Monday, February 28, 2011

My role model

Here is my Aunt Helen, age 94. Isn't she beautiful? She's always been my role model. I love her energy and her calm demeanor. And in her youth she looked like Hedy Lamar.

Aunt Helen with two of her greats 
at the family wedding we attended last weekend in San Diego.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Go to the movies

As Oprah said tonight on the Oscar award show, if you need an escape from the hard stuff that's going on in your life, go to the movies. I call my escapes diversions. My long list of diversions have helped me through my hard times, as I describe in my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On

Going to the movies is one of my favorites. I could go every night. I almost don’t care what the movie is about. It’s an escape from the reality of my life. For a short time I can sit in a darkened theater and experience another’s life. People used to tell me to avoid certain movies that are about the death of a child – seems like a slew of those came out right after Paul died or maybe I was just more aware of them then – but, I didn’t listen. I still don’t mind going to movies with that kind of subject matter. That means I can see how others suffer through it and learn from them. 

So be it a happy or sad movie, go. And congratulations to "The King's Speech."

Friday, February 25, 2011

One month already

At a formal wedding last Sunday (with scooter)

My husband fell and broke his foot one month ago today. And two weeks ago he had surgery to fuse his bones together with ten stainless steel pins. Now two weeks post op he's feeling healthy again -- his appetite is back, he's free of infection, and his spirits are up. All he needs to do is stay off his foot for another four weeks - for a total of eight weeks. It's a tall order for the patient and his prime caregiver (moi), but we're committed to his complete recovery - so that's what it will take.

I wrote a poem early on about the fall. So in honor of this month anniversary, here it is:

Even A Broken Foot                       

Accidents are just that
Yet some can be avoided
like my husband’s the other night.
He walked willy-nilly toward a dark room
that the hotel should have had well lit.
And while groping in the dark
for a light switch
he fell down a short flight of stairs
and was rewarded with immediate pain
in his foot and ankle.
Perhaps a quick application of ice
gave us false hope that it would take
no further care but
elevation, an Ace bandage, and ice.
But more swelling, more pain
indicated x-rays were in order.
The prognosis, a broken foot
not to be walked upon for four to six weeks
Now enclosed in a cast
and crutches prescribed for mobility
there’s whining and demands already.
So I wonder
where it says in the marriage vows
for better or worse
and a broken foot?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Don’t go there. You don’t need to imagine it.

When people want to know the details about my son's death, I try to avoid specifics; not to protect myself, I already know all the gory details. No, I want to protect the asker, especially if he or she has children. I want to protect imaginations from going to a place where they have no reason or need to be. People can’t help asking these questions. They feel their interest is comforting to me, but I find it more of a burden. The tables get turned, and I feel the need to comfort them. It’s happened over and over. When they say they just can’t imagine losing a child, let alone losing one the way I lost mine, I say, “Don’t go there. You don’t need to imagine it.”

I love Anne Lamott's books. And she's a great public speaker as well. That's why I decided to use a quote from her book, Operating Instructions (Anchor Books, 1995), to start off my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On The death of a child is a parent's worst nightmare, and she put down her fears about that so aptly:

"When I held Sam alone for the first time…, I was nursing him and feeling really spiritual, thinking, please, please God, help him be someone who feels compassion, who feels God's presence loose in the world, who doesn't give up on peace and justice and mercy for everyone. And then a second later I was begging. Okay, skip all that shit, forget it – just please let him outlive me."

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Using exercise to heal

I've worked out almost all of my life. After my son Paul died I became almost obsessive about. It just seemed to help me get through the pain.

Here's another poem that will appear in my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On It was one of the first I wrote in Jack Grapes method writing class.

Making It Hard

The bright room is almost full.
All four walls of mirrors reflect women and men
in baggy shorts and sleek black tights.
The music is so loud
the woman in front of me stuffs earplugs in her ears.
Lisa G says, “work from the core;
your workout relates to your real life.”
I want to get on with it.
I don’t come here at 6 a.m. to listen to a lecture.
The neon sign on the wall says “sweat,”
and that’s what I want to do.
The woman behind me complains.
I don’t know her name, but here she is every week
always in the same spot, always complaining, always in black.
Black tights, black sports bra, black thong leotard,
black headband on her head of black hair.
Even her lipstick looks black.
A drill sergeant in baseball cap and high-top aerobic shoes,
Lisa begins her litany.
“If it were easy, everyone would be fit,” she shouts,
“Don’t come here and expect it to be easy.”
She doesn’t know my name. I like it that way.
I like the feeling of being anonymous here.
I don’t know anyone and no one knows me.
No one knows about Paul, that he died
or any other thing about me either.
Being anonymous is a benefit.
It keeps me in shape, calms my mind,
gives me the space to be myself.
It’s a mini-vacation from the horrors of my life.
So I thank Lisa G
for getting me moving,
for making it hard,
for making it hurt,
for showing me how to
trade one pain for another.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The wonder of "room air"

It’s been quite a week. From Bob’s first day home until today we’ve been on a roller coaster ride. He was very weak at first and experienced shortness of breath just walking on his crutches from his bed to the bathroom – a few feet away. But by the time he went to his cardiologist on Tuesday, his second day home, he was like another person – with it, no shortness of breath, and moving quite agilely on either his walker or crutches. And when his doc concluded, after an EKG, chest x-rays, and a controlled test of Bob breathing “room air,” that Bob no longer needed oxygen, Bob’s attitude and mood changed in a flash. By the time we got home he was ready to go back to using his scooter to avoid the wrist and underarm discomfort he felt with the crutches. No more worry over oxygen tubing gave him the confidence.

We both began to feel so confident about his health and mood that we talked again about attending a family wedding in San Diego – a two-hour drive away – this weekend. But we would go only for one night, the night of the wedding, and miss the planned festivities for tonight.

I even took his tux to the cleaners and asked the owner to undo the right pants seam about ten inches from the bottom so he could get his big foot into the pants.

However, yesterday he began complaining about pain, the first time all week. He had been controlling it with Advil every 24 hours so he knew this pain was different. We got an emergency appointment with his foot surgeon who agreed there was something to this new unusual pain – we had done the right thing by coming in. When he took off the bandages and dressing he found a slight infection in one of the two incisions he has in his foot. So now Bob is on two antibiotics and a pain medication.

And 24 hours later he is feeling much better.

We still think we’ll go ahead to San Diego, but we'll make a final decision tomorrow morning. I’ll hate to miss it – I have a new dress for the formal occasion, but it wouldn’t be the first or last thing I’ll have missed in my life.

I must say thanks to all the help we received this week. My friend Marlene brought in lunch and took us to the cardiologist on Tuesday, my niece Dara took care of him so I could go to my own medical appointment on Wednesday, Ben came over countless times and helped his dad take his showers, our massage wonder-woman brought over her table and gave us both massages last evening, and she and her mate are bringing us dinner tonight. Plus we had two visits from home heath nurses and a physical therapist. It’s been a hectic and heartwarming week. We are very blessed even in light of this bumpy time in our lives.

I left Bob for a short while this morning to walk downtown Manhattan Beach to the grocery store, and I couldn’t resist taking a look at my ocean while I was out. It rained heavily last night, and the sky threatened more rain today even though the sun was bright and warm. I never tire of taking photos of my beach – it is just one more blessing in my life.

Saturday morning about 9:00 am

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Another sneak preview

Another poem that will appear in my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On. Please look for its release by Lucky Press LLC on Mother's Day.

Tonglen Practice

It's the mothers and fathers I care about.

When my son died, I grieved for him
and all mothers and fathers
who ever lost a child.
I breathed in pain
and with each exhalation asked
that no parent
would have to feel
the pain of such a loss again.

But I can't do it alone.
The mothers
and fathers
over all the world
must practice Tonglen with me.

We must take the pain into our bodies,
into our souls, into our hearts,
and cleanse it with our healing breath.
Then with our collective breathing out
give this world a chance
to be safe for all our children –
all our sons and daughters.

Breathe in, breathe out
now, forever,

Monday, February 14, 2011

I've always heard that life isn't fair

Bob, just before leaving the hospital

Our new home accessories

When my husband went into the hospital last Thursday afternoon to have his broken foot repaired with pins he felt very healthy and upbeat. And after three nights in the hospital he came out with an unknown pulmonary problem that necessitates his being on oxygen 24/7. Needless to say he feels like he's been beaten up.

That just isn't right. That just isn't fair.

And of course i went through my share of fright. His condition was so bad on Saturday night, I had visions of him never getting back to normal. Thankfully by the next day he felt and looked and acted better, and now that he's been home a night and a day he's improved immensely. I'm feeling more confident that his oxygen deprivation is only temporary and soon all we'll have to deal with are the no stepping down on his right foot issues. Plus we're seeing his own cardiologist tomorrow. Hopefully this man will have a magic wand and make him all better with just a touch.

If only I could believe that could really happen.

So the saga of the accident-that-could-have-been-avoided (I've made it all one word) continues. Please think good thoughts and stay tuned.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Now there's a poem

Red Room the author's website asked us to blog about one of our greatest discoveries. Here's what I wrote.

Writing has been a part of my life for a long time. I was a feature editor of my high school newspaper and went on to study journalism in college. And though I didn’t pursue a career as Brenda Starr Reporter, I worked most of my professional life as a writer and editor of proposals for the aerospace industry. Later on I started taking writing workshops and even dabbled in poetry – though my love of reading poetry that started when I was a child far outweighed my desire to write it. That is until poems just seemed to flow from my pen while I was in an Ellen Bass Writing About Our Lives workshop at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California – just a few months after my son Paul died.  Poetry seemed to be the only way I could really express my emotions.

For a long time my poems were all about Paul, many of which will appear in my memoir about how I’ve survived his death (Leaving the Hall Light On released by Lucky Press on Mother’s Day). But now I find poems going on everywhere, any time. I like to say: “now there’s a poem,” and off I go to write one. And though these days I write more prose than poetry, poetry is still a great part of my writing life. I’ve produced four chapbooks, and I’ve co-edited two volumes of the poetry anthology, The Great American Poetry Show. I’ve also written the poems for a book of photographs, The Emerging Goddess – one of the first projects that helped turn to more upbeat subjects. I was thrilled when the photographer asked me to write goddess poems, giving me the opportunity to learn about goddesses and write about another subject instead of the dark, death-related work about grief and Paul I had been doing. And I’ve had many poems published both on-line and in print magazines – even one of those first novice poems was published in The Compassionate Friends newsletter.

Now I challenge myself to write a poem every day while I travel. I enter April and November poem-a-day challenges, and last year I challenged myself to write a poem a week about people I see and have imaginings about, but whom I don’t know. Lately I’ve been dabbling with short, Twitter-length poems – I like the fun of manipulating the words to fit into a certain constraints. And with these poems, I look outward, not inward, most of the time.

And with the discovery that I could write poems, I also discovered how healing writing can be. I recommend it to anyone suffering from grief – actually a creative outlet of any kind can help. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Next steps to book launch

I've finished my final review of my book's design and galleys and sent off my notes to my Lucky Press publisher. Next steps are sending out review copies, getting back comments and hopefully some good blurbs for the back of the dust jacket, and then the book's Mother's Day release. Right after that I have my first scheduled book signing - May 12 at our local Manhattan Beach bookstore, Pages. I'll be sending out invites to that soon.

So, in the meantime I'll post a few of the poems that are interspersed throughout. Here's "Leaving the Hall Light On," originally published by The Muddy River Poetry Review under the title, "What Is Loss?"

Leaving the Hall Light On 

I lose my keys or sunglasses
and find them in my hand all along.
I lose my little boy in the department store
and he pops out squealing with laughter
from under the clothes display,
I lose important papers
and find them
in the stack of other papers on my desk.

I didn’t lose my son, Paul.
Paul is dead.
Death is forever.
There’s not a chance of finding him.

The light I’ve left on in the hall for him
every night since he died
doesn’t show him the way back home.
There are no more piano gigs out there for him.
The Sunday paper entertainment guide
doesn’t list his name at any jazz club.
He can’t join the young guys at the Apple Genius Bar
and help people solve their computer problems.
Paul would have loved that job.
He was made for that job,
but he checked out too early.
The new meds and surgery for manic depression,
the new information about mental illness
are not for him.

Why do people refer to death as loss?
Maybe just to encourage
people like me.
Maybe just to keep me looking for him.
Maybe so I can pretend he’s still out there.

Maybe that’s why I long to mother
the strong young men at the gym
who hardly notice me
and the bright ones at work.
They are the right age.
They have the same look.
They have the same appeal.

Every time I see a young man
with close-buzzed hair,
well-worn jeans,
a white t-shirt, and a black jacket,
sitting outside of Starbucks,
sucking on a cigarette,
every time I see a skinny guy
walking fast across the street
carrying a brown leather bag over his shoulder,
I look to make sure.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

There's no whining about a broken foot

I’ve had a lot on my plate for the last week and a half. I haven’t been neglecting my blog, I've just had too much going on. First and foremost, my husband Bob fell down a short flight of stairs last week while we were on vacation in California’s Gold Country. We were there to take in a little history and sip some of the fine zinfandels that flourish in Amador Country. Then we were to go to a zinfandel and food tasting in San Francisco and spend our last two days touring the city – a place we’ve always loved to visit.

Unfortunately his fall and the broken foot that resulted cramped our style. We still tasted some fine zins, but the only touring we got in, in San Francisco was a movie theater where we saw the wonderful “Biutiful” with Javier Bardem. I highly recommend the movie but you don’t have to have a broken foot to enjoy it. We also had a couple of great meals – one with a dear friend whom I met years ago at Esalen.

I had intended to start work immediately upon our return on the final review of my up and coming memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On. Janice, my Lucky Press publisher emailed the galleys to me and I was raring to go, But a series of doctor appointments and chauffeuring assignments made the review very slow going. (Bob broke his right foot making driving on his own impossible.) However, I’m happy to say that as of today I’m just about finished. I want to make one more pass through it to check section breaks and page numbers on the Table of Contents, but I’ve got to brag right now that this is one good looking book. Janice designed it brilliantly, especially in the way she integrated the subject matter into the look and feel of the book.

And that I’m almost finished is a good thing. We have more doctors’ appointments next week prior to Bob’s foot surgery on Thursday. His doctor fears there is so much ligament damage from the break that he’ll have to fuse the small bones in his foot together. If all goes as planned my husband will be walking on crutches or scooting along on his little wheeled cart for at least six more weeks after the surgery.
Right now I’m thinking he needs a driver – someone like Morgan Freeman who drove Miss Daisy around. Having my husband in the passenger seat is trying every last drop of my patience.

I must also whine about one more thing. We had decided to have our floors refinished while we away last week so we wouldn’t have to live with all the dust the sanders create, but like most house projects, the job took longer than planned. When we arrived home last Saturday evening, we could not access the entire third level of our tri-level house – the level where our kitchen and dining room are. And we were told our furniture couldn’t be moved back in until today – one day less than a week from the time we returned home. That necessitated eating all our meals out with hobbling Bob in tow – even if we brought food in we didn’t have a table and chairs where we could enjoy it.

Okay. Enough whining for now. I am so thankful that all Bob broke is his foot. When I saw him crumpled in a heap on the floor I thought hip, leg, knee, head. It could have been anything. Six weeks of an immobile foot we can life with. And I must say, my Bob is the same high spirited guy I’ve always known. Broken foot or not he’s making the best of it – especially with his little scooter. And I assure you, so will I.