Sunday, May 14, 2017

Remembering Mom



My mom was a badass.  

She was the epitome of a homemaker.  When we were young she made a majority of our clothing and eventually taught me how to sew.  I’m pretty sure she was self taught out of necessity.  When our family was struggling financially on my dad’s piddly Navy salary we kids never knew.  She had the gift of stretching a dollar.  I remember one year she gave us all copies of the list of Columbia House records that you found in magazines – the kind where you buy one record and get 10 “free”.  She asked us which records we would want if we could have any.  We didn’t think anything of it at the time but at Christmas she used those lists and the free records as part of our gifts since money was tight.  I didn’t realize this until years later when something sparked my memory of that Christmas.  

When we lived in Illinois in the 70’s there was a house we passed all the time with huge apple trees and apples all over the ground.  We stopped there one day and asked the old man that lived there if we could have the apples and he said to take as many as we wanted because he lived alone and was too old to pick them anymore.  My mom was a master canner so we had endless Mason jars of cinnamon apples and homemade applesauce which was amazing!  As a thank you to the man we made apple pies, apple strudel, apple bread and baked apples and brought him so many cans of apple goodness he probably died before he could finish them all.  She canned her ass off.  Dad always had a garden so when you went into the cupboard to grab a vegetable it more than likely wasn’t in an aluminum can, but instead a glass Mason jar.  

She was the model Navy wife.  When my dad was gone for months at a time she took care of us three brats, paid the bills and ruled the roost.  Actually my mom was the CFO of the house my entire life!  She was incredibly involved when we were kids and was always my room mother in elementary school, was my Brownie troop leader and then my Girl Scout leader.  She was at every softball game we played and each football game we cheered for.  She always volunteered to chaperone every field trip we went on which was embarrassing at times.  My friends loved my mom but as a kid I would just roll my eyes at their adoration and say that they were crazy.

Mom was an amazing cook and I never saw her use a recipe though she had a ton of cookbooks and clipped recipes from magazines and newspapers constantly – I found hundreds of clippings when I was going through her things after she passed away.  I had to make sure I wasn’t throwing away any important pieces of paper so I had to look at every damn one of them which took days.  My friends loved coming over for dinner because she usually cooked every day and was especially known for her lasagna and meatballs which were incredible.  Our neighbor in Goose Creek was always after mom for her meatball recipe but she would never give it to him.  When he passed away she finally wrote it down on a recipe card and slipped it into his pocket at his wake.  I still think about that recipe and where it is in Jim’s pocket each time I pass Carolina Memorial Gardens…  How I wish I had it!!  Another thing she made every year was rock candy.  She made us kids help her and although the house smelled heavenly because she made upwards of 30 different flavors during the holidays I hated helping because I always burned my fingers on the hot candy mixture when she poured it into the powdered sugar filled pans.  She sold the candy every year and also gave jars away as gifts to her doctors, friends, people she knew at the grocery store and elsewhere.  Every flavor of candy had a signature color and she always made a list of the flavors and what color they were and attached it to every decorated jar.

There wasn’t a craft that mom couldn’t do.  She quilted, attempted knitting but didn’t really care for it.  She tried macramé in the 70’s and needlepoint in the 80’s and floral arranging in the 90’s...  You name it, she did it.  She would have craft parties and invite friends over and teach them how to do whatever she was into at the moment.  For years she sold her crafts at the flea market in Ladson and was so excited when she got her own tax ID number for her business.  Dad always joked that when she died he was going to put a cash register in the attic where all of her supplies were and open a craft store.  She was an amazing artist and unfortunately I didn’t inherit the gift of drawing or painting.  I can craft my ass off but can’t paint to save my life!  One time I took her to Charlotte to go to the Society of Decorative Painters national convention.  She saved money for over a year to go to this thing and little did I know that she brought me with her so I could carry her bags of purchases!  We were at this one booth and she was looking at paint brushes and when she went to pay for them I saw that one of them…  ONE of them…  was $30!  She looked at me and said “You tell your dad and I’ll kill you!!”  She probably wasn’t joking.  My dad had no clue what she spent on those paint brushes!  It’s a good thing she saved her pennies all those years by making our clothes and canning!  I still have the ribbons mom won at the county fair for painting competitions.

Mom was always up for an adventure.  I would say “let’s go” and she would always say “Where are we going?” and I’d say “Trust me” and she always did though she would bitch the whole way to wherever I was taking her; wanting to know where the hell we were going.  I got my love of history from her so I’d always take her some place cool in Charleston that I had discovered.  She especially loved when I would take her to movie or TV sets when they were filming in town.  One time mom shut down the filming of the miniseries Scarlet because the sound guy could hear her talking from the 3rd floor piazza where we standing as the scene was being shot.  He shouted “cut!” and then looked up at us and yelled “I can hear you!!”  All of the actors, including Joanna Whaley Kilmer, Jean Smart and Julie Harris looked up at us as I was smacking my mom to be quiet.  Oops!

There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of my mom or want to pick up the phone to call her.  When I go to the beach I think of the last time I went with her.  I went to get the car so she wouldn’t have to walk far and after she didn’t show up for over 10 minutes I went back to find her sitting on a sand dune.  I asked her what was wrong and she said she fell and felt unstable walking in the sand.  As I was helping her up she said to me “I guess this is the last time I’ll ever visit the beach” and sadly, since I moved away soon after, it was.  She loved any kind of beach.  Every summer we lived at the beach or lake.  We’d pack a huge picnic basket (which us kids had to carry!) and go to the beach for the entire day.  She’d read her book while us kids swam for hours.  We’d only see her when we got hungry and then we’d get mad at her for making us adhere to the “no swimming for ½ hour after you eat” rule.  So lame.

She was the kind of mom that went to the club with us and gave us dollar bills to tip drag queens.  One time at The Treehouse she told me “I hate it when you play this music at home but I love listening to it here!” as she danced back and forth to the throbbing rave beat that vibrated the entire building.  

There are constant reminders of her.  Every time I see something with a painting palette on it at a store I pick it up to purchase it for her collection and then I remember she’s not here anymore.  When I visit historical places I always think to myself how my mom would have loved it.  When my photo was on the cover of Charleston Magazine I so wished she was alive because I know she would have carried that damn magazine around for weeks to show everyone she knew.  She would never tell us that she did these things when she was proud of us but we’d eventually hear about it from friends.
In early 2009 I called my mom to tell her that I was going to be moving back to Charleston that summer and she was so excited because I always took her on those crazy excursions – she said she couldn’t wait!  At the time she didn’t have a car and never really went anywhere fun (If only Uber existed then!)  Two weeks later, at the young age of 62, she died very unexpectedly and I’ll never believe she died of anything other than a broken heart from missing my father who died on the same date, February 3rd, six years earlier.

Mom was an exceptional woman who took care of her family and made it seem effortless.  I really wish I would have told her this when she was alive.  If you are lucky enough to still have your mom don’t hesitate to tell her how much of a badass you think she is.



Thursday, April 21, 2016

Free... Remembering Prince

Photo by me.  Welcome to America Tour
March 30, 2011 - North Charleston Coliseum

The first Prince song I ever heard was ‘Free’.  I was living in Washington State in the early eighties and was at my friend Kay’s house.  I met Kay in junior high and liked her immediately.  She wasn’t popular but she definitely stood out in a crowd because she was beautiful and an incredibly unique person.  She dressed like no one else in school and I always envied her sense of style.

Kay and her parents lived on Chico Way in Silverdale and I used to spend the night there often.  From what I remember she had a really big bedroom and had this massive pillow that I was pretty jealous of.  It was orange and at least 5 feet long.  It reminded me of a massive Cheeto and I loved sleeping with it!

I don’t remember if Kay had Prince posters or anything like that but I do remember that she was the one who introduced me to his music.  To put it lightly she was obsessed with Prince’s music.  During that those days I was probably into Madonna and not much of a music intellectual but one night Kay told me she wanted me to listen to something.  

 The room was dimly lit and she Kay Prince’s record (yes, vinyl) on the turntable and instead of playing the entire album from the start she chose to play track 8 for me.  

 "Free"

Don't sleep until the sunrise, listen to the falling rain
Don't worry about tomorrow, don't worry about your pain
Don't cry unless you're happy, don't smile unless you're blue
Never let that lonely monster take control of you

Be glad that you are free
Free to change your mind
Free to go most anywhere, anytime
Be glad that you are free
There's many a man who's not
Be glad for what you had baby, what you've got
Be glad for what you've got

I know my heart is beating, my drummer tells me so
If you take your life for granted, your beating heart will go
So don't sleep until you're guilty, because sinners all are we
There's others doing far worse than us, so be glad that you are free

Soldiers are a marching, they're writing brand new laws
Will we all fight together for the most important because?
Will we all fight for the right to be free?
Free (Be glad that you are free)
Free to change my mind

Free to go most anywhere, anytime
Be glad that you are free
There's many a man who’s not.


I remember Kay and I laying on her bed in her room with the Cheeto pillow listening to the sound of the scratchy vinyl (how I miss that!) on the turntable.  The only sound in the room was Prince’s voice.  A voice like none I had ever heard before. 

This was the first moment I REALLY paid attention to the lyrics of a song.  Being a young teenager I thought I identified greatly with the sappy songs of Chicago (among others) which described what I thought was love but during this moment I realized how absolutely mediocre all those songs actually were.  This song, Free, that we were listening to had meaning, was intense and I truly believed that moment changed my life’s musical journey.  I now realized that I wasn’t a radio top 40 girl after all.

After listening to ‘Free’ I knew there was extraordinary music out in the world to discover and I made it my mission to find it.  Music has, and always will, change me and I have Prince – and Kay – to thank for that.

R.I.P. Prince.  You were a musical genius and you will be missed.

My photos of Prince from the 'Welcome to America' tour - March 30, 2011 - N. Charleston Coliseum





Saturday, March 05, 2016

R.I.P. to the Prince of Words


When my family moved to South Carolina December 22, 1985 I was convinced we had moved to Hell.  Having come from the Seattle area I thought Charleston was a backward thinking, redneck filled wasteland that was stuck in the past and I couldn’t wait to get out.  I was 16 years, 11 months and 2 days old.

Since high school I had been going from place to place to escape South Carolina and find a place to call home.  Being a former Navy brat I never had a “home” but I knew it wasn’t in South Carolina.  Life in the land of Strom Thurmond felt so oppressed that I felt like I was suffocating on the stagnant air and I wanted more out of life so in 1988 I left and moved back to Washington State… then I moved to Columbia, SC and then to Staten Island, NY.  I had no responsibilities nor care in the world and at the time I liked it that way.

Being 21 and living in NYC was a crazy time in my life full of partying and being free but I was also restless and in turn was very reckless with some life choices.  I was young, immature and selfish and in a place that I couldn’t easily escape from.  The only place to run to was back to South Carolina and that’s the last place I wanted to be.

I wasn’t working so I was usually broke during that time.  When I couldn’t afford to go into the city my days were filled with wandering around Fort Wadsworth and all the old tunnels and batteries, taking walks under the Verrazano-Narrows bridge where there was the most amazing view of the Manhattan skyline and picking up sea glass on the filthy Staten Island beach which was at the mouth of the New York harbor.  Directly across from me was Brooklyn and on the far end was Coney Island. 

One morning I was back at the house sitting on the couch wondering what to do with my day.  There was a stack of books next to me and I picked up the one on top which happened to be “The Prince of Tides” by Pat Conroy.  I started leafing through it and was immediately absorbed by the pages.  I stayed up late reading it and only put it down to go to the restroom… probably not even then.  Every word I read touched a nerve deep inside of my body and made me feel something I had never felt before.  I was homesick.  I was homesick for South Carolina and left New York a few days later.

By the end of that month I had read all of Pat Conroy’s books that had been published at the time.  I made my sister read them too.  When he was in Charleston doing a book signing I was one of the people who waited for 4 hours to get him to sign my books.  He is the only person I have ever met that pronounced my maiden name correctly on the first try.  I joked to friends that I wanted to have his baby.

After I read ‘The Water is Wide’ I drove solo to Beaufort and hopped on a boat to Daufuskie Island.  I wanted to see where Pat Conroy lived and taught school early in his career.  At the time the island was incredibly rural and there was only one vehicle on the island, a big pink school bus that was used for tours.  There was maybe 20 people on the boat and everyone besides myself was over 50.  When the bus driver started the tour he asked if anyone had read the book and I was the only person who raised my hand.  Really?!  The tour guide asked if I remember the couple that lived on the island that ran the “store” and delivered the mail… yes, of course I did.  Well, he was their son.  Hello Bob Burns.  From that moment on I felt like it was just myself and Bob on the bus.  

When my sister finally read ‘The Water is Wide’ I brought her to Daufuskie.  I was surprised to see how developed the island was becoming and it made me a bit sad that it wasn’t as pristine as it was the first time I went.  Instead of the bus tour we opted to rent a golf cart to tour the island – that wasn’t even an option the first time I visited!  We drove around the island at a snail’s pace since our big asses were weighing that poor golf cart down.  I showed her all of the spots significant to the book and then we headed back to catch the boat to the mainland.  Since the golf cart was so slow we were almost late and would have had to stay the night on the island.  I think we would have made it sooner by walking back!

Over the years I went to every one of Pat Conroy’s book signings, I tried to find his house on Lady’s Island (before he was married!), I wrote him letters on stationary I made… and when I say made I REALLY mean that I made the paper… from pulp.  Yes, it’s true… from pulp.

Spoleto did a Pat Conroy lecture series that I attended each year.  I loved to hear the stories he told about his personal life.  Not only was he an incredible writer but he was an amazing public speaker as well.  I went to so many of his appearances that he started to recognize me.  I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing though.  My friends joked that I was the Pat Conroy stalker and there was some truth to that I suppose.

When the book ‘Beach Music’ came out the Jewish Community Center in Charleston had a ceremony to honor Pat for his beautiful and touching stories in the book which came from several members of the center.  During his speech Pat told of how he met with many people who gave him the inspiration and permission to use their life experiences in the book, most memorable being the “lady of coins.”  I was late for work because of that ceremony and had to convince my supervisor how important it was for me to be there.  She didn’t understand my fandom but excused my tardiness nonetheless.

The last time I met Pat it was at another lecture but I can’t remember where it was, only that it was in Charleston.  He had just married his wife Cassandra King and she was with him when I went backstage to say hello.  I have a friend who has been hounding me to write a book about my Great Nana and I wanted some advice on how to get started.  My sister was with me and I introduced her then I asked him what the best advice he could give to a person who wanted to write a book that would be fiction but based on a true story.  He took a moment, looked me in the eye and said “Just do it.”  Not exactly the advice I was looking for but he definitely had a point.

Over the years my love for South Carolina has grown and although I move away from time to time it is undoubtedly home for me.  I was living in Ohio February of 2009 when my mother passed away.  I came back to South Carolina, among other reasons, to settle her estate.  The following month I learned that Pat was going to be inducted into the South Carolina Hall of Fame.  The ceremony was to be held in Myrtle Beach at the convention center.  Of course I had to go.  Unfortunately, he was continuously surrounded by well-wishers so I wasn’t able to speak with him that time.  I was happy that even though I was going through a very difficult time in life I was still able to go to the ceremony.  It was nice to be able to focus on something positive for a moment.

Last year a group of people from the Charleston History Before 1945 Facebook group decided to take a daytrip to Daufuskie Island.  I was so excited to be able to go back to a place that I really loved visiting.  When we arrived by boat I was astounded at what was there…  a store, a restaurant, small huts to stay overnight in, a marina and a lot of mansions and condos.  Wow.  Daufuskie definitely was not the same magical place I first visited years before.  I am so glad I was able to see it when it was practically pristine.  This was definitely not the Daufuskie from ‘The Water is Wide’!

Any friend that knows me well knows of my love for Pat Conroy and his books.  Last night I was sitting on my bed when I got a text message from my friend Devin telling me about Pat’s passing.  I was shocked.  It had only been announced last month that he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  I sat and cried like a dummy by myself, well me and my dog Murray.  

There are really no real words that I can write telling of what a profound effect Pat Conroy’s work has had on me.  He gave me a home when I had no clue what a home was.  He made me love a place I was so busy despising that I never took the time to discover the real beauty of.  Once I discovered the Lowcountry and it became such a part of me whenever I was away Pat Conroy was my connection to it once again.  His words were like the beacon I needed to always find my way home to the sea air, the sweetgrass basket ladies, the cobblestone streets of Charleston and the familiar smell of pluff mud.

I am away now, in another state, but because I have the words of Pat Conroy I will never be lost again.  He gave me that and I will forever be grateful to him for helping me find my way home all those years ago. 




Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Dagny Johnson State Park



The other day we decided to go to Key Largo because I wanted to take some photos of random things that I see on our drives.  We were going to stop at Pennykamp Park to walk Murray but then I saw a sign for the Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park. I had never heard of the place so we decided to check it out and ended up taking a 3 mile walk through the nature trails. Sadly, the only wildlife we saw were a few spiders and a few male Cardinals. During our walk I kept thinking of the South Florida python hunt that was currently happening.  39 had been found so far and I wondered if we were going to stumble upon one during our walk.  However, no python discoveries for us that day.
 





During our walk we came across a massive, abandoned and decaying structure full of very amateur graffiti. I love stuff like this! We had no clue what this place was and we heard a lady on a bike say it used to be the place of a "drug lord" - well, that's interesting!  I had to know more!  We explored for a bit and it started getting late in the day so we stopped at Starbucks for coffee and headed home.

Later that night I did some research and found a totally different story than that of a drug lord. The place is called Port Bougainville and it was once a development meant to have a 2800-unit complex in the style of a Mediterranean fishing village, complete with a helicopter landing pad, a boat yard, service station, shopping mall, and jetport. When environmentalists caught wind of the project and the danger the coral reef (one of the world's largest) and nature area was in they started a movement to stop the project and after a long battle were victorious.

Wow.

The park is named after Anna Dagny Johnson, a key environmentalist whose efforts helped preserve the natural habitat for endangered and threatened plant and animal species as well as the Florida Keys coral reef ecosystem.







   (Taken with my Nikon Coolpix AW130)



Tuesday, January 12, 2016

We Could Be Heroes...

My first half of high school was spent at Central Kitsap High School in Silverdale, Washington.

Yes, I went to two different high schools.  CKHS and Goose Creek High School were worlds apart in SO many ways.  CKHS was so incredibly progressive in music, what we wore, our interest in politics and making a difference in the world.  I remember CK had a member of the Communist party of China come to speak to students who cared to take time out of the classroom and it was packed and the exchange between students and the guest was amazing.  The lip sync’s at CKHS were huge and consisted of bands like The Ramones, The Plasmatics, Black Flag, The B-52’s and many others that people in Goose Creek (for the most part) had never heard of.  When I moved to Goose Creek in 1986 everyone was listening to Sly Fox.  That would have never happened at CK.  We had this one lip sync where our principal thought some of the performances were X-rated so he shut it down.  We were the kind of students who decided to have a sit-in the next morning on the school steps in protest of the lip sync being canceled and it worked.  We were heard.  I don’t recall GCHS ever having a lip sync.  GCHS had the Miss L’Esprit pageant and students hung out at a teen dance club that was in the same building as the over 21 group… the two areas were separated with a huge glass (?) partition… you could look at the other side of the club but forget about going over there if you were underage.  It also allowed the older people to gawk at the younger kids on the other side of the glass.  Yes, fun times.  The students of CK took the ferry to Seattle and went to a club called Skoochie’s and sometimes to Hollywood Underground.  There was absolutely no Sly Fox playing there… more like The Cure and Depeche Mode, of course way before they became mainstream.

When I moved to Goose Creek the football team had shaved “Mohawk’s” on their heads for some strange reason.  At CK if you had a Mohawk you were just… well, cool.  I didn’t fit in at GCHS so this is why I hung out with the college-aged student’s downtown.  I had a handful of friends that were fellow students at GCHS and oddly enough the friends that I have now that I went to high school with are friendships that were formed after our first reunion.  I didn’t socialize a lot when I went to GC.  I hated South Carolina (can you believe that?) and especially Goose Creek (and I kind of still loathe Goose Creek to be honest).  I begged my parents to let me move back to Seattle or anywhere away from the South!  They weren’t having any of that so I was pretty miserable for a few years until I could jump on the first plane to Seattle after high school which is just what I did.

In 9th grade at CKHS I took drama class as one of my electives.  We had so much fun in that class.  We’d sit in the school auditorium and I’d pierce people’s ears… boys, girls, didn’t matter.  If you brought me an earring I’d pierce your ear.  Forget all that sterile needle crap!  I’d just shove the earring in FAST and voila!  Done.  The thing I remember most about drama class was the actual classroom which we didn’t spend much time in.  The classroom was backstage (sort of) from the auditorium and away from other classes.  It was in this classroom that I first discovered David Bowie.  On the back wall of the classroom was a big poster of Bowie kissing a skull.  What?!?!  I stared at that poster so much because it awoke something in my 15 (or maybe 16) year old body.  Who was this guy… and is that a guy?!I had never seen anything quite like David Bowie in my life.  It was then that I was introduced to the beautiful creatures of the androgynous world, or even that this world existed.  Today when I think about that poster I am so thankful that I grew up in the time that I did and especially that I spent a few years at Central Kitsap High School.  I know that these days if a teacher had that poster up in a classroom someone’s mom would get her panties in a wad and come running up to the school to complain about it.  So, thank you Mr. Les Smith of Central Kitsap High School for unabashedly putting that poster up in your public high school classroom.  You rule.

So, yes… today was a sad day.  I was taking shower when Tabitha came in and told me the news about Bowie.  My immediate thought was that my friend Shannon was going to be devastated.  I’ve never met a bigger Bowie fan than her.  We are so fortunate to have lived in a world where David Bowie existed.  The world lost an icon today, a person who had incredible influence on several generations and in so many ways.  We will never be the same.  We need to take a time out and think about Bowie and the life that he led.  He lived his own way and gave absolutely no fucks about what people said about him and I think I like to think that I kept that in mind while also giving no fucks.  He was one of the few that paved the way.   I feel sad for the kids of today.  Who do they have?  Justin Bieber?  Kanye West?  I don’t even want to imagine this new generation coming of age and going into adulthood.  Yikes!  Will they say the same things I am saying about Bowie but instead about the Jonas Brothers?

If so, Dear Universe, please help us all.

I so wish I could find the photo from the poster.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Grief

I read this article this morning and it made me ponder... 

Yesterday I was chatting with my friend and he said that he has a friend that has never been to a funeral or had anyone close to them pass away.  How is that even possible?  The first time I experienced the death of a loved one was September 2, 1978.  We were living in Groton, Connecticut and I remember that we had the most hideous sounding doorbell.  The sound of this doorbell was much like the time out buzzer at a basketball game; horrendous and obnoxiously loud!  I was sleeping in the room closest to the front door when, in the wee hours of the morning, I heard that doorbell buzz continuously.  Even at the age of 9 you know when the doorbell rings at that time of night it's never good so I lay frozen in my bed, waiting and barely breathing.  My father was out to sea so I knew that it wouldn't be him getting up to answer the door.  When I look back on this time it baffles my mind that my mom was only 33 years old when this happened.  My parents were never an age to me, they were just "mom and dad", it wasn't until their deaths that it dawned on me that they were once in their twenties, their thirties, forties, etc. 

In 1978 my mom was 33 with 3 children while her husband was on patrol for at least 3 months.  She was the epitome of a Navy Wife.  She took care of everything while my father worked or was out to sea.  She made sure we were taken care of and had everything we needed.  I cannot imagine what ran through her mind hearing that doorbell woke her up and continuously broke the silence of the night until she got up to see who it was.  I stayed in bed listening to the sounds in the house.  If my sisters got up I'm not aware of it.  I heard my mother get out of bed and walk down the hallway, past my door and without even opening the door she started crying.  It wasn't a cry, though,   It was a wail.  As my friend described it yesterday it's more of a primal scream.  It comes from the gut and once it starts it's hard to stop or control.  It's pure, raw emotion and at times it has no sound, which is even more frightening to hear.

I found out later that when my mom reached the door she looked through the peephole and saw my aunt and uncle (her sister and brother in law) standing there.  Being that we lived in Connecticut and they lived in Massachusetts this was not common, in fact, they had never been to our house before this.  My mother knew someone was dead without even opening the door.  When she finally managed to let them in she learned that her mother, my Nana, had a massive heart attack the day prior and was dead at the age of 58. 

That night was the beginning of my grief, something I didn't understand until several years ago.

1978 Nana - heart attack
1986 great grandmother - natural causes
1991 great grandmother - natural causes
1992 grandmother - breast cancer
2003 father - lung cancer
2003 great uncle  - lung cancer
2007 aunt  - COPD
2009 uncle  - lung cancer
2009 mother - cardiac arrest
2012 uncle - lung cancer
2012 grandfather - lung cancer
2014 cousin - liver disease

I feel like I'm failing to list someone.

The conversation I had yesterday made me think hard about my life experience - though it's something I do think of often, anyway, unfortunately.  I wondered how different of a person I would be had I not gone through the experiences I've had.  What if I experienced my first loss of a loved one in my thirties?  Would I appreciate life as much?  Would I care for the people in my life as much? Would I realize how short life really is? 

Am I naive to think that most people start experiencing the loss of loved ones when they are in their 50's and 60's?  I see people in their 60's that still have both parents and that baffles my mind.  I can't help but think that they have absolutely no clue what it feels like to not have them and I have to stop myself from being bitter and mad when they react in absolute grief when their parent passes away in their late 80's.  Yes, it pisses me off.  I feel that they should feel lucky.  They should be thankful they had them in their life that long. I want to tell them to stop crying and be happy they died of natural causes and didn't suffer through a horrible illness before having to make the decision to take them off life support.

Even though it's been difficult I am a better person because of all of this.  My grief has ended relationships with people who do not get it and can't handle it because of their own personal experience, or lack of.  One day they will get it and they will think of me and the words they said out loud to me and will perhaps be sorry (but probably not). 

I feel like I have a secret that so many people do not understand.  I have told friends and about it and I let them know that until they experience loss in such a profound way they won't get it either but when they do, I am here and will always be here.  Today I handle it like a pro.  I am the person friends come to when they want to cry because I get it.  I understand and would never shame someone for having feelings they can't control as others have shamed me before.   You can't tell anyone how they need to grieve.  It's a personal experience and not everyone will handle it the same way.  Don't tell me to get over it because I would never say that to you. It's good to purge and not hold it in even if it's years later. 

We all know that nothing will bring them back but that doesn't mean the hole in my heart, because they are gone, hurts less.


Here is the (GREAT!!) article I read:


The Day I'll Finally Stop Grieving

by John Pavlovitz
October 31, 2015

“How long has it been? When is he going to get over that grief and move on already?”
I get it.
I know you might be thinking that about me or about someone else these days.
I know you may look at someone you know in mourning and wonder when they’ll snap out of it.
I understand because I use to think that way too.

Okay, maybe at the time I was self-aware enough or guilty enough not to think it quite that explicitly, even in my own head. It might have come in the form of a growing impatience toward someone in mourning or a gradual dismissing of their sadness over time or maybe in my intentionally avoiding them as the days passed. It was subtle to be sure, but I can distinctly remember reaching the place where my compassion for grieving friends had reached its capacity—and it was long before they stopped hurting.

Back then like most people, my mind was operating under the faulty assumption that grief had some predictable expiration date; a reasonable period of time after which recovery and normalcy would come and the person would return to life as it was before, albeit with some minor adjustments.
I thought all these things, until I grieved.
I never think these things anymore.

Two years ago I remember sitting with a dear friend at a coffee shop table in the aftermath of my father’s sudden passing. In response to my quivering voice and my tear-weary eyes and my obvious shell shock, she assured me that this debilitating sadness; this ironic combination of searing pain and complete numbness was going to give me a layer of compassion for hurting people that I’d never had before. It was an understanding, she said, that I simply couldn’t have had without walking through the Grief Valley. She was right, though I would have gladly acquired this empathy in a million other ways.

Since that day I’ve realized that Grief doesn’t just visit you for a horrible, yet temporary holiday. It moves in, puts down roots—and it never leaves. Yes as time passes, eventually the tidal waves subside for longer periods, but they inevitably come crashing in again without notice, when you are least prepared. With no warning they devastate the landscape of your heart all over again, leaving you bruised and breathless and needing to rebuild once more.

Grief brings humility as a housewarming gift and doesn’t care whether you want it or not.
You are forced to face your inability to do anything but feel it all and fall apart. It’s incredibly difficult in those quiet moments, when you realize so long after the loss that you’re still not the same person you used to be; that this chronic soul injury just won’t heal up. This is tough medicine to take, but more difficult still, is coming to feel quite sure that you’ll never will be that person again. It’s humbling to know you’ve been internally altered: Death has interrupted your plans, served your relationships, and rewritten the script for you.

And strangely (or perhaps quite understandably) those acute attacks of despair are the very moments when I feel closest to my father, as if the pain somehow allows me to remove the space and time which separates us and I can press my head against his chest and hear his heartbeat once more. These tragic times are somehow oddly comforting even as they kick you in the gut.
And it is this odd healing sadness which I’ll carry for the remainder of my days; that nexus between total devastation and gradual restoration. It is the way your love outlives your loved one.

I’ve walked enough of this road to realize that it is my road now. This is not just a momentary detour, it’s the permanent state of affairs. I will have many good days and many moments of gratitude and times of welcome respite, but I’m never getting over this loss.
This is the cost of sharing your life with someone worth missing.
Two years into my walk in the Valley I’ve resigned myself to the truth that this a lifetime sentence. At the end of my time here on the planet, I will either be reunited with my father in some glorious mystery, or simply reach my last day of mourning his loss.

Either way I’m beginning to rest in the simple truth:
The day I’ll stop grieving—is the day I stop breathing.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Check Your Neck!



Have you ever really looked at an image of your skeleton?  It's so weird!!  I was going through some stuff that Robyn​ brought me from my storage in Charleston when she came to visit this past weekend and found a CD - it's the CT scan from my 2010 visit to my ENT which led to my accidental diagnosis of thyroid cancer.

Yeah, that skeleton is me...

Coincidentally it's September and September is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month.  Speaking of ThyCa.  Can I just say that I don't mind the butterfly being the symbol of thyroid cancer - I get it - the thyroid resembles a butterfly.  However, I really dislike the awareness ribbon colors which are teal and pink.  Two of my least favorite colors.  Blech.  Is that bitchy and trivial?  Probably so, but hey... just my opinion.

meh.

I have told the story about finding the lump, the needle biopsy, surgery and recovery so I won't go into all of that.  It's been 5 years since my thyroidectomy and I still have that little lump that led me to finding out I had cancer.  I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I wasn't concerned about that lump and never went to the doctor.

When looking at the CT image I stare at my thyroid area and try to pinpoint what spots are the calcification and can never figure it out.  Thankfully it wasn't missed by the doctor!  It's kind of weird looking at your own skeleton and then seeing the outer area of my body being so large back then.  So much has changed in 5 years and all for the better.  "New" body, improved health, getting married, moving South of Miami!  If you asked me in 2010 where I would be in 5 years there's no way in hell I would have guessed any of that!! 

 
 Life is a journey, not a destination.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson