Freeing the voices in my head

Archive for the ‘Children’ Category

Grief Isn’t A Journey…

Grief is a stagnant void where nothing feels right and no one can help pull you out of it.  Grief isn’t a series of “five stages” or “steps” back to normal life.  Normal life included my daughter, alive and available, able to be visited or talked to, helped and hugged.  Normal is no longer possible.  Time doesn’t heal shit; the wound is open and stays that way.

 

So, wow, okay…couple of things I’ve noticed these past few weeks; not that I’ve noticed much of anything, but anyway…

When someone you know loses a loved one, you want to help, you want to send comfort, support and love.  But, since humans fear Death so  much, you have no idea what to say or do for that person, so you do what comforts and supports YOU.  That’s fine, just realize that the mourner won’t react in a manner you wanted.  Most of the time, I don’t react at all; I’m still rather numb regarding the outside world and society.  Since we are (most of us) raised to be polite in public, you won’t hear the truth, so let me help you out a bit.  Please remember, this is my experience, maybe it’s different for others.  Also, I AM grateful for all the support and love; I’m just not good at reacting to it.

 

Food: Sure, go ahead and cook something, bring it on over – in a disposable dish, please!  Cooking is comforting for you and I’m grateful I won’t have to think about feeding my family (or the dogs) for a day or two.  But don’t expect me to eat; my body is rejecting anything that pertains to Life right now.   And don’t expect your dish back; it will rot in the fridge, or sit in a congealed mess on the counter or get broken because I have no idea who it belongs to or how to take care of it for you (and I’m too clumsy right now to handle anything breakable – I’m surprised the laptop’s still working!).

Do come over.  Don’t expect me to come to you or call you.  Driving is dangerous, especially when alone in the car – the tears are always right there and it’s too easy to let them flow.  All I want to do is curl into a fetal position under the blankets and scream until I die, too.  Leave me in my bed after patting my shaking shoulder and go clean my house, thanks, but don’t expect me to talk or interact much with you while you’re visiting.

Phrases that help you, but aren’t really helpful for me:  “God needed an angel.”   Fuck that!  God has enough angels.  I hate God right now and am really angry at Him/Her/It.  Do not talk religion or God-talk to me.  “We’re praying.”  Pray for my baby to be back, alive and well, pray to turn back Time; otherwise, go pray somewhere else.

“You have your memories.”  Yeah, and every memory, good or bad, hurts like acid on a raw wound right now, thanks anyway.  Pay for a lobotomy for me so I have nothing in my brain that can hurt me.  Punch me in the head so I get amnesia and have no memories at all and no more pain.  Best of all: kill me so I can go beat the shit outta God and Death for stealing my baby from me.

“What can we do?”  and “How can we help?”  Whoa, don’t ask me to make any decisions!  I’m having a good day if I managed to get out of bed long enough to drink some water and pee.  Seriously, do not ask me to decide shit or function in an acceptable manner.  I can’t.  My first trip out of the house was spent crying in the car, the bank, the grocery store, trying to read my list of errands so I could at least get one chore done.   Didn’t work.  I went home and there I stayed for another week or two or five.  So, take my list, pay my bills, and do my chores, run my life for a month or two, thanks.

Helpful words:  “We’re so sorry for your loss.”  Perfect, leave it at that and hug me.  Be ready to hold me up because my knees are gonna buckle.  Sorry about your soaking wet shoulder, but, yep, I needed to just cry on you, just needed to be hugged, because it let me feel something other than the agony inside me.

There.  Don’t feel guilty if you smiled a little or chuckled; I’m glad you did.  This rant was a release for me and I can still be humorous even when I’m so sad, angry or in pain.  Morbid humor, I guess, or maybe I’m re-reading this wrong and seeing humor where there isn’t any.  I don’t know anymore, my perceptions are way off – I watch violent TV shows and cheer when people die, but a cartoon about a lost dog has me sobbing….

Anyway, thanks for “listening,” don’t know when I’ll be back, but this rant helped a little.  Hug each other!  Now, dammit!

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High Peaks Summer

We ate our way up the mountain. Grabbed what we could as we walked and crammed it into our mouths. We didn’t worry about rinsing off any dirt, bird poop, or germs; it had rained last night and the sun hadn’t yet burned off the morning dew. The lush purple goodies were ripe and sweet and irresistible.
Fourteen girls, the current residents of Cabins Six and Seven, on the last summer of childhood before high school, make up, cars and boys, no, we didn’t care. We were still invincible, still innocent, and we were conquering the world. Or least some of it.
Echo Camp for Girls on Raquette Lake in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York offered a full summer program. Six weeks of swimming, boating, archery, horseback riding, hiking and camping. Arts and crafts, talent shows, and for the older girls, a dance night with the boys from the camp across the lake.
So many choices, so much to do and see and learn, every day structured except for Sundays and yet we didn’t feel restricted or restrained. Our parents paid for all of it, but we could choose; not interested in learning how to survive when your canoe capsizes, well then, use that extra hour to go down to the stables for more time with your favorite horse.
I had made a choice that summer, that last summer, to miss the final dance and go on the week long hiking trip. I wasn’t interested in the boys from the other camp because I had a boyfriend at home. We had shared our first kiss on the last day of eighth grade, the last day of junior high. I was true blue to him, so I chose to climb mountains.
Not just any mountains; these were the Adirondacks and we were climbing five of the highest peaks in the state. We would join an exclusive group of adults who had hiked up these mountains. It was a big deal back then to be part of the High Peak Club.
We started the journey by crossing the broad expanse of Raquette Lake in the camp’s two big motorboats. At the public dock, we piled into three canoes. Our lone camp counselor was Patty from Cabin Six, my counselor and at eighteen, four years older than us and our hero and mentor. We paddled our way to the first stop, put on our backpacks and hoisted upside down canoes on our shoulders to hike into the deep forest.
We dumped everything at the campsite near the first mountain and Patty led us up the trailhead. It was our first challenge – hike the smallest of the High Peaks before we ran out of energy and sunlight. We almost made it.
We reached the summit of Phelps Mountain and marveled at the gorgeous view, nibbled gorp (trail mix), and signed our names in the hiker’s book. Patty found it in a small wooden box nailed to a tree. The little notebook was filled with signatures and had room for many more. Phelps wasn’t a popular hike for day-trippers – it wasn’t steep, but the trail was a find-your-own-way-up once you reached the midway point. Day hikers wanted easily marked and cleared trails. Intrepid adventurers, like us, just scrambled through brush, scraggly trees and around boulders until we reached the top.
After signing my name, I glanced at the opposite page. A familiar name caught my eyes. “Hey, I know this boy! He’s one of Sean’s friends.” I probably blushed saying my steady’s name; Love was brand-new for me and one of the few things I was shy about learning.
Patty leaned over and pointed out the group name at the top. “Boy Scouts. They were here last week.” I smiled, feeling a warm connection to this boy I barely knew, we had climbed the same mountain, this Randy Eldred and I, what a coincidence.
The beginning glory of the sunset spread out before us, so close and breath-taking, was our nudge to return to camp. We scampered down the mountain, laughing and screaming, mere steps ahead of the dark, and landed in breathless heaps at the bottom of the trail. Patty grinned at us, a serene goddess of fitness, barely sweating, and sweetly said, “Time to make camp.”
We groaned and stumbled forward to pitch tents, build a fire and cook over it, but a glorious smell hit us when we entered our clearing. A cheerful fire blazed in the pit, the tents were pitched and an actual dinner had been set up on picnic tables. Patty informed us that this was our first reward. There would be different ones each time we conquered a high peak.
“But how?” someone asked. Our counselor pointed at the line of trees. “There’s a road and public campground right over there. The Skipper sent the kitchen staff here to set us up for the first night. After this, though, we’ll be on our own, so enjoy it!”
The next day, and for the rest of the week, we shouldered our canoes and packs, trekking through dense forest and tiny creeks, to reach open water. It was always a relief to get in the canoe and glide across a lake to the next mountain. Paddling was easier than walking, at least for the first hour or so.
We followed a stream up Mount Marcy, the tallest peak in New York. It wasn’t the toughest mountain and it took forever to reach the summit. Once there, we received our geography and history lesson. The owner of Echo Camp, the Skipper, made sure her girls learned about the land. Marcy was a long boring hike, made fun only because Patty let us play in the stream. That became a tiny trickle near the summit and disappeared into the bare ground. Patty pointed to the spot and proclaimed, “Girls, this is where the mighty Mohawk River begins.” She turned us around. “And from here, you can see across five different states.”
I was impressed, but too tired to hang onto the feeling. This tallest peak was, for me, a disappointment and all I could think about was that long boring hike back down to camp. Lonnie, my best buddy that summer, suddenly said, “Well, I don’t know about five states, but I do see thunderclouds.” We all turned the other way and squealed at the black masses of clouds heading toward us. Patty shouted, “Go, follow the creek, but do NOT walk in it. Go, girls, fast as you can!”
Some of us had grown up in this area, played with family at Lake George, camped here before, but others were city girls and didn’t understand. I grabbed Lonnie’s hand and hurried her along. My New York City girlfriend gasped, “The stream is easier to run through.”
“No! If it starts to rain, it’ll flood and be too fast, too dangerous,” I said.
She stared at me and the ankle-deep creek. “Trust me. We have to get down before it overflows.” I lost track of the group, tugging Lonnie along with me, crashing into boulders and trees, frantically praying the storm would pass us by or hold off for just one hour.
Thunder rolled and rumbled. From one step to the next, it was suddenly very dark. Another slam of sound from the clouds and the rain hit. It slashed down through the trees with enough force to drench us in minutes. Lonnie started crying. I held onto her and remembered my woods-lore: keep the creek on my left and keep moving downstream. The sight of flashlights and the sounds of voices shouting for us almost made me join Lonnie in crying.
We had made it and were greeted by two park rangers. The girls didn’t know it then, but Patty’s route was being watched, we weren’t really as “on our own” as she made us believe. The rangers led us back to camp and showed us how keep a fire burning in a downpour (tucked halfway under a roof made of green pine branches). It got smoky under there, but it warmed us. They stayed for dinner, flirting with Patty among giggling girls. We were no longer cold, wet and scared. We had conquered another High Peak, so where was our reward?
We received it the next morning. Instead of breaking camp, we hiked to a road and climbed into a bus. Our ride took us to Wright Mountain. It was a pretty hike, with no surprises. The best part was the bus ride back and forth, giving us a chance to rest our legs and arms.
We canoed across Lake Placid the next day, easing up to a scrap of land at the base of Whiteface Mountain. We faced a wall of dirt, rocks and scrawny trees jutting out from the cliff. It wasn’t a sheer cliff and it wasn’t a rock cliff, but it wasn’t a normal hike, either. We would be doing actual climbing, like scrambling out of a ravine or climbing a tree that happened to be growing alongside a hill of dirt. But that wasn’t just a hill, that was a mountain and it would take hours to claw our way to the top.
Patty gave us a choice: We could get in the canoes and paddle to the other side of Whiteface and the easy trail or we could conquer this Peak from here, taking the expert way up. I wonder now if when our parents signed all those forms that they were told exactly what their daughters would face that summer?
We climbed. The dirt was firm enough to hold us and soft enough to shove fingers and feet into with the help of tree roots and rocks. We paused on ledges and turned to gaze out at the beautiful lake far below. We pretended to be mountain goats and jumped to the next ledge before sticking our hands into holes and climbing again.
The last few feet of the climb was the real challenge. There the cliff was sheer and hauling our tired bodies up to the overhang took everything we had. I scrabbled my fingers over the lip and found a surprise. There was soft grass under my hands. I scooted up the rest of the way and rolled onto freshly mowed turf, a manicured and maintained lawn. We all reached the top, helping each other over that cliff edge.  Our group stood up and broke into gales of laughter at the sight before us.
Tourists. Families in clean t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops, drinking soda from cans and staring at fifteen muddy, bedraggled apparitions who had just appeared out of nowhere. Civilization in the form of a gift shop and ski lodge, the parking lot full of cars, the chair ski lift giving summer visitors rides here on the summit of Whiteface Mountain.
Our reward was a picnic lunch catered by Echo Camp’s kitchen staff and a ride down the mountain in another bus, sneering at the hikers walking the easy trail up the mountain that was next to the road. We did have to hike around the base of Whiteface to reach our canoes, but we were full of energy again because we had climbed a CLIFF!
It rained all night and cleared up in time for our hike up Mount Algonquin. The second tallest peak in the park was a beautiful trek with a delightful perk. This was our last mountain, our last day, and it was the best one of all.
On either side of the trail, in full rich ripe glory, we saw blueberries. The trees were few, the bushes were all. There would be no wandering off the trail here; the entire mountain was covered in blueberry bushes. We swiped handfuls of them in passing, the plump berries bursting with sweet juice, filling more than our tummies. Sun-warmed berries, chirping birds and a bright blue sky. We were young, strong, healthy, and we had done more in one week than most people achieve in a lifetime.
This was Summer.
My last perfect summer, it turned out. The summer I strive to remember when I feel I can’t cope with one more day of adult life. I did something that summer, something no one else in my family could lay claim to: I climbed five of the High Peaks of the Adirondacks. The chubby, half-blind, asthmatic child had been strong and brave, helpful and knowledgeable.
I sometimes wish I could freeze Time to that moment, that Summer, when the filthy, wet, muddy and tired girls of Cabins Six and Seven stepped off the boats and returned to Echo Camp to the cheers and hugs of the younger kids. We felt like conquering heroes, we WERE heroes, and it was glorious! 😀

 

Vignettes

I love words and vignette is a favorite of mine.  “A short, graceful literary sketch.”  “A brief, appealing scene, as in a movie.”  I don’t know how graceful or appealing my blogs are; they usually aren’t short or brief, that’s for sure!  To me, a vignette is a glimpse or an anecdote of  mine or someone’s Life, a quick story told on the fly, usually at the dinner table, almost always resulting in laughter.

I’m outnumbered here, gender-wise, and men don’t tell stories the way women do.  A woman will go into great detail, she’ll add sub-plots and side-way tangents; she will regal you with rich observations that would fill a book.  A man will say three to five sentences and be done.

But, oh, my men have the most interesting stories, um, tidbit tales!  My brother hasn’t been able to write down his Woodstock adventures (he’s in a great deal of pain, barely managed by his pain meds).  We’re hoping he can get that Dragon program and just speak into his computer and have it type it for him!   The only parts of the Woodstock story I remember are that he smoked that funny stuff, camped out, played in the mud, and got the station wagon stuck in the mud.  Someday, I’ll get him to tell me the whole story again.

When they had the Woodstock reunion in the 90s, I was the manager of a Pizza Hut, just off the New York State Thruway.  We were mobbed and so not ready for it.  We had people five deep at the counter, starving, filthy campers, eagerly pressing forward, watching the ovens, hoping I was cutting their pizza to be boxed.  Amidst the chaos was one … woman.  Yes, I’m being polite.  She insisted that no meat, meat substance or meat oil touch her pizza.

We tried.  My main cook made her pizza on a clean board and used fresh gloves to place the garlic sauce (no tomato marinara sauce for her, no sirree, it might have meat products in it!  Gack!) and cheese on the dough.  She was right up front, and could see everything.  Before he placed her pizza in the oven, she saw the other cook grabbing cheese from the bin…”Wait!  That’s the cheese you ALL use?  It’s tainted with meat substance!”  Oh, god…

We apologized and Ted trotted to the walk-in, pulled out a new bag of cheese, and used it for her new pizza.  Good, pizza now in oven.  I was lifting pizzas out as fast as I could to keep the ovens from backing up and burning them.  The slightest pause meant disaster.  I grabbed her pizza, slid it out of the pan onto the cutting board… “Wait!  That board just had a sausage pizza on it!”  Oh, god (and the twenty people behind her groaned, too)…

I apologized and Ted made her another new pizza.  I swiftly dealt with a few more pizzas, making sure a clean cutting board was at hand for the vegan lady.  Her pizza rolled to the front, I expertly slipped it onto the clean board and sliced down… “Wait!  That’s MY pizza and you just used THAT slicer on a pepperoni pizza!”   Oh, god (and the thirty people behind her didn’t just groan.  They bitched, they told her to give up, they looked at her with murder in their eyes…but, wonder of wonders, they did NOT blame me and my crew!)…

We apologized, again, and started over.  Now, we had a backed up oven, pizzas burning, rhythm disrupted.  Hurry to box her pizza and cash her out, whirl back around and zip, zip, slice and box three more pizzas.  I turned to cash those people out and noticed the crowd was watching the front door.  When it shut on vegan lady’s exiting behind, the mob cheered, applauded, and thanked me and my crew for our patience!

We had a bunch of extra mistake pizzas and breadsticks.  I had my waitresses pass out slices to everyone and comped all sodas as my thank you to the crowd.  Ah, the Woodstock legacy of “Peace and Brotherly Love” blossomed again for the rest of the night!

Heh, see what I mean?  I’m sure my brother’s story is longer than the tiny bit I recall, but it took a whole page for me to tell my Woodstock reunion story!  🙂

Some of the funniest, oddest, best stories I’ve heard from my menfolk aren’t stories at all.  They are mere vignettes, a few sentences at most.  I have to pull more details out like a cat giving birth to an elephant…yeah, improbable at best, impossible most of the time!

For example:  Hubby’s ship went through a corner of the Bermuda Triangle.  I was fascinated and wanted to hear if anything weird happened.  His response?  “Well, it got foggy and the radio wouldn’t work for a few minutes, but everything cleared up on the other side.”

That’s IT?!  Really?!  Can you elaborate at all?  Nope, that really was it, delivered in a bored nothing-unusual-today tone of voice.  GACKKK!!!

Or this one, from my oldest son:  Walks in the house all sweaty, without his car (a 1967 Mustang, runs good, maybe, sorta, kinda…)…  I asked, “Where’s your car?”  Brian said, “Oh, the drive shaft for the tranny fell out.  I had to push it over to Midas.  I got a ride home with Matt.”  And heads for the shower.  “Wait!  What?” I frantically call out, instantly on the alert, knowing that the Midas shop he uses is at one of the busiest intersections in our part of Tucson, AZ.

He paused, returned to the kitchen and got a soda.  “I’m really hot, tired, and sweaty, Mom.”

“Please?”

So, here’s the REST of the story…  He was at the intersection of Ina and Thornydale, in the far left lane, got to the light and started through.  In the MIDDLE of the intersection, in the middle of his turn, in the middle of rush hour traffic, the Mustang drops her tranny (transmission), and comes to a dead stop.  With cars whizzing by in all directions, my son got out and single-handedly pushed that ton or so of car across a gazillion lanes of traffic, up a slight hill and into the parking lot of Midas.  He received assistance only at the end, when a mechanic saw him and came over.

Think on it:  a 1967 Mustang, weighs a lot, probably almost a thousand pounds because it’s made of METAL not fiberglass, no power anything — brakes or STEERING.  One guy pushing AND steering it…oh, good lord, my mind seized up.  Eh, Brian assured me, once he got her moving, it wasn’t so hard…and off he goes to the shower.  GACKK!!!

Then there’s the tale of the pallet of ammo that didn’t exist and the one bullet, “What bullet?”…but that’s a real tale to tell and not a vignette, so…

Later, my lovies!  heh heh… 😀

 

Terror Alert: RED!

No, not “terrorist,” no one is attacking the USA.  It’s just Life attacking me and the people I love.  What is the most terrifying thing that can happen?  Well, if you’re a parent, it’s anything regarding your child.  Doesn’t matter how old they are, when something bad approaches or happens to your kid, you feel it – that heart-wrenching, gut-twisting, knee-buckling sensation: Terror.  At the same time, because you are the parent, you are not allowed to collapse screaming on the floor (which is what part of you wants to do).  Nope, you must act strong, calm, and deal with the situation.

About two weeks ago, we got a phone call late in the afternoon from our daughter’s ex-boyfriend.  She had been in a lot of pain in June from a pinched nerve in her shoulder that numbed her right hand and left her with fumbling fingers — yes, you can have pain and numbness at the same time; it’s happened to me.  She did go to a clinic, but not a chiropractor.  She has no insurance and little income because she only has a part time job.  By July 4th, she was better, but her hand was still kind of numb and tingly.

For the next two weeks, unknown to us, she battled a painful infection.  She did go to Urgent Care and took the antibiotic and pain meds they gave her.  The next day, she tried to call her friend for help.  By the time he could get to her, she was incoherent and having seizures.

We have a number of wonderful angels in our lives, most of them are our adult children’s friends.  Her ex-boyfriend has been through so much with her and she can trust him with some frightening issues, so she called him.  Then, he (thank you, son), called us.  When he got her to the hospital, two more angels went into action: our “other” son and his partner – paramedics.  They called us, too.  And then, the one angel I am most grateful for: the sweet wife of our “other” son, who works at the hospital, called.

Now, fed regulations protect private patient info so the hospital couldn’t tell me anything over the phone, but from the little info our friends gave us and the tone of their voices, we knew a parent had to go be with our girl.  When you hear that one piece of info – “They’re sending her to the ICU.” – you jump in the car and drive.

Now, we got lucky in a few ways and unlucky in others.  The bad part was her dad HAD to leave for South America the next day for work and would be gone for an unknown length of time.  There was no money for a plane ticket and no way to get one at 9 pm, plus, no one to pick me up at the airport and no money for a rental car.  We live in the middle of Texas (bum-f@ck Houston), daughter is in Arizona – it’s a 15 to 17 hour drive.  And I suck at long drives…and dealing with authority figures like doctors…

But…I’m retired and could go to her.  Our younger son is here with us, still getting all his papers together for his job, so he isn’t working yet, and we could do the drive together in a really good car.  Hubby has a good friend who took the dogs, the cats were left with a huge bowl of food…and we all headed out to our assignments.

Once in Arizona, in the hospital, I learned more – they will tell a parent things in person, thank goodness, maybe, sorta…It is terrifying to hear your child (I don’t care if she’s an adult, she’s still my baby!) was “Code Yellow” – which is just a step below “critical.”  Terrifying to learn she continued having seizures and stopped breathing at one point, terrifying to see her hooked up to a breathing tube and in a chemically-induced coma…looking like she’s 12 yrs old…and weighing under 100 pounds when she’s 5’6″ and should have at least 20 more pounds on her.

We can joke about it now (ah, morbid humor  it’s the only thing that keeps us sane), but it took a four-point restraint and two burly staff to hold her down to keep tests done before they doped her.  The boys related how the ER staff was talking about the 90 pound girl throwing all the men around the room.  Our paramedic boys also told off the people who were speculating with disrespect regarding our girl’s behavior because she’s “our sister-friend.”

Ah, validation when the test results came back clean – no drugs or alcohol, but very low potassium level, electrolytes, nutrition values, etc.  Perhaps a reaction to the antibiotic or previous pain meds?  No one knew for sure, but she did, indeed, have a nasty raging infection in her body.

It took a few days before they allowed her to awaken.  And, of course, we all wanted to know what had happened, what she could tell us.  But her first words were “What the hell happened?”    She doesn’t know, either.  She took the proper doses of meds and went to bed, then woke up unable to control her body and fingers and frantically tried calling her friend.

We may never know what happened.  I believe it was a combination of everything.  I have seen a low potassium episode before – my mom was found wandering around her yard late one night in her pjs, yelling for my dad – who had been dead for six months.  She was confused and didn’t know me or my brother (this was way before she slipped into dementia).  She fought the paramedics, then flirted with them (75 yrs old and still feisty!).  An infusion of potassium and voila!  All better.

Our girl is also allergic to penicillin and some of its derivatives.  It’s possible the antibiotic – one she had never taken before – is another one she is allergic to; she did have trouble breathing.

Then, there was the infection and the fact that she hadn’t been eating much for almost two months…

Well, I took care of her once they released her, feeding her, fussing over her, and left her with lots of proper food, juices, and a clean apartment (!).  I’m back in Texas now, but I’m still gonna worry, that’s a given, that never ends.

Is the terror over?  Can I lower the alert from red to green?  Nope, never.  Maybe yellow?  No, I’m Mom – the terror alert remains at Orange, a constant gnawing bug I hide deep inside and try to ignore.

So please remember – if you have a friend who is a parent, no matter what age their child is, don’t ever call them late at night.  Because before she/he sees who is calling, the Terror Alert jumps to Red: “My child is in trouble!”

Hey, it’s a parent thing…  🙂