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[These three days are always hard for me, especially coming at this time of year that I love. And so, over these next three days, I will be reposting what I lived during these days six years ago.]

 

With thanks and apologies to Eugene O’Neill for the post title.

[The next three day’s postings are my memories of the day before, the day of, and the day after my Mother’s death four years ago.  This is a difficult anniversary for me, though it seems to ease each year.]

December 10, 2006:  I don’t remember what we did today.  Probably not too much but talk – and laugh.  Uncle George and E-Bro were with us now, but strangely I don’t remember them being there.  I only remember us.  Over the past week, we had spent nearly every moment together, waking and sleeping.  I probably took a walk once and went out to the store a couple of times.  I took showers alone and went to the bathroom alone.  But you didn’t.  It was as if we were merging, merging for the last time.  Looking back now, I see that that wasn’t a good thing, but it wasn’t something I could control.  We had been so very close for so very long that our separateness was, for most years, only a matter of a few degrees.  In the last days, those few degrees simply vanished.

You had started asking for the morphine towards the end of the day.  Not much, but you’d never needed it before.  I can imagine how much you must have been hurting to make that concession.  You always hated painkillers, hated anything that made you feel out of control of yourself, unlike yourself.  It didn’t seem to affect your clarity, but it did seem to ease your pain.  I remember your pain.  It was in your bones.  When you would move sometimes – or sometimes when you were still and it was so bad that it would make you move – your face would grimace in this expression that was indescribable.  You would hold your breath until it passed.  I hated to see you in pain.  I encouraged you to take the morphine.  After all, we knew you didn’t have much time left – why spend it in pain?  But you wanted to spend it being present.  I admire that.

You had stopped eating by now, but today I could still get a few Dibs into you.  Water.  Your beloved orange sherbet in little tiny spoonfuls.  It was sunny, and the light slipped through the slats of the blinds in gentle patterns, changing throughout the day, as sunlight does.  You never asked for me to open the blinds or asked to look outside.  Looking back, that surprises me, as you so loved nature.  But you were focused on the world inside your three rooms, the world that encompassed the people you loved most, and the small things you had around you that you treasured.  The rest of the world didn’t matter anymore.

People came and went, people you’d known for years and years who loved you so.  You always thought of yourself as being alone, as not having many close friends, but so many people felt like you were THEIR close friend.  You were very comfortable with that, with all of it, and with being alone.  I suppose that’s the mark of a person truly happy in herself.  But today, people came knowing that they were coming to say goodbye, even though nothing had been said. I left them alone with you, and they usually came out of the bedroom and started to cry, and I would thank them and comfort them as best I could.

Everyone brought food.  You weren’t eating.  I couldn’t eat, except late at night, when I couldn’t sleep.  I would eat weird things in weird amounts, knowing I just had to get something, anything, into me.  It wasn’t comforting.  It was a random necessity.  That had been going on for a week, my eating like that.  Ever since you really stopped eating.  For me, that was the beginning of my thoughtless, mindless eating habits that have added so much weight to my small frame in the last four years.

I don’t remember doctors coming.  I don’t remember even talking to the doctors.  But that must have happened. Mustn’t it?

In the afternoon, you took a nap. As always, I stayed beside you for most of it.  I would go do little things, make phone calls, shower, clean something, constantly checking on you.  When you woke, I took your hand, asked you if you had a nice rest.  You said yes, and looked at me strangely.  I chattered at you, you responded politely, still looking at me in that odd way, patting my hand.  Then you said, “Who ARE you?” And I reminded you that I was your daughter.  Your eyes cleared, you looked relieved, you laughed at yourself as you recognized me.  I felt a chill that I did not show.

I had been so wrapped up in caring for you.  For months, I think, I had been flying across the country every weekend to be with you.  Your death became my life.  We had always been close, except for those nasty teenage years, but especially since Kelsea’s birth.  We had talked every day.  After the last diagnosis, we talked three or four or five times a day.  In the mornings, to be sure you were okay.  If you were lonely.  If I was bored.  If you went to the doctor.  In the evening before bed.  If I was scared.  If you had some piece of news.  We talked so much because we knew that soon we wouldn’t be able to talk at all, not in the same way.

And you were so happy to have the three of us there.  You loved us so.  That night as we were going to bed, you felt it was going to be your last night.  You said goodbye to me.  You told me to tell Kelsea that you loved her.  You reminded me that the car keys were in the little bowl on the half-wall by the kitchen.  Yes, ever the Mother. And you went to sleep.

But it was not your last night.

The Coming of Age

Creeping like those cats with
three-inch long legs,
It steals upon you
in a whisper.
One day
You are
As always.
The next,
Your reflection
Reflects that
Your time is
shortening
— and not the good kind of shortening –

You look into your own eyes,
observe the lines
that life has drawn,
and think,

“Well,

all right then.”

We’ve discussed quite a few TMI things on this blog over the years, particularly lady-bits stuff.  Breast lumps, kidney stones, and menopausal symptoms are just a few that come to mind. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? So it’s time we had another of those intimate chats. (In other words, some of you may want to leave now.)

We’re going to talk about bladders. Not pig bladders, which, back in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s days, Pa blew up after the hog slaughter and let the girls play ball with.  But women’s bladders.  Or perhaps just my bladder.  But I don’t think I’m alone.  Which is why I’m sharing the love.

The pig-bladder-ball-playing-picture.

I don’t remember my own potty training as a child. I suspect few of us do. Although I do remember the little enamelware pot that I used. In fact, I still have it. I believe it’s at ex-Pat’s house, and should likely be rescued.  It’s a rather odd childhood memento, but there you are.

Very similar to this one.

Of course, I remember potty training with my own daughter, but out of sensitivity to the fact that she’s a teenager, I won’t discuss any of the entirely entertaining stories I have about that here – yet.  Unless she irritates me.  Then all bets are off.  Because the point of this post really is about my daughter.  At least she’s the cause of the point of this post.

If you are female and you’ve had a baby, you may have noticed that your nether regions aren’t as toned and easily controlled as they were before you had that little bundle of joy.  I believe this is because of the uneven weight distribution of carrying the equivalent of a 40-pound human inside of you, pressing down on said nether regions for nearly a year. There’s really no other experience like it. (And I wouldn’t have traded the experience or the outcome for anything in the world.)

Nor is there any other experience like pushing an entire human body through a hole the size of a quarter.  I don’t care how elastic something is.  Every piece of elastic reaches a stretch point of no return.

Elastic…quarter…only one image missing, and I’ll spare you that.

Following childbirth, many things get back to normal. But a few things don’t quite. You may notice that when you sneeze, you pee just a drop. Or if you laugh ridiculously hard, things get a touch moist down there. Exercise  helps. Toning up those mushcles makes a huge difference. And you can do kegels until the cows come home and no one will be the wiser, nor will you break a sweat. (They’re great at stoplights.) These things WILL make a difference, and you may even find yourself better than ever.

But then, you reach a certain age. And perhaps a certain carelessness with the kegels. It’s that age where you notice that your skin has a few more spots, a few more lines, a bit more of a crepe paper quality to it.  It becomes harder to take off weight when you put it on.  And you can no longer say you’re trying to lose the baby weight when the baby is 16.  Well, of course, you can, but others may look at you oddly. I know they do me. Especially when they ask her age, and I say, “Oh, she’s 190 months now.”

So back to this weird certain-age/bladder thing. This is new to me. Just like always, before I leave the house to catch the bus to work, or to take a long-ish car ride, I check in.  Do I need to go?  The answer is often, “Well, not really, but it wouldn’t hurt anything, so might as well, just in case. It will save any trouble later.”  No big deal, right? It’s a precautionary measure. There is no sense of urgency, as one often feels when one actually needs to go.  And so I enter a bathroom or a bathroom stall accordingly.  Something I’ve done a million times over nearly 50 years.

But here is where things are suddenly different.

It’s as if my bladder has developed a brain of its own.  It’s like the toilet is crack to my bladder.  My bladder is fine up until the time it is within about two feet of a toilet, and then it becomes like a frenzied weasel. It must have that toilet. It must possess it.  It MUST pee. There’s no stopping it.  It doesn’t give a toot about the barriers of jeans and underwear that stand in its way.  It’s going to go.

So what started out as a blase visit to a bathroom becomes, within less than a minute, a desperate race against time to shed my clothes before my bladder decides to damn the torpedoes and go full steam ahead.

Most of the time, I can beat it to the punch, though I’m sure it would be highly entertaining to watch my antics.  Not that anyone will ever get to.  But, given the nature of buttons, snaps, and zippers, the copious fluidity of some skirts, and the tightness of jeans, particularly on a hot summer day, sometimes I come up short.

Super embarrassing.

And then there’s some blotting and wandering around commando for the rest of the day.

I mean, really, am I two again? Like I say, I’ve done this for almost 50 years and NOW I’m lapsing?  WTF, bladder?  Since when did you start making the decisions here, independent of my brain signals?

It’s not enough of a problem for medication, and certainly not enough for Depends, and pantiliners are gross and uncomfortable and I had more than a lifetime’s share of them during pregnancy, so NO to that too. In fact, I’m not asking for any suggestions. I just needed to put it out in the open, because it’s not something we discuss, and as I said at the start, I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this, so maybe it’s something we SHOULD discuss.

So, you’re welcome. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go do some kegels.

It can happen to the best of us.

It was cold walking downtown today.

The snapdragons and the zinnias and the sweet potato vines were still blooming, but so were the red holly berries, starkly brilliant against their dark green leaves.

I felt…confused and unexpected. I had forgotten what wind chill was.

I felt 18 again.

But my trenchcoat is the wrong color.

My pockets were empty. Where were my gloves? The lady passing me had big black-and-white herringbone patterned gloves, and I complimented her on how fun they were. She smiled.

Tears spring to my eyes.  From the wind or the pretty spindrift of prose in my head or the memory of being 18.

At 18, I walked another city’s streets in thin, soft Indian-print dresses and bohemian shirts, like the one I wear today.

The coolie shoes that I wore then, regardless of the weather, have been replaced by cowboy boots, as befits this city.

I remember the endless Dr. Who-like scarf that I gave to my boyfriend at Christmas, a find from a Cambridge thrift-store now long gone.

As is the boyfriend.

And probably the scarf.

I like the direction my life is taking now. Despite the approaching winter, I am happy.

I have a hard time disposing of faded blooms, and apparently, so do the people in The Boathouse Restaurant up in the quaint and wonderful town of Salida. They hold a beauty all their own.

Salida, Colorado.

Quote of the day:  “In any man who dies, there dies with him his first snow and kiss and fight. Not people die, but worlds die in them.” – Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Daily gratitudes:
Writing poetry in my head
Bittersweet emotions
Battling depression
Nice salespeople
Old frozen lasagna that surprises me by tasting like my favorite frozen pizza from childhood

At Water’s Edge

When I am old
And feeling softly lost
Among the silver strands of hair
That stroke my face like slender reeds
At water’s edge

will you take my hand and draw me
through this tender abyss
captivating raptures as we weave our way
between the littered stars?

will you loosen the twigs
that tangle in the tresses of my spirit as it
drifts across the silent sound
coyly toying with the watchful herons?

will you hold me as I
ramble in and out of spatial palaces
and ramshackle rooms
built and filled with dreams and memories?

And
Will  you let me slip sylph-like
Into a permanent moonlight
Recalling the simple color of my eyes
When I am
Finally
old?

Warning for some: TMI ahead.

Perimenopause.  The prefix “peri” is from the ancient Greek, and means “near”.  Near is a relative term.  I am near the Caribbean when compared to someone in Juneau, Alaska at this moment, but that does not make me as near as someone in Miami, Florida. “Near” is a hedge word.

However, if we check in with our friend Wikipedia, the word “Peri” means the following:

In Persian mythology, the Peri are descended from fallen angels who have been denied paradise until they have done penance. In earlier sources, they are described as agents of evil; later, they are benevolent. They are exquisite, winged, fairy-like creatures ranking between angels and evil spirits.

I like that definition of “Peri” much better. And it really describes who, how, and where we perimenopausal women are.

The highs and lows of perimenopause are meni and veri. See what I did there? Yea, get over it.

I say “Get over it” to myself many times each day, as I am perpetually awash in a slippery tangle of hormones.

This thing they call perimenopause – in laywomen’s terms, pre-menopause…do you mean it’s actually WORSE once you hit ACTUAL menopause?  I’m still technically not menopausal, yet I have all the symptoms – and I try to view them as positively as possible. Hot flashes are just short private vacations to a tropical island. Mood swings are experiences of the rich depths of my mercurial personality.

Based on my research, I fail to see where the actual differences between perimenopause and menopause lie, except that I guess you never get a period again, instead of having one that lasts three days once or twice a year.  Or one that lasts twelve days when you are on a vacation in the islands. Maybe that’s part of perimenopause – your body has gotten smart enough to wait to release the deluge until you are in the exact place and time when you don’t want said deluge to occur. Perhaps your body is giving a giant Bronx Cheer or having a last hurrah before your reproductive system gives up the ghost altogether.

Regardless of it’s motives, it feels like my body is not playing fair.

Don’t tell me to “own it”, to gracefully accept this change in life. I DO own it. I’m not treating my body as separate from me. In fact, I’m totally on board with this change of life.  Let’s just go ahead with it, okay? No more of this dinking around. Right now, my body is like, “Oh, okay, I’m done with periods.  (Significant pause.)  JK!  LOL! LOVE YA!

Stop it.

I’m in a pretty happy place these days. Got a wonderful love, got a cozy house, got a decent job, got an amazing daughter. But the unpredictable tide of hormones can have me going to bed smiling, and waking up in tears, wishing I could just stay in bed all day eating Slim Jims and sugar cookies with a bottle of rum, watching Jerry Springer.

MKL and I will be celebrating our one year anniversary on Friday, and I feel for him. It must be hard for a guy who has been single for a while to find himself involved with a woman who has several different personalities. He never quite knows who is going to show up. In the olden days, couples had been together for a long time before the peri/menopause days hit, and so the man knew who the woman was, and could recognize “the change” as an anomaly in the woman he’d lived with for years. In a new relationship, I imagine it’s more along the lines of the old game show “To Tell The Truth”  – will the real Seasweetie please stand up?

I am blessed that MKL has the wisdom to look beyond the mood swings, and see the true me. I am blessed that he just hugs me when I’m having “one of those days” and asks if I want to talk, but doesn’t insist on it. He doesn’t try to talk me up or down or out of wherever I am.  He just loves me, steadfast and true and stable.  (OK, enough gushing about MKL.)

As (almost) all women do, I just have to wait until this plays out. I have spent my life (as many women do), blaming my hormones for a variety of moods and behaviors. I don’t know why I’ve been blaming my hormones, as my hormones have been fluctuating since I was 13, so really it’s just my normal state of being. I guess I expect that once menopause hits, my hormones will calm down.  But I think the only way that could happen is if they went away altogether, and they’re not going to do that – and if they do, I think someone would give me drugs to simulate them.  And besides, if they were completely gone, or if they were simulated, that would just be another thing for my body to adjust to. It all just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

It comes down to “I am who I am” and there is no need to make excuses, blame internal or external factors, or expect change to follow some logical, predictable, orderly sequence.

I can just be here, right now, somewhere between angel and evil spirit, waiting for the next deluge that may never come.

Angel on the Beach by Kamil Vojnar

Having a teenage daughter makes you walk back into your own past. You see the things that she is going through and, if you are open, you can remember how you felt at that age, what you were feeling, how you reacted.  I was going to say “if you are lucky”, but I must admit that revisiting my teenage years, even in my mind, is sometimes a painful thing. Adolescence isn’t something that most of us would want to go through twice, at least not without the benefit of the wisdom we gain in our futures – and now, I WILL say “if we are lucky”.

I was a late bloomer. I didn’t have my first date until I was almost 16, didn’t have my first kiss until I was actually 16. (You don’t get any more details past that point, sorry.)  I was a miserable 14- and 15-year-old. I didn’t know why no one was interested in me. I wanted to believe that I was so pretty that I scared boys off, but my Mother told me that was not the case – she did it gently, but I still remember that conversation – exactly where we were and everything.  My best friend Sarah and I felt like we were wearing some sort of sign that said “Never been kissed.” And just like a lot of other things in life, if you didn’t have experience, no one seemed to want to take a chance on you. Sounds like trying to find a job, doesn’t it? Of course, the corollary is rather true as well – if you had too much experience, people weren’t really interested in you either.  Strangely enough, also like it is in the business world.

Anyway, as I said, I was a grumpy, bad-tempered teenager (until I could drive and then the world literally opened up before me. I became much nicer once I found my wings.) I didn’t want to be seen with my parents. I stayed in my room almost all the time that I was home, entertaining romantic notions of escape, and what my life would be like. I spent a lot of time in a dreamworld. The scarring experience of my pre-teen years likely played a role in this confused isolationism, and while I remember that, I don’t add it into the equation when I think about my teenage years in the grand scope of things. I guess I remember being a typical teenager.

Well, bloom I did, robustly and delightfully. I think most of us do, even though we think it will never happen. And once I came into my power, I felt invincible.  Sometimes I still feel that way. Invincible, yes. Loveable is a little harder to believe, but I’m making good progress on it.

As I watch my girl and her friends go through their teenage years, I compare my own experience to theirs, and draw up from the depths of my soul the turbulent emotions surrounding change, acceptance, love, hormones, justice, freedom, adulthood, social quandaries, sexuality, school, frustrations, and delights. I don’t know if I’m right in applying my own perspective to their situations, now some 35 years later.

But on some level, I think that young women are young women (even if those of my daughter’s age are a bit more worldly than most girls of that age were in the late 1970s), and that the emotions that swirl around aging haven’t changed. In fact, as I find my half-century mark rushing up to meet me squarely in the chin, I realize that I am still experiencing a myriad of emotions around love, escape, freedom, satisfaction, work, frustrations, justice, time demands, acceptance, and delights.  I don’t think of myself as much older than Kelsea or her friends at heart. I still feel things just as fully, innocently, and honestly as they do, as I did back then.

I was a late bloomer back then. Perhaps I’m a late bloomer now. Perhaps I am just eternally in bloom. But I am reminded of those lovely roses that bloom until early in the fall, their petals full and lush, their fragrance sweet. And when it is time for them to go, those petals fall like velvet tears, their scent still lingers in the air.

Photo of the day for January 30, 2012: Late Bloomer

San Francisco, California.

Daily gratitudes:
A lovely weekend
MKL
The man who leaves walks down Wynkoop every day playing his mandolin at 5:00 pm
Cases of San Pellegrino
Silliness

Instead of a quote of the day, I have a request: Please send prayers to Sarah Bennett, one of Kelsea’s friends who was seriously injured in a car accident during the weekend.

Tonight, around 1:45 in the morning, is the fifth anniversary of my Mother’s death. It has been a difficult week of remembering her last days.  In my mind, I can travel back to any minute of that week and be right there.  And that is hard.  It has been easier this year than in past years, but still hard.  There have been so many times this past year – these past five years – that I have wished with all my heart that I could talk to her. Really talk to her, not just to her spirit. I wish I could have asked for her advice, felt her love and support and comfort, heard her joy and her delight and pride in me. I can’t have that. I can never have that again.

It’s so hard.  Especially through these hard years.

I love you always, Mother. I know you’re having an amazing time wherever you are.  But I sure do miss you.

I have a favorite Far Side cartoon:

Three old men are sitting on a porch, one with a swollen knee, one with a swollen hand, and one with a giant head. The first one says, ” Uh-oh, rain squalls a-comin’…my knee is acting up.”  The second man says,” I’d say more like a blizzard, judgin’ by my hand here”, the third man says,”Well, SOMETHIN’S happenin’…there goes my head.” Even if I could find the image, I couldn’t share it because of that little detail called copyright.

But I AM this cartoon.

Right now, I can tell that the weather – nay, the season – is changing, because of my hands.  Never mind the calendar – just listen to my hands.

I suppose I could say arthritis has run a curious maze course in my family.  My grandmother had arthritis, which only manifested in the knuckles of her hands: they became huge, knotty and twisted.  She never complained of them hurting, that I recall, but they must have.  She was a tough Appalachian woman, so she would have ignored it anyway.  She only commented that she couldn’t get her rings off.  I remember when I was small, she would take them off so I could try them on.  But there came a point where her knuckles were so swollen she could no longer remove them.

Image courtesy of http://www.wellsphere.com

And then there was my Mother.  She had arthritis – maybe.  She was unique (in so many ways) in that while she manifested all the pain of rheumatoid arthritis, none of the clinical indicators showed up in any bloodwork, there were  no outward visual signs, and no medications seemed to impact her condition. That started around the time I was in high school, and interestingly enough, first showed up in her hands.  This is suddenly sounding spookily familiar.

I first noticed my hand pain about 4 years ago.  I remember always noticing it in the morning, usually during fall or winter, when I was trying to brush and braid Kelsea’s hair. Sometimes it was so bad, it would have me in tears.  Not good. As a child, I used to manifest my stress in my stomach (and I still do to some extent, but then, I’m still a child to some extent too.) I just figured I was manifesting my stress in my hands.  Because there was enough stress in my life to fill six million Italian cream horns. It was just worsened by the onset of cold, wet, depressing, SAD weather.  So in my obtuse little brain, it all fit together.

The hand pain did improve after I moved out, and the weather got better.  My ex-flame did some smouldering acupuncture (a.k.a. moxibustion) on my hands from time to time, and that seemed to help. Th pain was always less when I was on some island – but isn’t everything better on some island?

Until this year.

I hadn’t had too much trouble with my hands this year until we went to Topsail.  I have yet to intuit what the link is.  I was in the warmth, in the water – the only thing I can think of is that we had so many storms that perhaps the changes in the atmosphere – and constantly migrating from the sweltering outside to the icy cold inside – somehow stimulated whatever the issue is that my hands have.  Back in Denver now, my hands hurt when the weather is about to change – like today, when it is grey, and warm, but I can tell that a shift to cooler air is coming. 

My hands might as well be talking for all to hear.

Today, I’ve tried Aleve, hand exercises, and really hot water. My Mother said that a paraffin bath she had on one hand early in her pain years made a difference forever – that the paraffined hand was never as sore as the non-paraffined hand. Though why they only did one, I don’t know.  And the whole thing is not exactly scientific.  For me, the hot water felt really good, but the literature says to do an ice bath.  I won’t be doing THAT at work, and if I try it at home, well, let’s just say it’s a darn good thing I live alone.  Otherwise, I’d be constantly whining for my partner to warm my hands afterwards, and sticking them on whatever of his body parts felt warmest to me – like his stomach.  Such fun for everyone.  Okay, such fun for me.

Hands aside, I have other built-in weather predictors.  The big metal pin that holds my right medial malleolus to my tibia aches like crazy when it’s going to get bitterly cold – and when it IS bitterly cold, although that’s obvious everyone.  Still it give a whole new meaning to the term “chilled to the bone”.  My fifth metatarsal and formerly broken second toes all hurt when it is going to get cool and wet.  It would be so convenient if my former concussion could determine when there’s going to be a tornado.  But maybe it does, since I don’t live in a particularly tornado-prone area. I just can’t be sure.

Image courtesy of http://www.scienceprep.org

I know I’m not alone.  Maybe someday, I’ll meet another human weathervane or bio-barometer.  And when we’re not off doing our crazy things and being passionate about the world, we can sit on our porch at laugh at each other’s swollen predictors.

I kind of like that idea.

Porch Rockers, a painting by Molly Doe Wensberg.

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