Sunday, November 14, 2010

Foundering




He was sitting on the couch reading the newspaper when we got there. I kissed him on the top of his head and said~hey Grizzly Adams~ for he had grown a beard. I sat down beside him and he looked at me ~I have to talk , can we talk? I said sure and settled in, wondering what was on his mind. He showed me some photos, one of the Grand Tetons and another of a butte standing alone in the middle of nowhere. They were beautiful scenes, pictures taken on his travels around the US in the mid 1970's. He had an adventurous soul and told tales of wild adventures: land slides, lightening strikes during sudden blizzards, blistering heat in Death Valley. He told these tales with an urgency as if time was running out and he felt the need for someone to hear him, to know of his exploits, to be able to cement his place on this planet in the mind of another, so as to be acknowledged as having lived a life of substance. I listened as he spoke and thought of what it must be like to know that death is right around the corner, that vast unknown lurking in the corner of your eye. He seemed frightened and filled with dread and despair. But he kept talking, eventually simply listing places he'd seen: Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Tetons, Crazy Horse, Mt. Rushmore, Grand Canyon, Painted Desert, Hoover Dam and on and on. Tears dropped from his eyes and he would try to wipe them without letting me see them. I put my hand on his shoulder and rested it there. He cried ~I brought this on myself. I said ~ no , no one would do this knowingly, you have a disease no different than cancer or diabetes~, but my words were small consolation for a man dying of liver failure, a slow and debilitating death. I asked him if he had a plan, and knowing exactly what I meant, he said no, that he had tried that before and wasn't very good at it. Having been at a few desperately low places in life myself, I told him I knew what he was feeling, I knew what it was to want to die and have done with it. But that is not an option for him, and if it was, I believe I would help him if I could. I would not allow an animal to suffer as he is suffering and the pain I felt at leaving him was as bad as any I have ever experienced.
It affected me profoundly, left me weak and sad beyond all sadness. He called last night to tell tales of his older brother who had passed on before, and we listened without saying anything. Tommy has been gone for more than 10 years now, and he feels like he will be following soon. I want desperately to make things better, to help him survive, to give him some hope. I want to do that for his big brother, for his sons, for myself, for him, but I am helpless in the face of his illness. Life can be cruel, cruel and hard. It takes but a slip to go from having everything to having nothing, a split second in the grand scheme of things. We are, all of us, responsible for the decisions we make and must pay the inevitable consequences of the ones poorly made, but in the end, after all is said and done, and there is no hope left, it should not be so hard to die.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Looking Back

I spent yesterday playing hooky. When the alarm  woke me at 3:40am, I got out of bed, made my coffee and sat on the couch thinking. I started to write in my journal about my friend Jean who just recently lost her Mom to cancer.

She and I share an awful bond, the breast cancer bond. We are the same age and our lives have paralleled in many ways, but she had her Mom 20 years longer than I. She is in the midst of heavy grief, a grief I understand all too well. I give her a hug and ask her each day how she's doing and I am glad when she honestly tells me how sad she is.  We talk for a long while about bereavement and the toll it takes on one's spirit.  I know she appreciates these conversations, I know how important it is to verbalize the hurt, the feelings of guilt and betrayal, the impact of such a grave loss.  I am gratified to know that maybe I am helping her through what can be a most difficult period in a woman's life, no matter what her age.  She knows that she can share with me and that I will listen with an empathetic ear. I can because I know what it is to have no one to talk to about such a loss.  I was alone, in a new town, recently divorced and running a business by myself when my Mom died.  I dealt with my grief many years later when training to volunteer for our local Hospice.

For her, talking with me is a kind of therapy. For me, however, it is a dredging up of old grief, feelings not forgotten, not hidden, but put away somewhere, only to be taken out at holidays, in April and in June.  I miss my Mom more than words could ever express, but I can not spend my life grieving her loss. I do think about her almost every day, but I consciously try to remember her laughing, young and happy. When she pops into my mind now, she is always smiling. I worked hard to throw away the images of her last few years, and only see her smile. It took a long time.  It is not that I hold my grief back, that it is not acknowledged, but if I allowed it to come to the fore everyday, I don't believe I could live.

Yesterday, though, as I was writing about Jean and her loss  sadness washed over me like a wave. I closed my book, wiped away the tears and went back to bed. I snuggled up to Greg's warmth and shut my eyes and let his even breathing lull me back to sleep. After a while he awoke annd asked me when I was getting up and I said simply I don't feel well and I am staying home.. 

And so I played hooky. I stayed in my pajamas all day. I read the whole paper, fresh out of the bag from front to back. I indulged in a  hot, sweet cup of cocoa. I climbed up to the loft and finished one of the two moleskine exchange projects that have sat fallow for months.The hours I spent in creating pages for Hilary's book soothed my soul and took me out of myself and the funk I had fallen into earlier in the day. I gave myself a facial and took a long hot bath. It was a beauty day, mental health day, and it did me a world of good. I know my Mom would have approved. Thanks, Mom.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Too early, cold, and wet

Just a quick thought at 4:22 am. I can hear the rain tapping on the tin roof of the screen porch. It is a cold and lonely sound this chilly morn and I  am reluctant to venture out into into the dark. But work I must so there is no choice. I know that behind the clouds there is a new moon, yesterday's having been a mere sliver gracing the western sky, the stars all the brighter for the lack of moonlight. Today, however it is dark, wet and cold. My warm bed is calling my name and the sight of the dogs curled up in theirs is making me weak with envy. Oh, for a dog's life! Oh, for my dog's life!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Fences into Eternity

There is that old saw about fences making good neighbors, but when I came home to find a post and rail fence being put up along my front yard, extending 150 feet into the woods behind the house, I was appalled and angry. I am amazed at the lengths people will go to just for spite. For that is the only explanation for this fence: a spiteful act made by spiteful and vindictive people. The fence must be costing them thousands of dollars, and I can only think of  the better use to which they could have put that money. There are food banks, animal shelters, so many people in need , and here is a fence that is not holding livestock, not keeping dogs from straying, that has no back and only half a side (my neighbors on the other side of the disputed woods only had 25 feet of fence on their side) and serves no other purpose than to keep me from stacking my firewood in a 15x20 foot section. I had decided months ago not to pursue action against these people and had sent a letter saying so with the proviso that they refrain from doing anything that would adversely affect my property's value.

When I fell from my loft and spent 3 months in recuperation, I realized how close I came to dying. One twist or turn and my life would have been over. I had those three months to reflect on life, on what it is to be alive on this planet. I can't say as I came to any profound revelation other than that our time here is very short, shorter for some of us than others. And all it takes is one split second of poor timing, one mistake or just bad luck, or an incompatible mix of genes and one's already short life ends.

  I wonder if my thoughts would have gone as deep had I been 25 instead of 52 when I took my fall and spent all of those hours staring at the ceiling in my bedroom. But there were nights that as I was lying there trying not to move, I felt that if I looked hard enough, I could see through to the night sky and so, on into infinity. Infinity, eternity, these are very frightening words, concepts that are very hard to wrap our tiny brains around.  The idea that the star filled sky goes on forever, that those very stars have been gone for eons and their light is only now reaching us is  one that I do not believe many people can dwell on for long. Nor do I believe that most humans could deal with the idea of death being eternal without their man made religious doctrine assuring them of a benevolent being awaiting their arrival in a cloud filled heaven, complete with angels and loved ones . We need to believe that there is something more, that "better place", otherwise the idea of the lights going out for all of eternity is a terrifying thought. When one examines these ideas pragmatically, setting fear aside, one can see that we are truly just mere blips on the screen of the cosmos, that our little lives are as one drop of water in an endless sea. When one contemplates fossils that are  millions of years old, our lifespans are negligible.

So, after a summer of deep thinking, I came to the realization that worrying about that 15x20 foot piece of land was a waste of the meager time I have. I let it go, and have been trying to live mindfully, taking in the beauty of the natural world, smiling in the face of my cranky boss' grumbling, ignoring the slights, and appreciating the gifts, trying to live with equanimity.  That's not to say that Greg and I don't have our tiffs, that I don't become annoyed with the sloppy driving of other people, but I do make a conscious effort to exhale and move past all of it.

All of that being said,  I come back to the fence. I will see it today in the light of a new day. Maybe I will laugh at it's absurdity, it's uselessness, see it as the equivalent of an animal's scent-marking, the possessive obsession of small minded people who cannot think beyond the tips of their noses. And I will plant morning glories and moonflowers , clematis and wisteria against it next spring, so that eventually it can become a framework of  vines and flowers to sooth my eyes. It will take a bit of getting used to, that I can not deny. I have lived on this piece of ground for 20 years without boundaries, surrounded by woods, and this new fence is a raw wound that will need  time to heal.

I will let time work it's magic.