Sunday, July 9, 2017

Are you Ricky's boy?

For the past three weeks, I have been in my hometown, helping my sister who recently had surgery. She is now the proud owner of zipper like incisions on the inside of both her still shapely legs (a gift from our mother) resulting from a chunk of her right saphenous vein being yanked like a worm from the comfort of its usual location on the medial side of her leg, turned upside down to disable the valves, and transplanted on her left leg, bypassing a blockage in or near the femoral/popliteal artery. This is her fourth surgery on her left leg which refused to consistently deliver oxygen to her foot.  Hopefully the displaced vein will pick up the slack and keep her foot pink.

I have enjoyed some great runs in the humidity and clean smelling, moist air.  I never see anyone else running in this town of 150 or less people. Maybe no one ever does so I am somewhat of a curiosity. “I saw you running” people say.  Sometimes they seem puzzled by the activity.  "You wouldn't see me running unless someone was chasing me" I have heard a few times. 

“Are you Ricky's boy” I ask a young guy standing in front of his house (where long ago an old lady named Kate Burke lived) with an overweight black lab.    I notice a resemblance to a guy I went to high school with and kissed once for some reason. Maybe it's the smile or the voice or the eyes.  I was right, and I tell him I am sorry about his father's death.   I run through and past many memories in this little town as I listen to my sister's ipod playing mostly Johnny Cash, my dad's favorite.

“Don't go out of town, someone saw a bear/wolf/cyote/dinasour recently” my sister warns each time I leave the house. But I do anyway – it's a game for us, and I am as stubborn as she is and hate to be told what to do. I run to the Michigan dam which has been renamed (in a move not popular to us older Rockland raised folk) the Rockland Pond. I take a picture of it; the clouds reflecting in the clear water make it look beautiful, but I think of how some people used to drown kittens and puppies that they could not care for in its deep waters. That thought makes me sad. I have to admit although life seems idyllic now, it wasn't always, and still isn't, for a lot of people here – it certainly was not for my family at least not all the time. Some people tend to remember the past in a more positive way than others. I guess it is whether you are a beer bottle half full or half empty. I tend to think of all the good things but there are times when some of the unpleasant, usually alcohol fueled bad memories take over. 
The Michigan dam 
Feeling brave, I go up the hill to the Irish Hollow cemetery where Dennis Pantti said he saw a big black bear. It is nicely maintained by Tina and her husband, who own the small store that was once owned by Margaret and Gus Erickson and Margaret's parents before that.  I go down the muddy dirt road a little way but it is dark with all the trees towering over the road. I turn around and head back to the highway even though the dead there seem to beckon me to pay attention to them or at least to not forget they existed.  

I head back into town and run around Ricky's kid's block about three times - so far I am up to three miles, according to my Fitbit.  Running up the nicely grated road to the little church on the hill,  I am happy to not have to run on the usual rocks and muddy ruts. The little church is a cement replica of one that was blown down in a windstorm many years ago, way before my time. My sister and her friend painted and repaired it last summer while enjoying margaritas. This road is now used by many snowmobilers or “sledhogs” as my sister (not fondly) calls them. From this little church I used to be able to see my grandmother's house but it is all grown over now and grandma's house is gone. There are a lot of mine shafts in the surrounding woods, most filled in. My mom told us that she and her friends used to explore them back in the day. Johnny Cash appropriately sings “Big Bad John.  "At the bottom of this mine lies a big, big man...big John”. By the time I get back down the hill and into town I reach 4 miles.

The little church on the hill.

Heading further up the hill I go past the yard where my grandparent's little house had been. That house had been built so well that my brother and sister had a hard time tearing it down. I see where my grandpa (and later Barb and Siggie) had their beautiful gardens. My sister learned about gardening, canning, and fishing from grandpa. She cans vegetables and fruit every year and makes the best jam, honoring what they have taught her.  I  remember having coffee almost every day with grandma and how her coffee pot groaned and her floor was uneven. Some of the roses in her yard are still there, and so are these memories. Grandma and grandpa never had indoor plumbing and the euphemisms used for having to use the outside facilities included: “I have to go check the weather” or “I have to go see a man about a horse”. I circle the block a few times and go out and back on some dead end roads . By the time I get to the other end of town I have five miles and head down the back street below main, where I stop to chat with some guys building a garage.

“You guys are Floyds” aren't you”. They confirm that yes they are and it turns out they are Danny Floyd's and Shirley Roehm's brothers and are older than I. I remember them after they tell me their names and chat with them for a minute. I realize that I foolishly expect people to stay frozen in time, age and their looks since the last time I have seen them and am surprised to see these "old" people.

Near the farm where the Davy sisters lived with their dad and sold us fresh eggs from their warm, milk smelling kitchen, I see a red fox race across the road. “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” I think, remembering the sentence we had to type in high school because it contained all the letters of the alphabet. Just past the farm and the fields, on the road to the railroad tracks I see a mama deer and a fawn. They are too quick for me to get their picture.   I detour down a road leading to a pasture, turn around and head to the tracks.  I run down and back a few times on the rocky trail till I get 8 miles.  I wave at Jerry Hoffman and his wife as they drive by.   It occurs to me that Rockland had a lot of old maids – sisters mostly who lived together – some staying to take care of their aging parents and then never leaving when they could.

The cemetary is beautiful and green from all the rain. There are more people here that I know than there are in the town. I stop to greet them and have a chat with my mom and dad. I can almost hear my mom saying “aren't you getting too old to be running?” “Nope” I say to her. “Today is not that day”.

I head back up the dirt road towards home. A pickup truck pulls up to me and stops. “Donna want a licking” some older guy says. If I lived in the city this would be alarming, but I know Kenny and his wife. When I was a little girl, Kenny, whose dad (Skinny as we called him) owned the only gas station in town, used to always tease me by saying that. I used to ride on his shoulders down the ski hill or at least I have a memory of doing that. Sometimes I am not sure if things that I remember really happened or I just remember someone telling me a story or sharing their memory.

There's not much traffic on these roads but mostly I know everyone that goes by or at least someone related to them. I round the corner by the sad looking, deserted house that I grew up in and stop to look at it. It seemed a lot bigger when I was a kid. I was always ashamed that we lived there but what I remember now is how cozy it was and how secure I felt there with a wood fire and people who loved me. I think of the Barbara Streisand song: “The way we were”.

“Memories, may be beautiful and yet...
What's too painful to remember,
We simply choose to forget.
But it's the laughter, we will remember
Whenever we remember
The way we were”

Ten miles done.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

It matters to this one snowflake

This election has bothered me a lot - not because Hillary Clinton lost, but because of the prejudice against women, minority groups, gays, etc  that is rearing  its ugly head.  Not that it ever went entirely away, but  I feel like I am being thrown back into the 60's during the civil rights era,  when people made a big fuss when Sammy Davis Jr. married the very pale, blond May Britt, and when we could buy "nigger baby" licorice candy.  I didn't feel the effects of prejudice too much then because there was not one single person of color living in my town and the main nationality was blond, blue eyed Finns.   I thought of my first act of defiance during the women's lib movement in the 70's when at an all girl pre high school graduation party,  I along with several other class mates, burned my size 32B bra. It was still bad to say the word "vagina" and women were all convinced that we smelled bad "down there" and had to douche or use some weird smelling sprays that were probably bad for us.   Later in college I participated in my first demonstration - a rally against the Vietnam War.   I really didn't understand the big picture of what I was protesting at that time, but I know it felt good to be part of a group that stood for something..

I thought about nursing school and how an orthopedic surgeon embarrassed me with his sexually explicit comments while we were applying a plaster cast.   "Just keep rubbing this and it will get really hard, just the way you like it, right?" he said.  I was powerless to say anything - and who would have believed me?  Besides, sexual harassment was not a thing at this time.

I thought about an old boyfriend who, after he completed a two year college degree, expected me to quit my 4 year nursing program to get married.  "I thought you were just going to school to have something to do while waiting for me to finish" he said.    That was a big turning point for me and I broke up with him but not before he demanded that I come home one weekend .  I refused and he showed up, threatening me and then telling me no one else would want me.   When I was moving to Utah he called and told me he hoped I broke my leg skiing.  I did break my leg running but that was a long time after his original threat.

I thought about a time in the early 90's during my career when, in a meeting of medical and nursing directors, a prominent physician swore at me,  telling me he was "fucking tired of my department not doing what they were told".  No one defended me or chastised him,  and later my boss came to my office and said "that is just the way he is.  I am so tired of us accepting "that is the way they are" or "it's locker room talks" or "boys will be boys."

I remembered once, another powerful physician, getting behind me and pressing himself into my back as I stood in front of a desk.  I could not move and knew if I said anything no one would believe me and he would probably have found some way to get me fired.  So I kept quiet and just avoided being alone in a room with him.

I remembered the "in the closet" gay coworkers who had to hide their relationships for fear of being fired.  Many of them struggled for years having to hide who they really are.  I remembered women who tearfully talked to me about their abortions - a decision that they did not make lightly and certainly not as a form of birth control.  My own mother told me a story once of driving one of her friend's daughters to an abortion clinic and staying with her.  It broke my mom's heart but she knew it was not her place to judge this girl.   No one of course, would judge the man who just abandoned her after she got pregnant.

I am sad that so many Americans and especially so many women felt so unheard that they would vote for a man like Donald Trump.  I feel let down by my fellow Americans who despite his calling women "pigs" and "nasty" and his pussy grabbing remarks, voted for him. As I tried to understand why, and asked them what it meant to "make America Great Again"  it became apparent that many of them could not tell me without admitting that they were against gays, immigrants, anyone on welfare or anyone who supported planned parenthood.  The really big issue was abortion for many, even though it has been legal for more than 40 years.   Some deemed me "not a christian" if I could vote for someone who was "for abortion" as they said.  I tried to explain that no one is "for abortion". "Pro choice" is not the same thing as "pro abortion".   I generally don't get involved in abortion discussions.  I don't think I could ever have one (and now it is a moot point since I am older and have no uterus) but I could never see how I had a right to prevent another person from having one.  To me it's a personal and tough decision that is between a woman, her doctor and her God.  Not up to me or men in the White House or Supreme Court.  I don't want women to go back to illegal abortions at dirty clinics and die as a result.  As a pediatric nurse, I have also seen what people do to children they did not want and I have seen children born with horrible abnormalities that gave them nothing but pain and suffering in their short lives.  It is not for me to judge.  I also took care of rape victims - many of them so young it it hard to think about, and many of them old enough at 11 or 12 to have become pregnant by this act of violence.  I have a friend who was raped and was asked "why didn't you fight back".

I blame a lot on the fake media.  My pro Trump, anti Obama, Anti ACA friends didn't care if I told them that the meme they posted was not true even if I provided evidence.  "Snopes" is a liberal organization and how do you know they are true"?  "Politifacts?  They are also all libtards".  Or the answer that was my favorite "I don't need to know the facts/read that.  I know what I know".  Planned parenthood was certainly defamed by the videos released and all the graphic photos of babies being ripped apart.  Forget the statistics about how fewer abortions there are now than there were before it was made safe and legal.  Forget that very few are ever done late term and not on healthy full-term babies.

I consider myself a Christian, but the God I believe in is kinder than the ones some of my very evangelical friends believe in.  Their God is a prejudiced, mean, stern father who only likes certain people.  These friends have no problem pointing out texts in the bible that they believe decry same sex marriage, women having a say or abortion.  They brush off my questions of other passages that condemn divorce, touching a woman who is menstruating or the verse that says if a woman's husband dies, she must marry his brother to carry on the name.  "Times are different now" they try to explain to me. 

After Trump won the election, and the Women's march in DC was being planned,  pro Trump people got nastier.  "Get over it, Snowflake" they said.  "You lost.  Trump is the president".  I tried at first to adopt my Pollyanna attitude and "just give him a chance".   That lasted a few minutes and ended when he kept up with his angry, spoiled adolescent tweets.   I tried to tell people that it wasn't sour grapes, it was what Trump stood for - anti women's rights,  minorities, anti health care, anti EPA, anti science, then he came up with his alternate reality.  And now he forbids the EPA from tweeting or putting out scientific data without it first being reviewed, and is halting immigration,  and defunding organizations that help women and children around the world.   It all seems like a very bad dream.   And we have a majority of the congress who are too afraid of what it will do to their own career to stop him.  My daughter and her partner marched in Washington, and my son, his wife and their two young sons Marched in Toulouse France, joining women and men all over the world.  Trump would have made a better impression if he would have talked to some of the women to find out what their issues were; instead he accused them of not voting.

I  continue to see posts, many by women, condemning we women and men for our involvement in marches around the world.  Involved women  labeled as whiny, entitled bitches who couldn't accept  their loss - they didn't vote, Trump said.   "what more rights do we need to have have?  I have all the rights I want".  "It's a bunch of women who want to kill their own babies" someone else said.  I know I cannot change anyone's mind but I feel that I have to speak my truth.  It seems wrong, and it is wrong, to just to ignore it and "give him a chance".    It isn't looking good after only 6 days in office.

When Salt Lake City women organized a Women's march to coincide with the first day of our legislature, I decided to participate.  I didn't expect that many women would get involved, being a predominantly Mormon community.  But I was wrong and at least 6000 men, women and children came in a snowstorm, with their signs and their positive energy to make a statement and maybe get someones attention.  Women my age and older, many like me, who feel like we have gone backwards in time, young girls, gay, straight, all races and colors and the men who supported them screamed in the capital "It's your first day, we won't go away".

Women's march at the Utah Capital

Still coming up the hill to the Utah Capital

If I, as a straight, married white American woman feel this way, what must it feel like for those who are African American,  LGBTQ, native American or immigrants?  Especially now that the president is trying to ban all refugeesI can't even imagine.  I just know I am tired of being quiet, and "giving him a chance".  I hope other women my age and younger women will tell their own stories and stand up for what is right. For the women who feel they have all the rights they need, that is okay. But you have to thank the women who many years ago, marched so that you have these rights, including birth control, the right to vote, and many others that you take for granted.  I am even grateful to Kathy Switzer, the first woman who ran  the Boston marathon who made it possible for many of us to participate in marathons.   Please don't condemn what you might not understand.  Your choice to not participate does not diminish you or make us better.  We march for you too.  And, it is human rights we are fighting for - human rights are women's rights!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Every new beginning comes from some other beginnings end

Hillary Clinton losing the election has elicited many feelings in me including anger, sadness, disappointment and fear.  In a few ways I can relate to her and what she was up against as an older not very pretty woman in a world still run by men.  She dedicated herself to making the world a better place and in doing so, by putting herself out there, she made mistakes as we all do.  

I feel the need to let go of something I have held onto for the past 6 years - the loss of my career and my feelings of betrayal by many people I thought would be more honest with me.  I am a better person for these past years and I would not trade them for anything, but still I still have moments where I grieve and feel the pain of losing a big part of myself.  

I am 63, a child of the 60’s and grew up in a small town in the midwest.  I burned my bra at my high school graduation party and protested the Vietnam war in college.  Ever since I was four, I wanted to be a nurse but only so that I would “have something to fall back on” when my children grew up.  That’s what many women did then.  Not many of us planned to work after we had kids - this was before the women’s liberation movement in the 70’s.

I  worked as a staff nurse for a few years.  I was a good nurse so I became a nursing director  at a wonderful hospital. Because I had the better job, I chose to work full time while my husband stayed home with the kids before it was cool to do so.  I worked full time through my children’s entire childhood, despite my idealistic dreams of being a June Cleaver sort of mom - but without the pearls.

For 35 years, I experienced many changes in my job and in healthcare - some good and some not.  However, I never fit into the paternalistic organization because I said what was on my mind and expressed my opinion even when it was not the popular one.  I didn’t reinvent myself to fit in the corporate mold and really cared about my staff even though as time went on, really caring for the people who worked for you was no longer valued.  The bottom line became more important than the people contributing to it.

I never saw the writing on the wall although in hindsight it was there in plain view.   I thought that representing my profession and trying to initiate change was a good thing and I worked to increase awareness of pediatric care by sitting on national committees, helping to write a standardized class for nurses on pediatric care, and encouraging the professional growth of my staff.  I published numerous articles and wrote two books and created innovative ways to evaluate staff on performance.  I participated on a committee of the prestigious Institute of Medicine to suggest ways to improve our nation’s emergency departments. I received a lifetime achievement award from my national organization.  My departments had some of the highest ratings on staff satisfaction surveys.  None of this mattered and in some ways, I think I was resented by some of my colleagues because of my involvement.    I don’t mention my achievements to brag but rather to finally realize that, while I was in no way perfect, I did make a difference and am proud that I stayed true to myself.  I was ahead of my times in some ways.

Eventually it became clear that things were happening behind my back.  I was asked by a representative of the Human Resource Department “Are you sure you have the stamina to lead your department to where it needs to be in the next few years?”.  Me, a marathon runner who got up every morning to run before work?  I started getting questioned on everything and was left out of decisions.  In retrospect the message to me was “you are getting too old”.  

I was invited to a meeting with the medical director.  It was an ambush, I can see now.  My boss was there and the medical director pointed out three things that I did or did not do - he had never spoken to me about any of them.  “This is not the way a nursing director should act” my boss, a woman, kept saying.  I was not even allowed to defend myself.  Now I am proud that I  never let them see me bleed - I didn’t cry but I knew what was coming.

That fall my evaluation was horrible - the first bad evaluation I had ever received in 35 years.  Cowardly people (chosen by my boss)  didn’t sign their names and said many hurtful things, critical of me as a person, rather than my performance.  And inevitably I was given the “we think it is time for you to retire’ talk and it has nothing to do with your age”.  There was an implied threat that if I did not retire, disciplinary action would be taken which meant I would have been fired.   I never had a disciplinary action against me in all my years of working.   So, I put on my “good old Donna” face and told everyone that I was retiring and that it was time.  I had nothing left.  It was as if people gave up on me so I gave up on myself.  But  still they never saw me bleed.

For the past 6 years I have felt  like a failure in my career.   I focused on what I had not done rather than all that I had accomplished.  I reread and reread my last evaluation and had nightmares about work where I showed up and didn’t know how to do anything and all the doors were locked so I could not get in.  I mourned that I did not get to leave my job on my own terms as  I had planned.  I was dishonorably discharged.

Now maybe I can finally burn that evaluation just like I did my bra so many years ago.   I am  ready to let go of that and focus on the good things I did.  Instead of telling everyone that “it was time for me to leave” and to make light of it, I can now admit that this was wrong and these people were wrong.  I can move on but I don’t have to be silent any longer.   And I shouldn’t be ashamed.  I made a difference.

I am not exactly sure why this election has caused me to be able to let go of this and realize I am not a bad person. Maybe it’s because I see that despite one’s good intentions, there are people who still won’t want you and will do whatever it takes to “move in another direction”.  They will deem you unsalvageable.  Some people will not want to know your side of the story on any issue and will write you off while ignoring the truth.  It’s just the way life is.  

Hillary worked for 30 years and Donald Trump held that against her.  “What has she to show for it?” he asked.  “We need a change” the people said.  So she lost partly because she was a career politician.  

Hillary knows, and can be proud of what she accomplished in her 30 years.    I will be proud of my time “in office” and what I accomplished.  We both will go on. I will have no regrets anymore.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Today is not that day.

My friend Suzanne and I both signed up to run the Salt Lake Marathon which was in April.  After she had what she thought was a knee injury, she decided to switch to the half (13.1) instead of 26.2, a full marathon.  I hung on to the illusion I could run the marathon until I realized I hadn't trained enough and that my nagging hip pain would not make it fun.  It was hard to admit I could not just go out and do it, just "tough it out".  With age comes wisdom and the ego backs down a little bit in favor of common sense.  Sometimes, maybe for a little while.

After you get to a certain age you just cannot up and run 26.2 miles without a lot of training. And training for a marathon gets harder and takes more out of you.    Having fun while running becomes more important than long distances and finishing with what one considers a "respectable" time".  The definition of "respectable times" becomes longer and longer as one's expectations reluctantly move to match reality.   I am happy to just be "out there" no matter the distance.  In my mind I am still running 8 minute miles with no pain afterwards, but reality reveals a different pace and I have a different body.  I am thankful though, every day I can run and sweat and enjoy this part of my day.

I respect the distance of a marathon and of a half marathon way more than I used to.  At one time I could just get up the morning of a marathon and be optimistic that I would finish and all would be well.  Now I get anxious the night before which leads to stomach pain and nausea and little sleep.  I question my motives in running long distances but yet I am not willing to give it up.

Just ten or 15 years ago, several cars would be parked in front of my house on Saturday morning - running friends of all abilities ready to tackle 6, 10, or a 20 miler.  Over the years this has changed just like most things in life.  One by one my running group has diminished until it is just me andToby (my dog).  Some running buddies have moved out of the neighborhood and some out of the city.  Some  have gotten injuries or illnesses that have caused them to give up something they used to love and take up aerobics or bicycling or yoga...all are good things but not much replaces the feeling of a good run in the various seasons.  

During the Salt Lake half, Suzanne and I were both contemplating, sometimes out loud, if we would run a marathon again.  My hip was bothering me and she had just been diagnosed with osteoarthritis in her knee.   We had a great run but it was not pain free and we both were feeling ambivalent and a little sad as we debated whether or not we would run the usual St. George this fall.  We decided to give ourselves a few weeks to decide.  It's a big decision to give up marathons, especially our traditional St. George in October.

I went out of town on a road trip for the next few weeks with my weekday running buddy Becky.  She and I had a similar discussion about running another marathon as our road trip took us through Wyoming, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Ilinois, Michigan and Minnesota where we were scheduled to run a 10k at Minihaha park in Minneapolis.  We talked about how we knew we could run more marathons but maybe we weren't motivated to train.  We never mentioned that maybe we were getting too old but I think we both thought that.

A few days before the race we had coffee with an old friend who grew up not far from my home town in Michigan.  Fast Eddie is somewhat of a legend in the Minnesota and Michigan area.  He is an Ultra marathoner and 77 years old.  Like many of us, he was nursing an injury - in his case it was sciatica which is painful and seems to linger.   However he was definitely not talking about giving up - he has an ultramarathon (a 48 hour race to see who can do the most miles) and the Twin Cities marathon in June.  He has run every twin cities marathon.

Fast Eddie was going to do the same 10K that we were doing.  He told us that this race was the first one he had ever done and it was still in his drinking days.  He's a recovering alcoholic.  He ran it with a hangover and he hasn't stopped running since.  He has never started drinking again either.  He gave up his drinking addiction for another one that is healthier.

As we drove away from the restaurant,  Becky said "If he can still run marathons, so can we".   We both decided to sign up for St. George, and this time. lose that extra ten pounds that no matter what a woman weighs, they have to lose.

The stamp of approval on our decision came at the race.  We both ran the 10K feeling great and with times that surprised us.  We still had it!

After returning home a few days ago, I ran with my friend Suzanne.  It was a beautiful spring morning and as we ran our 7 or so mile route, we decided it was not yet time to give up.   We ran a great run, and went home and registered for the 40th running of St. George.

Sadly though, My friend Suzanne's osteoarthritis worsened.  She got a second opinion and was told to take up hiking or biking.  She would not get to do St. George after all.  I will have to train for both of us and run and hope I can stay healthy.  My plan is to run it but if I don't it's okay.  St George was my first marathon and it may be my last.  We shall see.

Growing older is about loss.  Loss of our family, friends and our abilities.  We should learn to replace our losses with gratitude for what we still have.  And our losses don't take away from our past accomplishments.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

in spite of my unfortunate chin

A month  or so  ago I was in Austin, Texas with my daughter and her friends, getting ready to run the Austin 1/2 marathon, which has become a tradition and a time to eat queso, drink many margaritas,  and go to chicken shit bingo.  We stayed at an Air BNB place that was nice, had great pillows and was, as usual, way better than a hotel.  Using my older, somewhat displaced bladder and frequent middle of the night urgencies as an excuse, I got the bedroom with the attached bathroom....and the memory foam pillows.

I did appreciate the proximity of the bathroom.  All the memory foam pillows did for me was to allow me to remember my dreams or at least one of them.  And it was about my chin, of all things.  

I was at an airport and a woman came up to me and said, "Go talk to that man over there.  He can read faces". 

I wandered over to a stony faced guy with piercing, emotionless, blue eyes.  He had a chiseled, assassin looking face (yeah I have watched too many spy shows).  He grabbed my face and his hands and turned it from side to side, while staring at me with those murderous blue eyes.  Then he said, "You have a very unfortunate chin.  Nothing can be done about it".    He walked away, leaving me wondering what it all meant.  I mean, once I was told I had nice armpits, but never had my chin been insulted in such a way.

I don't usually remember my dreams unless I am lucky enough to sleep through the night.  But this one stuck with me.   When I woke up, I went into that attached bathroom and checked out my so called unfortunate chin.  Was it a little furry?  Wrinkled? Maybe.  There was the usual moles and divots and laugh lines.   But I would not call it unfortunate.  It was just a chin, that had always lived underneath and in the comfortable shade of my mostly stiff upper and lower lip.  I have a mole on the right just below my bottom lip.  How come the assassin did not notice that?

Maybe this dream was meant to call attention to how stupid it is for me and other aging  (or not) women to perseverate on parts of them that are no longer perfect - and probably never were meant to be - except for my once perfect ass which I have written about elsewhere.  Maybe we are all perfect and the way we should be with our above the knee wrinkles and our extra abdominal skin, stretched by childbirth stomachs.

Why do we feel the need to get fake eyebrows and google "best plastic surgeons in Salt Lake City" and "mini tummy tucks".  We are what we are.  We don't need to compete with 20 year olds.   Everyone gets old and you can't tuck in everything and you can't keep running away from it.  You can, however keep running as long as your knees hold up.

Our time would be better spent learning to love ourselves and striving to be better people in the ways that we can control.  What really matters is what we think of ourselves   Women of every age are beautiful in ways they rarely appreciate.  And eventually we all get baggy knee skin, saggy bottoms and tummies and wrinkles.   We earn them.

So let's not listen to the voices in our heads that say things like:

"You are too old"
"You can't wear that anymore"
"You should not run any  more marathons"
"You are too fat, too skinny or too_________(you fill in the blank).

Let's just be.  It is not our chins or any other part of us that should be labeled as "unfortunate".  What is unfortunate is that we don't realize we are enough.  Just as we are.

Friday, October 16, 2015

thin places

A while back, I got a text message from a friend that read, “My mom has the “O” sign”. I was reminded of a phone call from this same friend 20 something years ago, which read, “My water broke and I'm going in, letting me know about the imminent birth of her second son. One message indicated the end of a life and the other signaled the beginning of a new one.

The “O” sign is not a good thing. It is an unofficial, and maybe somewhat irreverent term used by medical professionals to describe the last stages of a dying person's life. The person is not there anymore but their body is – breaths go in and out, the heart beats, and the mouth is open in an almost perfect “O”. The eyes open but don't see, or at least don't see what we see. Another even more irreverent term used by medical professionals for this phenomenon is “circling the drain”.

Of course, you can see the “O” sign on an airplane when you walk back to the bathroom and everyone is sleeping with their heads lolling back and forth and their mouths wide open, unaware that they are breathing, unfiltered, the stale air laden with unknown germs of the other 80 some passengers. But these people are still present and you know they are still there in their bodies – just trying to tolerate the uncomfortableness of today's flying experience. When I see these multiple “O”s, on my way back to the tiny and stinky airplane bathroom, I think of the Stephen King short story called “The Langoliers".  In this story, all the sleeping passengers disappeared from the flight and those who were awake landed in some strange place – or maybe it was the other way around.

This same week that my friend notified me of her mom's sign of impending departure of this life, I got a call from a good friend, who is 96. She needed help getting her husband, (who was 97) out of bed. It seems he could not move his legs enough to help himself.

I went over and helped her, with a lot of difficulty, to get him out of bed. We got him in the bathroom, but still he could not move his legs or stand to pivot onto the toilet. Under protest from both of them, and partly because I did not know what else to do and partly because I worried he had suffered from a stroke, and mainly because we couldn't leave him in the bathroom, I called 911. I could see in both their eyes, that they knew this was the beginning of an end of the life they were used to.

After a visit to the ER, we were sent home with a diagnosis of dehydration, a home health referral, and very little support other than, “Well you will need to have some help to get him out of the car”. It was indeed the beginning of the end of this life for him – or maybe the end of the beginning of existence depending on how you looked at it.

It became apparent that she, who had taken care of him and had been married for 73 years, could not handle all of the care he needed on his own. He soon got placed on hospice and their home was inundated with chaplains, hospice nurses and aides, equipment, and forms to fill out about end of care treatment. My friend had to deal with saying goodbye to her husband of 73 years. It wasn't easy but she, like me, had been a nurse and knew what was to come and also knew that despite knowing, one is never ready. I was reminded of what grief, even anticipatory grief, does to a person.

I have been volunteering for hospice for the past few years and have always viewed it a privilege to share the death experience with someone. I have always felt that dying is a process much like being born – only in reverse. Dying is a part of living and as normal in many ways, as birth.  He was okay for a few days after being on hospice care, even getting out of bed several times and to the bathroom by himself. He ate scrambled eggs, read the newspaper (although he was holding it upside down) and had coffee and cinnamon rolls with us. Of course we had some hope that it was just dehydration and he might rally and live a little bit longer. This was not to be.

The next day he was exhibiting the “O” sign. It occurred to me that the “O” could stand for ominous. I was sad but glad he would not have to suffer and that she would not have to watch him suffer. I went and ran a few errands for her and came back to her house to find him awake and sitting more rally. He talked for a long time about his mom who lived to be 103, and his sister who married a man he had never approved of and who ended up cheating on her. He drank some water and was still talking when I left to go home. The hospice aid told me she had never had a patient die on her shift and wasn't about to start now. She went into the bathroom and said a prayer for him.

The next day he was back to the “O” sign. He would occasionally sit up and stare at something we didn't see. He kept saying to his wife , “Hon, I gotta go”. She thought he meant he had to go to the bathroom. I thought he meant he had to go – to leave her for hopefully that better place we hope is there.

He lingered for three more days. He did not say any more but we watched his body shut down. For three days he had what is called cheyne stokes respirations – periods of apnea spells that are followed by periods of breathing. Sometimes he would open his eyes and stare at something beyond us, it seemed. I was reminded of a sermon our minister gave about what she called “thin places” where one feels closer to God, or to those on the other side or to whatever higher power one believes in. I believe that when people die, they are in one of those thin places and maybe they see those who have gone on before them and who might be waiting. Sometimes dying people seem to be talking to family members who have died.

The nurses aide, another friend, and I sat in the bedroom, in this thin place, with him for one entire afternoon just talking quietly. Olive asked me to time the apnea spells. She had been an OB nurse and I was reminded of how my timing the apnea spells was similar to how she must have timed contractions during labor for her patients. It was a sad afternoon, but we all felt very close and were sharing something very special.

Sitting in the room that afternoon reminded me of the cycle of birth and life. After birth, a baby takes a deep breath and hopefully the alveolar sacs in the lungs open. Circulation independent of the mom's placenta starts and if all goes well, the blood circulates to these newly formed and completed organs and they begin their 70 – 80 year journey to carry that person through a life that is to be determined. When a person dies, it is just the opposite. One by one, the organs shut down. Hands and feet become cold to the touch, urine output decreases and the length of the apnea spells increase until they cease. Life leaves little by little from a body that usually has served a person well and all that is left afterwards is the container which maybe is recyclable.

I wasn't there when he took his final breath,but his wife was.  She rarely left his side the entire time.  The best and final gift she gave him was letting him die at home, in his own bed with her next to him.  I believe he was grateful for that.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

counting hoops

Today I walked Toby and Pirate for a few miles at around 730 am.  It was a cool 45 degree fall day and I was a little chilly in my shorts and short sleeve shirt, but unwilling to resort to long pants and long sleeves just yet.

It was the kind of day that smelled like fall and my dad and the mountains were turning orange.  The little school kids gathered in bunches waiting for car pools or busses, some dressed in the required school uniforms of khaki pants and golf shirts and others in regular school clothes I suppose.  I had a flashback of going to  grade school in my little town in the fall, and wearing my new clothes.  I can remember how it felt to wear new things to a new year of school.  The leaves turning on the trees and bushes reminded me of a favorite outfit I had- a green pleated skirt with a white cardigan sweater decorated with green and gold leaves that matched the skirt.  I wore the sweater buttoned up and I think I got the outfit from Montgomery Ward with my babysitting money.  I wish I still had that made me feel beautiful.  I had one pair of shoes that would last me all year.  I thought of the plethora of shoes living at the bottom of my closet now.

As I guided the blind pirate dog up curbs and away from grates and parked cars, I thought of my grandchildren who with their parents, had spent the summer with us.   They had just arrived in Japan where they will be for 6 months and 5 year old Des will be going to school and probably learning Japanese.  Already he admonishes me if I don't take my shoes off when I enter the house, telling me that in Japan EVERYBODY takes their shoes off.    There's so many reminders of the summer and Des and Roman and his in the backyard, Des' bicycle and helmet and the swimming pool that now is just an obstacle for the Pi guy to bump into.  Bubbles on the patio table.   And toys in the bathroom and their favorite glasses.

After the walk, I went outside to throw the toy for Toby - he is never satisfied with just a walk.  I blew some bubble and off they went, blown by the wind towards Japan and my grandsons I imagined.  There's something therapeutic about bubbles and ball pits, I discovered.   I had made a ball pit in the plastic swimming and sitting in that pool of balls and making "snow angels" and watching the balls bounce around was something I enjoyed probably more than the kids did.  The balls are all stored away now until next summer.

Like Toby, I was not satisfied with just the walk so decided to go for a run.  As I l closed the door on the dogs, feeling guilty despite having walked them,  I noticed the neighbor's basketball hoop in the driveway and thought of how Des and I made it a game to count basketball hoops.  It started when he was little and in the stroller and he would yell "hoop Mimi, hoop!".      I decided to run ten miles and try to count all the hoops - maybe as a distraction because I didn't feel like running ten miles really and maybe cause I wanted to think of how much I enjoyed those walks with Des and how lucky I was to have been able to spend so much time with him and his brother and his parents.  This year was the first year I missed the St. George marathon in 20 years so I also was thinking I had to run at least 26.2 miles this week to make up for it.   But not all in one run.

It was what I call a cul de sac run.  I could make a longer run out of what is usually 7 miles by just running in and out of cul de sacs and dead end streets.  As I started out, I thought about how life might be like a cul de sac run around in a circle and go back out where you started or you find a dead end and try something else.  But if you go into those cul de sacs and dead ends you might find things you otherwise would have missed and had experiences you might not have experienced and missed out on some hoops you could have counted - or jumped through.

Des and I would always note driveways that had no hoops.  "That would be a good driveway to have a hoop" he would say in a disapproving voice.  Or he would say "I bet those people don't have kids, Mimi".

By the time I ran three miles, I had already counted 30 hoops - an average of 10 per mile.   I never thought of counting HPMs or "hoops per mile".    Some houses had hoops that looked very new - they were adjustable and had a nice glass backboard.  Some were the old ones with the wooden backboard.  Some had no nets and some just had the backboard without a hoop or a net, but I counted all of these too.  I also counted the little kid hoops made by fisher price.

I had explained to Des that some of the houses where the hoops were old or without a net may have once had kids living there but maybe they grew up and left and no one used them anymore.   I thought of this as I passed some of these and wondered about the people living there.  I hope they weren't alone and unused and lonely and without purpose.  Sometimes old people get this way - old and weathered and without their nets - but they are still useful.

As I ran through some of the neighborhoods where the houses were what I called "stucco monsters" or "McMansions", I noted that the hoops were not on the garage or in the driveway.  Some of these houses had their own "sports courts" in the backyard - complete with two hoops, one on each end.  I wondered how much they got used.  I wondered if the people in these houses just didn't want to deface their huge garages with a basketball hoop?  I was being judgmental I know.    I wondered if any of the people who lived in these houses gave much thought to those living in the houses with old unused deteriorating hoops.

By the time I reached 8 miles, I had sited over 100 hoops.  My "map my run" app on my phone ticked off the miles but I had to remember what hoop I was on.  Finally after this 8th mile, I got in the zone and felt good.  To ensure I got my ten miles I did a lap around a  Mormon ward house parking lot.  As I circled this large parking lot, looking for stray coins on the street, I started feeling grateful.

Grateful to be able to run ten miles on a nice fall day.
Grateful to have spent the summer with my grandsons and mornings with Des, and hearing Roman say "Wow" at the Christmas tree that we put up early and to get his 'besitos".   And his stink eye and one dimpled smile.
Grateful to not be working - took me a long time to finally let all that go, but it is gone and my life is more than the career I had and how it ended and so am I.
Grateful to have a kind husband.
Grateful that I have kids who I think like their parents and each other.

I thought of how Desmond would say, "Mimi?"
"What?" I would reply
"I love you".
"Love you more" I would automatically say.

By the time I entered my driveway I had counted 130 hoops.  And I had my ten miles in.