Category Archives: Life & Death

Loose Ends: Dangling

I let the day go by without comment.  January 13th — the first anniversary of the day our Big Dog left us. I couldn’t bear to note it or comment. I’d been sick (Christmas flu leftover cough) and various levels of grief were simply too much to tolerate. His picture showed up in my social media feed several times that week. I reposted some of them.

The fourth anniversary of my father’s death was January 12th. The fifth anniversary of my mother’s death is January 29th. June’s anniversary of my sister’s* death will leap out on a Texas summer day and throw its cloud over everything.

Dominoes falling in my heart.

My heart was beaten and bruised with the losses of my parents. My heart was absolutely shattered when Big Dog died. I have never recovered. I keep waiting. We have adopted a new dog and I love the furry monster, but I feel the loss of Big Dog daily.

I have struggled with this constantly; why this sticks in my heart like some sort of parasite chewing away until I have so little to give anymore. I have tried to pull it out by loving Sammy the Mutt as much as I can. I spend a great deal of time with him. I hug and kiss him (he loves it, he’s weird that way), let him sleep on the bed with me when I’m writing, and take him for long walks. When I’m well, I run him alongside my bicycle. Love and spoil him as I do, my heart aches every time I see the large box of ashes on my dresser. Some days, a moment of complete silence in the house without BD snoring next to me is a moment gone dead.

Big Dog the last summer of his life.

Articles on the internet about grief are, by and large, about the loss of our human loved ones. I can’t, for even a moment, imagine the loss of a devoted spouse or a child, nor do I want to. I know that, in the long run, the loss of a pet is not the same. But bear with me, for this loss is still no small loss.

I have avoided this blog entry. It is difficult. It is self-centered. It is self-pitying and self-indulgent.

It is time.

The few articles I’ve seen about the loss of a pet focus on the idea that we miss our pets because of the love they devote to us and how innocent and good they are. The words “unconditional love” are thrown around.

I don’t, honestly, believe in anything called “unconditional love.” My dogs have all, to varying degrees, had conditions: food, water, medical care, attention.

And this is where I think a lot of these articles fail to really understand or address at least one major reason why this loss of a pet is so profound: This little creature we have spent every blooming day feeding, watering, giving treats, loving, walking, seeing to their toilet habits, bathing, doctoring, training, playing with, sleeping with, framing our day around, has died.

This constant presence in our lives, like one of our limbs, is just gone.

Suddenly we are at loose ends.

My days** with Big Dog were completely structured around his needs. I got up at a certain time to give him his meds. I took him up and down in a lift at all hours of the day (we live in a beach house) because his hips were failing. If the lift failed or he simply insisted, we took the stairs and I held onto his harness to take the weight off his hind end. He always handled his blindness well, but in his last months he lost his hearing and suddenly he was getting lost in his own house. Now I was having to help him find his way around the house. Of course, I took him to the vet regularly to monitor his failing heart. Come nighttime, there was the last round of medication for the day, diapering (one of the drugs was a diuretic), and finally settling in. At least, until a 4 a.m. wake-up because he didn’t like using his diaper. Down we’d go in the lift in freezing January or rainy March or mosquito July. He’d shuffle into the grass while I kept my eyes open for coyotes and back up we’d go. We went nowhere without first considering the impact on Big Dog.

The point of all this is not to tell you what a great dog mom I was. I had many failings: missing medication doses, losing my temper at silly stuff and scaring him, forgetting to fill his feeder. The point is, every day was Big Dog day. Every day revolved around this furry little being that had the mind and utter dependence of a toddler. He could not have survived without us.

By extension, I became completely dependent on him. He became my reason for living. My husband can live without me. My child is grown and can survive without me. (technically, I’m not talking emotions, here). There was no one in my life that couldn’t keep moving on without me. Sammy, this big, Shepherd-mix goof sleeping next to me at this moment, is self-sufficient and could survive without me and has done so before.

SammyRoo. Mr. Independent.

Big Dog needed me absolutely. My husband had all the tools to care for him but not the time and BD would not allow a stranger to care for him.

And he’s gone.

Being needed may be the most basic human requirement for existence. Many suicidal people can often justify leaving this world by saying the words I implied above: the people I love will be okay without me. I can go.

When Big Dog died, I felt I’d lost purpose. I still do.

I spend a lot of days at loose ends.

This January 13th my head was filled with the stress of upcoming doctor appointments for both my husband and me, but I’m thankful for those things because I’d probably have simply dangled off those loose ends until I couldn’t breathe. Now I just have to breathe and look toward the next domino on January 29th.

*Elise was my sister-in-law but she was my sister in my heart.

**My husband did this many times as well. As I said, this is a self-indulgent post because I was the primary caretaker.

Busyhead: Anxiety as a symptom of grief

My head is full of bees. Thoughts hum constantly and without direction.

Grief has been the strangest animal for me. Perhaps, in part, because what I am experiencing is a sort of “grief from a distance,” which has a character neither easier nor harder than any other grief, simply different. I lost both my parents after several years of living apart from them and seeing them only once or twice a year. I lost my much-loved sister-in-law who lived in the same general area as my parents, so was also not regularly in her presence.

My Big Dog, he was a daily, all-day presence and utterly dependent on me. With his ashes on my dresser, he remains a daily, all-day presence. I still feel his silken ear on my lap every day.

I am still processing all these losses but I think, some days, I’m getting a handle on my grief. I may think, “oh, I don’t think of Momma as much anymore, perhaps I’m healing” or “I cry less when I see pictures of Big Dog or notices his ashes.”

Then suddenly a day comes that I’m having panic attacks and feeling indescribably lonely and lost and I can’t understand why. I look at my life and it is all well and good. I am healthy and loved and fed and clothed. I lack for nothing really. But something gnaws at me until I can barely breathe and I look for comfort and peace in every corner of my world and fail to find it.

And one morning as I am sifting through the confusion and anxiety I stumble on the answer—I am still grieving .

And in this grief, I have a new enemy—Isolation. No one can grieve with me. Grief, like death, is a lonesome event. It does little good to have someone say, “Yes, I feel that way, too.”

And in this isolation, I find only more panic. Panic itself is isolating and a sort of cycle of terror sets in that can’t be interrupted by simple measures.

I have taken up bicycling.

I focus on training the new dog.

I listen to music as if it is a hard drug to which I am heavily addicted.

I stay away from television as much as possible as it seems to increase the anxiety.

I clean a lot. (Yay! Says the husband)

I have said goodbye too many times the last several years.

I’ll do it again before I get to heal because, well, you never really heal. I know it can’t be helped. It’s part of getting older. I will still rail against it.

I disappear into my head with the bees. I don’t know if the bees will ever leave.

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Photo by Ali Taylor

A left-wing cartoonist, rightly pointing out the lack of outrage over war and health care abuses, stupidly minimizes assault by men in power as “ass grabbing.”  Far right Alabamians by the thousands justified voting for a pedophile by saying so many ridiculous things I can’t even repeat them here, so I’ll just refer you to any number of video interviews on the topic. Here’s the law though, 30+ year old adults can’t “date” 14 year old children. End of story. Move to one of those countries in the Middle East you on the right find so reprehensible if you really think that’s okay. I believe some of them still allow child brides, if only secretly.

Or go join the FLDS. But don’t pretend you are Christian Americans.

Let me talk to those who spew that bullshit line about “it was 30 (10, 20, 40, 50, 100) years ago, it shouldn’t matter.”  As if molesting children has an expiration date. Or “Why are they just now coming forward?”

I can’t believe I am saying this again. I can’t believe this has to be said at all. God help you if you are ever assaulted sexually so you get to learn for yourself what this is like. God help you if you ever wake up and realize your heroes are shit. Some of mine were, as well.

Upon hearing of one of Roy Moore’s accusers, someone said to me, “Why didn’t she come forward sooner? She could have helped others. Instead, she wanted to get on with her life.” I was too angry to respond in full. At the time I tight-lip responded with something sharp and brief.

Here is my full anger and truth. Here is what that person, and everyone else who asks that, needs to understand.

I was molested at the age of eleven. I never told anyone at the time. My parents both died in recent years never having known about it. I never told anyone in my family. I only told my second (current) husband. I never “came forward” and never will. That is, the perpetrator will never pay for his crime and in all likelihood he is dead. I will never tell anyone who he was. It’s done. It’s too late. I live with it. I never forget it. At times, the memory of it is so stark that it is sends a sickening jolt through my bowels. As has been said, the body remembers.

But telling “authorities,” then and now, was never an option. Telling meant ruining someone else’s happiness (at least in my eleven year old brain) and it meant being judged for not doing something to stop it (I was not hogtied. I could have screamed and tried to run). It meant, as the expression in my family went, upsetting the apple cart. My family always seemed under fire due to my siblings going through various teen angst crap. I didn’t want to add another burden to my parents. I didn’t want to anger a person with whom I already had a poor relationship. And I didn’t want to be accused of lying because of that poor relationship.

So I didn’t tell.

And yes, I too wanted to get on with my life. I was eleven. I wanted to stuff this horrible event into a dark corner and pretend it never happened. I wanted to play in a schoolyard and be with my friends and listen to my music and be a child. I did not want the pain of dealing with it any more than I wanted to place that burden on my family.

And guess what? I didn’t have Mariska Hargitay (Law & Order: SVU) at my side saying, “You need to come forward. Think of all the other little girls he might be doing this to. Think of how many others he might hurt in the future.” In my eleven year old brain, for all I knew, I was the only victim. The other girls around him all seemed happy and were much older than I was. You know—15,16–Roy Moore would have liked them.

So, no, I didn’t come forward. And every time I watch some dumb procedural wherein some poor girl or woman is fighting the turmoil of reporting or not reporting, of being believed or not being believed, I wonder not that I didn’t come forward but that if I had, what a fat lot of good would it have done? No doubt he would have bullshitted his way out of it and the person I was not getting on with would have hated me all the more for ruining things further by taking that man out of the picture. Life would have been not one bit better and a pedophile would have gone on doing what pedophiles do.

Maybe not. But given the gutless response to the assault strategy of (and credible accusations against) our current White House resident and the astoundingly asinine response to Roy Moore’s “dating” habits (pedophilia), I don’t believe I’m wrong there.

So, ask me again why I did not come forward. Ask me again why that little girl and her mother did not come forward. Ask them what power they had with a leering lawyer standing over them when life is so much easier at 14 or 11 or even 30 or 50 if you just hide from the pain. When your options for telling look as hellish as the time in his filthy presence.

But look out! The tide that has finally come in. This isn’t a bandwagon, people. This is the ocean of women and men who, after decades of stuffing down our pain and rage, have found strength in numbers and are roaring in and saying ENOUGH! DAMN YOU! ENOUGH! You aren’t “ass grabbers” or funny guys “just talking locker room talk.” You are perpetrators and you MUST suffer the consequences. Lose an election. Lose your supporters in Congress or Hollywood. Lose your confident swagger as you walk the halls and sweat bullets and wait for the women you harmed to come forward.

 

My 99-Cent Novel. How I Feel About Seeing my Book on the Discount Rack.

Bless you for your wisdom, Chacón.

Seeing the Elephants

My first novel can be bought on Amazon for 99 cents.

That’s quite a deal, less than a buck.

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One time I ordered three of them, just to give to friends.

You quickly learn that when booksellers on Amazon say 99 cents, they really mean four dollars and 98 cents, because shipping and handling is $3.99.

That’s where the booksellers are making what little money they do from my 99-cent books.

As you know, when writers run out of the free copies they get from the publisher, they can buy their own book at a 40 percent discount. Many writers earn what little wages can from publishing by ordering their books wth this discount and selling them at readings they do in the community.

Michele Serros talks about how she had the trunk of her car filled with copies of her book, and she went from town to town setting…

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Thirty-nine-year-old leaf

Thirty-nine-year-old leaf.

Hurricane Harvey has come and gone leaving the Flood from Hell in his wake. I feel not one bit qualified to write about, “the Experience of Harvey.” I will say, in a nutshell, we were fortunate and had almost no damage from the storm. Certainly, nothing worth mentioning. There was anxiety and sleeplessness, but honestly, I have that every night. It’s built into my genetic code. I was more worried about my daughter worrying too much about us than I was worried about us. Sort out that mental spaghetti, if you can.

We were on the periphery of this storm and in almost all respects, despite the fact that almost fifty inches of rain fell on our home. I feel lucky, relieved, and guilty as hell.

In the middle of the storm, there was little to do but listen to wind and rain and hope for the best. We had no boat and no special capabilities, so, we just stayed put. I tried to write, but my mind wandered constantly, taking me to my phone to check radar or to the window to check the water level in the street. If I wasn’t checking the road or the phone, I was watching the news for the latest predictions and hoping for a change for the better. Any kind of focus on creative thinking became impossible.

Finally, after the rain abated and the temperature dropped, I went to our garage where I sorted through boxes my husband had pulled down from the attic months before in an effort to prepare for a retirement move. As the wind buffeted the garage door (and made me fear for our trees now sitting in soaked earth), I looked through memories that went back over forty years.

Most were newer: junior high school pictures of my daughter, a copy of a short story my brother wrote about fifteen years ago, and anniversary cards from my husband. Many were much older: My Girl Guides journal and lapel pin from England (ca. 1973), a tiny, white New Testament from about 1970, and a large maple leaf I’d picked up somewhere around 1978.

I kept a leaf. Actually, two. Not beautiful flowers or stunning butterflies. Leaves.

Now, I love trees. If trees were animated creatures, I’d say they were my spirit animals. But, to keep a leaf in a book for forty years?

It struck me, looking at that leaf as the storm raged around us and knowing, all around me in the huge Houston metropolitan area, thousands of people were losing their homes, cars, livelihoods, perhaps family members: what a lot of crap we keep for no damn good reason.

Leaves.

You hear it a lot at these times, as people wait to find out if their house is safe from rising waters or as they swim away from their inundated home: “They’re just things.”

They are and they aren’t. They’re things we spent years clinging to for some reason. They’re things we’ve invested with emotion, meaning, connection to the past. They should be “just things,” but we will still feel an ache when we think about them floating down a street into a bayou and into the Gulf of Mexico.

If they’re just things, at what point do we stop collecting them? At what point do we admit that it was absurd to lose, let’s say, three thousand dollars worth of cat toys to a hurricane, so we should probably not replace them in full. (Thank you, Steve Martin)

I’m not saying cat toys (or shoes, or purses, or fountain pens, or electronics, or even forty-year-old leaves) are bad. I just wonder if, in saving all these things, this stuff, we need to spend more time on ourselves, our souls, if you will. Some people can balance the two, stuff and soul, beautifully. Speaking for myself, I have spent far too much time in life not taking care of my soul, but taking care of what I thought others expected of me. When I couldn’t do that very well at all, I sank into despair and simply did nothing. Often times, I bought stuff to fill the void. That stuff eventually found its way to boxes that ended up in the attic. Often, I picked up things, or kept bits of my past, as if they were somehow parts of my empty soul, and they too found their way into the boxes in the attic.

I kept leaves.

I haven’t answered my own questions. When do we stop collecting? When do we stop clinging? Does it take a flood to remind us every time we start getting too attached?

If life is cyclic, and it seems to be so for me, then maybe this is one of those cycles. When we next move, if we do as planned, it will be roughly the same number of years in this home as in our last home. We will be downsizing again and much will be thrown out, donated, or sold. Time, not Harvey, will have cleansed our home. I hope, however, that I will have learned by then not to restock the new home with stuff. There will be a time when I am too old to sort through boxes. When I’m gone, I don’t want my daughter sorting through leaves.

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Health, Hope, and Mud-Dung Candy: Living in the Present

I came away from Facebook for a few weeks. I logged back in a few times not because I wanted to, but because I had to log in to some other damn this or that I had linked to (Instagram, Pinterest, etc.) at one time or another. And because every time I tried to do this one thing on my iPhone it splattered a warning on my phone that said I had to log into my Facebook account without explaining why, even though what I was doing hadn’t a damn thing to do with Facebook (or Instagram, or Pinterest, or etc.) .

I just wanted a rest. I didn’t like disconnecting from my friends and family, so I kept Messenger connected. Funny thing: It was hard for me to escape Messenger conversations prior to deactivating my Facebook account. After deactivating, I’d go two or three days without Messenger contact.  I didn’t mind the sudden “radio silence,” of course. It was just interesting. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess. I seem to be living in that phrase lately. If I stay away from television, Facebook, news sites, and even other people, I’m much happier. So, maybe it should be, “out of site, out of mind.”

I’m not suggesting being uninformed or disengaging entirely from the world. If anything, people like me need to engage and speak up in these times. However, I do think there is wisdom in first taking stock of what is healthy and unhealthy for each of us. What I found in my last few days before I first deactivated my main account, was that click bait, blaring headlines, and well-meant but unwanted hand-patting were unhealthy.

Below is a capture I found that illustrates one aspect of why I stepped away.img_0506 It isn’t really that the news is “fake” so much as that it is distorted. News bloggers (I don’t like calling them writers; half of them can barely compose a proper sentence.) take a grain of truth, layer mud and dung on it, coat it in sugar syrup, then wrap it in some pretty paper and call it “news.” We gobble that shit up. Empty calories with a dose of disease.

That disease was taking too much out of me each time I confronted it. Each time my friends and family confronted it, I worried how much it took and continues to take out of them.

I also began to look back on last year with immense sadness. I lost two of the loves of my life, my Momma and Daddy. With each new loss (oh, so many) of my generational icons, it felt like the world was just slipping away and I too would be slipping away with it sooner rather than later. This is what some people don’t understand about getting older and watching your heroes die. If they are so lucky as to get older, they will perhaps understand that looking at such loss is also looking at one’s own mortality. It’s selfish, perhaps, but as natural a part of grief as the sadness.

My grief brought on the old familiar frustration of not having accomplished the things I’d wanted to accomplish in life and fear of not having time to accomplish them. I looked ahead into an ugly future that would possibly be even further truncated. I lost hope. People attempted to give me hope with platitudes and religion, neither of which are any comfort to a skeptic in grief.

It isn’t that I don’t believe in a Something. Most days. I simply don’t believe it will hold us up above the flames. I have been in the flames plenty of times. I have also had great joy. I have been exceptionally fortunate. I am thankful, for sure. I recognize all the good things I have in life. But the good does not preclude the pain, sadness, grief, anger, disappointment, outrage. I am allowed those. If there is one thing I have learned, it is that repressing my emotions is at the top of the “unhealthy” list for me. I will continue to wail and cry when I am in pain. I will smile and laugh when I am genuinely happy.

I have found what is healthy for me.  In no particular order: 1) Dealing with my emotions on my schedule, with tools I choose, not what others set out for me. 2) Cutting out ugly television. No more Criminal Minds, SVU, war movies, or any such shows/movies. I’m tired of real people hurting each other. Why should I watch fictional people hurt each other? 3)Time with my family. 4) Time with my dog. 5) Time at the page. 6) Time with nature. 7) Time in the rhythm of my breath. 8) Each Present Moment. It’s a concept that’s hard to fully appreciate after fifty-two years of looking behind me and feeling regret and looking ahead and anticipating failure. But, I appreciate it a little more each day. With that appreciation comes the realization that I don’t need hope, I simply need to be and do. I think number 8 wraps up numbers 1 through 7.

To continue to appreciate the present moment, I must continue to live in it. To live in it, I must also forego the diseased mud-dung candy on Facebook. I do hope that those of you who aren’t already following my “author’s” page  will do so. Someone (thank you, Carol) has kindly accepted the task of keeping a casual eye on that page for me. As before, my Messenger will remain available. Until I’ve reached a point that peace comes readily when I encounter the mud-dung candy, my personal page is going to go dormant in a couple of days. It’s simply to easy to react to links. This dormancy could be two weeks or two years. Who’s to say? Also, grandchildren override EVERYTHING and must occasionally be afforded a log-in.

This is not a plea for attention, nor am I isolating. I’ll be on Instagram, still. I’m just bowing out of this particular spiritual poison.

I’m closing with a video I posted some weeks ago. I play this song often which means I cry often. There is method in that madness. Each time, this song reminds me not so much of what I’ve lost (though there is that) but what is important to me. Some things “got lost along the way” in the last thirty-five years, give or take, as they do for a lot of us. I’ve determined, at fifty-two years old, the only way to get them back is to live in the present moment. From my heart to yours.

This issue has been running around in my head for months. I have neither the historical nor the theological training to address it, so I am pleased to find Tim Miller’s work here and reblog it.

Human Pages

NOTEBOOK 1: GOD’S WILL & INTERPRETING HISTORY

(As an appendix to Humility is Endless, the seven-part Notebook is a collection of connected quotations from scripture, interpretation, and history, which further illustrates the destructive nature of fundamentalist belief and religious certainty of any kind. My own commentary is the thread running through them all.)

As an addition to this essay, here are more instances from history where, to our peril, various contemporary events were interpreted as obvious manifestations of divine action.

While the superficial justification for anti-Semitism has always been a variation on, “[Because] Jews suffered proved that Jews deserved to suffer,”[1] this is also generally true for everyone at some time or another: it is always assumed there is an obvious, divinely sanctioned correspondence between our religious or political or civic affiliations, and the fates of those religions and nations, even though there rarely is. Even worse…

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