pretty ‘awwwwww’ moment. But, beyond warm and fuzzy, what do those words really mean? I’d like to think they are a personal text to your soul, assuring that “I know you exist, I see your essence and I get you.”  It says that someone sees us for who we are, what we can become, and that they have a backpack ready for whatever journey is on your horizon.

Such small words yet, what is more profound than feeling we are accepted, validated and embraced? The first time these words touched me was during dinner with a dear (much younger) friend of mine. We’ve shared a long friendship and a lot of life experiences, though each from our own different plane. Yet, I saw that night that the ability to understand, with such interest and caring, can forge a connection that transcends generation. That connection allows us to see, in one another, inner spirits that aren’t all that different.

Never confuse “I see you” with  “I hear ya’. Nope. That’s a whole other aspect of understanding, and a pretty casual one at that. Really ‘seeing’ someone x-rays the person beneath loneliness, grief, even the smiles we wear before the world. It sees beneath the MEH shrug about really hating our job, the emptiness of not being understood, or the pressure to keep up. It also bypasses feelings of not being good or pretty or rich enough. That kind of ‘seeing’ accepts our regrets, and fears, along with all the goodness we keep locked up, tight as a drum. Continue reading “I. See. You.”

Politics and other awkward stuff

Ode To Joe’s

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How do I love Trader Joe’s? Let me count the ways.

I hate grocery shopping. As a new bride, supporting my then husband through school, I budgeted groceries for two through a nefarious envelope system. There were the years I shopped with one babe on my hip and one attempting his escape out of the cart. There were years adolescents begged for snacks they knew were not on approved list of mom’s good-for-you eats —through every aisle of temptations.  When all the birdies flew the nest, grocery shopping became an even more irritating chore. My late husband, however, oddly enjoyed the food shopping gig and happily took over the the gritty household item list, knowing he could also drop in treats that weren’t on HIS healthy list. The upside was, that also left me with grocery nirvana – Trader Joe’s.

Disclaimer:  Before you think this is merely a PR shill for the store, no groceries have been harmed in the writing of this blog; nor has Trader Joe’s contributed to my advertising earnings. (Damn it) Any words of praise were simply written as an ode to grocery shopping done right – in my humble opinion.

People’s shopping preferences are as different as tomato/potato.  As for me, there’s nothing like picking up ‘just two things’ (hah!) in the welcoming aisles of Trader Giotto’s. If you’ve never been, it’s hard to articulate the contrasting experiences of weekly foraging. Maybe it’s TJ’s mellow-yellow vibe, where flower children of the 60’s can subtly dance with their grocery carts to reminiscent funky tunes or maybe it’s the Haight-Ashbury playlist. Either way, I’m totally cool with it. Continue reading “Ode To Joe’s”

Copy that., View from the Shoe

Baggage Claim

Everyone has baggage. Everyone. Some carry bags as small as coin purses; others the size of a dumpster. While I’d like to say mine is wallet size, given a long, complicated life, it’s probably more of a satchel. Of course, I’d have to count make-up, keys with fuzzy pom poms, and all the just-in-case stuff in there, too, but still.

Each piece that piles into our bags, each painful, awkward piece, built our lives one way or the other. Stuff you did – or stuff that was done to you. Unresolved emotional issues, traumas, hurts and habits from growing up or adult years, all shape and mold us. They also add up, if not tended to, and morph into pretty hefty knapsacks we lug around with straps cutting into our shoulders. The weight alone, let alone the memories, trip us into withdrawing, or holding back in relationships that just might expose what the heck we’re carrying. Sometimes, we can’t even remember what is stuffed in that bag — but it remembers us.

When you bring past baggage into the present, it might be a short trip.

If we choose our friends, based on how much baggage they bring to the table, there might be a short list on the invite list. Choosing our partners, based on the skeletons in their backpacks, can be a smart as well as sketchy since it allows us to either dodge a bullet or — a potentially wonderful relationship. Life has a habit of piling a lot of stuff into our humanoid valises and it’s up to us to know the amount of weight we can carry without breaking – as well as if we can help carry another’s.

When cancer decided to drop in before our marriage vows, it grew my husband’s baggage to industrial size proportions. That kind of load can break all the snaps and zippers of budding married life. Luckily, we both just grabbed an end — and kept moving forward. But, that doesn’t work in every situation – nor should it. Just like group travel tours, we’re each in charge of our own suitcase and we’re the ones who have to carry and unpack it. That’s why your tour guide cautions you to travel light.

Everyone has baggage, maybe we should help each other carry it.”  Rob Liano

How much does your life weigh? Now there’s a heavy question. Depending on all the ‘stuff’ we jam into it, our bag can be one damn heavy load, certainly too much for puny shoulders to carry for a lifetime. (and this is coming from a chick whose purse alone could use a rollaway wheels.) Unexpressed feelings, long held hurts and bad habits pile one on another. Past baggage weighs down our present.

Relationships can be the city dump of baggage. Sometimes you’ll get a widescreen, technicolor view of a potential partner’s heavy duty baggage; sometimes it’s the unsuspecting moving van of tattered boxes and bins that blindside you. But, then someone offers you an honest inventory of even the most difficult, messy baggage they’ve painfully carried, and it gets your attention — even your heart. When someone is able to identify, unpack, deal with and grow from all the ponderous stuff they’ve been lugging around, ah, that’s a person you can trust and open your heart to. When we’re able to introspectively shake out our own backpack of weighty history and evolve in the process, that’s a trifecta of happy. Continue reading “Baggage Claim”

View from the Shoe

What could go wrong?

FallingShoeOn any given day, quite a bit. Or it seems like it. This was not the post I meant to write; that one bit the dust in a sudden power outage when Autosave apparently went missing in action. After I ran out of curse words, I realized that ‘losing my words’ was also a perfect example of the other shoe falling when we least expect it.

Remember when Gilda Radner said “If it ain’t one thing, it’s another’?  Yep, that pretty sums up how a lot of us get through life. No matter how good the day or week, the shadow of the other shoe falling can ruin the best of times. Now maybe a decent blog post wouldn’t be considered an epic good time but still no reason for the blog genie to decide my time was up.

In life, sometimes we just have to start again. No matter where we’ve been, how we’ve been, what we do or don’t bring to a new day, with each sunrise we get another chance. Thank goodness. That is not to say we always get it right or that other circumstances don’t interfere. Remember that other shoe? It makes a lot of surprising, unforeseen entrances like a swift kick to the head. Few examples of that tops planning to marry your happily ever after – and finding cancer will join you lovebirds at the altar (spoiler alert: we still got married ‑ until death did we part, so there’s that.)

If you expect the worst, you’ll never be disappointed. Sarah Dessen

Of course there are plenty of less tragic examples that prove the other shoe point. All kinds of things happen in this life and it’s more than easy to walk around the coast is never really clear. The pessimist in us thinks at any moment, some piece of karma foot gear in the sky will drop you flat when you least expect it.

And you would be right. Continue reading “What could go wrong?”