Monday, April 28, 2014
Sunday, April 27, 2014
Sleeping with my mom this time, I feel the bed quiver all night, her hands jittering endlessly, electrical currents of some sort coursing through, her legs making small continuous kicks, her whole body spasming. I lie face to face with her and cover her hands with my own. Slowly the current traveling through them simmers, and her hands alight on the sheet like crooked birds, the tremor just a hint now as her breath deepens, as dreams take hold. In her sleep the jittering comes and goes all night, but she doesn't awaken. I barely sleep, aware of the constant pulsing of current through her body. This is completely new. If I lift my hands from hers, her forearms rise stiffly into the air, of their own accord, the fingers askew, and still she sleeps, hands fluttering.
"Just be there," my husband says when I describe this new state of being to him. "Don't worry about next. Just be there now."
And so I am.
Yesterday, I was distressed, still getting used to the newest incursions of age, not close to being at peace with the fact that I can do nothing to arrest its march. Today feels different, each minute a new blessing. I feel a deep sense of gratitude that I can be here with my mom, just sitting with her with no agenda, talking sometimes, silent together sometimes, massaging lotion into her hands, helping them loosen, relax, and playing songs she loves on the tiny remote Jambox that belongs to my son, which he allowed me to bring so that I could play music for his grandmother with pure rich tones.
She lies all the way back in her recliner, listening, tears at the corners of her eyes.
I don't want to make you cry, I tell her.
She waves a hand, unable right then to form the words she wants.
Are you crying from sadness or from the music, I ask.
Joy, she says. The pure beauty of it. This is what I needed.
Well, cry then, I say.
Oh, she has been a wondrous mother, and it is not just nostalgia that makes me say this. I know how fortunate I have been. Being here with her right now is a mediation. I have to still my restlessness, quiet my racing thoughts and just be here as my husband says, just be here, just be.
Saturday, April 26, 2014
My mom is markedly more frail than when I was here in January. Her confusion has deepened, so that sometimes now she wants to get dressed and do things, like make sure the ads get into the newspaper, or take the child (which child?) to the beach. Her hands, her arms, also tremble almost continuously, and her fingers, though still beautifully manicured, have become more twisted with arthritis, the knuckles swollen, the joints stiff. She is happy I am here, she says it is a joy to have me "right there," and as a mother myself, I can imagine what that feels like. I am gratified to be here with her, though it is so hard to see how difficult her life is now. But my brother and his wife are taking very good care of her; the three women who rotate her care are all patient and kind, and they know how to distract her when her brain gets stuck in a thought loop, which is probably just a more extreme version of the way my own brain works, not a comforting thought at all. The day has felt long because all I've done is stay in the room with my mom most of the time, while my brother and my sister-in-law, both doctors, do their rounds and attend to their other commitments. Their 13-year-old is out with her friends, and their 10-year-old, aka MisterFifaBoss, plays Fifa soccer on his X-box live. None of us can fail to notice my mom's recent decline, but she is still here with us, her sense of humor intact, as seen in her rueful laugh when she comes back to herself and says, "Never mind, I'm talking rubbish again." This afternoon, while she napped in her chair, I did go for a walk and take pictures. I am, as always, an Instagram slut. This is even more true when I have time on my hands. If you follow me on Instagram, please forgive my clogging up your feed.
Thursday, April 24, 2014
“While a fence protects the fenced,
it also imprisons the protected.”
― Mokokoma Mokhonoana
I'm traveling tomorrow and this always seems to send me into a tailspin. I'd love to be one of those people who loves travel but in fact I'm more like Anne Tyler's protagonist in The Accidental Tourist, I hate leaving my home. When I look back on the young woman I was, who spent the decade of her twenties jumping on planes at a moment's notice for work, I wonder who she is, where she went. I am full of anxieties today, despite a sweet night with my husband, just the two of us, our son elsewhere. Do you ever have a thought in your head that you know you might have snatched from thin air, but it won't leave you alone? This is my brain this morning. I don't feel secure. Where on earth did this core feeling of jeopardy come from? Where did this fear of accepting what seems true on the surface take root in me? My throat, my chest, are churning. That's how it feels. I want to jump out of my skin in the most literal sense of the cliche. And inevitably, I make up reasons, and wonder if maybe I'm not really making them up, if these thoughts I torture myself with might actually be true.
Sick sad whimpering puppy.
Well, I'll be gone for a little while. I'll be reading your blogs on my phone but I'm not sure if I will be posting while I am away, so please keep a light on for me until I return.
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
There is an odd dynamic happening in my circle of fellow journalists. With so many of us laid off, and so many of us friends, or at least collegial acquaintances, it's tricky to navigate around potential work. We're all freelancing now, so if one of us is trying for a berth at a particular place, and says it out loud, then the unspoken consideration is to not pursue work at that place, lest you snatch work from your friend.
Sometimes, we simply won't mention where we are looking or who we're talking to about possible work, because it just makes it awkward if the other person decides to pursue the same opportunity. After all, we are each responsible for our own bills. But you can hear when the mention of something is being sidestepped, because you know you're doing it yourself, and while you wish the best for your friend and would prefer to share whatever opportunities you have discovered, there is also a kernel of anxiety that there won't be a place for you when the music stops and all the seats are once again taken in this game of musical chairs that journalism in the city has become.
At the same time, since you are all journalists, you know exactly how to tease out the information that is being withheld if you choose to, and sometimes you do choose to, just to get a reading on whether you might be getting left behind. See what I mean? Paranoia.
It doesn't help that I'm having a hard time buckling down this week. I know it's partly because I'm traveling in two days, and so I don't want to start on a new project and not be able to follow it through. I'll be in Jamaica with my mom till the middle of next week, trying to bolster her spirits after the loss of her beloved big sister. I'm at loose ends today. Maybe I'll just run errands and let the work slide until I get back from Jamaica. I feel so scattered, unfocused. This is so not like me.
Wait! I just got an email from a writer that sent a rush of excitement through me! Nothing like the chance to reengage with work that truly inspires! (You know who you are.)
Sunday, April 20, 2014
My love and I went to Easter service this morning, then had brunch at our favorite neighborhood place, then headed to the High Line where we walked the converted railway track from end to end, stopping sometimes to sit in the sun and watch the surge of people who had the same idea. We ran into friends from Antigua who we were supposed to meet up with this week, and estimated that, like them, maybe three-quarters of the people on the High Line were visiting from elsewhere: We heard so many different languages going by, and observed so many different styles of dress, from the German hipsters to the Mediterranean metrosexuals to the Japanese preppie girls in pearls to the Greek othrodox families still in church garb to the flannel over tee-shirted college kids to the urban gay couples too cool for school. The people watching was spectacular, the picture taking less so, because the sun was high and bright and flattened everything, but no matter, it was a beautiful blue day, a little on the chilly side but not when you turned your face into the sun, then it was simply perfect. Here are some randoms from our Easter Sunday stroll along New York City's park in the sky.
The house is dark, the men asleep, and Aunt Winnie no longer being here is really hitting me. Why did I think I would escape this grief? I thought because so much of her had already left, that when her so broken body gave up the last of her spirit, I would be grateful for her release. And I am. She had no quality of life left at the end. But oh, I miss my aunt, the years we shared across our little courtyard, the feisty woman with whom I always laughed, the surrogate grand who babysat my children, my third parent.
I confess I thought it would be a relief not to worry about how make Easter a little special for her, what dinner to bring for her and her home attendant, but instead, all I feel is the void. My thoughts keep going to her, like a missing limb, and I have to keep reminding myself that she is not there, she is not there, she is not there. Every day when I arrive home, as my feet touch the courtyard between our two buildings, the thought is in my head, Maybe I'll just stop by Aunt Winnie and sit with her for a few moments, and then I remember.
At her memorial service, a soloist with the voice of a soprano angel sang Josh Groban's "You Raise Me Up," and now I cannot get the song out of my head. Yesterday, after my husband had gone to take the altar arrangements to the church, and while he and his two fellow wardens along with our son spent the afternoon cleaning construction dust from the sanctuary to make it shine for Easter services, I played that song loud in my empty house, and the tears just flowed as they had not yet done for my aunt. Truly, she raised us up. Aunt Winnie is evidence of God to me, by which I mean she was the embodiment of love. When people say God is love, she was the very definition of that. She loved us so completely. She loved me so completely.
I did my best for her, but I didn't do nearly enough. The weekend of her memorial, the family kept thanking me for all I had done for her, and I felt like a fraud. Perhaps it was impossible to do enough for one such as she was. Lying awake next to my sleeping husband tonight, I found myself missing her so intensely, the pillow soaked, and so I got up to write here, because writing down what I am feeling is the surest way to embrace it, to truly let myself feel it, to honor the fact that I am missing my Aunt Winnie so fiercely this morning, and not just Winnie but Maisy, too, and my dad, too, and I am scared for how it will be when my mother joins them, and I pray she stays awhile longer on this side with me.
Saturday, April 19, 2014
In my house this morning the man is creating artistic altar arrangements in honor of his late mother, who used to do the floral arrangements for her church on Easter, and who passed on a love of floral arranging to her firstborn son. He does the altar arrangements for the sanctuary twice every year in her name, at Easter and for her birthday in October. She was a wonderful mother and mother-in-law and grandmother and he is a good son.
Thursday, April 17, 2014
The fluffy white blossoms appeared overnight, all up and down the avenues. Next will be the clouds of pink, hugging the branches like cotton candy, wanton and promising everything.
Meanwhile, I can't make myself focus on work unless I stay in my sleep clothes and boot up the computer first thing. If I get dressed at all for the day, I get this yen to wander and I can't make myself sit and do the work, even with the deadlines looming.
I had a meeting downtown this morning, something that may yield an opportunity two years down the road, maybe. But the woman I met with was lovely and I am practicing saying yes to everything I can, at least until it becomes clear to me which door is open to me and beckoning me to walk through.
There are some interesting prospects floating around, but I have to reach out and seize the possibilities with both hands, I have to write the kick-ass letter selling myself, and for two days now I have tried to marshal the energy to do that, and I find I only want to dream.
Tomorrow I will do the financial aid form first thing. I will make the numbers sit still long enough to be analyzed and entered into small boxes, praying all the while they won't lie and say that we can afford more in tuition than we truly can.
Then I will write the two letters I have been invited to write, and after that I will look at my mile long list and decide everything else can wait. And I will climb under the covers or I will go outside and sit on a bench and I will read. Just that. This is my plan.
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
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 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 it's not all work and no fancy.
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 part of my mood, 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. I leave next week Friday. It will be a welcome break in the regularly scheduled programming. 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 coatless and in sandals 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
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.
One of my cousins posted photos from last weekend on Facebook today. Here's one of my love and me with our daughter and our niece, who made the trip from D.C. where she is in dental school.
My heart son E was also in attendance. 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 above. 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.
Thursday, April 10, 2014
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?
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?
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 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
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
Saturday, April 5, 2014
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.