Rough Draft

First thoughts. Scribble. Napkin notes. Stoplight scrawl. Jot and go, revise later.

I grow tired of being my own rough draft. At almost 73 shouldn’t I be pristine, polished, more than blurb? Not.

Every day is a do-over. Every day is a lesson learned. Words come out that bang against a sensibility known yet not really understood. More words choked back, lost in weakened courage. Ideals buried by a moment’s pragmatism. Beliefs constantly challenged by what actually looks like reality. Memories swallowed for fear of tarnishing the memory of loved ones.

If I kept a daily journal, it could be devastating showing me exactly how rough the draft, how little gets any polish. Maybe that is why I have about a zillion attempts at journaling and zero successes. Kind of like yoga–looks simple, stretches hard.

When I was a kid and into young adult, I did the recommended Catholic daily examination of conscience so I could really get a handle on that catalog of sins, chart my progress. So odd what passed for sin: skipped morning prayers, inattention at Mass, a stray thought, a question better left unasked.

Maybe this rough draft thing is carry-over, a way to catalog all the failures-to-communicate with self. Maybe it really is the gift of do-over, trying again to live it right. Reminds me of a nonsense from long ago: The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.”


Her Journal

About a year before Bob died, an acquaintance experienced the death of her husband. Because we shared an ongoing activity we also shared many conversations about her grief. She told me that she started a journal in which she wrote about every aspect of passage.

For this blog, her name is Karita. She is in her seventies, has grown children, attends church, is a constant volunteer and reaches out with open friendship. Her husband, Ray, with no advance warning symptoms, died at home.

When Bob died, Karita opened her journal. The writing is harsh, angry, filled with pain. Her attempts to excuse what she perceived as abandonment by friends does fail her even as she tries to understand with compassion. There are even pages of self blame as she wrote about her failure to adequately express her needs.

As expected the early journal entries poured grief and loneliness onto the page. Fear and uncertainty overshadowed everything but most days ended with comfort, a list of names offering “Whatever you need, just ask. You are in our prayers.”

“But I don’t know what to ask…I am too lost to figure out what I need…help me…do something…do anything but do something…don’t pray for me…help me…give me your friendship, your time…damn the words you give me about time and tears and triumph…I gag at your audacity telling me that I will find a new normal while you do nothing to take me there…don’t speak to me about anything except about what actions you are doing to show me that my pain is important to you…cram the cheerful stuff…I need help.”

Karita never told her friends how she felt. She told her journal holding little back as she learned to understand that friends spoke the words, did not rally but moved back…moved away from her emotional needs.

Karita took my hand, blinked back her tears and spoke with a softness that only pain can produce.
“You are alone”, she said. “Your old friends won’t speak it, but they have no room for you now. You have become casual to them. You have family and maybe some neighbors, but your old friends are old now…gone except to use platitudes and then pretend like you don’t exist. Don’t believe? Count. Count what you have experienced as you hoped for their help.”

Karita invited me to a grief support group. I went once. Last Tuesday. Tonight should have been the second time, but I am here. Not there. Not in a room full of strangers gathered to talk about an unavoidable human commonality…death. I cannot build on death.

A New York Minute

What I really need is a Randy Newman or a Tom Waite song, one of those dips into the core of truth, a raspy look into the ‘little bitty eyes’ of our lesser selves.  I need anger, shouted gut spilling anger.  Not gangsta rap anger but polite Catholic school girl anger gone rage.  Randy Newman or Tom Waite would know the words.  They would not be hampered by my ‘stuff’, my fear of anger.

This is grief, raw sadness.  Anger has been slower to come than have the other so-called stages of grief.  None of the anger is the expected kind.  This does not feel like anger at Bob for dying or for leaving so many stones, boulders, for me to turn.

It has been five months of processing and my expectation clung to the conventional wisdom that six months held some elixir of passage.  Every day is wrapped in death in some form or another and 30 additional days make conventional wisdom sound like a fool’s errand.

Each of my adult children  has done everything in his/her power to ease this passage.  When the anger threatens, I keep it at bay by concentrating on  them.  Their love and concern is constant and given to the degree that is possible for them.  If you read this blog on an intermittent basis, you have read of the generosity of specific friends and neighbors.

It has been a conscious goal to avoid living widow-like, lamenting, hiding or doing the dance of sighs.   My sons and my daughters-in-law have encouraged every effort to be alive, to set goals, to find joy.  They have done everything possible.

That should be enough, right?  Many people never come close to that degree of support.  So why the anger?  Why the New York minute need to spill what I will end up swallowing again rather than having the courage to vent?

Anger won’t heal.  Anger will just tear the scabs and open new wounds pushing six months into a lifetime.  Maybe this is the best I can do now, this lame attempt at speaking out–speaking to the hurt of indifference, the hurt of the assumption that being alone isn’t wrenchingly lonely, the hurt of expecting me to be who I was before part of me disappeared, the hurt of distancing because it is awkward when searching for words.

Lord.  Talk about lame.    Wish I had the courage to take the plunge.  Maybe that New York minute will explode later.



Choose To Believe

“This year is not last year….You are wiser in all the ways that times makes us wise…You are braver in all the ways that life compels us to be brave…believing in your own strength makes it real…”

Why, then, am I sobbing like a baby?  Why, then, was it so easy for me to panic?  Why, then, was I overwhelmed with my cowardice in the face of a problem?

The beautiful quote is part of one sent by Mary Morgan to her mom, my friend Patti.  When I first read the entire quote, I renewed my belief that I could do this thing–this new normal life thing that forces compliance.  I believed to the extent that I left the house, met my friend Karol for lunch.   Karol was her usual kind-hearted self and I felt  better, believed a little more.  Reads like a baby step, but it was parasailing without the sail.


A few hours later, the furnace malfunctioned again.  Thermostat stopped working and changing the battery was not the answer.   My son, several hours away and at night shift work, had offered to change the thermostat next week.  My nephew, on 3:00 to 11:00  duty as a police officer has offered to change the thermostat on his next day off, Monday.

So–was I wiser, braver or stronger than the last two times the furnace stopped working?  After changing the battery, did I calmly form a plan to get  through to Monday?  I did not.

I panicked big time.  I cried in the frustration of subzero temperature and visions of frozen pipes.   I found the number of the guy I had already paid twice to find the problem. He had the money and I still had the problem.  I erased that number  from the book and paced a bit longer.

Shall I phone neighbors Steve and Lisa?                                                                         Ask for advice?   Get the number of their furnace guy?  What if they think I want Steve to fix the problem?  What if they are busy?  What if they are eating dinner?  What if I become an old woman pest?  What if I cry over the phone?  What if Bob really is aware of what a mess I am without him?

What if….Another part of the beautiful quote is  “It’s so easy to focus on the ways that you let yourself down.”   I did that.  I focused on the mess that I am.  I let myself down.  Panicked.  Cried–sobbed actually, completely out of proportion to the problem, I gave into this awful sadness that seems to consume my real self, leaving this empty woman.   Or  is this woman who I am now not truly empty, but rather hobbled by false pride–the false pride that says, “I can do this alone”— when I absolutely know that I cannot do it alone.  How far down is that!

Picked up the phone and dialed.

Calm, kind and reassuring, Steve gave me the number of his furnace guy.  No problem.   Steve and Lisa were leaving for the evening so Steve gave me his own cell number in case I could not reach his friend, the furnace guy.

Not once did Steve say that I was being an old woman pest.  Not once did he hint that he was too busy for panic calls.  Not once did he let on that my voice betrayed my lack of wisdom or bravery or strength.  Not once did he remind me that just yesterday he had said I should phone if I needed anything, anything at all.   Not once.

When he asked if he could do anything, he meant it as a question to be answered.  Help sincerely offered.  Maybe, at this moment, I actually am a bit wiser.  I know I am a bit calmer.

Lord, how I wish that part of time that is supposed to be so healing could fast forward just a bit, push me into wiser, braver, stronger.

Mission Impossible

Once upon a time in the land of make-believe, guts and grit saved the day.  Odds against  accomplishing  the mission  stacked high enough to abolish any thoughts of success.   Not to worry.  Fiction writers yanked those boot straps, reducing  the negative to dust.  Mighty Mouse saved the day.

Christmas can be like that Mission Impossible.  We play the music.  We serve up the sentiments, act our role, play our part.  Deck the halls, make the food, arrange the beds, think the perfect gift scenario for about 11 months a year.

This time the odds against are the reality of baggage borne through years of silence, festered anger, magnified slights, painful memories.  This time there is the look and feel of grungy reality TV , every one lives but no one wins.

That expression about ‘limp with resignation’ is on the menu board today.  Remember that prayer line I like so much…”forgiveness…for what I have done and what I have failed to do”…?  I have that thought every day and November 29 marks the day that I accept that forgiveness will never happen. Won’t?  Can’t?  Does not matter.  The result is the same.  A plastic pink Christmas tree trumps boughs of green and growing holly.

If you are a Gentle Reader visiting this blog regularly, you know that death visited five weeks ago.  You know that grief  invades with zero tolerance for hopes or dreams or myths.  Death cuts that swath so well described by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.  Death makes us impotent and raging with anger at that impotence.  Death vomits up the mass that has choked and been swallowed.

No new beginnings.  No phony fits and starts towards understanding or acceptance.  No forgiveness.   The year that Christmas did not happen?  Feels that way…a deep and empty hollow place suffocating under the weight of that  ugly pink plastic.




Emergency 101

In the last several months, Bob has done the ER admission to the hospital three times–pneumonia, bleeding ulcers, old person complications.   We are wearing out  our life-time warranties.  My friend, Two-Names, reminds me of that sad fact.  He also reminded me of something so poignant.  He said a mutual friend was not sick.  Rather she was just too weak to thrive.  So she died.  I understand that.

It is frightening.  The ER is blinding white light, beeping things, smells that are stinks,  pain noises,  harried people, medical and patient’s families.  We catch snippets of dissatisfaction as the ER people vent frustrations through whispered annoyance at one another.  Tired.  Overworked in 12 hours shifts. Well, some are overworked.  Others float off the radar, sort of hiding from whatever they can scheme away.

Admission is a test of will.  Waiting, hoping that someone actually listens or reads the triage sheet.  Long periods of simply waiting and not knowing  why or for what.  Eventually, a weary transporter asks if we have ever been to a holding-cell.  His joke…or is it the hospital’s joke?  The holding-cell is a room where the patient waits to be taken to the real room.

The current problem keeps manifesting–too much blood from places where blood should not flow.  Hours are passing.  The holding-cell is nice enough except that a swarm of tiny ants moves closer to my chair.  When I point to them, the nice nurse says, “Oh yeah.  There is mulch around the tree outside.   And it is raining.”

Sorry?  There are ants moving towards me and I am too worried to be designated killer.

The A-Team, the champions at needle sticks, moves into the room.  Too much blood loss means flat veins that won’t accept the cannulae.  This person that I love gets poked, pinched, stuck and apologized to because IV’s and blood samples are not  happening.    He remains quiet, frightened.  I am numb with fear.

Pleasant enough people come and go, doing what their respective departments require.  The same questions  asked so many times that we wonder if anyone actually communicates….or even looks at those computer screens that dominate the nurses station.  ( I know.  I know.  Double checking that the answers are always the same.  They are.)

The sixth floor room is spacious and looks clean.  A nurse makes notes on a torn paper towel, notes destined for computer.  Bob looks so diminished, flat like his veins.  And we wait.

“In the morning” they say.  In the morning  a scope will find the source of the bleeding.  In the morning?   Tomorrow morning?  It isn’t even twilight yet.  The night looms.

And so it goes through that morning, the test that was beyond stressful, the blood transfusions, the inevitable settling in that means he and I finding a survival rhythm in the pleasant enough sixth floor room with a view.

We are home now, loaded with new medications that insurance doesn’t want to cover.  Wearied, almost somber, as we move out of the experience.

Emergency 101

Conspicuous In Consumption

My friend suggested this blog topic after we compared definitions of conspicuous consumption.

Once again, all roads lead to perception.

Our back story is a discussion of Halloween costumes and the creative dilemma involved in a Nana-job of reproducing a Star Wars character.  The dad of the prospective black costumed bad guy is someone who daily walks his walk.  When I suggested we just buy the costume, the dad’s response was, “Not in this family.”  That is definitely a part of his walk; recycle, reuse, avoid waste, etc.   Combine that with raising his family on a teacher salary in an area with a higher cost of living and home sewing is the logical way.  Going back even farther when Nana was Mom, home sewing was the way of all costumes.  A teacher’s salary operated that home as well.

My friend said her idea of conspicuous consumption was six tennis rackets, 150 pair of shoes and three houses.

No way to fault that perception.

A person would have to change shoes 25 times for each of those six rackets while running house to house 50 times— if the shoes were equally stored.  Not only conspicuous consumption but quite a few Tylenol moments.

So we are back to the roads leading to perception.

Where we start determines what we see, how we balance, where we go.  One person might bristle at the idea of six rackets being over-kill, saying that each racket has a purpose, a place, a need to fill.  Another person might be job hunting never considering playing at any hobby sport.

Those shoes?  My friend is right again.  One hundred and fifty pair of shoes is a shoe store, not a consumer’s closet.    Three houses?  Too many hard-working people lost their one home to even go down that road.

Perception is as varied as each person’s comfort level.