Friday, September 28, 2012

Joined at the Heart

My son left town last night. I'm filled with sadness.

That statement makes me sound like some sort of Sarah Braverman, angsted out over every situation that involves her children. But, truly, this is different.

The root of most everything in my life is my adoption: The physical rejection by my birth mother, the emotional rejection by my adoptive mother, and the sense of being totally alone and adrift in the world, knowing no one with whom I share one drop of blood.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I would joke about not knowing what was going to come out of me. And when my first son was born and began growing and developing, he was the spitting image of his father. He bore no resemblance to me. (As an adult, he does have emotional similarities to me, but they took his lifetime-thus-far to become manifest.)

My second son, born seventeen months later, was an entirely different creature. We bonded hard and strong. We were close in a way I had never been close to anyone. (It didn't change how much love I felt for my first son—it was just different.)

Where my mother had always led me to believe that I was dumb, ugly, and incompetent, with this child I felt wanted and needed.

After the divorce, which occurred when he was five years old, he kept asking to be with me. On the weekends when the boys were with me, I would have them take their baths and put on clean clothes on Sunday evenings before I took them back to their father. I wanted their homecoming to be stressless—change into jammies, read a book, go to bed. An easy transition.

Son Number One readily complied. No problems. Going home.

Son Number Two fought me all the way. He dragged his feet. He sensed not that he was going home, but that he was leaving his home.

As he matured toward adolescence, I could—on each of his visits—see more and more of myself in him. He was darling. He was vivacious, funny, cute. He possessed a charming personality. And if I saw so much of myself in him and he possessed so many wonderful qualities, then was I really so bad? Could my mother's words have been misleading? Could I really have been as horrible a child as she portrayed me to be? For the first time in my life, I felt some self-worth.

When my son was 14, he knew he was mature enough that the courts would consider his desires, so told his father he wanted to live with me.

We had a magical life together. I worked like a dog to provide for him—for us. He went to the boarding school that fulfilled all his dreams. We were—as from his birth—joined at the heart.

When my son graduated from college, my husband had just died. My son and his soon-to-be wife moved in with me, saving me from my overwhelming grief and loneliness. Our lives were, from that point fourteen years ago to this past summer, closely intertwined on an—almost—day-to-day basis. For the past three-plus years, we've lived three blocks apart. For the past two-plus years, I've worked for him, helping him with his business.

Then business started having problems and marriage started having problems and he's moving to a city where jobs aren't as scarce as the proverbial hen's teeth.

I know I'll talk to him as frequently as I did when he was three blocks away. And I'll see him almost as frequently. Technology of the ages deems that we are all far more connected than ever before.

But he won't be right here. Around the corner. And so it feels like we're separated. And that brings tears to my eyes.

It doesn't change the worth his life has sprinkled over me like pixie dust. It just feels different.

Who knows what lies ahead?!

I wish him a speedy resolution to the business and financial challenges and a life of renewed happiness.

I won't "see [him] in my dreams." I'll see him on Google+ and Facebook and Twitter and Skype. And every couple of weeks, in person.

Life goes on.

Saturday, September 22, 2012


Sometimes when the Jazzman is out pub-hopping with his buds on a Friday night, I'll watch programs like "Say Yes to the Dress" or "Four Weddings" to pass the time. On Sundays, I sometimes check out the wedding notices in the Washington Post to see if I know anyone who is getting married.

Without fail, the marriage participants are described as "a successful ..." doctor or lawyer or architect or whatever. Never will the description say doctor or lawyer or whatever without an adjective in front of it showing how much the person has accomplished in his or her life.

If the person is a garbage collector, he would be described as working for the city or county. Or skipped altogether. A stay-at-home mom who survived her divorce or her husband's death will not get recognition for that. Someone who is unemployed and struggling—successfully, thank you very much—to just get by and get the bills paid won't be acknowledged for that success. It's a small success to the world; it's a very great success to the individual.

Reading about or seeing these "successful" people made me wonder why it's so important. Why do we all need something to "crow" about?

I haven't gone to any of my law school reunions. I never passed the bar. I don't practice law. I worked for many years as a legal writer and editor, but I don't feel that matters to any of my classmates who have been practicing law for over 20 years now. To these "successful" legal practitioners, I'm not successful.

I recently applied for a city position for which my law degree and my writing and editing in the field of federal labor relations law was (I thought) a Very Big Deal. When the Vindicator writer who was assigned to that story reviewed all the applicants, he or she described me as a "freelance technical writer." What? (By the way, I was not chosen to be interviewed for that position.)

I consider my successes to include working a full-time and two part-time jobs to provide life's necessities while in law school and for several years thereafter when I gained custody of my 14-year-old son. And caring for my husband, attending all his oncologist's and radiology appointments and taking detailed notes, showing unending compassion for him while he moved from metastatic prostate cancer diagnosis to death. And surviving the degradation of the federal economy over the past two years as my salary got lower and lower with each passing month.

I pay my bills. I selflessly and lovingly help care for my two elementary-school-age grandchildren. I maintain a lovely home for my life partner, giving him a warm and safe place to return home to each night. I balance and juggle many different obligations to keep my life moving forward.

If that's not the definition of success, then please tell me what is!

Maybe we put too much emphasis on success, as we seem to do with happiness.

I made it through the day. I didn't fall apart or hurt anyone or cause others to wish their paths hadn't crossed mine that day.

I spoke kindly. To me, that's what's important.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Words

Let me just begin by saying the Jazzman thought it was a snoozefest. But I loved it.

I am not a movie critic. I've said many times that I go to movies and read books primarily for the escapism. Seeing how other people's lives are depicted by the writers lets me imagine that, with a little more hard work, I could have more. Or it makes me appreciate what I have and feel grateful that my life has been this good.

Imagine my surprise when I was noticing lighting and pacing and wardrobe when we watched "The Words" yesterday. So out of character for me!

I loved the lighting. Subtle. Smoky. To me, it felt very intimate.

And the wardrobe! The period costumes were fabulous. The little details in the dresses captured my sewist's heart. Oh, the bodice of wedding dress—I wanted to run home and duplicate it in my sewing room. It was charming.

The pacing of the dialog is something I've never noticed before. Well, except for TV shows and movies where the characters speak so quickly I can't understand what they're saying. This movie had pauses and rests that let me ponder what I had just heard and witnessed, rather than just rushing through to the next scene. I can see why the Jazzman thought it was slow, but I enjoyed it greatly.

Now here's what surprised me. When we ran into my son at the Northside Farmer's Market in the early afternoon, I told him we were going to see this movie and asked if he wanted to accompany us. He said he didn't like movies where people lie. Such plot lines always make him uncomfortable and he sits on the edge of his seat and wants to get out of there. It shocked me because I feel the same way.

Where did this come from? Was it my early "don't tell a lie" training when he was 2 or 3 or 4? Is it a genetic thing? Is it a personality thing? Who would ever have guessed that this was a thing we have and share?!

I was relieved when that was not the way this movie turned out—not the focus of the plot line. I loved how they wove the three books together, and how it all turned out. I'm not giving you any spoilers. And I'm not telling you to go to the theatre to see it, because many people haven't liked it. But when it comes out on video, I'll be downloading it to watch again!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Impossible Do-Over

I recently watched "A Little Bit of Heaven", starring Kate Hudson. (Spoiler alert: she dies of cancer.) I sobbed—yes, it's a major chick flick. But for me, as a widow of someone who died of cancer, it was a blast back to the final days of my husband's life.

He stopped eating on a Thursday. He stopped drinking on a Saturday. There were acts I had to perform with/on him (to get morphine into his body to try to quell the overwhelming pain) that one would never, ever want to perform on a loved one. The closer he got to his passing, the harder it was to understand what he was trying to say to me.

As Monday—after the Thursday, after the Saturday—progressed, his breathing became more and more labored. I would rush into the bedroom to see if I could do anything for him, then I'd rush out to try to call someone—anyone—to help him. Visiting nurse's associations, hospice, our doctors at Walter Reed. Can't anyone do anything to help this man?

I called our dear next-door neighbor, Peggy, and asked her to come help me. She told her boss that she had to leave the office—the tasks she needed to perform that afternoon were far more important than anything in her office. She came and sat beside John, talking him through each wave of excruciating pain. I ran in and out. Running. Rushing. Frantic.

Finally at about 4:00 in the afternoon, our hospice nurse stopped by. When he saw John's condition and heard the labored breathing, he immediately called the ambulance. The EMTs carefully carried John down the stairs and settled him into the ambulance for the ride to Hospice of Washington. I rode in the ambulance with him, singing to him for the 5-10 minute ride. Peggy followed in her car so she could bring me home after we got John settled for the night.

But within minutes of arriving at Hospice of Washington, he was gone. I had frantically rushed around for four or six hours to no avail. With no positive results.

When I watched the last hours of the Kate Hudson's character's life in the movie, I was touched with the beauty the writers had infused to the scene. Her friends and family were there, quietly, peacefully, lovingly carrying her through the final few hours. They weren't panic-stricken or rushing. They were peacefully tending and attending the end of a life. They were there.

A million times in the 14+ years since John's death, I have wished I had just stopped. Stopped and reflected. Stopped and sat with him. Stroked his head. Held his hand.

Why couldn't I have stopped?

Why couldn't I just be?

There's no do-over, no Mulligan, when one's need to provide comfort turns to resolving problems rather than providing succor.

I can never do that one over. I hope, wherever he is or isn't, he knows I'm sorry I didn't just be.

John and I met singing with the Washington Chorus, one of the primary symphonic choruses in Washington, DC. One of the many works we had performed together was "Porgy and Bess." As we were in the back of the ambulance, I was singing "Oh Lord, I'm On My Way," the final movement of "Porgy and Bess."

Oh Lawd, I'm on my way
I'm on my way to a Heav'nly Lan',
I'll ride that long, long road,
If You are there to guide my han'.

Oh Lawd, I'm on my way,
I'm on my way to a Heav'nly Lan'
Oh Lawd. It's a long, long way, but
You'll be there to take my han'.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Friends or Acquaintances?

The Jazzman and I were having a conversation about friends and marriage and divorce. Frequently when a couple is friends with another couple, a choice has to be made when divorce happens. Frequently, it's just too awkward for the foursome to stay friends all around.

I was telling him that with each divorce (and there have been so many!), I lost all my friends. His response was that they weren't really friends if they abandoned me simply because of the divorce.

Looking back, I really have, throughout my life, had only a handful of really good friends. I have more friends and a wider social circle now, in my 60s, than at any other time in my life. But note that I inherited them when the Jazzman and I became a couple. My best-friend-since-second-grade, my college piano-duet-partner, an FTU sorority sister, and my FSU sorority sister and subsequent roommate are the women I have been able to count on throughout my life. Another handful of dear friends were acquired during my years in Tucson. The latest friend who fits into the good friend category was "picked up" at the mall play area, when my grandchildren started playing with her daughter. She's the first person who became my friend when I moved to Youngstown (as opposed to all the friends I borrowed from my children when I moved in with them). If I'm going through a rough patch, these women are the ones who are there.

But there's a distinction to the groups. Some have known me since I wore bobby socks and saddle shoes. Some knew me before I became a widow. Some knew me when I was finding myself again in my 50s. And the most recent group knows me only as the Jazzman's girlfriend.

With the latest circle of friends, I sense that if the Jazzman and I were to decide to go our separate ways, these people would still be my friends.

The Jazzman's point in the conversation was that all these friends from marriages #1, #2 and #3 who ceased being my friends at the point of the divorce weren't really my friends to begin with.

I've learned to be more distinct when describing people within my sphere. They're our friends, or my chorus friends, or my Tucson friends, or my Washington friends, or my lifelong friends, or my …. Or they're my acquaintances.

There is a difference.

And I'm very grateful for all those whom I can call friends.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Making the Effort

I'm in almost constant pain lately with my knees. The left, with the torn medial meniscus, is worse, but both are painful. Each step is accompanied by pain. When I turn over in bed at night and rest one knee on the other, I usually am awakened by the pain. I walk slowly at all times, carefully placing each foot, hunching my shoulders to try to brace for the pain. I'm counting the days until I travel to Cleveland to consult an orthopedic specialist at the Cleveland Clinic.

During our 4th of July week at Lake Erie, my time bobbing around in the cool water was pain-free, leading me to believe that a little water exercise would not be a bad thing. At a party a week ago, several friends suggested I try out the water classes at the JCC.

After one more nudge from a chorus friend last night at rehearsal, I got my butt out of bed this morning, pulled on my swimsuit, and got myself to the 8:45 "Twinges in the Hinges" class.

After 45 minutes of bending and stretching and burning calories and reveling in bending my knee without pain, I'm feeling pretty good. And pretty proud of myself.

But you know who I'm feeling ever prouder of (if one can feel proud of people one doesn't even know)? The several morbidly obese individuals I saw at the gym who were making the effort.

I don't like my weight. I've been working on it and am proud that I'm now at the lowest point I've been in three years. But when friends look at me, they say, "You don't need to lose any weight."

I can move okay. Yes, I'm in pain, but I don't need a walker or a cane. I just need to move my butt.

But these people I observed today? What effort to even get out of bed or out of the chair. What effort to get in a car to get to the gym. What effort to get into a swimsuit. What effort to get to the pool, and into the water.

I am awestruck by the willpower of these people to make this effort—all this effort.

My BMI is now at 25.5. With the loss of four more pounds (I can do that!), I'll be at the normal weight range, out of the overweight category. I will feel like I've done a tremendous favor for my knees.

It's a big deal to me. It's nothing like the big deal of several of my classmates this morning, but I'm proud of me. And I'm proud of them.

May we all keep up the effort!