The Lines that Bind

It is very seldom that things are nice and pretty when a relationship ends.  But then there are things that cross lines from which nothing can be repaired.  Valentine’s Day was that for me.

When times are good in a relationship, you share things that make you vulnerable. You share confidences about experiences that hurt you deeply.  And one of the most sacred things to remember in a relationship is that you never use what was told to you in trust and confidence against someone, even in anger, even in a fight.  Because there are some lines that cannot be crossed, out of basic human respect.

I had told him about being being brutally attacked six years ago. And in this argument, he said I deserved it. And there it was.

In case there are any questions, this is just one of the pictures from the attack in August 2011  – this is what I was told I deserved:

day
From 8/29/11 immediately after the attack; all bruises had not surfaced. I had black eyes and my lip swelled 2x the size pictured. Arms, legs and stomach all looked like this.

Six years ago, I was strangled until just before death and robbed of $5,000 worth of jewelry. The ordeal was terrible and traumatic and horrible.  It took me many years of therapy to get over that and hold my head up high again. It took me years to trust men, years to get back to normal.

When you are attacked, there is a phenomenon called Victim Blaming.  And it happens all the time.  Women who are raped are told they deserved it for wearing certain clothes, having a certain attitude, or being out past a certain hour. They are told they were asking for it. Women who have been attacked are asked what they did to provoke the man, what did they say or do that made the man so angry and justified.  So you have to develop a very thick skin after you have been through an attack, because it doesn’t end after the violence is over.

And in six years I have developed very thick skin.  But that one, that statement from that man Valentine’s night, caught me by surprise.  And it cut deep.  Men are supposed to a safe place for women. This man was trusted. And what do you say after a statement like that?  I don’t know.  Actually, yes I do:

Ladies, if a man EVER says you deserved being attacked and nearly killed, kick his sorry tail to the curb.  You do not have to put up with being disrespected like that – as a woman or a human being.  Just because you were the victim of a violent crime does not mean you deserve to be a victim for the rest of you life.  If you have been the victim of a violent crime, you did nothing to deserve it or ask for it.  Please do not let anyone tell you otherwise. No woman, no human being ever deserves the experience of wondering if that last thing you will see is the look in your killer’s eyes.  No human being deserves to be beaten and strangled all the while not being able to make a sound.

Victim blaming needs to stop. And those are the lines that bind.

 

The Legacy

I recently asked someone what they want their legacy to be?  Some may think that these are morbid questions:

How do you want others to remember you? What do you want your legacy to be?

But I think these questions can help keep us on track with where we want our life to be and what is important to us.  And think about it, why shouldn’t we keep this in mind and plan for it?  After all, we plan for our retirement, we plan for trips, weddings, vacations, bills…why not plan for our legacy too?

I asked this question of someone who always plays video games, several hours every day.  Early in the morning as soon as they get up, they play.  Every afternoon when they get off work, they play their games. And at night, they fall asleep to videos of video games. This is not a kid living in their mother’s basement. This is a man of a certain age.  And gaming is his hobby.

But I was curious about his answer.  Did he want to be remembered as a good father, husband, friend, pillar of the community? Or did he want people at his funeral to say how great he was at gaming and how high his games scores were?  He does not have a wife and kids yet (and some say he never will if he doesn’t put his games down), but assuming that one day he does want that life….what is he doing to make that the life that he wants?

The truth is, only you can choose your legacy and only you can make it so.  So what kind of life do you want?  How do you want to be remembered?  Why not plan for that now, while we are still here?  And I have to wonder, if we thought about our legacies and how we might be remembered more often, would it change our behaviors and activities?  We all have hobbies and things we enjoy doing in our spare time, when we have time.  And we all need a release and a way to relax.  But do we want how we relax to be our legacy?  Some might say yes, others might not.

What do I want as my legacy?  I want it to be as a loving mother who raised happy, healthy children (whether I have kids with my current partner or have a child on my own).  If I ever marry, I would like my legacy to be a happy husband. I want to be remembered as a dedicated daughter and family member. To live on in the memory of my friends and loved ones as someone who truly cared, about them, about life, about the world.  And I want to be remembered as a damn fine writer who made people laugh, think and maybe even feel something every now and then.

How do we make our legacy a reality?  Simple.  We get up off the couch and start living life.  We start living life with a purpose and with passion. That means giving it all you have all the time.  Sounds exhausting?  It is. But nothing worth achieving is easy.  And again, we work hard at our savings account, our retirement, our vacations…why not about our legacy?

I want to live life for something bigger than myself.  I want to live with purpose and know that when I die, some part of me will carry on in some form, whether through a healthy child, a garden, or just happy memories.  I have seen how many lives my wonderful mother touched, how many people love her because she loved them and was warm ,and generous and helped many.  Her legacy was love. But long before she passed, she lived a life that honored that legacy.

What will your legacy be?

The Siblings Are Coming

We all have those weekends where we are excited and can’t wait.  This is one of those weekends for me.  The siblings are coming. I have three older siblings that live in other states, and they are coming to visit.  Dad is doing well now, and they want to see him, want to see where he lives and where he will be living. My two older sisters are coming this weekend, and my brother will arrive in a few weeks with his two sons.

Due to age difference and geography, we have not always been close. But there has been constant communication since I have been Dad’s care taker and that has fostered a closer knit existence. No matter who we are, our siblings hold special place in our lives and in our hearts.  And in this time of everything disposable, family relationships are the ties that bind.

It feels good to have a home where they are welcome, where there are spaces for chats.  We are blessed to have the home we have. But a building is not enough, I want a home where you walk in and feel love and warmth.  No doubt there will be much catching up, wine and laughter.  And there is something about actually laying eyes on someone you love to make sure they are OK.

Dad’s eyes light up when he talks about his children coming to see him, getting to spend time with them.  He is tinkled pink about this weekend, and looking forward to seeing his sons in a few weeks as well.

The past 7 months have been extraordinarily difficult. But a new phase is beginning, and with it brings new opportunities for strengthening relationships.  Life is all about love and love is what makes time worth while.

When Superman is Human

I have always said that my Dad is like Superman. He is my hero.  He has always been the strong silent type; a man of few words that came in and did the right thing and lead by example.

When Superman is Human

But then there comes a day when you look and see that Superman is really human, a mortal, and can die.  That he isn’t going to live forever.

And being the caretaker of someone with a terminal illness is not for the faint of heart.  And there are many times where you have to decide to laugh or cry…and most of the time I choose to laugh.  I have long said my life is like a sitcom – or dramedy, depending on which moment you may catch.  These moments are no exception….

Before my father went into the hospital the last time for his ammonia levels being too high, he was very confused and acted like someone who has severe dementia (a symptom of too much ammonia in the body and affecting his brain).  My father gets cold very easy so I bought him some special thermals for Christmas, called base wear, which are for people who go on exhibitions in the tundra.  We were all getting ready to go to brunch one Sunday when he came out ready to go. And he had on these very tight fitting base wear thermals. After getting over the initial shock and panic, I remember thinking that all he needed was a cape and a giant “G” on his shirt (G for Geriatric-Man).  Never one to miss a detail, he even found a place for his wallet in his tight new outfit.  He had figured out that the thermal bottoms were tight enough that he could place his wallet inside the “pants” midway between his knee and hip. After gently explaining that his thermal underwear was called such because they were not appropriate for outerwear, he reluctantly changed into real clothes.

Another time was after he had been admitted to the hospital. When the patient is in a confused state as was he, they ask if a family member can stay with them at all times in the room to make sure that they are OK in between nurse visits.  The only time my father is more miserable than in the dentist’s chair is in the hospital.  And he did not really understand why he was in there in the first place, but he knew he was going to get out. At least get out of the bed anyway. Several times during the first few days and nights I caught him in various positions and steps of “escape.” One time in particular I woke up to see him, lying on his side, pulled up hanging onto the side bar of the hospital bed, with his leg going over the bar.  I caught him juuuuuust as that leg was being flung over.  The look on his face was one of serious concentration.  He knew what he had to do, and being a detailed professional electrical engineer, no doubt he had thought about it and planned it all out.

“Dad!  What are you doing?!”

You could see his expression change from concentration to “Crap, foiled again.”  He let out a sigh and the leg went back on the proper side of the bar as he stated to settle back down.

The image of that moment will live with me forever.  And had I had a camera. I would have snapped his picture and captioned it “The Escape.”  Both moments reminded me of Cloris Leachman’s character on Raising Hope.  She plays the adorable, but slightly deranged and kooky, grandmother.  Sometimes she comes out with her bra over her clothes, sometimes she tried to eat mashed potatoes through a straw.

What I have learned in the 7 months of being a care taker, is that you have to have a sense of humor. You have to be willing to take a step back and laugh when the smoke clears.  Because some of these moments are brilliantly comedic, once you get over them. And if you don’t laugh, you will go crazy. So take a breath, then take a step back and have a giggle.


Editor’s Note:  I don’t talk about this often (publicly), but my mother basically died from medical negligence. There were several issues that were ignored by her GP and instead of treating her, he actually said to her “You are just an old woman, and all this is part of getting old.” By the time we truly found out the extent of her health issues and how long they had been ignored, it was too late. Now, it is a blessing and a gift to see my father get such amazing care and attention to every detail of his physical, emotional, spiritual and mental well being. The doctors at Emory are the best (Anywhere). I often wonder if my mother would still be with us if she had the same experience. We are blessed to have such great care now.

Six Months

Six months.  That is not a long time in the grand scheme of things, yet a is a lifetime of heartache, tears, reflection, struggle, confusion, anger, loss, grief…I felt each heartbeat of you not being with me in the lifetime of six months.  I still cannot fathom that much time without you.

But there has also been joy. First little glimpses, then moments, a little longer sometimes, and maybe even a day here and there.

And now I can finally say I think I am getting the hang of this life without you. And that makes me sad in a way.  Because I never want to be used to life without you, my mother, my best friend.  But I have to. It has been six months and I have to get it together.

I feel you though, everywhere. And that helps.  But I still miss you more than I thought possible.  On those days when I don’t feel you close, I just whisper to you that I need a sign…and then there it is.  And I feel your arms around me.

I love and miss you exponentially. I think you would be proud of me, of the past 6 months, even though it has been hard.  You raised me strong and to survive no matter what.  And that means without you.  More than anything, I know that is what you want.

I know you have things to do where you are.  You always stayed busy, helping others, so why would you stop now?  Somewhere along the way, I am sure you have found a need to give of yourself and help another.  We will be Ok here.  Do what you need to do. Just visit and show me you are still around. And know that there is so much love here for you, always.

I carry your heart with me.  I carry it in my heart.

Sitcom Moment 3,846: Muesday Much?

I have often said that my life resembles a sitcom, even a dramedy on certain occasions.  These “sitcom moments” are things that happen in real life that would be hysterical if you were watching them on TV…those moments that are so embarrassing or awkward or funny that you would never think that they would actually happen in real life.  But sometimes fact is stranger, and funnier than fiction.

Take this morning for example.  It started out a bit like a Monday (even though it is Tuesday).  Everything just seemed to be going wrong.  My father didn’t want to get out of bed…which means I was late into the office (or later than I wanted and was planning on getting to the office).  Much like a toddler who doesn’t want to get up and eat breakfast, many times my Dad has to be coaxed.  This is time consuming and a bit exhausting.  And then there was no more coffee for that 2nd cup.  Hmmmm, will have to stop on the way to work to grab a cup…

Meanwhile, there is a special review meeting that I should be at my desk to Skype in to join, but since running late getting Dad up and eating, I’ll just dial in…except it isn’t the normal dial in.  This meeting is only a Skype. I don’t have Skype on my mobile.  No problem, I’ll download it. My efficiency cannot be stopped. I am on a roll and  run out of the house, not even taking the time to grab a jacket for the cold morning.

I manage to download Skype for Mobile while driving to QT for coffee.  In the parking lot I complete the many sign in, verification, notification, etc. steps to initiate Skype (I think about 20 in total).  Finally, able to join the meeting!

While on mute on I walk in the store and manage to fumble through the coffee making process…except that there is no sugar canister, they ran out.  GREAT. They do have the little packets of sugar – the ones that contain a half a baby teaspoon of sugar in the large by comparison packet. But I always feel bad about the 25 or so packets I have to put in my coffee, so I avoid the guilt altogether by pouring out the coffee.

As I toss the cup in the trash there is a pivotal moment in the meeting….my boss thanks me for the hard work I have done on my assignment…and there is a pause, for me to say something, anything, some kind of comment back.  Except I cannot find the home screen for Skype to unmute the mic and say thank you…and more silence…then someone says an awkward comment about maybe I cannot join the conversation….and I am frantically searching and pounding on my touch screen phone, cursing under my breathe.  Surely onlookers thought I was having a seizure. After what seems like an eternity, the moment passes and the meeting moves on.

After blowing my moment in the meeting, I reenter my car, no coffee in hand, and notice a loud smell.  Cigarette smoke. My man generously took my Dad to the doctor’s office the day before, but did not air out the car well before parking it for the night.  OK, no problem.  I’ll drive to work with the windows down. In 34 weather. With no coat.  Well, at least I won’t need the coffee to be fully awake.

After prying my frozen hands off the steering wheel, I walk into work with a windblown hairstyle that could have only been inspired by a mad man with an electrical outlet. It was truly an awe-inspiring mess. There are a few double takes from co workers as I pass them and smile, holding my windblown head up high.  If you are going to be a mess, at least be dignified about it.

I imagine a young Goldie Hawn or Kristen Wiig pulling off a scene like that, not something that would be in my life. And that is my Muesday (Monday + Tuesday) Sitcom moment.

I can hear you laughing.

The Routine Order

We all have things that seem to be the bane of our existence. They gym, the dreadmill, I mean treadmill.  The dentist…and for me, routine.  I am a writer, creative and do not like routine.  Until I take a closer look at my life.  Growing up, my mother believed very much in routine, that this is what children needed in order to be healthy.  In addition to three square meals, lots of love and some discipline, we also had a lot of routine.  We had dinner with a certain time frame and went to bed by a certain hour.  We had so long to do homework, chores and piano practice.  She said that routine could bring order into an otherwise chaotic world for a child.  And indeed we did thrive.

But in my adult life, I just seem to do well without schedules.  I do what needs to be done when it needs doing, and do my best to manage time.  And I am constantly running 15-20 minutes late. But lately I am seeing more value in this thing called routine of which she spoke. And I think it might just save my sanity.

Since Dad moved in life has been on the hectic side, running from doctor appointment to doctor appointment, learning to be a caretaker of an 80 year-old and everything that comes with it.  It can be so overwhelming at times.  So what do you do when life gets that overwhelming and big that you can’t seems to see over the top of it?  Routine.

There is comfort in routine, in knowing what comes next and when. It allows for you to free up your time and space to be creative and concentrate on what is really important. It allows you to follow a natural order.  And when you think of the science of it, it makes perfect sense.  Even the human body has schedules.  The heart beats on schedule, we do not have to think about it.  We breathe on an automatic schedule. Our blood and lungs work on schedule and to their tasks and we do not have to think about it.  We go on with our lives.

And that is what I hope to accomplish with this new order, so to speak.  Dad will have a pretty set schedule – approximately when to get up, I will fix his breakfast, then when physical and occupational therapy happen, when his companion care comes over to help with tasks or run errands, when to go to the senior center to meet friends and be social. When he doesn’t have to constantly figure out what comes next, what he is going to do and why, constantly coming up for a reason for existence without my mother, then maybe he can relax and just enjoy.

And maybe I can relax a bit too.  Certain things will be on autopilot, so to speak. I can focus on my work, my relationship, friendships and such. Gears can be shifted to I can just be a good daughter, good friend and co-worker.  This routine may be just what the doctor ordered to get life back to manageable.

And maybe the secret to order is being flexible enoughFlexible enough to work within the bounds of routine but still allow a loose schedule. With exercise we much stretch ourselves, our muscles, to give a little. Life can be messy. And if we are puritanical in either direction of too much schedule and routine or nothing at all, then things can spiral. We feel overwhelmed and out of order.

So I am looking forward to this new schedule that sets the pace for the new year.  I am looking forward to being able to concentrate on what is truly important while the everyday things take care of themselves.  It takes a lot of hard work to put a routine in place, but we are almost there.  And in that order, we can make a life of spectacular.