The Depths of Love (Almost submitted to Real Simple Magazine)

REAL SIMPLE (almost entry….)

When did you first understand the meaning of love?

I was 41 years old, beginning peri-menopause and the mother of three sons ages 4, 8, and 11. Because I was concerned that I might be ill, I secretly took a pregnancy test and when that pink plus sign popped up I was shocked. We lived in the exclusive community of Southampton, Long Island, and though we were far from exclusive ourselves, we built the first “non-toxic” home in the area and were featured in several newspapers. When at long last it was built, it was a thrill to move into our beautiful, healthy, fragrant home that smelled like freshly squeezed lemons. At the time, my husband, Shep was a successful realtor, earning enough income to allow me to be a happy stay at home mom.
That was of course, until the bottom fell out of the real estate market on Black Monday, 1987. The first thing to sink was real estate, particularly the second home market in a resort area. We were essentially without an income overnight. We argued, we cried, we scrambled and we became very creative. Shep took a job as a school bus driver and in doing so, earned a bit of money but most importantly received the same healthcare coverage as the teachers did. By night he waited tables for the rich and famous at the Hampton’s hottest restaurant at the time, Sapore di Mare. There, he learned culinary skills that remain with him today and a great appreciation for well-prepared, quality food. On Wednesdays we distributed organic fruits and vegetables to our affluent customers, which we purchased in bulk and resold at a profit. Carefully wrapping the heads of butter lettuce and rinsing each tart cherry we placed the orders in the refrigerators of our celebrity customers. A benefit was that our family got to eat well for little investment. On Friday afternoons we would pack clothes for the weekend and move in with our kids. We shared their beds so that we could rent out two bedrooms as a Bed and Breakfast. Often, we netted about $500 minus the cost of scones and jam. On many Friday nights, I helped cater some of the Hamptons coolest parties. This is how we survived from week to week.
Although I really was happy being home, I was also glad to see the light at the end of the tunnel of babyhood and the possibility of getting involved in things other than La Leche League and playgroups. So, finding myself pregnant by surprise was not only an obstacle but also a deep disappointment. I phoned my long time friend, Joan, sobbing on the phone and asked her to meet me for lunch at The Driver’s Seat. She met me with much trepidation, fearing that I was about to tell her that either I was in the midst of a torrid affair, or had a life threatening illness. When I told her why I was crying, she stared at me in disbelief as if she wanted to break into song “Is That All There Is?” I lamented how broke we were, that I already had enough kids, that I needed to work now ad nauseum. I also had this shameful feeling that I was too old and now too poor to have another child, anticipating the disapproval of others.
Because I have always been in awe of childbearing and because I am a huge breastfeeding advocate, the actual pregnancy was comfortably woven into my life. However, I did ruminate over sending bad vibes to this baby with thoughts of being unwanted throughout the nine months. On an icy evening on January 17, 1993, some 42 weeks pregnant, I began laboring at home with two kind midwives. It was my most difficult birth and labor never seemed to end. I struggled, finally actually screaming that baby out into my soft bedroom chair at 1 am. Once he was born, we all understood the struggle as he weighed in at 10 ½ pounds! Sweetly, in my arms, we melted into bed together. He tenderly came to my breast and I began to cry from sheer, unbridled joy, exhilaration and the sight of my now four sons surrounding me, along with the loving eyes of Shep. We named our newest bald, little son, Gregory, after a dear friend. Now my stand up and shout song needed to be, “I am Woman, Hear me Roar.”
During the next few months, we put our cherished, green home on the market and made plans to move to a more affordable home in North Carolina. I spent many hours in my lovely, peach bedroom, nursing my precious, squishy baby always whispering into his head, “I am so glad you are here. I love you. I am so blessed that you are mine.” We sang “Blue Eyes” along with Elton John to him since he was our only non-brown eyed child and I danced with him to Louis Armstrong’s “It’s a Wonderful World.” Once settled in North Carolina, Gregory and I went to Whole Foods every Tuesday while we took one of my sons to a homeschool group and we strolled in the afternoons to pick the younger boys up from their new school. We rocked in Shep’s grandmothers old rocker at naptime, watching the latest developments on the OJ Simpson case. I felt grateful for the joyful life I had with the hopes for more of the same, when I would lie in bed nursing Gregory to sleep staring out at the North Carolina pine trees
In May of 1995, we decided to take a trip to visit our old Hamptons friends. Gregory was two years old and always unhappy in his car seat so he and I flew to New York while Shep drove the minivan with the other three boys. Once in the Hamptons, we listed all the friends to visit but made one stop first. This was just an “acquaintance” as one says when one is classifying levels of friendship, but a La Leche League mom who had just given birth to a new baby she wanted me to meet. Shep and I disliked her husband, intensely for his infidelities, false bravado, and reputation for being an extremely dishonest politician, so we went when he was not home. However, he did come home while we were still there and monopolized the conversation. We were attempting to leave but, the rest as they say, is indeed, “history” and for us, life-changing history at that.
Two of my boys were playing outside, while Gregory followed them around. He tended to “shoot baskets” by throwing the oversized basketball down to the ground and then looking up at the hoop to see if it had miraculously gone in! Early May in New York is not yet time for swimming but, Gregory found his way into the still cold swimming pool. The shocking sight of him floating in his yellow sweat suit remains engraved in my mind forever. An ambulance rushed him to a local hospital, followed by airlifting him to a huge medical center. Bathed in complete and utter terror, I sat next to his soft, naked body as the doctors administered bolus after bolus of Lasix, breathed for him, and tried all things humanly and medically possible to keep his heart beating. We prayed and begged incessantly. We watched the lines on the monitor. We listened to the beeps. Never in my life, did I realize the depths of desperate, yearning love that one could feel for another. I wanted my beloved son in any form, in any condition, but I wanted him alive and present and at my breast so that I could nourish him back to health. My heart pounded with continuously outpouring, searing love. My begging tears fell onto his small chest. Occasionally, I would look up into my frantic husband’s eyes and say, “What should we do?” My 11 year old son wandered in the hospital hallways, imploring, “Mommy, do something.” Despite all the love in the world, Gregory drew his last supported breath at 6 am the next morning.
Suffice to say, as a family we spent the next several years in deep grief, continuous counseling and the vital support of church, family and Compassionate Friends. We were and remain today, five humans, changed forever. For me, navigating my way through deep connections of an unexpected love followed by a violent, tragic loss, taught me a previously unknown meaning of real love. We each carry with us that love, manifesting itself in different ways, some productive, some not so helpful but real and honest, nonetheless. We learned that no matter how much we love and how much we want to hold onto the one who we love, sometimes, we are left with only the understanding.

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I Forgot to Pray!

A couple of weeks ago, my chronically ill son, Peter hit the skids with a sodium level that was so alarmingly low, he was expected to have seizures. We hear this can be typical for chronic Lyme patients on long term IV antibiotics, but that made it no less alarming. We raced him to a nearby, (albeit substandard, ER), where he was given IV fluids and loaded with sodium. He then needed to be admitted and transported to a real hospital by ambulance. Understand that for his dad and for me, being in an ER is no easy feat. I mean, of course it’s not, for anyone. But, for us, it brings with it a whole slew of trauma triggers and it is an exhausting fight to maintain presence and not slip away to that dreadful night in 1995 when our then youngest son, Gregory, died. To this day, I still fight nausea when I see a racing ambulance and forever, the sight of vitals bleeping away from an IV sends me into a panic. But, with hard work, we can now differentiate and know that we are here with Peter, 16 years later and things are fairly stable.

So, Peter was admitted to Duke Raleigh hospital (a wise and self preserving choice made by dear husband, Shep as it is so much closer for us to get to) and I actually went to work for a few hours while this transfer took place. When I was done with work, I came and sat in a chair in Peter’s room where I stayed for most of the next day and a half. Peter convinced me to go home and sleep which I did, but other than that, I stayed. I spent a lot of time just staring at his ashen face, his emaciated body, his long stringy unkempt hair, his exhaustion that he describes as being “deep in his bones.” I stared wondering what had happened to the last few years of this brilliant, charismatic life that I had watched unfold with such pleasure and pride. Did I curse him in some superstitious way by always saying, “Ah, Peter has the Midas touch. Everything he does, everywhere he goes, everything he tries, turns to gold.” It was true though. He was so successful every step of the way, straight A’s all through school including the two years when he succumbed to deep, grief related depression. He was captain of every sports team in high school, won all the awards he could, including a totally free ride to NCSU Parks Scholarship program. He landed a summer internship with the NFL where he became so beloved that they pleaded with him to stay when summer ended. So, he stayed for a whole year before deciding he wanted to go to Harvard instead of back to NC State University and sure enough — he got in and soared through Harvard, graduating with honors. When he wanted to experience the NBA, he did, landing another summer internship! And then, after graduation, he became a very successful business consultant in Boston. His future held only the best of everything and he was star bound, although unlike many stars, Peter really had a deep heart and social justice commitment as well. The perfect combination!

So, when I sat watching him, I thought of all those things and more. I tried hard to get work done on my computer. I read Real Simple from cover to cover, vowing to be more organized. I went to eat lunch in the cafeteria and being horrified at the unhealthy offerings, left and hit Trader Joe’s. Then I , brought back with me as many salty snacks as I could fit in my canvas bag to pump Peter full of more salt. Peter and I laughed with horror at the food on his meal trays which ranged from yellow jello to a dark grayish “raspberry” sorbet to mystery meat to artificial sweetener included with all. How could the healthiest of us ever recover given a diet like this? Where was Jamie Oliver at a time like this? As usual, Peter and I vowed to work on making healthy hospitals sometime, someday. But, I wondered, “When? When will my boy get back to changing the world?” We were then told that he could not be discharged until he ate meals and walked up the hallway. Until then, all Peter was doing, all he had the energy to do, was sleep. But, one more look at the yellow Jello and we said, “Okay, we have to get out of here.” And so, he ate what he could and we made three painfully slow walks up and back to the nurses station. His stats were better enough so that by the second night, we got our ticket out of jail. Whew.

When I was in church the next morning, I had this sudden, shocking thought. Through the whole 48 hour incident, I believe I had forgotten to pray!! I wondered how this could have possibly have happened. I beat myself up for awhile. I questioned my faith and then my commitment to it, to my family, to myself. WHAT was I thinking? How did I forget to at least chant the Anne Lammott prayer of “Help me, help me, help me!” No “Lord’s Prayer? Nothing? I don’t know… I really don’t know how I lost my way and forgot to at least chat with the God I know is always with me. But perhaps, that is just it. I don’t need to call upon him, he is there. And maybe, I really was praying all along. Bearing witness, showing up, being there, not leaving, asking the doctor questions, encouraging my patient. Maybe, staring at my son feeling the deepest, most intense love and compassion that is available to us as humans, is in fact, prayer. My love running so deep from my heart to his, is this prayer at its heart? I am there. I am present. I show up. I have prayed.