3D Mammogram

 

My sister has been dead for three months and as many of you know, she died from Metastatic Breast cancer that metastasized to her bones. In the end, her skull got too crowded with disease and a bleed and ended up as a stroke. At the moment I am focused on my existing Osteopenia and Osteoporosis along with my mammogram. I have been told that I am now considered “high risk” for breast cancer which I suppose is true however, without knowing if my sister’s cancer was of the genetic sort, I am not sure. I’m working on finding that out if I can. If I can’t, I suppose I can be tested myself for the BRCA1 or 2 gene.

 

So, I discussed the idea of getting a 3D mammogram with the midwife I saw for my annual GYN exam last week. She didn’t seem to have an opinion so I decided on my own that it seemed a more extensive screening to do, despite being exposed to more radiation, which always makes me cringe.

 

I drove to Chapel Hill to UNC Cancer hospital this morning but as I arrived at the parking deck it all began to hit me. This is where I had come with my sister several times and I was about to relive a lot of it. When I walked into the lobby, the déjà vu began. The masked women, the wheelchairs, the wigs, the no eyebrows or lashes, the pink ribbon pins, the whole scene. First you wait on a line and get a number, sort of like at the butcher. Then your number comes up on a screen and you go to registration. UNC is a well oiled machine and they care deeply about their patients/customers to the extent that a cart is rolling around offering coffee, tea, or hot chocolate as if you were on a transcontinental flight. Green tea is a common choice because, oh yeah, we heard that fights cancer. Sure. Too little too late perhaps?

 

Anyway, I find myself trying to act super healthy, almost super young and vibrant, walking at a rapid pace, responding quickly, etc maybe to show that I am not one of the fallen warriors? Just why do I do this? None of this is necessary. Who am I kidding? But, when they seat me in the next waiting room in the very chair I sat in five years ago, I am overcome with emotion. This was the chair that I sat in when Alice’s boyfriend yelled at me in front of the entire waiting room of people because as he said, “I had not greeted him with a proper hello!” I remember how stunned I was as my sister was sitting in the mammogram waiting room a complete wreck at the time and because she needed water, I’d come out to get it, Never did I expect to be met with this maniacal demand. I recall yelling back at him saying that he was out of line and should stop making a scene. It was at that moment that he looked me in the eye and said, “You are not going to win this contest, so you’d just better get used to it.” Still flummoxed, I asked “What contest? I didn’t know there was a contest. I thought you were her boyfriend and I was her sister and we were here to help her with her recent cancer diagnosis.” He scowled at me and I went in with Alice’s water at which time she said, “What is wrong? You are bright red.” “Oh nothing,” I replied. “That’s not true. Did you just have a fight with Pete?” I told her he’d yelled at me for not saying hello the way her preferred when I’d rushed in wanting to be at her side and she said that she just wanted peace and for everyone to get along which only made me feel guilty and confused.

 

And so back to the present, the tech came to get me and brought me into the exact room I’d waited with my sister and the rest of the hairless, scared-to-death silent women, that day five years back. And when she pointed me to one of the ten lockers to place my clothes in, it all started to be too surreal. I recalled saying to Alice, “don’t worry about which locker it is. It is the last one on the right.” Today, I was assigned the last locker on the right. I put the gown on with the opening in the front as instructed, but there was no way to tie it so I simply held it closed till she brought me into the radiation room. I remembered Alice saying, “How the hell do you tie this gown anyway?” Waiting to be called in I noticed that the TV was still on the same Food Network cooking show. I wondered then, why women who were so nauseated with fear or chemo were subjected to this particular TV genre. Now, years later, I still wondered.

 

The tech then asked me why I was getting a 3D. I said that my sister had died from metastatic breast cancer and I was now considered high risk. “Oh how long ago did she die?” she asked. I was fixated on the crocheted flowers bobby pinned to her hair and her quirkiness but this question jarred me. “She JUST died” I said. “It was only a couple months ago” I said as I started to fill with tears. “I sat with her in this very room when she was having her follow up mammogram five years ago,” I said in my now quivering voice. “Tell me how I find out if she had genetic type cancer or not” I asked. She was getting nervous now and said, “Now honey, you just sit tight here and I will go find out and come back with that information.” It was not the best idea to leave me in there alone in panic mode in the midst of a Star Wars set. I reached my right hand down and searched for Alice’s hand to hold onto. The kind, skinny, strong hand of hers. I tried on the left first and squeezed the air wondering if it was her hand. Then I tried on the right. Then I extended both hands, squeezed the air in front of me and began to cry silently asking Alice to please for God’s sakes hold my hand! I wanted to bolt for the door, run and maybe never stop. In the end, I realized that if in fact I am following in my sister’s footsteps, it would not make a difference if I ran forever and didn’t look back.

 

The tech came back in and brought me to the dreaded, monstrous machine. “Remove the gown from your right shoulder” she commanded. And then, the torture began. My breast on the shelf, holding my breath, chin this way, no that way, squeeze, slam, pinch, compress, ouch, ouch, ouch, you have got to be frickin kidding me. “You can breathe” she says. Breathe? Who in the world could breathe? “Wait let me make sure I get not only your breast but your chest muscle too because of your situation we want to get everything we can. I will do each breast on each side and front in 3D and then I will do each direction the same in 2D, just in case. And you are only being exposed to slightly more radiation than the 2D.” “You can breathe now on this one.” “I am not breathing,” I say, “I am in far too much damned pain to breathe,” Oh good God I am thinking. Surely I will not survive this screaming pain and ultra rads. I did for now.

 

“If they see anything, they will call you to let you know. If they don’t they will mail you a letter telling you everything is okay.” I am wondering how one survives the waiting for the letter while you are waiting for the fateful phone call. But, I leave, go to the end locker, get my clothes, sit on the bench in the small changing room, cry silently, get dressed, walk out and across the bridge to the parking shelves. It is a warm, sunny spring day. In my mind, I hold my sister’s hand swinging my hand back and forth like we used to do when we were little girls. Once in my car, I am safe to talk to her with no one around. “Thanks for coming with me dear sister. Thanks.”

xMammogram_1.jpg.pagespeed.ic.0j6BkNdtHw

 

Advertisements

April 15th Isn’t Just Tax Day

Renee wedding cropped

A year can pass so quickly

And painfully slowly all at once.

Some do without much ado

While others are filled to the brim

With much you never saw coming

And wish you hadn’t.

A year ago it was bright and sunny

With the ocean as a back drop

And a smiling, beaming family

Gathered to celebrate

The union of love

In front of the ocean

With our feet in the sand.

 

We were so joyous that day

Full of the hope and dreams

Of the years to come.

My sister had battled her disease

For nearly five years

With much success

Extending her life

Gracing us with her presence.

Leaving no stone unturned,

She was now headed

To Mexico in the morning.

And though I begged her to keep her money

Away from the charlatans

And even more to hold tight

Onto what good health she had,

She’d become angry

When I challenged

And annoyed when I pleaded.

So I gave in and “supported” instead.

I suppose I will always regret that

And yet I know it was a battle

I could never have won.

 

It is so odd to me

That we never know

Which days are turning points.

I kind of wish

There was a certain alarm

That would sound loud and clear

With warnings of

“Hey, after today your life

will never be the same again.”

 

But our lives seemed the same

After the joy of that day

When Easter morning followed the next day

Along with the birthday

Of my third eldest son.

There was a lot to celebrate that weekend

And we were loving every minute

Feeling as if joy had arrived to stay.

 

To further bond their love,

The bride and groom announced

The baby-to-be

Just a few weeks later.

And I remember feeling as if

Nothing could ever be wrong again

Because this was so blissfully right!

 

My sister returned four weeks later

And would never be the same again,

As they’d whittled her down

To bare bones

Mostly made of juices,

Coffee enemas

And enough supplements

To correct the vitamin deficiencies

Of an entire developing country.

It was not good.

She was not good.

But we followed her wishes

And dammit we juiced

And when we were done,

Her daughter and I

Would juice some more.

Until she became so depleted

That she needed the blood of another

To keep her alive.

We cried together

And we laughed too,

But never could a finger

Be pointed at the Snake Oil.

Mexican salesmen dressed

In white doctor coats,

Because on some level,

She still believed in them

And I guess she needed to.

What we didn’t know then,

Was that the count down had begun.

And there were only about eight months left

Before there were no stones left

To unturn.

 

And the marriage that was made

Would have only seven months to

Remain shiny and new,

Gaining very little terra firma

On which to stand and remain grounded.

He would be handcuffed

And taken to jail.

She was terrorized by police

While her third trimester

Became a tornado of fear,

Worry and Cortisol.

All of our lives

Would dissolve into a valley of tears

Most especially on the day

The beloved baby was born

With his loving dad in absentia,

Tortured missing the moment

He’d dreamed of forever.

And baby’s mom a solo warrior

Stood up and birthed that new soul.

Our sadness and frustration

Is never ending and we wait

And then we wait some more

But no one waits as much as he does.

We wait for what we dread or dream of

and we pray for kindness,

and understanding of

the heart of this good

and loving man.

But we know nothing else to do

But wait.

 

So let me just mention this

Though you may not know what to say

And you might be trying hard

To distract us

Or worse, “cheer us up”

Please don’t.

This is on our minds

Most every minute of every day

Except for the few hours here and there

When we finally give into exhaustion,

Close our eyes and try to sleep

Which sometimes works

And sometimes doesn’t.

I have taken to falling to my knees

Now before I sleep

Because it seems a more appropriate way

To beg for mercy and miracles.

 

I know you want us back to who we were.

You liked us a lot better that way.

But we’re just not those people any more.

So if you feel that you can’t ask us

About how we are,

Or how our incarcerated son is,

Or even how it feels to

No longer have a sister,

Perhaps you’re just not ready

To be around us at all.
I know it is hard to bear witness this way,

But well, I’d choose bearing witness any day

Over living in the center of hell.

Be brave, try and talk to us about it all.

It is a gift to be given at a small cost to you,

But deeply appreciated.

 

 

 

Unexpected, Unscripted Angels Amongst Us

Angel on swingaf179e5f845f4078c6d0d636305da31b

It’s long been noted and noticed that when one is in the depths of despair whether due to illness, death of beloved, brokenness of a family member, or another of the many available hells on earth, you just never know who will “show up.” I put that in quotes because it isn’t always a physical showing up, (though that in and of itself counts in a huge way,) but in other ways. The irony is that the ones who you normally feel closest to and most dependent on, are not necessarily the ones who will stand by you, walk on the hot coals with you, cry with you, and offer you love from the depths of their hearts. Instead, those lifesaving measures can end up coming from the most unlikely people in your life.

 

Having had my eldest son arrested, my first grandchild born without his dad, my only sister die, my sister in law at the brink of death, and my car blow up leaving me car-less within a time span of a tad over two months has left me in a heap with many days feeling like eternity. But, the angels in my midst have been the ones who have often gotten me through one more day with the hopes of standing up to face the next one.

 

In the complete and total chaos that ensued on the day of the arrest, which will forever be the marker of “before or after,” I did call my friend who has been there for me so many times over the last 23 years. We sort of have this pact that when she or one of her beloveds is in the hospital, I show up to sit by her side and she does the same for me. This time there was no hospital but rather hysteria at the kitchen table and she was there sturdy and compassionate to all of us. She has remained there for me mostly as my phone friend for these past almost five months. I cannot imagine how much of a burden it must have been when I just wept on the phone without putting many words together, but she remained steady and most importantly, “there” as she always seems to be.

 

My other really good friend who has also shared religion, faith, soul searching, and high-school-teen-raising has been there day and night throughout. When it was time to host the Blessingway for my pregnant daughter-in-law less than a month after the arrest, I knew I could not do it. These two friends took over and made it happen with me just a weeping willow. And recently, they read the same article with me about grieving and depression and invited me over allowing me to cry and grieve and be completely miserable with no pressure to be otherwise. She also listened to every stage of my sister’s illness journeying to the end as she had gone through this with both of her parents a few years back. She allowed me to rant and rave and she never judged me. She’s made food and gifts, yoga videos and poems and admitted that there are in fact “no words.” These two have been my very dear friends all along, so I am ever grateful that they have stuck around through my free fall and remain present.

 

There was the infamous day when I decided to leave my sister for a few hours to drive to Raleigh, see a client and come back. It turned into the day that never ended, though it did, in all the worst ways. My beloved mini van blew up on the interstate on the way in and I stood in a ditch that freezing morning waiting over an hour for AAA to rescue me. They finally towed my car and me to the repair shop near my office where I was two hours late to meet with said client. When I took a breath and sat down to work with this mama and baby my phone rang relentlessly. It was my niece and my husband saying that my sister had had a stroke, was unconscious and was on her way to Hospice Center. I needed to get back immediately, but I was two hours away and I had no car!! I called my nearest friend and colleague and she arrived within minutes gathering my helter-skelter self into her car as she proceeded to drive for the two hours straight from hell. She says she’ll never forget it and I of course have trouble remembering it, except I know I was absolutely frantic to get to my sister and I made calls to each of my sons sobbing in between unintelligible panic. My friend had converted to Judaism a few years ago but I asked her, “Do you remember the Lord’s prayer?” She nodded that she did and I asked her to pray aloud with me. She did. The divine was in our presence but she was an angel at the wheel who somehow got me back to my sister six hours before she died. I might mention too, that just a month before, this same angel pretended that she had a reason she needed to be in Wilmington, NC on Christmas Eve. The truth behind this was that she actually drove the four hours round trip, brought my sister back to my condo as we readied to leave for Christmas Eve service! I got to have Alice at my side, to pray, to sing Christmas hymns, to weep through Silent Night together, to receive Communion with her at the altar rail, to have dinner together, to exchange gifts and to sleep in my bed together for the last Christmas eve ever. This was an angel in my life that made it all possible and I will remain forever grateful to her for her completely selfless acts of generosity.

 

For many weeks and months I found that I could not speak I was too depressed and too scared. I wanted mostly not to be here any longer for fear of feeling any further pain. My sister-in-law and I have not really ever gotten all that close either due to geographical distance or just our lack of similarities. Our deep love for the man who is her brother and my husband is our strong bond. We’ve grown closer in recent years. But, on the day that I was at my lowest, she called and I pulled over and parked letting it all come out on the phone with her. She cried so hard and begged from deep in her heart, making me understand that if I was no longer here she would likely lose her brother as well and she would not be able to survive that. I listened and I found her very convincing. She was the angel that day and I will never forget it. She cares about all of us and loves us. I can tell.

 

My inability to speak for so long made it very hard on many friends who called all the time and I regret that. I just was unable to put words together without sobbing through them. It is still difficult. I mostly just waited for the 15 minute call from my son each morning and would speak and listen intently then, savoring every single word he offered and each breath I heard him take, holding back my tears until the call ended. I know that there are so many who care deeply, but I still find it somewhat hard to be with anyone and frankly look forward to my slippers and robe most of all each day when and if, I get through seeing clients in my office. My good friend and colleague was one I felt remiss about. We used to talk almost every morning while trying to get our high school sons through one day after another when all they wanted most in the world was to not be in school, but we saw it otherwise. We shared the same profession, sisters with a similar disease, and a lot of the same angst, so while I missed her, I just couldn’t talk about those things anymore. Seeing clients has worked for me. It is one of the only things in my life that is the same as before losing my sister and my son. It looks the same and my practice is the same. I craved familiarity when there was none.

 

When Alice died at the end of January, I got some beautiful notes and cards. Despite death being no surprise after years of battling cancer, I was no less devastated by her loss and find that I continue to struggle with this loss more than I could have imagined. I feel a terrible, wrenching loneliness on many days. I miss calling her every morning and every night because in the past few years she ALWAYS sounded happy to hear me. She REALLY cared about my son/her nephew. She told me I looked pretty sometimes and sent me an email of admiration and apology for past hurts, requesting that I not respond but just take it in. We shared a past that no one else will ever know or understand. I think (or at least I hope) that she knew the awe I had for the way she handled her illness and true love I had for her. Her positivity and determination left me in the dust. No one can substitute for her and it makes me sad every day. Replaying her voice mails is wrenching but I do it just to hear her ever cheerful voice. And yet, when my two-year-old son died over 20 years ago, she was not the most comforting. She wanted me to be “better” as soon as possible. She wanted to have me back to being me. I would never be me again and so she didn’t know what to do with that. So she kept trying to distract me, which was impossible. I told her many times how hurt I was when she wouldn’t acknowledge my son’s birthday or anniversary of his death. She just couldn’t do it. Over the years I came to accept and understand that better.

 

During that time, my priest and friend was a loving support especially for my kids. Compassionate Friends was a Godsend for sure. Our church community was there for us always. But out of the blue, my friend who I had known all my life sent part of the inheritance she got from the death of her father to build a memorial garden at the church where my son’s baby ashes were interred! This was a loving gesture of a lifetime that I will never forget. She was an angel in my midst and remains so always. She said to me at the time, “it is not easy to call you. I dread it actually. But, I call you anyway because I love you.” That too.

 

And then there’s the friend I have known since I was 16. Together we have been through so much including the months when her mother took in “teenage me’ and we shared a room. There has been heartache over imaginary romances, broken homes, premature births, cancer battles, son nightmares, a beloved special needs child, sibling frustrations, deaths of parents, and death of a child. When she tells me I can call at any time day or night and she’ll be there, she means it. I took her up on it one night when sleep was just not happening. She has listened and prayed and brainstormed and just plain let me cry. She’s been in my life forever and I hope I have been there for her one iota as much as she has been there for me. I remember one morning when I called her in the midst of a round of chemo and she said, “How did you know to call me just now at this moment when I have completely lost my way?” It was an angel nudge. So maybe I have been there for her a time or two. Her love always keeps me going.

 

I have a friend who is also a priest, a therapist, and a lawyer. It doesn’t get better than that and sheis also a stellar person with a deep heart. When disaster struck, I called her in a panic and I was too hysterical to be understood so she calmly asked to speak to my husband who was able to explain to her what was happening. She has helped with so much including lawyer selection, spiritual guidance and most of all, she visits my son regularly which he cherishes. She does this on a rotating basis with three other angelic clergy members each of which is walking the talk and truly following the path of Jesus in offering their hearts and time. Angels for sure.

 

And speaking of unseen angels, when my sister died my nieces and I were unsure where to hold her memorial service. I had happened to attend a Sunday service at a random Episcopal church (my sister was Catholic) a couple weeks prior. My sister’s Catholic church had become too difficult and inflexible and so despite knowing no one at the Episcopal Church, I called the rector. This woman showed up, gave us every option, arranged everything including an incredible reception and banquet after a beautiful service and Eucharist where she emphasized, “All are welcome at God’s table.” She was definitely an angel with huge protective wings when we needed nothing less.

 

But then, a dove came flying into my path a few weeks ago. I have this old friend who I have known since 1990-something. We actually found each other in the Memorial Garden when one of her premature twins had died and she’d been sent by a chaplain to take a look and see if she liked it. “Liked” being the operative word, which of course has no place in this situation. However, she did choose to inter her daughter’s ashes next to my son’s and of course we became intense friends and soul mates for many years. We regularly planned women’s retreats together but we had a falling out over one of them and our friendship could never glue the shards back together though we tried once. I missed her and her kids so terribly that I grieved for years but eventually gave up and moved on, never really having understood why this had to be like this. And so there it was, a Facebook message saying she wanted to meet with me for coffee. I felt really anxious since I was mostly scared of everyone now, but she seemed like this needed to happen as soon as possible. Ironically, I was headed to the doctor to discuss my high blood pressure, which of course was that much higher in the midst of this anxiety. I had lunch with a very dear friend who has also been hugely supportive and patient with me not answering most phone calls and messages. (Actually on the first day I was trying to head to the office that friend called and when I told her in a whisper of a voice that I just couldn’t do it, she said, “Take a breath and think of what the women in the Holocaust had to do and then you can do it.” She was right.) Anyway, I got to Panera for coffee all trembling and sat down wondering. My old friend was lovely and said she’d been thinking of me all the time, praying and shedding tears imagining my family’s struggles. I wasn’t planning to talk and then, I couldn’t stop and I imagine she thought I’d lost my mind. I have. But, then this long lost friend out of my hemisphere for so long, handed me a book about suffering and said that when she heard of it, she felt it would help. It is a gem and I savor every word. The author begins by saying that there are many hells on this earth, which has been my mantra. And so, when I left and got into my car, I knew for a fact that this had been an angel sent to me sharing, “More Beautiful Than Before” by Rabbi Steve Leder.

 

In March it was time for me to attend the professional conference I look forward to each year. It came up a bit too soon for me this year because I felt I was not ready to be in the company of 300 colleagues just yet. But it was paid for and non-refundable so I forced myself to go. This one sweet woman is dear to me each year but this year she was especially loving and warm, offering me anything I might need including trips to Whole Foods or Trader Joes if I needed any vegan items. I declined but was deeply moved by her empathy and caring. And then, the other angel there, was so loving and warm offering me tenderness and understanding and more than that, she had chosen a beautiful necklace for me that depicted my sister and me saying “Side by Side” and on the other “Deeply Loved.” These are two serious angels in my life that I have given nothing to and yet, give to me in the most meaningful ways.

 

My husband and my sons are always my angels. They never give up on me and never condemn me even when they are sick of my suffering. I am aware that at least one of them thinks of me as too dramatic and another finds me too emotional so he shuts down even more around me. But, a tight hug from any one of them can get me through the day and on many of those days they are the ONLY ones I can talk to. I have many loving friends near and far and my friend back in New York is a forever angel, always showing up for me through one crisis after another, having attended both the birth and the death of my son and always caring about all of us. She and I also share the death of a son, which is our common heartbreak. I always love and miss her as she has been an angel in my life forever. There’s also my friend, deacon and neighbor who knows just which teacup I like when I come for tea and sympathy, which she offers freely along with sublime wisdom and deeply spiritual and loving thoughts. Being a spiritual director, hospice nurse, and Episcopal deacon is a Carl Yung devotee and includes references to the divine in nearly every conversation, I value and love not only her but her wisdom as well. There’s my British friend who helped me through the hardest days of caring for twin newborns and for years after. And still, despite recently interring her own beloved husband’s ashes in the infamous Memorial Garden, she is always ready to offer love and care to any one of us.

 

Angels appear. We just don’t know who or when. But they glide in and pick us up in any number of ways. It appears like synchronicity as they seem to know just when and how. And when we can no longer carry our own broken hearts, they carry them for us until some healing begins. With all the loss and heartache I feel as I stare at the stripped, dark and barren church altar this Maundy Thursday, mourning my son and his desperate situation, I am still grateful for all the angels who continue to carry me.

Alice and I Christmas kids25389_1359481020736_3809374_n

 

Send me a Sign, Please Send me a Sign

A few weeks before she drew her last breath,

She said, “You know it would be nice to see another spring”

Her patio and her yard were sheer delights to her,

So it was no surprise to hear her make this announcement.

It was more surprising though to hear what followed when she said,

“But then, I think I have already seen spring so I guess it’s okay to miss this next one.”

She knew she was dying and in some incarnate and beautiful way

This took my breath away to realize that someone who loved life as much as she did,

Could actually be brave enough or resigned enough to let it go.

I think it was stunning to me in a way.

 

As it turned out, she died shortly after

Not quite at all how we expected,

When she was still so full of life,

Eating, showering, out and about

And entertaining friends endlessly.

An unexpected stroke took her out

And I was gone those few hours

For which I will never really forgive myself.

But it was the end of January and it had been

A cold and miserable winter

Even though she lived close to the beach.

So I didn’t really think of spring quite then

And in the next two months

It kept being gray and very cold.

I yearned for spring a bit, but I dreaded it as much.

 

Here it is the end of March

And today is the first day

I thought I smelled some spring.

When I got into my car

And opened the windows

For the first time.

I don’t know how to work this Prius very well

It all seems foreign to me.

But I thought I’d figured out

How to keep the radio on NPR,

Which is what I like to listen to mostly.

 

Well today, the radio had run amuck

And while driving, I could not

Get it back to NPR

And off the Bible preaching station

Which I imagine the previous owner had set.

That smell of spring poured into the car now

And I yelled, “Alice, I don’t believe what you said about spring.

I think you just said that to trick me into thinking

You didn’t care about leaving but I’m not sure.”

And then I began yelling and crying at the same time

Demanding a sign or something.

“C’mon Alice! I shouted

“Show me a Cardinal like you kept seeing.

I miss you so much and feel so sad,

I feel all alone so just give me something!”

I had to get the radio off the station it was on now

Because I was in no mood for “Ppppppoker Face”

So I hit Scan and hoped for the best.

And then, THERE it came.

The volume went up by itself

And behold came the voices of

Peter, Paul, and Mary

Singing “Leavin’ on a Jet Plane”

In their finest, clearest version!

I never hear that song, ever!

It is old and gone but oh boy,

This was Alice’s theme song

For her entire lifetime

And usually, she could not bear

To hear it without it bringing her to tears.

 

You see, my father left us so many times

Because he had to, because my mother

Was completely impossible to stay with.

And though we were bereft every single time

We understood him having to leave

Despite our young age.

BUT, when I was 16 years old

And felt so despised

And tortured by my mother

I left too.

And this left 10-year-old Alice

Alone and desperate

And thus, this became her song

Forever more that would always

Remind her of all the pain and all the loss.

 

So yes Alice, I got the message today

And though it made me cry louder and harder

And I yelled, “I’m so sorry” to you over and over

I realized you might just be here with me after all

Because that was way too freaky to have happened

For any other reason.

But in the end,

You’re the one who left

And today is Maundy Thursday.

 

All my bags are packed
I’m ready to go
I’m standin’ here outside your door
I hate to wake you up to say goodbye
But the dawn is breakin’
It’s early morn
The taxi’s waitin’
He’s blowin’ his horn
Already I’m so lonesome
I could die

So kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you’ll wait for me
Hold me like you’ll never let me go
‘Cause I’m leavin’ on a jet plane
Don’t know when I’ll be back again
Oh babe, I hate to go

There’s so many times I’ve let you down
So many times I’ve played around
I tell you now, they don’t mean a thing
Ev’ry place I go, I’ll think of you
Ev’ry song I sing, I’ll sing for you
When I come back, I’ll bring your wedding ring

So kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you’ll wait for me
Hold me like you’ll never let me go
‘Cause I’m…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Little Things Can Throw You Over

Nestlecofeemate-blog-03-1

Why did they have to have Coffeemate exclusively this morning at the eye doctor?

I hate Coffemate. I believe it is akin to poison. And worse, Nestle makes it when they are not busy contributing to the unnecessary death and suffering of infants around the world by aggressively marketing baby foods in breach of international marketing standards.

Everything annoys me now. My hair touching my neck gives me chills. My legs hurt. I hate the cold. I hate the wind. I don’t care about the grass turning green and no, I don’t give a damn that daylight savings time is this weekend. I hated my lunch and pretty much hated my breakfast. I didn’t want to speak to anyone today. And at church yesterday for the Lenten series, I felt the same. Please do not speak to me right now. Can they tell? I don’t know what the weather is because I don’t even notice so sometimes I am not even dressed properly. And speaking of dressing, I have no interest in any of the clothes I bought for this season. That was when I was someone completely different, who cared and even enjoyed fashion. I can’t wait to go to bed, but then my pillow never feels right and I struggle with it all night long. There is essentially nothing wrong with my pillow. I pace. I pace a lot, especially when sleep eludes me. My brain never shuts down and the what if’s and if only’s and the please, please, please help, are relentless. I pray, yes I do pray and it is sometimes meditative but sometimes not.

I am in a wretched and wicked place where it is dark and grungy. I’m struggling more and more to hold onto the glimmer of the pinhole of light. I miss my sister so damned much. Even drinking from her coffee cup (of which I have the hand painted mate) doesn’t do a thing. I miss my son day in and day out with a pain and a yearning that I cannot describe to you. It is relentless and yet still shocking to picture him in jail. I vacillate between raging anger against those lacking human forgiveness and kindness, unbearable yearning and falling on the floor desperation. It is not pretty.

I try to function on a daily basis and for the most part, I actually do, but for God’s sakes, Coffeemate?!? I mean I wasn’t even asking for almond milk which would be my preference but I was willing to subject my body to the small reaction of half and half, but please when I am this sensitive and every hair on my arms is bristling, hold back the chemical laden shit for a bit. I know, I know, I need to learn to drink black coffee. I hear you.

 

SUFFERING

bga

My sister is still Catholic

I have not been

For nearly 40 years.

The Episcopal church

Beckoned me as a friendlier,

Less threatening place.

But, be that as it may

We took my sister to mass

On Sunday despite the ice

And 12 degree temps

Normally unheard of

In North Carolina.

 

As soon as I chose

Our pew and sought

To gaze at the altar,

The huge crucifix

Alarmed me

But reminded me

Of the one I’d stared at

For all my years in Brooklyn

At St. Gabriel’s Church.

However, that one had

The blood dripping

From Jesus’ wounds

Which has stayed with me

For all these years.

A crucifix can be

Quite shocking actually

And I suppose that

May be just the point.

I have long since felt

That if one has to suffer

How can you feel

That you are unable

To bear witness?

I mean really,

Which is worse?

The suffering

Or the witnessing?

No contest there.

 

Throughout the hour long mass

I tried hard to cock my head

Enough to stare into

The face of Jesus.

I could never quite

Move into the right

Position to get it precisely.

 

My heart was pounding

And racing hard enough

To feel I might be sick

And though this happens to me

On a fairly regular basis

This time was hard,

Being in church and all.

I couldn’t pray aloud

And I couldn’t sing a hymn

Because there was

Something else

More powerful going on,

Beating, racing heart.

 

I fixated on the painting

Of Mother Mary for a bit

I identified with her some

For reasons I am about to share.

I recalled visiting the Basilica

A few years back in Rome.

I stared at La Pieta

For a very long time

With tears streaming

Down my cheeks,

So identifying with Mary

Holding her dead son

As I had held mine

A few years prior.

 

So back in the church

At the beach yesterday

I dare to share here

What might be too dramatic,

Or even blasphemous

In a way.

But the image hit me hard

And has stayed with me

For the last 24 hours.

When I got to focus

On the face of the crucified

I no longer saw Jesus at all.

But instead I saw the face

Of my own beloved son

Hanging there,

Ribs protruding,

Crucified and

Punished beyond

Any rational boundary

And suffering in

Each and every moment

While hanging and waiting

For redemption or

Forgiveness

Or resurrection.

Toenail Polish

             ToenailsIMG_5171

                Alice and Ann PediLR 5x7 to print-0944

I am not a fan of pedicures. I know most women are and they look forward to it. Instead, I get fidgety and uncomfortable and both dread the event and am anxious for it to end as soon as possible. I do it a few times a year, mostly in summer, when it seems a necessity.

 

So when my sister, Alice told me how excited she was for us to have a spa day with her I got a tiny bit anxious and wary. A group called “Lump to Laughter” in Wilmington, NC is a kind of “Make a Wish” for women with breast cancer. Alice had gone to some meetings of theirs and placed her wish. It was a bit of an odd one.

 

For the last few years Alice had shared her disappointment in never having had either of her daughters get married, while she was still well enough to be part of a wedding and in particular, walk them down the aisle in the absence of their late father. She pushed and she prodded almost caring more about there being a wedding than she did about either daughter actually getting married. It became a frequent topic and most of the times we laughed but sometimes it became uncomfortable. “After all,” I’d argue, “No one should enter into marriage lightly and a wedding is only the window dressing of a life long commitment.

 

Eventually, Alice did give up for the most part and as her disease progressed to an “end stage” level, she accepted that she would not be attending a family wedding. BUT, she still wanted to see her daughters in wedding gowns! Well, apparently she shared this thought with the director of “Lump to Laughter” and the dream workers began their mission.

 

Alice and her daughters, Katie and Maddie along with me would head to a spa first, where Alice was taken for a facial, makeup and hairdo. I sat in the waiting area and when she emerged, she was glowing and happy. She was ravishing actually and had chatted up the makeup artist and hairdresser as she has done her entire life. How could someone so ill within her body look so healthy on the outside? I was mesmerized looking at my beautiful, still red-haired sister.

 

Next we were to all have our nails done. When I smelled the noxious odors in the nail salon I felt that they would be awful for Alice to be inhaling, as ill as she was, but would also be bad for us and insisted on masks for each of us. I immediately became the pain-in-the-butt-unpopular-girl, but oh well. I don’t know if in all my years with my sister, we had ever actually had a pedicure together. Whenever I do get a pedicure I am always so intrigued with the sisters and friends and mother/daughter combos who do this together. It is social as well as therapeutic I suppose for me it is, “let’s get this over with.” They laugh and chat and I feel so atypical. So, here it was our pedicure moment together and it was the royal treatment with heated booties, lotions and creams etc. Oddly, the pedicurist was also a tattoo artist who specialized in tattoos for breast reconstruction. Her particular specialty was areolas and nipples. Being a veteran lactation consultant who sees breasts day in and day out this was so interesting to me. But, Alice and I chatted and looked at each other repeatedly wondering or knowing that this may be our first pedicure together but for sure, it would also be our last. I chose darker polish than I usually do at Alice’s suggestion. Frankly at that point, I would have gone along with just about anything in the universe that she’d suggest.

 

When we were finally done and able to remover our masks, a lunch had been set up for us in the waiting area. Katie and Maddie were done with their manicures and a bit tired of waiting for the next event but we all ate our Panera sandwiches and required bag of chips happily and I was still stunned with gratitude for all of this.

 

A stretch limo awaited us outside the salon. We were just giddy and giggly about the whole thing and climbed in with the assistance of the handsome young chauffeur. I founds myself dancing in my seat to the loud music he turned on! Our destination was – you guessed it – the bridal shop! And so we arrived and were received with open arms of the staff who were expecting us. Alice was whisked into a dressing room where the very first pick of a burgundy lace gown was perfect. It fit precisely, the color was just right and she was beaming. I on the other hand struggle with these beaded MOB type gowns so though I was trying hard to not be difficult, I imagine I was when I first chose a black gown and then switched to a taupe one, neither of which were flattering. But again, this was for Alice not me and so I would have donned a paper bag if it made her smile. Everything made her smile though. This was her dream.

 

Katie and Maddie each chose ball gowns initially. They are both tiny girls and these huge dresses had a life and a mind of their own which made us laugh hysterically. It was a very odd experience having the staff cater to us knowing that this was just a staged event that would not end in a purchase, profit, or commission. Maddie then switched to a more form fitting gown. Both of my nieces looked stunning and it was fun however, uncomfortable any of us may have felt. Then, the professional photographer took over and began posing each of us, groups of us, “brides” and mother, etc. He was really serious about this and if anything was amiss he would shout, “Wardrobe! Wardrobe!” as if we were in a production.

 

The director of Lump to Laughter was in the shop watching and emotional. She hugged each of us. I remained in complete awe that this was happening. But more than that, I studied my sister’s face. I stared into her eyes. I so wanted to know what was there. She looked pleased, somewhat moved, happy. But, I think that the bottom line may have been this. The thrill of going to the bridal shop with one’s daughter is likely the thrill of the whole life event. The big white dress is just a part of what is happening. I imagine (and being the mother of all sons and no daughters this IS just an “imagine”) but that it includes the “oh wow, my daughter is going to be a married woman soon AND doesn’t she look gorgeous in this dress?” So, for Alice this may have been only partly fulfilling since the accessories of the scene were in place but the details and events, were not. I don’t know and I never will but it seemed so. And when the photographer tried to shoot pix with mother and daughter kisses, closed eyes, etc, it got to be too much for Katie and she called a stop to it. I think it was almost becoming embarrassing.

 

But, all in all it was a successful dream day for Alice in what would turn out to be one of her last days because in about a week, there would be no more days left on this earth. The photos are gorgeous. The limo picked us up and brought us home and though we’ve all pondered on it, written about it, and laughed about it, Alice really never mentioned it again. She took that memory with her so we will never know if it met or soared beyond her expectations. As for me I am deeply grateful to have shared that dream moment with her and her daughters for whatever it meant to her before she left us.

 

But, my dark red toenail polish is beginning to chip and I keep looking at my toes thinking , “THIS happened, while I was with my sister. HER toenails and mine were painted at the same time.” She and her toenail polish are gone. I am still here. My red toenails are still here. I can’t let the polish chip away completely because then there will be one less thing that we shared left.