Monday, July 27, 2009

A Day for Play

I discovered yesterday (July 26) that I had never finished writing this post last week after our day at Cedar Point. So here you go, better late than never.

Yesterday (July 18) was my company summer picnic. The Summer Fun team chose Cedar Point, an amusement park founded in 1870. Cedar Point bills itself "America's Roller Coast". I've never seen so many roller coasters in one place in my life. And I—never one to ride a roller coaster—have never seen children the age of Boston and Ridley so into roller coasters. It's a level of fear that I've never embraced, and just cannot believe these babies—BABIES!—wanting to ride every roller coaster in sight.

I'm grateful that they were all willing to humor me and go on the tame rides with Grandma. Really, Boston and Ridley loved the merry-go-round and the kiddy bumper cars just as much as they loved the roller coasters.

Together we rode the merry-go-round, the ferris wheel—which looks out over Lake Erie—and the little-kid sports cars. I had a lovely time just watching them have fun. I didn't see many of my colleagues, but I was only there for my family, anyway.

Ridley thinks maybe she'd like her next birthday party (2010) to be held at Cedar Point. After seeing how much joy they got out of this trip, I think that can be arranged!

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Slippery Slope

Aunt Louise's impending death is bringing back memories of the end times of John's life.

There was such a sense of the tedium of waiting: waiting for him to die, wishing he wouldn't die, longing for him to be released from the horrific pain, anxiety for figuring out what would come next in my life.

I still, eleven years later, relive parts of the last three months of his life. I wish I had just quit my job rather than leaving him alone four hours a day; I wish I had spent the last day just sitting on the bed, talking to him, rather than frantically trying to get a nurse to come in, I wish . . ., I wish . . . .

And in my current life, I'm lonely for a partner. But I acknowledge that I had the ideal partner, and I had two-and-a-half years of happiness. Do you know how many perople in the world never have that much happiness?

In retrospect, I was very lucky. Memories should be used to relive the good times, not rehash the missteps.

My wish for Aunt Louise, who now cannot recognize anyone, is that she will go quickly and painlessly.

Update, 7/24/09, 1:00 p.m.
I just learned that Aunt Louise died around midnight last night. She has suffered much longer than anyone should have to suffer. Her daughter was totally selfless in caring for her. I am relieved that Aunt Louise is released from her suffering.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Like Flies

It seems too flippant to say, "They're dropping like flies," but that's what it feels like. When you combine the many celebrity deaths of late with Aunt Betty's passing last week and my brother's serious heart problems and near-death over the past six weeks, it feels like my world has a whirlwind of death hovering overhead.

Now my Aunt Louise is, perhaps, hours from death. My mother saw her yesterday at the nursing home where she lies, eyes open, mouth agape, staring at the ceiling. She "came to" for a while early yesterday and was able to reply to questions—not in full sentences, but with rational replies.

I have said for many, many years that I will not cry when my mother dies. Instead, I will breathe a sigh of relief. She's a good woman. She is not malicious. She treated me with emotional abuse in my early life, but I maintain that it was out of ignorance, not malice. In her own dysfunctional way, she loves me very much.

Aunt Louise, on the other hand, got me. She loved and supported and was proud of me. She treated me as if I were her daughter. I always felt the stigma of adoption with Mother, but never with Aunt Louise. With her, I could be completely unaware of our lack of blood relationship. With Mother, I was never good enough. With Aunt Louise, I was always the best—equal to her own children.

Louise said to me several times, throughout my life, that she saw the way my mother treated me and she was so sorry for that. She knew how much it hurt me, and she always sought to bolster my spirits and my feelings of self-worth.

Where I feel there will be a total lack of tears when my mother dies, I'm really fighting the tears as Aunt Louise's death nears.

And where do we go?

I firmly believe there is some sort of afterlife, some spirit world, if you will, where we go after death. I take great solace in the thought that John is cheering for me from wherever he is. I've sensed his presence several times since his death, and you'll never convince me that my belief is invalid.

It works for me. It may not work for you. We don't talk about it, but I'm pretty certain neither of my sons shares my belief. I've had Jewish friends who told me there was nothing beyond death—the body goes into the grave and that's the end of that. Adventists belief the soul is sleeping until the Second Coming of Christ, when the righteous will be raised from the grave to join Christ in the air and go to heaven. Every religion seems to have its own belief and each is adamant about its rightness.

I've said many times that we won't know until we get there, wherever there is. What if each person's belief is absolutely right—for that person? What if the Adventists are sleeping and . . . and each person is exactly where he thought he would be? Is that any more ludicrous or believable than everyone going to heaven/hell, or everyone being dead in the grave with nothing thereafter or everyone being in some sort of spirit world?

I certainly find no comfort in either being dead-in-the-grave or being sleeping-in-the-grave. I find great comfort in the thought of John playing golf with Sam Snead or Ben Hogan, or of Daddy meeting and talking to my birthmother. I dream of meeting my birthmother when I get where I'm going; I fantasize about her saying, "I did the best I could."

I guess that's the bottom line. You're born. You live, doing the best you can. And you die. And that's all we know for sure.

I'm hopeful that my children know for sure that I tried to do the best I could. And I hope they find solace in my unflagging support of and belief in them.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Love, Jan

Do you pause when signing an e-mail or a letter? Do you scour your mind to determine what kind of relationship you have with the addressee? Do you feel affectionate towards that person? Wish her well? Love her? Tolerate but need to communicate with her?

And regardless of how you feel, how do you perceive him or her to feel towards you? If you sign the note with "Love", will he be offended? Scared? Intimidated? Or will he not even notice how you sign the note?

Are you obsessing about this way too much? In my case, probably so. But I worry. I worry about people liking me. The Little Adoptee rears its ugly head yet again—I don't want to be re-abandoned.

I wrote a note to my oldest brother this morning. I started to sign it "Love, Jan", as I do care about him and he is a family member. But I rarely feel he cares at all about me. I don't think I'm a blip on his radar screen. His acaring trumped my desire for a close and loving family, so I signed it, "Hope you're doing well, Jan". A total cop-out!

When writing e-mails to people with whom I regularly correspond, I frequently review notes from them to see how they signed their notes, then I will mirror that closing with a similar phrase of the same emotional merit. "Warmly" "Regards" "Best".

"Hugs" seems to say "Love" without using that intimidating L-word. But I would only use "Hugs" with someone I've actually hugged. If it's a cyberfriend that I've shared a lot of my life with, I might close with "cyberhugs" or "hugs across the miles".

If it's a close girlfriend or a man I'm dating (can there be such a thing?), I might sign "xo, jc". That's the most familiar closing and implies that the addressee knows me very well. Oh, and that we've shared hugs and/or kisses.

Who knew that the simple act of signing an e-mail could carry such enormous emotional weight.

(Yeah, and if you think I was obsessive about this, you oughta be with me when I'm picking out a greeting card for my mother. How do I make her feel suitably acknowledged (in her mind) while not saying something I don't feel? I just want to say, "Thanks for taking me to all those piano lessons and helping me learn to sew." I certainly don't want to mush on and on about what a great mother she was; she wasn't!

Oh, wait. It's only a greeting card, not a contract.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Is Something Wrong With Your Hand?

Yes, I cut off a driver when I was trying to get over for my Starbucks (free pastry) exit this morning. I looked. I didn't see him. Yes, he was driving a big white SUV. I just didn't see him, okay? It was not a near miss—it was merely an inconvenience. I raised my hand, all five fingers spread, in apology as soon as I realized what I had done.

As I pulled onto the exit and the SUV passed me on the left, the passenger in the back seat rolled down his window (in the rain) and lifted a finger in tribute. Thanks, that made my day.

But did it make yours? What is the purpose of expressing that sort of hateful anger to a stranger? Are you of the attitude that the entire world is out to get you? Could the offender merely have made a mistake, a misstep, an error?

I've tried a couple of times to express that sort of tribute to a fellow driver, and each time I do, my hand cramps up. (Well, my gesture is not out the window or visible—it's usually below window level, pointed at the passenger door.) (Oh, stop laughing!) I am emotionally incapable of behaving in that manner, and my body reacts negatively when I attempt to override that inability. My hand hurts and I feel like a fool.

So, Mr. White SUV Passenger, did your day improve by throwing that birdie out the window toward me? Is your day now a good day, filled with happiness and peace? No? Then cut it out. Be nice! Cut your fellow human beings some slack.

I choose to believe that everyone has the best intentions and it's only the exceptional few who are malicious.

I could be wrong. I could be Pollyanna. But that's my credo and I'm sticking to it.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


My aunt—my mother's youngest sister—died last week. Betty was 88 years old. She leaves Mother with only one sister, who is bedridden with Parkinson's and probably will not live to see 2010.

When Molly called to tell me about Aunt Betty's death, I felt no remorse. Our family has always said that Mother was the sanest of the four girls in her family, and we think maybe Betty was the least sane. This was a woman who, over the course of her life, alienated every member of her family except my cousin, Betty Jo, who was her namesake.

When FOMC and I were newly married, we lived in Madison, WI, where he was getting his Master of Music degree. Before I arrived after our October wedding, he had lived with Aunt Betty and Uncle Charles for a month or so. Two weeks after our wedding, living in our new apartment, in shock over being married, virtually penniless, with no home phone, I received a visit from Aunt Betty, who raked me over the coals for not calling my mother for the previous two weeks. My explanation that we had no money and no phone didn't hold water with her. That was the last time Betty ever spoke to me: October of 1971.

Through the years I've learned of other family members receiving long, angry letters from Betty, telling them how horrible they were for whatever faults she perceived them to possess.

Betty had made some amends with Mother over the past year or so. They occasionally spoke on the phone. But there was certainly no feeling of closeness, of sisterhood, between them or the other remaining sister.

Now, maybe I'm driven in my yearning for family by my having been adopted. I don't have my "own" family, so I want the family I have to be close and caring. I don't feel I have ever found or achieved that in my nuclear family. My mother is the most critical and rigid-in-her-standards person who was ever born; my daddy was absorbed by his work. No one spoke. Meaningful conversations were nonexistent. My brothers and I never learned how to communicate. In fact, Jim and Molly's long and loving marriage is entirely due to Molly's determination, when she fell in love with Jim, to turn him into a real man who could communicate.

It seems my brothers and sister-in-law and I are becoming close now, as we're all almost-60 or over. We're united in trying to keep tabs on Mother and make sure we're aware of her condition. And we all banded together during Jerry's recent heart problems. It feels really good to have that unity-of-purpose that has been missing throughout our lives.

Maybe that's the definition of family: unity of purpose. I have that, I believe, with Tyler and Jaci. I live to make their lives easier, to help and support them as they raise their children. I have said over and over again that I'm extremely lucky to have such a wonderful daughter-in-law who treats me with respect and gives me the freedom to help out in any way I can find. Our unity of purpose is their raising of a healthy family, one in which people care about each other and talk to each other.

Scott/T.J. and I are not as close, but I feel certain he knows I support him in his life, that I would move heaven and earth to help meet his needs. And I feel certain his feelings for me are reciprocal.

So it took me over 50 years to find and participate in a family. At least I have that now. Better late than never, huh?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Second Time Is the Charm

Over a year ago I posted about the worst audition I had ever sung in my life. And about the result of that audition.

Sunday a week ago, as I was sitting and eating dinner between dress rehearsal and performance with some other singers at Blossom, I overheard several people saying they were auditioning on Monday night in Cleveland. I quickly went to the new chorus manager and told her what had happened last year, asking if I could audition again on Monday night. She said yes; and I did. I didn't do as well as I would have liked, but I got through the audition without falling to pieces.

In today's mail was a letter from Maestro Porco inviting me to sing with the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus. I don't really like the concept of a "bucket list", but, Baby, this one's on my bucket list.

I am absolutely thrilled that I will get to stand behind the "Best Band in the Land" and make beautiful music. This season, my first, includes Beethoven Symphony #9, Brahms Ein Deutches Requiem, and Orff Carmina Burana.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Who Do You Know?

I've been thinking a lot about death lately. No, I don't think I'm being morbid. I think I'm being practical.

My 66yo brother almost died twice in the past six weeks. He is the trustee of the family trust that enables Mother's shopping habit. My other brother and I don't have any information about the logistics of the trust—at least we didn't until Jerry's most recent heart scares. Now Jim has the information he would need if something happened to Jerry.

I have not had a current will for six years—since EEFFH and I broke up and I voided that will. When I look around me and see the mess my finances and legal matters are in, I realize that my children would kill me if I died and dropped this mess in my hands. Well, if I weren't already dead, they'd kill me!

So I have seen an attorney and am getting everything organized so I will drop a neatly-packaged bundle in my children's laps when I go. They will not have to deal with the probate court. They won't have to worry about anything except getting rid of my things that they have no interest in possessing.

But that got me thinking about things other than just the property. Do my children know enough about me to write an obituary—at least one that control-freak me would find acceptable?

What would I want to be mentioned? Studying with Nadia Boulanger; being the first pianist at Walt Disney World; making beautiful music to shop by at Nordstrom for ten years. Activities? Membership in Pi Beta Phi; membership on the board of directors for Tucson Chamber Artists for two years. Choruses? The Washington Chorus, Tucson Symphony Orchestra Chorus, Akron Symphony Chorus, Blossom Festival Chorus, and—hopefully to be added this week—Cleveland Orchestra Chorus.

When John was nearing the end of his life, I had a Word file containing all the information I needed for his obituary, which I had fact-checked with him. I knew most of the information, and was proud of knowing him that well, to that level of detail, that I could prepare his obituary.

But I don't think anyone knows me that well, and in light of that, assembling the information is the thoughtful—okay, the control freak—thing to do.

What do you want the world to know or remember about you after you're gone?

Does anyone in your family or circle of friends know that information? If you answered yes to that question, I think you're living a charmed life.

Friday, July 10, 2009

It Must Be Friday Afternoon!

It's Friday afternoon, and I have a little over an hour in the office before I have to head home. I have nothing to do tonight, and all I can think of is all my friends in Tucson and how much I want to just call someone, anyone, and say, "Let go to Rio Café for a drink."

Arghhh. Why is making new friends so hard?!

Just This Side of Heaven

You wonder why I love the mountain property so much? This is the early morning view from my brother's dining room.

The views, the cooler temperatures, the fifty years of vacation memories—that's why I love it so much.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Year of Magical Thinking

This morning I finished listening to Joan Didion's "The Year of Magical Thinking". I do not have enough laudatory words in my vocabulary to recommend this book: beautifully, powerfully written; sensitively narrated in the audiobook; full of wisdom and insight and gentleness.

Didion's "Year" chronicles the year that began with the sudden death of her husband, the author John Gregory Dunne, from a heart attack as they sat at the dinner table. At the time of his death, their daughter lay in a hospital bed, her doctors uncertain of her future. The "magical thinking" is the tricks we, as those left behind, play to try to trick our loved ones into coming back, or trick ourselves into being able to live without them.

I could barely finish this book without crying. It reminded me of things I wished I had done differently during the last three months of John's life. For instance, he wanted to have the television playing all the time, but I thought having classical music (which he loved) playing instead of all that jangling, yappy talk on the television would be better for him. WTF? The man was dying and there was nothing either he or I could have done about it. Why didn't I just leave the damned television on? Why didn't I have the courage to say to his daughter, "Stop being self-centered. When you say you're going to be here at a certain time, be here or don't come!" Why didn't I just quit my job to care for him instead of trying to balance everything?

If you have lost a loved one, if someone in your sphere of loved ones is seriously ill or walking around with a damaged heart, if you're just curious about the grieving process, or if you just want to read some brilliant writing, get a copy of "The Year of Magical Thinking" and settle in for a wonderful read.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Three Old Broads

Here's a rhetorical question for you: Which of these women looks seriously younger than her actual age? The answer, of course, would be - My Mother. She turned 96 six weeks ago, and neither looks nor acts it! Congrats to her! (The golfer in blue is my sister-in-law, Molly, fresh off the Sapphire Valley course.)

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Oops! Thursday

Thought of another Oops! while listening to Michael Crawford sing "Memory" from Cats on Pandora.

Back in my Loudoun County, Mormon days, I played for a musical revue at our church. One of my friends, who was a dancer in a former life, was going to perform a modern dance to one of the pieces from Cats, and the person arranging the show wanted me to play "Memory" as a lead-in to my friend's dance.

The agreement was that I would play my arrangement of "Memory" and the dancer would enter the stage at a certain point in my performance. I was not to stop until she was on the stage. We estimated I would play three verses of the song, with her entering on the third iteration of the chorus.

So I started, playing beautifully, and got to the end of the third time through. No dancer. Modulate and play it again. Still no dancer. Modulate again. By now, about five minutes have passed; I'm bored and I'm sure the audience is bored! Finally she enters, takes her position, and I find a stopping point.

After the show was over, I asked her what happened—where was she and why didn't she come in? She replied, "I was waiting for you to stop."


Moral of the story: Follow your instinct. Dead air is preferable to boredom!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Ideal Listens

I'm going to run down to the mountains of Western North Carolina tomorrow afternoon, and return on Saturday afternoon. Yes, that means I'll be there about 36 hours. But my older brother is hospitalized again and cannot join Mother and my other brother and sister-in-law for the 4th in the mountains, so I need to fill in the gap. I need to help take Mother's mind off Jerry's heart problems.

In preparation for that trip, I'm trying to find audio books to take my mind off the drive. That exercise got me thinking about the perfect read/listen for a long drive.

For my daily drive, the best book is something that doesn't require a ton of concentration. Chick Lit, romance novels, humor (David Sedaris rules!); these are all good choices. A 20-hour book is fine for one-hour chunks.

But for two 10-hour drives, like I'll be doing tomorrow and Saturday, I want something that's self-contained within that drive time. I want to reach the end of the book before I reach my destination. My other criterion for choosing books for this trip was cost: I've used up all my credits for the year, and have to spend actual money for books until August, when my membership renews.

For this trip, I have chosen Robert Harris's "The Ghost" (member price $19.58) and Mary McGarry Morris's "The Lost Mother" (member price $14.68), which was on the Oprah Book List. When I went back onto Audible to grab the links for this post, a window popped up offering a for-that-visit-only $4.95 special, so I added Joan Didion's "The Year of Magical Thinking" to my library.

I'll let you know what I think when I return. And, by the way, I don't expect to have Internet access while in NC except on the iPhone, so don't be surprised if there are no blog posts for a few days.

What are you reading over the 4th of July?