Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A good friend's insight...

I took this afternoon off to travel to my father’s grave site. It was a spontaneous decision for me and quite unusual to do on the spur of the moment. I am a planner of all things; a scheduler of when to do something and how to do it. Today was not that day.

I typically visit Dad’s grave with family as we take Mom to the cemetery, usually two or three times a year.  The Dallas Forth Worth National Cemetery is enormous and usually takes a map to navigate it.  I’ve memorized that Dad is in section 14F, site 116. He is in the row with three trees standing as sentinels.  I’d like to think this is reflective of his three children; Joni, Jeff and me.

Today I felt that I wanted to visit with Dad alone.  I’ve been feeling in the last few days that I needed to feel his presence.  I wanted to tell him that everything is all right. That his family is moving forward in life as he would have wanted.  I felt compelled to let him know that Mom is okay. I wanted to let him know that I’m trying my best to fulfill the promise to take care of her as he asked me to do on the night he passed away.

I wanted to assure Dad that even though it's been just Quentin and me for many years, his youngest grandson is doing well. I wanted to tell him that he is working hard to earn his bachelor’s degree in business and he will do so in the next year. I wanted to let Dad know that Quentin has grown into the man who he wanted him to be. That he is strong and kind; faithful and true.

I wanted to tell Dad that I missed the times when I could talk to him about anything.  About the joys I’ve had, about some of the sorrows. About where I am now as well as where I am going.  I wanted to let him know that I missed the times I had with him and that even when we sometimes disagreed I always loved and respected him.

I think this desire to visit my dad was brought on from a conversation I had recently with my friend, Siobhan, who I have known for 25 years.  We began our friendship while both serving in the military.  The other day Siobhan asked about dad. I told her he had passed away over 10 years ago. I shared with her how difficult it has been to deal with his death and his absence in my life.

I had forgotten that Siobhan and I had, many years ago, discussed the sometimes complicated relationships with our dads.  I think this is often the case, particularly when a father and daughter have different outlooks on life.

Siobhan said that although we had both experienced the loss of our fathers she felt it may have been more difficult for me.  I asked her why she thought this was the case.  She replied that when I lost my dad, I also lost my best friend. 

She did the best she could do...

We all have that person in our lives who with or without intention, strikes out at us cruelly, typically out of the blue.  It may be something they said or something they didn’t say—a sin of commission or a sin of omission.  The reasons for this are endless: a jealousy, a resentment for something real or imagined.  Perhaps even a spitefulness that periodically spews out.

My grandmother was guilty of this. It may have been a deeply buried sense of her frustration of not living the life she envisioned.  My grandmother was a beautiful, intelligent woman who came from a family who might be considered affluent even by today’s standards. She married my grandfather who was an Iowa farmer.  Perhaps she became restless and frustrated at the life she had chosen or the life that had chosen her.

Regardless of the root of my grandmother’s vicious outbursts, they did occur.  Oftentimes seemingly without rhyme or reason. The primary target of her lashing out was her family. When I got older my mother told me how her mother had, at many times in her life, targeted her and verbally berated her.

I knew from spending time with my grandparents in the summers that my grandmother had these tendencies to focus, to hone in on one certain family member. The next day she would act as if this occurrence hadn’t happened.  I recall one night when I got up to use the restroom.  I was staying the weekend with my grandparents as I attended college nearby.  On that night I overheard my grandmother berating my grandfather.  As was always the case with him, he was calm and measured.  He never struck back.

I was shocked at what I heard and was conflicted as to what I should do.  I felt that this was something between my grandparents; that this was something I should not be privy to nor witness. The next morning, I nervously got up and took extra time to shower and dress before I went into the kitchen. My grandmother acted happy; as if nothing were wrong.  I was quiet and pensive as I ate my breakfast. When I did find the courage to speak about the incident, I told my grandmother that I had overheard her last night. I told her that I heard her saying horrible things to my grandfather. She looked at me, guileless. She said that I must have been dreaming; that this never occurred.

My mother had said that this pattern of behavior was common for my grandmother, both when she was growing up and as an adult.  That it seemed easy and natural for my grandmother to act reprehensibly then deny that it had ever happened.  It became what my family referred to as her “magic eraser.” Needless to say, my grandmother never did change these behaviors.
My father was amazing in that he never once treated my grandmother, his mother-in-law, unkindly. When discussing my grandmother's bizarre and spiteful behaviors, he would say that she did the best she could do.  Both my grandmother and my father have been gone for many years.  I’ve had time to turn these ideas over in my mind; to try to make sense of them.   I often return to those words from my father: “She did the best she could do.”

I think now, as an adult, I may have a better understanding of what my father meant when he said that.   It’s not that he was condoning or excusing my grandmother’s cruel and erratic behaviors.  I think he simply saw her as a deeply flawed woman. He somehow knew that her pain became lessened by expelling it. Whether purposefully or unintentionally she spewed this pain out on others. So I think when my father said “she did the best she could do” he was saying that maybe, just maybe, my grandmother was not capable of doing any better. She did the best that she could do.  

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

You are nothing less than special...

I met with a young woman several months ago for a counseling session. She was in her late teens.  In that age where a young woman feels pushed and pulled by how she sees herself and how society expects her to be.  I found myself wanting to reassure her that she was unique and worthy.  I wanted to tell her that if she waited for just a few years, that indeed she would come unto her own.  I struggled with how to balance the need to reach out to her, to reassure her that all was well.  Then it came to me.  I told her to always remember: you are nothing less than special.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

An open window...

Having grown up in Iowa, I enjoy the smell of the outside, particularly in the early morning. As an adult now living in Texas, I typically rise in the early morning and open a window, allowing myself to breathe in deeply. If it is overcast and threatening rain, I enjoy the heaviness of the air mixed with dew on the grass and trees.  If it is to be a sunny day, the air seems lighter and crisp. Either way, those smells of the morning air, in the quietness of early morning, become part of me.

Later in the day, one of my family members assuredly will come by and shut the window.  They will cite allergens or humidity as a reason to close it and run the air conditioner.  Such is the way of modern life.  Sealed in, safe and hygienic.

When I was quite young, perhaps 5 or 6 years old, I would visit my grandparents on their farm in Bedford, Iowa. Once a week, my grandmother would wash the clothes outside in the shed when it was first light. She did this to spare herself the heat and humidity of the Iowa summer. After the clothes were washed, she would run them through a wringer to remove the wetness. 

The clothes were then hung on the clothesline, one by one with wooden pins.  I’m certain my grandmother viewed this chore as a routine part of life on the farm, but I saw it as a dance.  My grandmother always wore a loose cotton dress while doing the wash outside. She would stoop and take hold of a shirt, shake it twice, and pin it to the clothesline, seemingly in one fluid motion.

The clothes would dry slowly, as if enjoying being there at that point in time.  Hours later, when the clothes were dry, my grandmother and I would remove them and place them in the wicker laundry basket.  We did this slowly, methodically. I would be on one side of the clothesline and my grandmother on the other.  As I unpinned a shirt I would breathe in the smell. To this day, I can recall it. It was somewhere between that crisp Iowa air and the sunshine, like an open window.

Friday, March 17, 2017

please, my darling, allow me time...

allow me time to love you. 
please, my darling, allow me time.

the cadence of your affection is quick and I fear it may escape me.
please, my darling, allow me time.

i’ve been hurt before by admirers who professed their ardent love for me.
please, my darling, allow me time.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Harvest moon...

I was so busy worrying about the turmoil in the world last night that I forgot to mention how fortunate I am. I have a son who, at 23, wakes me up at midnight when he gets home. He wants to show me the harvest moon.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

An email exchange about writing...

Me: How is the writing going? Hope I wasn’t forceful in my remarks.

Him: I dug your remarks. Actually the most recent writing work I have done is for my book.  I have a new element that Kim says makes my main character seem a little crazy. So, I know I’m going in the right direction.

Me: We’re all a little bit crazy. That’s what makes us who we are. Without our own crazy we would be like everyone else. One last thing about writing: it provides a narrative/a platform for who we are or who we were at a certain point in time.  If we are fortunate enough to share our story with others, it may become, in some small way, a part of their narrative as well.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

This is not how my story will end...

This has been a process. It wasn’t something I knew or at least acknowledged ten or fifteen years ago. For me, it is the deepest yearning to live this life that I know was the true me.  I’ve done the expected marriage in the expected suburb. The expected life with the expected car with the expected second marriage.  For me the turning point was when my father died.  I knew somewhere deep inside me there was a release of expectation and of a life that was safe.  My husband wanted a divorce and I did not fight it. I knew that this freedom would enable me to do and be the me that I had secretly coveted.

My son is now 23 and I am 54.  We are taking a leap of faith and will be traveling for 2 months in Europe this fall. For 64 days we'll be exploring Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, and Italy. We'll be traveling lightly and by train so that we may see the countryside unencumbered.

I wanted to take this trip with Quentin so that he might experience places and people I had at 18. At that time, it seemed that the world was a much safer place, however I am not certain that was the case.  Perhaps the events occurring in the world were not covered to the extent they are now.  Perhaps the world is a more volatile place.  If that is so, then so be it.  I won't allow these events to deter me from sharing this experience with my son.

We all know that commercials loudly trumpet the opportunities available to us upon retirement. I know, however, that if I don’t do this now  then I may never do so.  I am not the backpacker and hosteller that I was in my teens. I am, however, the woman who, with a few accommodations can still experience the vagabond life I had envisioned.

I sometimes feel an almost palpable anxiety and fear that if I do not travel to these places I have longed to visit and/or revisit that I will regret it. 
When my grandmother was in her 80’s she shared with me that the one true regret she had was not seeing Switzerland in her lifetime. This was the country from which her family had immigrated. Eighty years on this earth and not once allowing herself this experience.   I knew then and there that I would not repeat this pattern. That this is not how my story will end. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Darkness one night...

This autobiographical work surrounds a period in my life when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder as an adult. A social worker and psychologist by training, I suddenly became the patient. This short narrative follows my journey from young adulthood, being diagnosed, receiving treatment and recovering. The message of this work is one of hope. I truly believe that bipolar illness is a gift and not a curse.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Coffee and forgiveness...

     My brother and I met for coffee today as we periodically do.  It’s just the two of us during these times. We meet to talk about many things; at times we talk about nothing. It is the time we reconnect, both as siblings and as friends.   We discuss situations in our lives, thoughtfully, and laugh at them as well. During these meetings I often discover things about my brother that I had not known previously.  It amazes me that we’ve been siblings for 48 years, and still I uncover things that I did not know about him. 
      Today we touched on the topic of forgiveness.  Later that day my mind kept returning to this theme; this theme of forgiveness.  It became clear to me that in the end we sometimes feel compelled to forgive others who have wronged us.  Maybe this is due to our age or maybe it is because we somehow know it is that time to let go. This is not necessarily to benefit the other person who, knowingly or unknowingly, made them the person to forgive.  We do so because if we don’t forgive, it will eat us up inside.  It may happen now or it may happen later, but ultimately we must forgive. 
     My brother said that for him the process of forgiving must be tied to a physical act.  He said he will walk around the lake where he lives, a mile around it, 16 times.  One mile for each year he feels he has lost due to the person who has wronged him.  It seems that for him, the actual act of forgiving is tied to a visceral feeling. 
     I suppose, for me, forgiveness is the cleaning out, emotionally, of the pain and resentment towards the person I feel has wronged me. So it’s not about the goodness in me.  It’s about the need to let go of that long held bitterness and anger. It is the time I must loosen my grip and let it go.

Things I've learned from Sadie...

It’s okay…
…to take a nap when you’re tired
…to trust someone as long as they deserve it
…to realize if you don’t trust someone, there’s probably a reason
…to be loyal & to be kind.
…to enjoy food/any food
…to run just to run or to chase a bird
…to love a scruffy, grumpy gray cat as a best friend
…to take a nip at an annoyance if they are still bothering you after 3 warning growls
…to be happy after a good walk & a cold drink of water on a sunny day
…to not enjoy being dumped in a tub full of water, even if you need it
…to curl up somewhere by yourself if you’re not feeling well

It’s not okay:
…to rub your butt on the floor
…to go poop whenever & where ever you choose
…to sniff someone’s butt, whether they want you to or not
…to chase a scruffy, grumpy gray cat just because you want  
to steal food off someone’s plate when they’re not looking eat that food to the point of becoming sick

Sunday, March 5, 2017

My first best friend...

     Jan was my first best friend.  We became close friends when she and I were 5.  I lived 6 houses down and across the street from her.  Perhaps some wondered why we became friends, as we were so different. Tall for my age, I was big to her little. She was quick and birdlike.  I was the slower one who always felt apologetic for my height.  Despite our differences, maybe because of them, we became instant friends.  I think it may have been because we were both “tom boys” and enjoyed spending most our time outdoors.  In the summer, we would race out the door after breakfast. We would spend the long days riding our bikes in the hot, humid Iowa sun.  When we’d come home for dinner we were tired and tan from the hours spent outside.  We smelled like the summer: popsicles and sunscreen; sweat and happiness.  Our hair would become lightened and freckles scattered on our faces by the long days in the sun. Those summers were times of innocence. They were a time in our lives when the only thing concerning us was how we could fill those endless summer days. Summers seemed to be an eternity at that age and we never looked past the next day.  Those times were a gift.  They became the stuff of memories to file away; to recall when we got a bit older, when life was not so innocent and pure.  It is rare now for children to spend their days outside in the summer.  On those scarce occasions when I witness a young girl or boy doing so, I am vividly reminded of childhood happiness-- of simply living a summer day in the sunshine. 

Saturday, March 4, 2017


     This is my favorite time of the day.  Dusk.  It is the time whereby I may put away the business, the hurried tasks, the things which have occurred during the course of day: rushed early mornings, long hours worked, family cared for.  Dusk is the time to file the day away and prepare for a tucking in, for a saying goodbye to that day. 
     On this night, the sky is lit by the pinks, purples and blues reserved for a Texas sunset. The clouds are wisps of white; like the cotton on that favorite tee shirt which is soft to the touch.
      I go for a walk at this time, every night. I take my dog, Sadie, with me.  Being true to the Beagle that she is, she sniffs the newly mown grass for those scents only she will recognize. She takes a drink from the pool of water left on the sidewalk from the lawn sprinkler earlier that day. She looks at me as if she is pleased she has found this treasure.
      As it typical in early March in north Texas, it is warm but not hot.  There is a slight breeze that cools my neck.  When I get home, I put my feet up and rest. It is time for winding down. I have a half bottle of wine which sits beside my favorite glass on a round table beside my chair. The wine glass has a chip in it from years ago, when Sadie, then a rambunctious puppy, knocked it to the floor. Somehow that flaw makes the wine taste better. The chipped glass evokes memories from when both Sadie and I were younger. The wine sits on the table beside a stack of my favorite books.  These books are not downloaded to my tablet to read, nor when I read them do I play music in the background. For me, it seems disrespectful somehow, not to give these books my full attention. The authors did not write them so that the reader could briefly scan the words, then hurriedly move on.
     Periodically a quote will resonate with me. I allow myself to pause and quiet my mind so I may think about the quote.  “What did Hemingway mean by this?  Who was his audience?” I hope not only to gain a better understanding of the work, but also to become a better writer myself by reading, by digesting these words.
     Time invariably goes quickly as is usually the case when doing things we enjoy. I look out the window and am always surprised that dusk has surrendered to night.  I have these things beside me: the books, the chipped wine glass, Sadie and the night. These things are my companions as  I say a private “thank you” for the gift of another day. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Overall, it’s damn good...

I met with a client today who was referred because he had recently lost his wife of 50 years. We talked about various things as you do when you’re getting to know someone. Towards the end of the session I asked him how he felt about his life now. He became silent and contemplative.  After several minutes he said, “Life can have its ups and downs, but when you really think about it, overall it’s damn good.” I thought about what he had said throughout the day. “Overall, it’s damn good.” Wise words. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017


     I recently came back from a trip with a few of my close, dear friends. We discussed the fact that we are all now, officially, middle aged. The question, always inevitable, came up: “How do you feel about being your age?” I am 1 month & 3 days into my 54th year. All of a sudden I had an epiphany. I realized that I’m happy. This is not a transient, “I’m where I need to be” stage dictated by others.

     I’ve lived a great life, yet not without the turmoil we all face when we have truly lived life in all of its richness. I have stretch marks which bear witness to the fact that I have given birth and I am a mother. I have a few lines on my face which are a testament to the life I have led thus far. I am not perfect; no one is. But I realized that I am, truly and completely happy. I have a few good friends and family members who I genuinely love and who genuinely love me. I am closer to the Holy Spirit than I have ever been. As such, I am able to give of myself to others in a way that makes my life (and I pray their lives) richer. I am taking care of myself in all ways. Along with prayer, the newly found practice of yoga has become a part of my daily life. It has transformed my mind and body. I have lost 100+ pounds and I am stronger than I have ever been.

     A few months back I looked in the mirror. I discovered that having lost a major amount of weight I was skinny.  Not the type of skinny of the runway models we see on the catwalk.  I’m referring to the fact that I now had the body of a 12-year-old boy! As such, I began mindfully, purposefully practicing yoga. My goal has been to become stronger, to reflect on the outside how I felt on the inside. Here's the thing: I don’t have the body (or mind) of a 21-year-old. Heck, I don't even have the body of a 40-year-old. But you know what? I look damn good for “a woman of a certain age.”  The best part of my story? I have many more years of life to live & many more adventures to experience. Life is good.

That's the deal...

I sometimes think that I should write and describe my experiences after my breakdown in third person. It seems easier, somehow, to see myself at a distance; to act as an observer outside of myself. I think it makes it safer for others to see what may be a deeply buried part of themselves. This is how I/she experiences her life now, as if on a tightrope, even though it's been 10 years since her breakdown.  Since she came undone. So, this is how it would go...

She continues to feel fragile, though. She continues to guard a sensitive, fluid center. Sometimes, loud noises make her heart race--someone speaking her name without warning, or the telephone ringing late at night. Then she will take herself in hand. She will remind herself to draw back, to loosen hold. She has learned how to make it through life on a slant. "You've changed," her friend has said (all intensity himself).

 I think that's the thing about what we call a breakdown. You always are aware and remember this crack, this fissure that has occurred. It's like that hole in your gum after you lose a tooth.  You know you shouldn't keep touching it, but somehow you must, just to remind yourself it was once there. You are aware that the propensity for this fissure to widen is still there. At times, you feel that fissure stretching out and there's that need to hold on tight. You feel you must fight and be strong enough to keep that fissure from expanding to the point where it may break. That's the fear that is under that facade of normalcy. The psychiatrist refers to you as his "success story." He even questions whether your diagnosis is correct. He says that maybe you don't have a mental illness; that the diagnosis of bipolar disorder was somehow a mistake. Yet you know the truth.  You remember that time when your mind was not your own. Because of this experience, this time of unraveling, you take your medication daily even though it sometimes blurs life's edges. It's the price you pay for never returning to this dark place. It's just the price you must pay. You felt the pain then so you can feel the happiness now. That's the deal.