Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Regularly scheduled programming

I feel a weird disconnect with myself. My feelings seem muted, like flares on a far horizon as I do, do, do. I have so much to do, and my concentration is not as laser-like as it was before my aunt died and the usual routine of things went haywire. It's taking some effort to focus, which is not like me. I have still not managed to climb back on top of everything. The work is piled high, not all of it attached to pay, but all of it necessary. I am digging out task by task, detail by detail. I make lots of lists. My dad used to say, "He who has no memory makes one of paper." I follow his example, jotting down my To Do's on waking and referring to it all through the morning and afternoon. At night, I write DONE beside what I have accomplished and move the rest to the next day's list.

I did manage to get everyone's taxes done and filed yesterday. Somehow, maybe because I'm the one with the wonderful accountant from way back, this responsibility falls to me. My still undone tasks include things like locating and scanning my dad's death certificate from 18 years ago now, so I can send it along with a letter and two forms of ID from all surviving members of the family to have the cable TV account for the house in Rodney Bay transferred from my dad's name to my brother's and mine. Turns out we cannot make any changes on the account until we do this. They have been happy to accept monthly payments from a ghost these 18 years, but need all sorts of verifications to update the account.

There are a lot of details of just that sort, for my mother's affairs and also for my aunt's estate. It's nothing hard, but it all requires painstaking attention alongside other tasks requiring painstaking attention. I continue to have editing work, and this is good, and from time to time other interesting possibilities bubble to the fore. We shall see where it all leads. In the midst of all this I have managed to watch the entire brilliant first season of True Detective, so don't cry for me Argentina.

My daughter called on Sunday and said she was anxious again, even though things were going well, she was laughing and interacting with her friends, and she couldn't for the life of her understand the unsettled feeling around her shoulders. She called the counseling center and made an intake appointment and will have her first session two weeks from now. Really? A student calls and says she needs to speak to someone and they give her an appoint two weeks away?! My daughter said, "Chill, mom, it's not as if I'm in crisis mode. I just think it would be good to have a place to explore what I'm thinking and feeling. Two weeks is fine."

She says she's feeling a lot better anyway. She was sick on Sunday night and Monday, so maybe she was coming down with something and that was a part of it. She had a big exam yesterday that she says went okay. She insists the anxiety wasn't about schoolwork. I wondered if maybe she was carrying other people's moods, including my own.

I said to her, "You know, Berry, sometimes those who are as empathetic as you are absorb other people's sorrows and then you think they're your own. Especially when you love a person, you unwittingly take on some of their sadness to help lighten their load. I think you may have done that for me these last two weeks when I felt so overwhelmed, but I am saying to you now, I am fine, I am better, I am well, and if you are carrying any portion of my anxieties or moods, you can set it down now. Don't carry it anymore, I am fine." She laughed because she is used to her mother and she said, "Alrighty, Mom. Roger that."

My husband and son had different responses to the news that she was feeling anxious. My husband, when I told him she'd made an appointment with the counseling center said, "Good for her." And then he mused, "Sometimes I think we trip ourselves up by believing we should be happy all the time. Who told us that we should be happy all the time anyway?"

Her brother opined that some days just feel that way and what his sister needs is an escape-from-everything day. "I used to have them regularly in college," he said. "I'd call my friends and we'd plan some fun—Sunday Fun Days we called them. And when that wasn't possible because there was just too much work, well, I'd build a bridge and get the fuck over it." The boy has his share of bravado.

I'm going to Jamaica for a few days to see my mom next week Friday, which will be a welcome break in the regularly scheduled programming. I can't wait. And when I get back it will be almost time to go and pack up our daughter from another year of college. How can she be almost done with her sophomore year??

In other news, yesterday morning I was in sandals and shirtsleeves as I ran errands in the rain and had breakfast at a neighborhood diner with my son and last night, it hailed and then snowed.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Back in the mix

A week ago I was hanging out on that gallery in St. Lucia with my Kindle Fire, reading The Goldfinch and fully escaping for hours at a time from the world. Now I am back in the mix of my life, and though I miss the breeze stirring around me in any one of those chairs, and the sun falling around my shoulders, my life feels pretty darn good today.

I've lost the five pounds I regained while in St. Lucia, and during Aunt Winnie's memorial weekend when, as my cousin Karen put it, everyone seemed to be eating "for sport." The pounds come off me so incredibly slowly, but I will continue to engage in the effort as my eating choices are now so much more healthy and wholesome, and my consumption of sugar is way down and snacking has all but disappeared. Cheese, of course, is a staple, but that's just going to be the case, because it is perhaps the one food that I can have a bit of and feel completely satisfied. The odd thing is, I am down almost 50 pounds since I started three years ago, and down 38 pounds since I recommitted last August, but no one has noticed really. I guess I still look the same and I certainly still have a very long way to go. But I'm not stressing about that. I am focused only on the trend being downward and the food I consume being whole and not overly processed—"food that remembers where it came from" as my daughter puts it—and that is all.

Aunt Grace calls me often these days. I am realizing that all her sisters are now unable to engage in the long phone conversations they used to have. Two have passed away and the other three are more frail than she is, and are sometimes confused, so I think she is trying to connect to them through their daughters. I love her calls, which are usually early in the morning, the phone waking me for the day, her voice like musical bells on the other end of the line. This morning she asked me for a hard copy of my book, and I explained to her that it doesn't exist three-dimensionally; it's an ebook. And then we talked about the worry I'd had about sharing it with family, who I thought might be distressed that I'd aired our family business so publicly. She said, "My darling, you are a writer, and writers tell their stories. Your mother always understood." She eased my heart immeasurably.

He's a photo someone posted on Facebook from last weekend. My son's missing in this one but my daughter and my niece, who made the bus trip from D.C. where she is in dental school, are right there.

My heart son E was also there. He traveled down from college in upstate New York to be at Aunt Winnie's memorial. We didn't know he was coming until he and his mother and older brother slipped into the pew where we were just as the service was about to start. I was touched that it mattered enough for him to make the trip. That's his bearded bow-tied self with my son in the photo below.

And here's another family photo, this one of some of the cousins, who I can already see have learned to shore each other up just as their parents' and grandparents' generations have done, and still do.

I'm remembering something my cousin Karen said as she sat at our kitchen counter and looked across at family members who had traveled from so many different places to crowd into my living room last weekend. She said, "I sometimes look at a map of the world, all that land mass, all those countries, and I marvel that I was set down on a little jewel of an island in the Caribbean, in this particular family, and I am so grateful."

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Setting Free the Fears

My cousin Helen teaches me not to care so much. About anything. She helps me tune in to what I am feeling, the truth of it, she helps me welcome it so that it can move right on through. She helps me release fear, sorrow, attachment. She is really a powerfully aware soul, and this morning, once again, she popped up at a moment when I really needed her, even though neither of us really knew it at first. This was our exchange over text this morning (Helen's texts are in italics):


Hi cuz, sorry I didn't make it to the funeral. I heard it was lovely.

We missed your spirit made of light but I fully understood. Douglas explained how crunched everything was. And that Matthew* was leaving for England. Woo hoo! He wants this, right? [*Matthew is Helen's son.]

Oh yes! He cried when he had to come back at the end of November and has been plotting his return ever since. How was your trip to St. Lucia? It was a busy week for you, too, I would imagine. Then coming straight back into a houseful with the funeral posse. You rejuvenating this week?

[No answer]

Hello my love. Can you call me when you have a minute please? You busy or hiding?

LOL. Not hiding. Trying to catch up after two weeks of working on the funeral and St. Lucia business. I have so much work that is not attached to pay. What is up with that?? Was on the phone with Aunt Grace. She was crying because Gloria is so confused and Beulah so out of it.

Hush, no hurry here. Was just reaching out. You looked tired and strained in some of the pics D. posted from the funeral weekend. Sending you love.

On a good note, much of what I was feeling before the funeral seems to have been created by my fearful beleaguered brain. The mists have cleared. It amazes me the stories we (I) create, how harshly I treat myself, how much I spiral when faced with all I cannot control. My new ebook came out today. I don't know if I will tell the family as they might not appreciate my writing about daddy's drinking. I know I won't tell my mom who is way too frail now. Kafka said to write is to reveal oneself excessively. How is your self-revelation (writing) going?

Congrats on your ebook! I have not been writing the book. Been thinking about it as my deadline was the end of this month. Lots shifting this week as I am still and re grounding after much activity and traveling in the last month. Will recommit and move forward.

I am in the same place. Re grounding. Yes. Let me know how I can help with the writing. No guilt. No pressure. The deadline can be adjusted. Enjoy the process. You are a gift.


Downloaded your book. Enjoying it immensely! I urge you to share it proudly and publicly with family and everyone and allow those who are led to experience what you share.

Awww. Thanks Helen! But you didn't get to the drinking chapter yet.

I'm reading it now! I think you have created stories in your head about what people (family) will think of these stories.

Always with the stories LOL. You don't think family members will be offended that I wrote about Daddy's alcoholism?

Heck no! Would you like to do a session?

[No answer]

Let me put it differently. When can you do a session?

I probably need to but no. I just want to barrel through the rest of the week getting back on top of things. Feel taped together and not ready to sift through it all. Still in the middle of things. Need to clear out Aunt Winnie's house today.

You doing that by yourself?

The first part, yes. Pearl* is trying to get in there to clear it out and that's fine but my mom's stuff from her apartment is there and also lots of papers that the lawyer might need and I just need to go through it first. [*Winnie's daughter. She is an addict. Pearl is not her real name.]

Ok. Are you the executor of her will?

Winsome is. I'm backup. Meeting with the lawyer tomorrow. Gathering paperwork today.

God bless you and Winsome. It's been a labor of love.

A labor of love except for the Pearl part.

Yes...she was a life lesson, grow your soul part.

Ahhh Helen. I am resisting that lesson yet. Pearl is at the moment banging on my door and I am not answering. This had been going on since 7:30 a.m. An hour.

What? Wow. No words.

[At this point she called me on the phone. I let it go to voicemail.]

Can't answer cause I'm in here being quiet. I cannot deal with Pearl without preparing myself. She cannot just show up here before day like that. She did that for so many years high and demanding money. I think I have PTSD where she is concerned. She unsettles me deeply. A lot went on with her and Aunt Winnie and now I just don't want to deal. Yet.

You don't have to answer your door and you don't have to hide in your house. She can't break down your door. Tell her through the door to come back later. If she throws a tantrum, call the police.

May I call you in an hour?

Go to the back room and call me from there. She won't hear you.


And thus began a conversation in which she led me deep into my feelings about my cousin Pearl and all that had transpired over the years, and then she guided me to releasing her, which meant I had to release my anger at her, my sadness about her life, my vision of her as both victim and persecutor. She said until I released her I was keeping her energetically tied to me, and that it was a kindness to her and to myself to let her go and and whenever she came up in my thoughts in the future I should simply send her beams of loving light and keep right on moving. She did a guided exercise with me to help me release my negative attachment to our cousin and the crazy thing is, as soon as I said, "I release her," Pearl stopped banging on my door and walked away down the hallway and I heard the elevator bell ring as the doors opened. It was the darndest thing.

And then it started to seem so supremely silly that I had not just opened the door and told Pearl to come back later after I had had a chance to go through the papers. And my attachment to everything in Aunt Winnie's house seemed to be broken, too, because I suddenly didn't care one iota what Pearl wanted to do over there. Aunt Winnie is gone. I can stop trying to protect her. Nothing can hurt her now.

That Helen. She is a master manifester, even though she says it's me who manifested, me who released the ties, me who set myself free.

If you ever need a powerful life coach, Helen is here.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

My new book

My new book went up on the Shebooks site today.

You can get it here.

The beautiful cover art is from artist Deborah Younglao's croton series. The publisher's blurb says: "Discover the intoxicating rhythms of a Jamaica wrought with political turmoil, bustling with colorful souls, and ripe with the racing hearts of young lovers." I wrote most of this novella-sized piece right after I got back from my most recent trip to Jamaica in January, when the hidden girl I was before leaving home at 18 was suddenly visible to me. It felt as if a lost piece of me had been rediscovered and could now be reclaimed. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Frequent Flyer

Everyone tells me my mother is slipping. This week on the phone, she was very confused, forgetting that certain friends had already passed on, unable to fully enunciate some of her words. I see the same markers I saw with my aunt who just died, but we don't mention this to my mother, as it would only frighten her and make her brood. Ninety-two on her last birthday in January, she lives now with my brother and his wife, both doctors. They suspect a neurological condition that is affecting her motor control, and while she is getting treatment, they are not naming it to her.

She used to call me every morning, but now she doesn't have the strength in her fingers to press the keys, so she sits in her chair and waits for me to call, and when a day passes that I don't call, I feel horribly guilty, but when I do call lately, the conversation is difficult, she can't catch what I say, I can't hear what she says, and when I put down the phone I feel ineffably sad. I'm aware that time may be getting shorter even as I pray this latest decline is born of grieving her big sister, and she will rally.

I know I am one of the lucky ones. She has been a wonderful mother to us and grandmother to my children. And I still have her here. That's why I am going to visit her in Jamaica later this month, even though I just got back from St. Lucia where I was taking care of her business while my daughter and her friends did the beach thing for their spring break. She used to be the frequent flyer, jetting around the Caribbean with her bionic knees, traveling to New York, Florida, Toronto, Vancouver to see her large extended family. Now she is so frail she could not make the trip last weekend to memorialize her beloved sister, and that has sent her spiraling down. I hope I can cheer her up. I'll have to be the frequent flyer now.

Monday, April 7, 2014

One last time

We had Aunt Winnie's memorial service on Saturday afternoon, and after it, and all the next day, the family crowded into Aunt Winnie's apartment or mine, shoulder to shoulder, knee to knee, telling stories and reminiscing, eating Jamaican Tastee patties (the real deal) and Miss Birdie's bun-and-cheese and Costo lasagna and Angie's rum-soaked black cake, none of it provided by me, all of it brought by my cousins from Virginia and Maryland and Jamaica and Boston and the Bahamas, who had determined that I should not have to feed the hoards, and how grateful I was that they just took control, heating up food and putting it out as more people arrived, washing dishes before I could get to them, taking charge in the bossy way the women and men in my family tend to do. It was perfect. My son drove his grand aunts to the airport then came home and crashed as around him the gathering continued. So many memorable moments, too many to set down here. But at one point late on Saturday night, as 17 of us sat in a circle around Aunt Winnie's living room, sharing memories of her and laughing uproariously at many of them, my cousin Maureen said, "Look at us. Do you realize this is the last time we will all be gathered in this apartment in which Aunt Winnie has lived for 57 years?" We all got pensive then, thinking about how many of us had lived first with Aunt Winnie and Uncle Charlie when we moved to the States; indeed, most of us gathered had at some point called that three-bedroom apartment home. Then my cousin Brian said, "Aunt Winnie has been the Ellis Island of our family," and we all murmured in a kind of wonder, because it felt completely true.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Today, we give thanks her life

Everyone has come from all over to be here for Aunt Winnie's memorial service this afternoon. As always happens, there has been a lot of laughter and remembering good times. It is Winnie's last gift to us, this gathering, this time together, to give thanks for her life and for the fact that she was ours.

From the program: "Today, we all remember Winnie as she was in her prime, the bossy, no-nonsense, quick-to-laugh woman who visited her siblings and their families in Jamaica in the summers, the feminist before there was a feminist movement, the passionate advocate for civil rights with her curly gray afro and piercing green eyes. We all loved her madly and understood that she loved us back with a fierceness that kept us rooted. She was the steadfast big sister, the large-and in-charge mother of us all, the cool hip aunt from America who understood us better than our parents. As her sister Gloria put it, 'There was no part of my life in which Winnie did not play a starring role.'"

Winnie with two of her adoring grandnieces. This must have been taken in the spring of 2010, because my daughter is still wearing braces.

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