Thursday, September 5, 2019

The weight of an anniversary

Photo by Timothy Dykes on Unsplash

My Facebook memories remind me every day what I've posted for the past 11 years. For the past week, they've been reminding me that last year at this time I was in Iowa, spending my days in my mom's hospice room waiting for her body to shut down, after we'd taken her off life support, and my nights alone at her house. It sounds awful, but I don't know any other way to say it: I was waiting for her to die. In a different way this year, I've been waiting again. Waiting as the grief built again in anticipation of the anniversary of her death. Waiting for today.

The first time I felt anniversary grief was two years after my dad died suddenly at age 46 of a heart attack on the day the last episode of M.A.S.H. aired. I didn't even know he'd been sick. I was 24 and the oldest of five. I got the call at 1:00 pm and flew through the night from Georgia to Iowa. It was a life-changing education in growing the fuck up. It was several years before I could watch that last episode of M.A.S.H.

You might be wondering why the anniversary grief hit two years after and not one. That's because my grandma was dying at that time the next year. She died just two days short of a year after my dad died, and a day before her husband, my grandfather, had died in 1957. We held her funeral exactly a year from the day my dad died on February 28. (For those who struggle with math and care, my dad died on February 28, my grandpa on the 27th, and my grandma on the 26th. My uncle, son of this grandma and grandpa, was born on February 27. All of these deaths made his birthday difficult for him, no suprise.) I digress ....

It was simply more grief after a year of horrible, intense grieving. I was pregnant, as my mother had been with me when her father, my grandfather, died, so I borrowed the navy maternity dress with the white collar and red bow that we passed around base housing for just such occasions and flew home to Iowa again.

The next year the anniversary grief hit and I thought I was losing my mind. Nobody warned me. None of my friends in Georgia even knew how to support me. Nobody had been through the death of a parent.

I was so sad. I burst into tears for no reason. I couldn't focus. I felt anxious, like something horrible was going to happen. As the long days of February passed, the feeling built. But at some point I talked with my sister and my little brother and my mom and we realized we were all feeling crazy sad and anxious. And it struck me -- as if I had invented it -- that we were feeling anniversary grief.

It helped to know what was happening. And it helped the next year and the year after that when February rolled around like it does and we held our breath waiting for someone else to leave us.

This year I knew what to expect. When I found myself tearing up over small things the past couple of weeks, I knew why. And then the Facebook memories started, because I posted updates on my mom's Facebook page last year starting with her final stroke. I didn't post details, and I haven't been able to write about that yet. But I kept her friends and family informed most days.

I actually felt somewhat comforted to read those posts again. Grief causes us to pause and remember and feel. That's not a bad thing. Too often we try to push grief away or distract ourselves so we don't have to feel bad. But I'm OK with feeling my grief. It reminds me that I've lost someone I love. It reminds me that I'm human and I'm still here and this is one way I honor my loved ones who have passed on.

Today was hard  though. Is hard, which is why I'm writing. I was at the dairy at the farmer's market where I work part-time, and I guess I wasn't my usual talkative self. I was busy and not really engaging except with customers, although I wasn't aware I was acting different. Not until Marshall, the chocolatier next to me, commented that I was awfully quiet today.

It struck me then that today was the day. I looked up from wiping down one of the coolers, but I couldn't say anything.

"Everything OK?" he asked.

I gave a little shake of my head. I could feel the tears coming. Not the place. Not the place. Not the place....

He came out from behind his counter and walked over to me. I don't think he even said anything. He just waited. My eyes filled with tears, but I didn't let one drop. Not the place.

After a couple of minutes I got control. "It's the anniversary of my mom's death last year," I said. I couldn't say anything else.

I didn't need to. He just nodded and waited to see if I wanted to talk. And then a customer walked up so I had to take a breath and put on my professional face. He went back to his counter.

 When we were both free, he came over and held out a 2-pack of chocolate-covered cherries, one of my favorites. "Just take them and don't say anything," he said.

I did. I couldn't say anything anyway. Kindness hits me like grief sometimes, but I still couldn't cry there. Marshall doesn't do grief the same way I do. He doesn't have time for it. He thinks people should get over it. Which doesn't mean he doesn't feel things as deeply; he does. He just thinks death is a normal part of life and he doesn't like to dwell on it. The chocolate-covered cherries were his way of honoring my grief without putting me in the position of embarrassing myself.

At some point my youngest brother sent out an email to my mom's other four kids and her two step-sons reminding us that it's a difficult day, but he's grateful for his family and he loves us. My other brother and I answered that we were feeling it too. Again I didn't let the tears fall, but I felt them building.

Later yet Kelly, whom I sell kettle corn for other days, walked down from her store. She knew this day was coming up. Her mom died just a couple of months after mine, so we've shared our sadness through the year. She's got this day to look forward to as well. We shared a hug and some tears that neither of us let fall.

It helps to know others are on this journey too, that I'm not crazy like I thought I was after my dad died, that I have people in my life who honor my grief by just being with me and listening or texting or giving me chocolate-covered cherries.

It helps but it doesn't take away the grief.

I haven't written yet about my mom's last days and her death yet. I will. I need to. I will just write this much tonight.

One this day one year ago I was sitting with my mom in her hospice room. She hadn't been responsive all day. The lights were dim and I was playing quiet piano music on my phone. I had read to her from her Kindle for a while. Then I told her about some things that were going on in my life that I hadn't had a chance to tell her about before her final stroke. Finally I told her I was just going to read to myself. I sat beside her with my hand on her arm reading.

Her breathing had been rough all day, but it became more erratic. I put my book down and sat with her as she took her last breaths. It was difficult to watch her body finally give up, but it was also OK. It was her time and I was honored I could be there with her.

When it became apparent she wasn't going to take another breath, I said, "Goodbye, Mom. We're all going to be OK. I love you." And even though she hadn't taken a breath for at least a minute, her chin tilted up just a little, and I knew somehow she had heard me and she was letting me know she loved me too. A final gift of connection before she was gone.

Thanks for reading, if you got this far. Feel free to tell me about your anniversary grief or anything else in the comments.

Now I think I'm ready to go have that cry I've been holding back all day.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Things I look forward to ...

Free the ladies! (Photo credit: Reticula)
I went to a play tonight with some friends. Came right home after and changed out of my going-out garments into a summery dress I would never wear out and nothing else. Poured myself a glass of Chardonnay from the box in the fridge and a light bulb went off over my head. (It wasn't painful.) I should write a rare blog post, and the post I should write is "Things I look forward to ...."


Number 1: Taking off my bra. I'd add yoga pants to this one, but somebody once told me yoga pants (when worn in public) are "fuck me" pants. I don't want to give the wrong impression. There's nothing sexy about number 1. (See photo.)

Number 2:........... Number 2 ........ I got nothin'.

I turned on Netflix and started watching yet another road trip movie (Juanita, starring one of my long-time girl crushes, Alfre Woodard. Even Cher didn't look that good at her age). I love road trips, but I don't get to go on many so I watch road trip movies. A vicarious thing to look forward to doesn't count. Nevertheless number 2 finally comes to me. (Not that number 2.)

Number 2: Eating dessert. Next time I complain about being so fat remind me that I often only eat a meal so I can justify eating dessert. I'm pretty sure Alfre Woodard doesn't live for dessert. Certainly Cher doesn't.

Number 3: Crickets. As in, I've got nothin'. I have to have a #3, because my OCD dictates everything must come in odd numbers. Also, a list isn't a list unless it has at least three items. What the hell do I look forward to?

I watch some more Netflix. Juanita/Alfre tells her deadbeat kids to get their own shit together because she's going on a trip and then she fucking leaves and walks to the bus station. All I can think is what a mess her house will be when she gets back home. Apparently Juanita/Alfre didn't think this through like I would. I think I probably won't get to finish this movie because there's an hour left and it's almost 1:00 am and then it hits me.

Number 3: Sleeping past 7:00 am. That's a thing I look forward to. Even better, sleeping as long as I want without setting an alarm. That happens so rarely I can't list it.

That's all I've got. I think my list used to be longer and a lot more interesting. I can think of things I'd like to look forward to. (Hint: cookies.) But on a Friday night a 1:00 when I'll probably doze off during a road trip movie, this is all I've got.

What do you look forward to? Inspire me! Better yet, take me on a road trip. Just imagine ....

Sunday, December 9, 2018

If we were sharing a bottle of wine: From Poodles to 3-ways

If we were sharing a bottle of wine, I would tell you I can hardly believe the growth the vet removed from my standard poodle Crow's head is benign, because that's not the way shit has been going for me, or for that matter a lot of people, lately. I already mentioned that the vet I took him to gave him the wrong drug. I was utterly prepared for the worst. Apparently the vet didn't get all the margins though, so it's possible there's a shoe with my name on it hovering over my head.

If we were sharing a bottle of wine, I'd say I'm not really a control freak, but I hate going into the bathroom at the farmer's market where I work and seeing that my favorite of the two stalls is occupied. It reminds me that I am actually sharing a bathroom with a bunch of strangers.

If we were sharing a bottle of wine, I'd mention I'd read a few essays out of a memoir titled There Are No Grown-ups: A Midlife Coming-of-Age Story by Pamela Druckerman. It's about a woman who's recently turned 40. The book is well written, and I found her essay about giving her husband a three-way with herself and another woman for his birthday interesting -- although the statistics about how many women have sex in their 50's and 60's are fucking brutal --  but I didn't read the entire book. I'm not interested in turning 40. It happened so long ago I could no longer give advice about how to do it.

I am interested in the format though, which is pretty similar to writing a blog. I thought maybe I'd outline a book about turning 60 ..... Then I realized I'd have to be married and living a somewhat interesting life or my advice wouldn't be relevant to pretty much anybody. She's an American who lives in Paris with her husband Simon. (Simon is also the name of my boyfriend, but he's imaginary and her husband is real enough to get a 3-way for his birthday.) I am a 60-year-old (still getting used to that) divorced grandmother who's raising her 7-year-old granddaughter, and whose 27-year-old daughter moved in with her two dogs and two cats four months ago, and who works a variety of part-time jobs to keep the household in heat and dog food and gas for the van where I spend a good chunk of my day every day.

I have not got a handle on how anybody should turn 60. And I certainly don't have time for sex with one person -- which would have to be covered in such a book -- even if suitable horny partners were lined up on my porch patiently waiting to get into my comfy yoga pants, much less a 3-way. Publishers wouldn't be lining up either.

Anyway, if we were sharing a bottle of wine, you'd be turning into a pumpkin, and I'd probably lick the last drop out of my glass and say, "Are you going to drink that?" And you'd say, "No, go ahead." And of course I wouldn't. Of course I wouldn't. I'd just say, "Good night."

Friday, November 30, 2018

Things that make people think of me: Day 30!

During the month of NaBloPoMo friends often send me things that remind them of me. For example, Amy sent me this fascinating factoid about the blue whale's vagina. I already knew how men act when they've got a cold. I was married for 30 years.

Credit: Nerds with Vaginas

Another thoughtful friend, Tricia, sent me this ..... I'm struggling for an adjective .... bear with ..... unusual designer pendant, which can be found on the Yves Saint Lauren website. No, your eyes do not deceive you. It is exactly what it looks like: a brass penis pendant.

I'm not sure if the choice of material is ironic. I've heard of brass balls, but a brass penis is new to me. Also, if I were to wear a disembodied penis around my neck or hanging from my ears I certainly wouldn't be proud to wear one that looks .... well, flaccid is the term that comes to mind. It kind of looks like something might drip out of it.

But it's Yves Saint Laurent, a trend setter if ever there was one. And apparently it's sold out, so darn it! I guess I won't be putting it on my Christmas list. Although at $795 I doubt anybody would wrap up that penis and put it under my tree anyway. Seems like that could be a euphemism for something, but I have no idea what. The "penis dangle earrings" are more affordable at $345.

I looked around the website at some of the other jewelry and purses. I'm pretty sure I've seen that leopard bucket bag at Goodwill and it didn't cost $1500. Who buys this shit? A set of four tires for my van don't cost as much as a little brass dick on a chain costs on that site.

Moving on.

I can thank Jay for sending me some excerpts from novels that I can never unsee. Apparently Literary Review gives out an award for the worst erotic writing each year. Go read the article, if you dare. I'll wait. Don't read it aloud. Someone might hear you and think you're actually ..... just read to yourself. Skim. Don't go too deep.

This year's winners were all men. No surprise there, and I'm not going to explain why. See the end of this post for a hint as to why. I was surprised though to see James Frey (any wonder his name rhymes with "lie"?) and Haruki Murakami listed as winners. I mean, these guys actually make a living writing shit like this? And go on book tours? It's not fair.

Elvira was so inspired by this sentence, she had to illustrate it: In his mind he pictured her neck, her long neck, her swan’s neck, her Alice in Wonderland neck coiling like a serpent, like a serpent, coiling down on him.

Why are you reading this blog post when you can be paying to read these guys? 

I'll end both this post and the month of November with the last thing my daughter Elvira sent me from the easy chair three feet away. It's possible not all men will find it funny. We did though. Thanks for reading this month. I have more to say in the coming days and I'll be posting my Christmas list, so don't go away!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

If we were sipping bourbon: Day 29

Salted maple old fashioned

I thought maybe tonight we'd share a nip of bourbon if you don't mind. A new speakeasy opened up not long ago near me, and they serve a tasty salted maple old fashioned, although I still prefer the original. They'll also make you a virgin Moscow mule in a copper cup if you'd prefer to keep your wits about you. It doesn't matter to me. I just want to celebrate 29 days in a row of posting on this here blog. One more to go after this, and then I'll start breaking promises about how often I'm going to post again.

If we were sipping bourbon at the speakeasy I'd tell you I've learned something from working at the farmer's market, which is one of several part-time jobs I have. And that is that people come in many shapes and sizes and heights and ages, and wear all kinds of styles of clothes,  from jogging shorts to ripped jeans to tight skirts and teetering high heels, and have all kinds of body embellishments .... or not ... and sport a million different hair styles, and it's all just fine. Some days I watch a few thousand people walk past whichever store I'm tending, and while I notice many of them, I don't judge because after the first few hundred, it just doesn't matter at all.

Oh sure, if somebody is wearing something really unusual or they have certain body parts hanging out more than most people I might glance over at Gary, who sells chicken patties, and raise my eyebrows. But most often I find myself feeling grateful that I get to be in a place where we're all so different. I grew up in what was a pretty homogeneous small Iowa town. I desperately wanted to get out of there and meet some people who didn't look like me, so working at the market -- even in a smallish city in the midwest -- is a fulfillment of that dream.

At the market, I talk to so many kinds of people. I love the diversity. One day I helped some young African men practice their English at the dairy where I work sometimes. Milk. Cheese. Eggs. One man has a huge head of dreads, and he wears them in a knitted hat the size of Santa's sack. Coraline and I love to get Moroccan soup from the Greek lady down the aisle. We still can't pronounce "harira" like she does, but we keep trying. Some people are strapped into wheel chairs and don't seem to know where they are, but their caretakers are relieved to be out on a field trip. Others come on a bus together from a group home and they're so happy to be out at the market together, tasting samples, and often holding each others' hands. A nearby charter school will send classes of kids some Thursdays for lunch. They are excited to get some freedom and are so well behaved. Groups of office workers power walk through on their short lunch breaks. People come to the market from all over the country and all over the world. Marshall, the chocolate guy, finally put up a map with push pins so he could keep track.

Marshall's map

I just realized I wanted to make two points. One: I love working in a place where most of the people who come in are happy to be there. It's so different from teaching, because most of the people I've taught over the years didn't really want to be taking a writing class. I felt like I was holding them hostage. But I'm almost always happy when I'm at the market, even if I am on my feet on concrete for upwards of 8 hours that day. One guy might give me a lecture on internet phones (I have notes somewhere). Another will ask if our buffalo (flavored) cheese curds are made from buffalo milk and then laugh at himself when I tell him I've never milked a buffalo. A regular customer will give me a weekly update me on her recent surgery to reconstruct her breasts after her third bout with breast cancer. A new mother who was pregnant the last time I saw her will show off her new baby. An old friend might stop by and sit down behind the counter to visit during my slow spells. I feel privileged to talk with all of them. OK, most of them. Out of thousands of people, a few assholes will always creep in. I don't take that home with me.

My second point is that it really doesn't matter what you look like, especially in a place like the market. Or it has come to not matter to me what people look like, and that has made me less self-conscious about how I look. People are all so different, they start to look alike in a way. They're all just someone to meet and share a minute or a few seconds of friendliness with. It's namaste, and would you like to try a cheese curd or some kettle corn?

I will say -- the bourbon will say -- one thing I've noticed is that most people don't have round butts. Some do, but I'll bet it's fewer than you think. We are a nation of people with flat glutes. It's not just you. 

Also, being thin doesn't seem to make people happier or more friendly. It doesn't make them less. It just doesn't matter. And sometimes the grouchiest looking people have the nicest smiles if I smile at them first and say "hi."

Sometimes working with the public can harden people and make them bitter, but the market tends to do the opposite. I hope you can come see me there some day and we'll share some chocolate milk or some caramel corn, depending on where I'm working that day.

Was one bourbon enough for you? Because I need to get to bed. The more I write the more I have to say, but I'll save some for tomorrow.

How about you? Do you love your job? How does it make you feel about people?