Friday, February 24, 2012

Keeping us sane

 The three of us enter the small room at the hospice office where we have met with her once a month since January 2011 and take our places at the rectangular table. Richard always sits with his back to the window. I always sit on Richard’s left and have become quite familiar with the big painting on the wall facing me of a wispy, bright orange-red poppy. She sits opposite Richard.

 For many years she taught elementary school children. Then, 7 years ago, her husband died and she retired shortly thereafter. Now she teaches people like us how not loose our minds as we move through the process of processing the death of a loved one.

She smiles. “So,” she says, looking at each of us in turn. “How are you two doing?”

 In our session in January we had discussed some things that I had read Joan Didion’s book The Year of Magical Thinking, which chronicles her journey through the year after her husband died unexpectedly of a heart attack while they were eating dinner at home.

So I tell her
 I am tired. I am just really very tired of Nathaniel being dead. I want him to stop being dead so everything can go back to normal.
 Magical thinking.

She smiles. And nods. She understands.

I mention something Didion says in her book. She could not give away her husband’s shoes, because he would need them if he came back…

Richard sort of interrupts me and starts to talk. This is typical ADD behavior and I understand him, and it is OK.

He begins to tell her about the evening popcorn ritual. There were three snap-lock containers with tight-fitting lids: a round one (Richard’s), a tall rectangular one (mine), and a shorter, fat square one (Nathaniel’s), each with our name on it. Every morning Richard popped the popcorn for that evening, put each person’s share in his or her container, snapped the lid down, and sat it on top of the refrigerator.

Richard continues on with the morning popcorn routine, only now just two containers sit on top of the refrigerator. Richard cannot bring himself to take Nathaniel’s name off his container and use the container for other things. It sits unused on a shelf in the pantry.

It’s his container.

More magical thinking.

I tell her about what happened during the brief cold snap a few weeks ago. Richard wanted the electric blanket for the bed and asked me to find it. I was sure I had given it to Nathaniel the winter before so he would be warm. His room gets rather cold at night. I tore apart his bed to look for it. The electric blanket was not on his bed, and so I began to remake the bed.

Nathaniel was obsessive about his bed. It had to be perfect. All of the blankets had to hang exactly the same length on all sides. No wrinkles were allowed. The comforter or bed spread had to be exactly even all the way around. Sometimes he spent 30 minutes making his bed. As sick as he was when he walked out of his bedroom for the last time on December 12, 2010, his bed was perfectly made. Nobody has slept in the bed since then, except the cat.

As I got the comforter back on his bed, I thought to myself …
Nathaniel is going to be so upset at me for tearing into his bed and not putting it back the way it was. He will not be happy at all.
More magical thinking.

She smiles, and nods. “One of the hard things I had to come to grips with,” she said, “was that I did not have to do everything the way Louis [her husband] would have done it. I could do it the way I wanted, and it was OK.”

But she does much more than just smile and nod at us. Her wise words have helped to keep us sane. Technically, she was supposed to cut us loose in January, but we saw her this month and we will see her again in March.

After every visit I have waited for Richard to say, “I don’t think we need to come back,” especially since I had a hard time getting him to agree to see her the first time. And after every visit, when she says, “Shall we schedule another appointment?” He says, “Yes.”

She seems pleased. She herself is grieving the death of her mother, who died a few months before Nathaniel died. We always ask her how she doing. Sometimes I think she needs us as much as we need her.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Rolling in graves…

The woman who announced the musical group Bach to the Future at the concert we attended Saturday night mentioned that were they able, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and other great composers of the classical music that this amazing group of musicians is tinkering with might be rolling in their graves by the time the concert was over. She warned us that it was not going to be a typical classical music concert.  

And indeed it wasn’t. But it was wonderful.

Frankly, I think Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart would be thrilled that their music is still being played, and that clever young (well, at 60-something, even folks who might be in their 40s suddenly seem young) musicians are doing things to keep it interesting.

Very interesting. Unless one holds that their music is sacred and must not be tinkered with for any reason.   

We don’t go out too often, so it was a real treat to have date. And even better, we saw Judy and Charlie walk in the auditorium and so we got up out of our seats and went to meet them. Seeing them come in was hidden blessing, because the seats we had picked were too close to the front and I think it would have been too loud.

And I almost felt like a silly high school kid meeting up with friends at an event. Judy said later her face hurt from smiling so much. Mine too.  I believe I actually laughed out loud at the very end of the concert, when the fellow who was playing the piano/synthesizer said that their last piece would be a synergy of music from two of the greatest composers: Beethoven and…. I was curious who he would pick…. Carlos Santana. That sent me off on a trip back to memory lane to a Santana concert I attended in 1969 or 1970.

And the band launched into the haunting opening strains of Black Magic Woman and then here came the opening bars of Beethoven’s Fifth. It was magic all right.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Climbing back in the saddle

It has been so many years since I have climbed on a horse that I doubt I could even do it without a serious step stool to get up high enough -- my hip joints are cranky these days.

Maybe I'll just try writing a little bit every day -- even if it is something not very important -- and see if I can move this blog forward a bit.

I dunno... I'll see how this goes...

Even if I had no followers to keep interested, and even if I never got another comment, I have found that keeping this blog has been an amazing thing for me on a personal level. To be able to go back years and read a bit of how I was feeling then has been so.... well.... good. Helps to keep it real. Helps to see where I have been... 

Amazing what a good night's sleep does for one. I was so tired last night...  and angry... and depressed... and really unhappy... but after actually sleeping -- without the benefit of drugs -- I feel pretty darn good this morning.

Whoops. I just got yelled at for leaving apple peelings in the sink from last night. The ants, which are supposed to be dormant during the winter, are out in force because it has been so warm.

Oh well, it is only 7:15... let's hope the day does not go downhill from here.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Clean underwear

Being caught in the grip of writer’s block is like having a brain in handcuffs. And I have been struggling with it since I last posted here.

Last Saturday, I attended the local writer’s group meeting, who had a guest speaker, a creative writing teacher and English professor from the local university. He talked briefly about writer’s block and how to overcome it. Make yourself write something everyday, he says, even if you can’t get beyond a few sentences. Find something in your experience that you can write about, something in the present that reminds you of something in the past. Even if it is only a few thoughts. Write it. He shared a poem he was working on – but had gotten stalled -- about mowing the lawn on a hot summer day and hitting a Rose of Sharon bush with it, and how that reminded him of the Grapes of Wrath, which he had just finished teaching to one of his literature classes…

I have come up with any number of what I thought were clever opening sentences to start a post in the week since then, but have not been able to develop them any further. I am even having some trouble answering my e-mail.

An e-mail from a cousin back in January – a month ago in fact -- who is “holed up in hotel” somewhere in New York with his partner and their cat, having relocated there from Washington, DC, and trying to find a house to buy, who wonders about the bond between the four of us cousins who are the first-born in our respective families.

I need to ponder that thought and answer him.

And then comes some e-mails from another cousin, also a first-born, who has recently arrived back home after spending close to a month taking care of her aging parents, especially her mother – my remaining Aunty who I love dearly -- who is slowly recovering from a very serious illness.

I had written to my cousin – also a month ago -- about the meal out we ate at a rather expensive restaurant on the anniversary of our son’s death…
We went to Springfield and had lunch at an amazing restaurant in the funky old downtown section. We have been aware of the restaurant for a long time but never went there because it is rather expensive. But as my friend Sheila points out – “Nathaniel’s dead. Who are you saving all of this money for now? If you don’t want to spend it, someone else will be happy to spend it for you…”
 My cousin writes back…

It is important to enjoy the fruits of your labor, this I see for myself also. If you could see our underwear, you would laugh, we both are in need of new panties. We just are not spending the money on ourselves…the ones I have now are not long for this world, I fear. I wouldn't let mom help me with laundry while there, just because I didn't want her to see my undies.
Some of my underwear is atrocious, so I had to laugh at that. Why not throw them away? I have unopened packages of underwear. But, what I suddenly remembered after reading this was not embarrassment as an adult that my parents would see my underwear when I was there on a visit (although, now that I think about it, I can recall washing underwear out by hand, for some reason, and hanging them on a hanger in my old bedroom), but a conversation my mother had with me while we were driving in the car one evening to the library. We were by ourselves, so I suspect my father was home watching the other children.

Always make sure you have clean underwear on when you go out in the car because you never know if you are going to get into an accident and you will have to go to the hospital.

My mother was such an amazing woman and she was so wise and I miss her so much. I remember so few specifics of the many conversations we had over the years… and this is what I remember now? Wear clean underwear?

But of course other memories are flooding our minds right now. Tomorrow would have been our son’s birthday. It is comforting to talk together about little flashback memories that pop into our heads. When he was a little boy, we created a bedtime routine (as advised by Dr Spock, I think) to help avoid problems getting him to bed. Part of the routine was that Richard would put him on top of his dresser and he would leap off into Richard’s arms. And then he would say “One more time…” as a way to prolong going to bed. And so Richard would put him up there “one more time…” and then… and then... time ran out.