Thursday, April 14, 2011

Uninvited Company

I am no spring chicken. Come to think of it I don't even know what a spring chicken is.

I know what roasted chicken is. I know what Chicken Bryan is; it is a lovely dish with chevre cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. (Kisses fingers like Italian man with mustache)

But if you are what you eat, a spring chicken I am not.

A couple of days ago walking through my house I thought “who is that?” Now, you must understand I was home alone. There was no one else there. “Who is that?” I had uninvited company. I did a double take; it was me and this old lady in the foyer mirror looking back at me. I did not know I had invited her...that is me?

I'm not one to put myself down....that leads nowhere it just opens doors for others to feel free to walk over you. Not putting myself down but I will comment on this gray haired, tired looking, overweight, woman with fine lines around her eyes...Where did she come from? When did she let herself go? When did that happen?

There is a time-line of self awareness that I guess I have skipped a few dots on.

I'm not... that.... old... am I?

About two years ago I stopped coloring my hair. Bottle after bottle of hair color, chestnut, almond, golden hazelnut....they name the colors these wonderful offerings of the same things I have in my coffee each morning. Bottle after bottle of the wrong color, I decided it was an effort in futility. I was going gray faster than my color at home could keep up with. I'm too cheap to have it done by a professional and I decided I was not really that concerned with what other people thought of my appearance. If it did not bother me to go gray, it did not matter if it bothered anyone else. So I went gray. I'm still going gray—still going—still going. I'm not really getting there though. It is taking forever. I’m seeking Meryl Streep’s The Devil Wears Prada look—by no means has that been achieved yet.

Without calling first—as any company should—this old woman shows up in the foyer mirror. Is that my hair, really? It just looks dusty, it looks like I had a tussle with the Ghost of Christmas Past and we both walked away confused. And why does she—the woman in the mirror—look so…tired?

When did all this happen? I know there are more and more mornings that require coffee, there are more pain relievers taken? There are stresses of life, and loss. There obviously is less products from Clairol in play here, but when did I unknowingly cross that line to looking old?

There are dots missing on my time-line of self awareness.

Maybe it started when I did not have plans on Friday nights anymore; maybe it started with marriage, home and child. Maybe I can even pin point it to the night we were refinishing the wood floors and turned down the couples outing. Maybe that was it. Was that the day I made the choice that reclaimed wood floors being shiny was my plan for life? That was the grown up decision. Finish the floors, go out some other time. As I recall my back did hurt the next morning. I think that might be when it happened. When the right decision was also the old lady decision.

Maybe being old did not happen due to activities but maybe old is what happens when life becomes what you were aiming for all along. Maybe it started when I was sure the man I love loved me back without condition. Maybe it was when I stopped looking to others for my cues. Maybe it was when my magazines changed from fashion to DIY and easy week night dinners. Maybe it was somehow alright to let myself go? I was loved and was own person did that make it OK to become old? I think I just stopped looking for the dots on the timeline, I’m was just too busy. Time waits for no old woman. I now understand that if you let yourself go—there will come a day—several dots later on the time line you will look like uninvited company, you won’t even recognize the old lady in the foyer mirror.

Today was that day…there we were, she and I, at the foyer mirror.
I stared for a few minutes
I leaned in, I got closer
I squinched my nose
I pushed up my glasses
I turned my head slowly to the right
Now slowly to the left
I lifted my double chin
Peeked at her under my glasses
I dropped my double chin
Peeked at her over my glasses
(She is quiet talented as a mime she copied everything)

I said to her, “so we let this happen... aye?” (I'm not sure why I thought she was Canadian…aye)
She just looked at me...what are you going to do about it? She thought...

I stepped back closed my eyes for a second or two, because I realized this uninvited woman in the mirror was somehow thinking the same thing I was.

What are you going to do about it?

I only have to do something about it if it bothers me, only if it bothers me. I have to be frank...Today it does, today it bothers me. Tomorrow it might not, I don't know.

So what do I do about it? I'm not a crazy have surgery—introduce deadly viruses under my skin—eat a tapeworm kind of gal. So what could I do that would give me results? What would get this old lady to leave the foyer mirror?

I love lists so here is my “what are you going to do?” to-do list:
Spa treatments
Healthier life style
Hair color
Facial products
Salt scrubs
More coffee
Maybe just a temporary hair

List made—that's it. Course of action decided: temporary hair color followed by a full Egyptian Cotton treatment. This I can do.

Why temporary color? I don't have to commit—if I’m over it in a few days it washes away, right back to the dusty gray. Toasted Almond # 12 it is.

Why the Egyptian Cotton treatment? To cover up the foyer mirror so the uninvited old lady can't see me anymore. 800 thread count—only the best for company.

I will add that dot on my time-line of self awareness—Toasted Almond # 12 and 800 thread count. I feel younger already. That was easy.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Something to Hide

I did not know I had something to hide.

Gretchen asks “Is there anything you have kept from me and Daddy?”

“I don't think so” I said conversationally…Then in my mind, the wheels turned.

I've tried to convince him that we are broke... I think that has finally worked. I've learned to like watching M.A.S.H. before bed, but I won't tell him this—I will still grumble—that is part of my routine. I won’t tell her when it is goat cheese on the chicken. That is a conversation that just does not need to happen. She needs to eat the chicken. Having said that, I don't think I've “kept” anything from them. I don't think I have anything to hide....I don't think I do.

I've used this blog in the past weeks to share what I’m feeling—what I can’t just say—what might be seen as too much, but I don't think so. I will not hide. I will not hide from all of this craziness that currently resides in my head.

It seems like there is more honesty to write about circumstances, emotions, and stuff along that line than to talk about it. When I talk about it, my voice quivers, my eyes leak and my heart races, my temper rages and my face turns red. I lose my words and tend to become hysterical in a girly kind of way. That does not happen here with a keyboard however. All of that emotion, every bit of that comes out of my fingers like they already knew what to write, like it was always there, like all it needed was to be released. I find myself holding my breath until I finish the sentence and its punctuation. Breathe. The words cross the screen before I even think them. Breathe. It is there on the screen, like someone else was telling me what to think. Holding my breath like I too am reading for the first time what my heart is feeling.

I feel like there is nothing to hide because anyone who takes the time to read this is actually interested. They are not looking me in the eye they don't have to continue to read if it is boring or if they don't have time. They can click the X at the top right of the screen if the beeper goes off and dinner is done. People can read because they choose to. But regardless if anyone reads or not, I have said with my fingers what I needed to released from my heart, and you can listen if you have the chance. I don't have anything to hide....I don't think I do.

I can form run-on sentences to share the sorrow, the pain, the process of grieving, you can take part if you want. It is not easy to process all the power surges of emotion, but I'm glad that this keyboard is ready to hear me out. I'm honored by those who have read my words and have shared their feedback and given their caring advice. I thrive on the advice....I'm humbled by the advice. I'm also humbled by all of those who have read any of my blogs at all. I may not have known you were reading, but I'm grateful still.

There are those who have been through their own trials, and when they say, let me hold your figurative hand, let me share your road; let me show you what I have learned. To those I say thank you. Because knowing you care makes it easy to share, sharing without being afraid to be judged. I tell myself I have nothing to hide. I will not hide. I will not hide from these feelings—and when I have shown these feelings—to those reading—thank you for not running. For standing with me, for saying you care, and for sharing your own thoughts. Thank you for loving me and indulging me and my thoughts. Sadness and anger they are just part of what is showing right now. You can say anything to me you darn well will not make me mad. It will make me know I'm not in it alone.

My daughter has an old soul. She is more understanding than a girl her age should be. She would almost make me believe in reincarnation, it is like she has done this thing called life before. It is all old hat to her. She has these eyes that are so knowing. She approaches situations like “now how did I do this last time?” Her questions are well beyond her age; she cuts to the chase and lays it all out. “Have you kept anything form me and daddy?”

I can't even remember where the conversation came from when she ask me if I have kept anything from them. I can't even remember what we were talking about, at that moment. I do however know where the question has gone to in my head since then. I haven't kept anything from them but I do tend to keep things secret in my head. Secret until I think it can be let out. Secret until I think it is safe to share. Secret until I have thought it through.

I tend to process every thought like it is a secret, I think each thought to death in my head, not just good things, not just bad things, not just anything...I over process everything. I tend to run scenarios of the hypothesized outcome over and over to see what the best plan is. My words are strategic, my plot is planned. This process builds anxiety like crazy. To think that in my head I can run enough scenarios to keep the bad things from happening. Yeah that will always go well, right? Breathe.

This over indulging thought process punishes me sometimes. It keeps me form being spontaneous; it keeps me from taking chances. It however makes me sure of who I think I am and that I have nothing to hide. Whatever I have thought through will be safe to let the world share.

I have found when I sit down to write, the over indulged thought process is gone, it doesn't seem to apply here. What crosses form my fingers to the keyboard is instant, it is unplanned and it is true. I take chances that my feelings set adrift into the world are pure and will be received by eyes and ears that care for me. So I do not over think them, I just let go, I will not hide. I will release them and let them go, I will be sad, I will be angry, I will be true, I will not hide. I will process and allow the process to heal me—because it is not just me that needs to be healed.

There is this little girl who needs me to be on her path of healing, to help her count the things she knows to be true. To help her not lose those things she knows to be true. It’s my job to help her not hide from the hurt, not to hide from her feelings, not to hide from her thoughts. So she can be able to release and to breathe.

For a few years, most nights before bed we do what we call “happy thoughts,” a list of things that make us happy.

Fuzzy socks
Painted toe nails
Battery operated tooth brushes
Each other...

Before my Daddy died her grandparents were on her list each night. Now they are not. She does not list them, I do not list them. I think we are both afraid to say it, to say that Pop is our happy thought, because right now it is not happy. Right now it hurts to feel happy about him. It feels wrong to list a man that filled us with love and with joy. So we don't. We instead list thing like...

Wind chimes
Humming birds
Ice cream

We list things we know would be on his “happy thoughts” list. It is not that we planned it, it just happened.

I may feel like I have nothing to hide, but I know I have something I would like to hide. I want to hide her away from this pain and grief, to be protective of her old soul. I want to collect and hideaway all those happy thoughts at bedtime about Pop. I want to hide them and share them with her again somewhere down the line. What I wish I could keep form her is the memory of her Pop and this pain being intertwined together. To keep her heart safe and for us to come out on the other side of all of this unharmed.

I have something to hide.

This young girl that has gained more and lost more than someone her age should be able to tell of; I want her to remember her Pop and it not be mixed with pain. She asks me why I smile right before I start to cry about Pop. I did not know that I even did that. I suppose I smile because the thought of him makes me happy, but the power surge of grief takes it and the grief washes away the smile with my leaking eyes.

I made a list of what my Daddy meant to me before he died because I never wanted to lose any of that or forget a bit of it. I want to hide away all those memories keep them safe and never lose them, so they will not be washed away for good. To hide them so my daughter will always know her Pop was a man that loved her so strongly. He loved her with a love so true that most people spend their whole lives looking for that kind of love. To keep that safe so she will not have to search her whole life for it—that love and happiness are hers already—it may be hidden right now but she just has to look for it. It is not gone she only needs to remember what it feels like. Maybe she can keep it hidden away in her heart for now—hidden away, but easy enough to find someday soon. She will know when the time is right to make him part of her “Happy thoughts” list again.

Someday we will not hide the happiness away, because the sadness and the anger will have faded. The sadness and anger, they will be over and the healing will happen. When the time is right the smiles on our faces will stay and the grief will not come to wash it away. When the time is right we will no longer have something to hide

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon...I wonder how many people have seen it? How many people have had their breath taken away from the awe, from the amazement they felt when they stepped to the ledge and realized how small they are. Did they even feel small? Did it even take their breath?

When my Daddy accepted that the cancer treatment was not going to cure his cancer he stopped treatment. He was afraid his doctor would push him for the next cure, the next punishment to his body. The doctor did not. The doctor knew the awful truth. So did my Daddy. The doctor said “go do what you want to do, spend time with your family and live”

Live like you are dying...the doctor did not say that exactly, but it is what he meant.

That was November.

Live like you are dying...My Daddy wanted to go the Grand Canyon. Ride a train cross country see the Grand Canyon and throw a rock into it. We thought Christmas break, “Christmas break—we will go then,” we said. “No,” he said “When I feel better. When I feel better, not now.” In his last months, my Daddy said quiet often “When I feel better.” But he never did. There were days that were not as bad—but he never felt better.

That was December.

He had good days and he had bad days, he did not want to be alone. He just needed to be with someone. We did not leave him alone. He just wanted to be.... he just wanted to feel better.

That was January.

Valentine's Day was a pretty good day for my Daddy. He once again was able to help someone out. His assigned Hospice Social Worker had locked her keys in her car. I wasn't there but I can hear him now.... “We will take you home, don't worry about it.”

That was his last good day. In the coming days his condition progressed so quickly it was a blur.

Since then, over the last few weeks I have felt so angry toward that lady that locked her keys in her car. That was my Daddy's last good day. I'm jealous of missing part of it. I'm jealous that it was spent on a stranger—spent on a stranger that should have been professional enough to just call a lock smith. Daddy spent his last good evening running across the county trying to help someone find extra car keys. His last good evening, it should have been spent having dinner with us. It became a rushed evening of frozen pizza and trying to take care of someone else and her kids.

But that was him—that was what he loved to do. Pay it forward—to help when it would have been just as easy to say fiend for yourself. His last good day was spent helping someone else. It was his last deed of kindness. By the next day he was hardly himself, by the next week he was gone. A week that was a blur and he was gone.

That was February.

I fight with myself over how angry that makes me, how angry I am about keys locked in a car. How can I be mad at someone that needed help and mad at someone for lending a hand? Maybe I should not be—but I am. I want it back. I want that night back. I want it back for me. For me. I want it back for all of my completely selfish reasons.

I'm not mad at the lady or her lost keys...that is just where I place some of my anger. I'm mad at Cancer, I'm mad at God, I'm mad at me. I'm mad because my Daddy is not here. I'm mad that there is nothing I could do to stop it. I'm mad because I'm mad. I'm mad because it hurts so much. I'm mad because we never made it to the Grand Canyon. It's what he wanted—and I did not make it happen.

Daddy being gone that takes my breath away, but it is not because of awe or amazement that the Grand Canyon may have brought, I can't breathe because it hurts. AND IT IS NOT FAIR. I want it all back...

There was still so much to do. There were still so many things that might take his breath away that he will never see from this side of heaven. Moments that still may take our breath away and he will not be here to share.

I thought there would be more time, how could there not be more time?

All he wanted was to throw a rock in.

When you are still here, still grieving it is hard to decide what’s next. We blinked our eyes and...

That was March. The March my Daddy knew he would never see.

Now we are in April, spring break is coming up. That was to be our next chance for the Grand Canyon. However, the Grand Canyon without him—I don't think we are ready for that. Do we still go? Do we pack the car drive cross country and stand on the ledge and lose our breath in grief? Do we walk to the ledge and celebrate him? Do I walk to the ledge and sob because I did not make it happen when he was still here? Do we still go?

“When I feel better,” my heart tells me. “When I feel better.” This is a hurt that is hard to think clearly through. Losing someone creates all these new questions. I don't have answers. I can't even find enough reason that there are answers yet. When you are still here grieving it is hard to decide on what’s next—but it is not time for that road trip yet.

Maybe it will be next year. Maybe when my anger has passed. Maybe when I find my own rock to throw in. Maybe when I find some reason of my own…maybe when I don't feel like I'm at the bottom of a grand canyon...maybe then I will feel better.

Sometimes I feel like I'm as close as your shadow
and Sometimes I feel like I'm looking up
at You from the bottom of the Grand Canyon,
so small and so far
From the Grand Canyon, with a hole in my heart
And I'm a long way from where I know I need to be
When there's a Grand Canyon between You and me
When there's a Grand Canyon between You and me
Susan Ashton