Thursday, December 29, 2011

Purging Regret

I once read that people who live the longest, happiest lives are those who cope with loss the best. Even though loss is part of life, people cope with it differently. How often do we hear of the person who dies within months of losing a spouse? It makes you wonder if a person really can die of a broken heart.  I came across a fascinating blog post by Susan Elliot “Searching and Pining Behavior”...

"Pining is the subjective and emotional component of urge to search for the lost object". ~ Colin Murray Parkes

 “Colin Murray Parkes was a grief expert who studied the phases of grief and the behavior in those who are grieving. Searching behavior often explains why people try to connect with those whom they have just lost to death….but when the person is still out there, still “reachable” it makes it difficult to suspend contact and simply let the searching compulsion pass without doing anything about it.

Parkes was one of the first to analogize human searching behaviors to that of animal species that mate for life. Parkes quotes Konrad Lorenz who studied the “searching” behavior in the Greylag goose who would search for a mate even if the mate had been killed in plain sight. The goose will fly great distances, calling and wailing for the lost partner, often going such great distances as to get lost or injured in an accident. The frantic goose was detrimental to itself, unable to give up the search for the mate that was lost.” - Susan Elliot

I have pined long enough!  My birthday is New Years Day. In the days before my birthday I will typically clean out closets, drawers, and give things away I didn't use that year; I purge. As this year ends, I choose to purge regret. If I have one resolution for the New Year it will be that I embrace my vulnerability and open my heart again.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

C.S. Lewis

Monday, June 1, 2009

Best laid plans

I have not written here for several months, I just could not bring myself back to it. Every time I opened the page, I would take a glimpse at previous posts, and remember the sadness I felt around the time of my dog Jasmine's death, I would sign out and try not to think about it.

The winter was wet, perhaps it was my perception, or simply that the San Francisco Peninsula is much different from San Diego. My strongest memories are of the things that happened on those wet days at the end of winter which I remember as snapshots; Maiken's visit at the end of February, both of us trying to heal Jasmine. In the midst of pouring rain on a stormy Sunday, Maiken buying new windshield wipers for my car. Walking my little dog that last week of her life; getting wet while holding the umbrella over her when she stopped. I imagine her now as an old lady, moving ever so slowly, tired and arthritic, she really just wanted to stay inside where it was warm, sitting on her pillow; being comforted.

Spring was a frenzy of volunteering, networking and self reflection. I remember very little, the days went into weeks with very little change. I visited my sons in San Diego for a brief visit over Easter, we had a wonderful time. In the beginning of summer I started working an "externship" for a company that had two websites in the start-up phase. The work was "pro bono"; I had hoped it would turn into a paying job, which was not to be. After two months I stopped giving my time to their cause, they could not sell the product, once again I escalated my search for work.

As of today, I have been officially unemployed for 1 year and 17 days. The weeks go by as quickly as the money is spent on life necessities and small luxuries that keep me sane; movies tickets bought at Costco, a dinner out here and there. In May every penny I could find went toward small birthday gifts for my sons. "Separating needs from wants" is an expression my friend Judy frequently uses, at times I have trouble discerning the difference.

I do not feel sorry for myself, I actually feel lucky, not that luck has anything to do with my current situation, but luck that I have been able to survive this long without a job. I have done a great deal of adapting and it has changed me in positive and beneficial ways. I am a realist, I was not always, but I am now. I realize that if I am doing everything possible to find paying employment and it isn't happening, I may need to consider relocating. This was not a part of the original plan. I planned to move here and grow old, but I may need to go where the work is. I need to start earning money again, I must pay my way. I need health insurance and enough money to pay back my student loans. The bottom line, the best laid plans can change.

I am grateful that I have gone through this with the support of my family and that my children are grown and they both have jobs. My heart goes out to the people I read about who are experiencing long-term unemployment with not enough income to provide for their families. I am not wise enough to have a solution to fix this problem; there are more unemployed people than there are jobs. There are jobs that pay so low people can not afford to live, I do not know how they do it. If you imagine that a job that pays $10.00 an hour at 40 hours per week pays gross wages of $400.00 per week, take home pay is approximately $335.18 per week. This equates to a net income of $1452.44 each month. This is more than many jobs that are available today pay; many are minimum wage. How do people afford rent, utilities, food, gas and car insurance, certainly not health insurance?

I have a new cause, helping the long-term unemployed. I contribute to discussion forums, I write the media and our politicians. The plight of the long term unemployed is real and without a solution at present. While the political parties discuss and debate and Town Hall meetings become the forum where loud voices announce their frustration and mistrust, the unemployed are largely without a voice. Many affected by long-term unemployment are middle aged and older. Most do not have health insurance, people are scared, worried about a future that is more uncertain now than ever. What happens if they do not land a job before unemployment runs out, where will they live, what will they do? Would a tax credit for employers who hire the long term unemployed help? My mind is consumed with ideas; we must help small business survive this downturn and hire again.

When you experience a significant change in financial and social status, it is interesting how your values and perception of the world around you changes too. What I have learned most of all; re-inventing ones life and career in the midst of this economic crisis, is a process with no end in sight.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Walking the Path

No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path. - Buddha

Monday, March 9, 2009

Goodbye my friend

It's Monday night. Not quite 3 days ago, Saturday morning, I took Jasmine to the Vet and stayed with her while she was euthanized. I had been thinking about it for a few days, my mind telling me it was time, I just wasn't ready to say goodbye. I finally accepted that I would never be ready. I looked up euthanasia on the web; "If your pet can no longer experience the things it once enjoyed, cannot respond to you in its usual ways, or appears to be experiencing more pain than pleasure, you may need to consider euthanasia."

When the Vet first came into the examination room, she was talking about her boyfriend, then something about another patients sad situation with cancer and job loss; I admit I wasn't really listening. I was focused on my girl and the decision I was making. I'm watching Jasmine on the floor, sitting up, facing me, she slowly closes her eyes, and she falls asleep sitting straight up, like a tired baby who can't stay awake, but doesn't want to give up the fight. It was as if she was saying to me, "Mom I'm tired, but I don't want to go". It was moments later that she lay down on the cold linoleum and went to sleep. I wanted to pick her up and leave, go home and pretend this was not happening. It was then that the doctor decided it was time to examine her, I put her on the table, as calm and peaceful as ever, Jasmine lay there; her eyes never leaving my face.

The doctor agreed it was time.

The Vet's assistant told me she had to bring her in the back to insert a catheter, she said it was the easiest way to administer the euthanasia drugs, a few minutes later she is back, "we can't find a good vein, her blood pressure is too low". I asked "why"? she looks at me and says quietly "her heart is weak, it isn't pumping enough blood". It was then that I knew, yes, this is the right decision. Jasmine girl's old heart is tired. They had to give her the injection in her leg. For a brief moment when they try to insert the needle, she flinches and snaps in the direction of the discomfort, I caress her head and tell her how much I love her, over and over. Even after they told me there was no heartbeat, my mind had not quite accepted it, I continue to kiss her, she is warm, and appears to be sleeping.

My heart has not stopped aching.

I was fortunate that my sister Megan was with me, I did not have to go home alone for a few hours. It was much later that I drove back over the bridge to my home on the Peninsula; the scent of Jasmine's dog blankets filled the car. I had grown so used to bringing her with me everywhere; she had a dog bed in the back seat. I would park, open the back door and gently lift her out, we would walk slowly towards the front door together and she would normally go drink water first, then go get in her bed in my room. This night, she was not there. The house is dark, quiet, no one to greet me. It was at that point that I knew this wasn't going to be easy.

16 years is a long time. It seemed like a lifetime ago that the neighbor's dog had puppies and my boy's begged me to let them have one. They picked the little one with the funny face; her mother was a Lhasa Apso, her father’s breed unknown. Jasmine was a ball of white fur with a face that was all eyes, she always looked like she needed some serious dental work, she had an under bite, which is common for Lhasa's. They brought her to me to approve before she was weaned from her mother. I can still remember them running in the house with this tiny little puppy; "please Mom, puleeezz!!!" It would be several more weeks before she came home to us for good. They named her Jasmine after the Princess in the movie "Aladdin", certainly not for her scent! Jasmine always had a distinct dog smell; she was indeed a stinky dog, the sweetest stinky dog in the world.

I read the book "Marley and Me" long before it came out in the theatres. It reminded me so much of Jasmine; as a young dog, she wasn't a "good dog". I was partly to blame, I didn't know how to be a good master and train her properly. Some of it was her nature; she was curious and made friends with everyone. The entire neighborhood knew her, Jasmine was known for wiggling her little self out the front door every time it was opened and making a run for it. I have many memories of sending the boys to chase after her, she was fast! Jasmine also liked to dig, she found a way to visit the neighbors, invited or not.

I can pinpoint exactly when it was that I bonded with Jasmine. She was a few months old and I took her to the Vet to be spayed. She had to stay overnight, I brought her home the next day and within 24 hours it was apparent that something was seriously wrong. Her abdomen was swollen and hot to the touch, she didn't want to eat or walk. I took her to the emergency animal hospital, sure enough, she had a hernia. The surgery had a complication. Several hundred dollars later, they patched her up. I remember standing there in the Vet's office thinking, I can't afford this, but this baby girl is too young to die, we all love her, she is family.

While the boys were growing up, every rule I had for Jasmine was often broken. I didn't want her on my sofa or the beds; I would come home from work and find Adam stretched out on the family room couch with Jasmine cuddled up right next to him. At night she would often sleep at the foot of his bed.

The boys grew up and one by one went off to college, Jasmine became my dog. I married Art in 2001, though she loved Art too, I was the one she followed everywhere. It was my side of the bed she wanted to sleep near, I was her human Mom and she was my girl. In the Spring of 2008 I ended my marriage to Art, Jasmine and I moved to the Bay Area to start a new life and be near family. From that point on we were nearly inseparable; she went with me everywhere, my faithful friend.

These last few weeks it became apparent to me that the time when we had to say goodbye was near; I avoided it as long as I could. So here I am, for the first time in my life, I am alone; no husband, children or pet. I admit it is much harder than I expected. I have spent the last two days crying off and on, I miss her in every inch of this house. I can still see her dancing with glee when I walked through the door, I miss my girl, I'm sure I always will.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Homeless Family

On Wednesday February 25th the Oprah show was about the new faces of the recession and tent cities in America. I had been in the city that day, at an orientation at Jewish Vocational Services, seeing several of my new friends from the unemployed professionals group there. I walked in, turned on Oprah and realized quickly that this would be difficult to watch. In my current situation I avoid as much bad news as I possibly can, it doesn't help. There was a woman in Sacramento with 3 children, they are homeless, living in a shelter some nights, but not always, the shelters have to turn many away each night, there are not enough beds for everyone. This wasn't some strung out, alcoholic or drug addicted mother, she was pretty, clean and articulate. I watched the rest of the show, formerly middle class people losing their homes, a lot of the film was shot in Southern California, I recognized the real estate signs and neighborhoods. Oprah's show encores at 1:00 a.m. on weeknights, I woke up at 12:59 and watched the entire show again. So much for sleeping, I laid awake until dawn.

A school administrator was interviewed; she said there were 7000 homeless children in Sacramento attending school.

I have been thinking what a wake up call for America this is. All the attention on the movie Slumdog Millionaire and children living in the slums of India. I think we thought we were somehow immune from this happening here. Here we are, children with no home and often no warm bed at night, their clothes being carried in a plastic bag. The shelters wake people up at 5:00 a.m. and close very early in the morning, these families have to wander the streets during the day and wait. They get in line early in the afternoon for the shelters to open up again at night.

What can we do? I welcome anyone's thoughts and comments. I need to volunteer to help the homeless; all I can think about is finding a way to help somehow. I feel guilty if I don't spend nearly every hour of the day looking for work or in an activity geared towards finding work. We are in crisis and we can not just look the other way.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Andy's Words, March 7, 1984

I was cleaning out my storage, going through old boxes of records, cards, letters, bills, some to shred, some to keep. I came across a notebook, I open to find Andy's handwriting, a journal of sorts, dated March 7, 1984. Andy died in 1989, anything I find that gives a glimpse into who he was is a treasure, especially to his sons who lost him when they were so young. In his words...

"Mar. 7

Well, its been a week of hell. My mind and body are so very tired. I've told the one and only person in the world I love, the most important part of my inner soul. But I still can't accept it. I won't accept it. I love my children - my beautiful boys. They're my babies and I can't - won't let them down. They need a beautiful home and all the nice things. Don't they? Oh, I wish I could change, oh, I wish my wife and I could really be in love again but its not possible, or is it? She is so confused. She doesn't really love me. Did she ever love me? I guess she did but not the way I wanted or maybe it was just the fact I don't really know what love is so I didn't know she was really loving me. Oh, I am so tired of this. Does this make any sense?

I'm so afraid to leave. But why? I want my boys to have everything that I didn't. But everything is material - what about love and feelings. I never really thought about. Not for me. If we separate, I feel we will probably never get back together. But why? I might force myself to enjoy it, make it on my own without her. I will be angry that we would even think of splitting up the family - for the children - for my babies...

What about me everyone says - who the hell cares about me? Nobody - But that's all right I'll manage. But the babies, I care and love them so much, I would do anything for them.

But is it fair for my wife - is it fair for me? I think anything is fair for the children. But, as for my wife she doesn't care. She wants to get out, at least that's what she is telling me. Her happiness (that God damn word) means more to her than the family - our babies. I don't understand I'm not willing to sacrifice why can't she..."

So there you have it. A snapshot into my marriage in the days before we separated. I will tell you that every word he wrote is true, as he felt it. Though my own perspective and my emotions were misunderstood, I honor his feelings. As he eludes to in the first paragraph, he had just told me that he thought he was Gay. He had told me that he had developed a relationship with a man, they had not had sex, but there was kissing, an attraction and a growing emotional bond. They met in his MBA program at Golden Gate University. I believe that at this point in his life, Andy did not want to accept his sexuality. The price for his acceptance was tearing his life and his family apart.  His struggle and love for his children, and commitment to me, evident.

To further explain I must digress...Andy and I had been in marriage counseling. After the first 2 sessions, I received a call from the therapist, Andy would be seeing her alone for an undetermined time, this was his request, he had some issues to work through. To the best of my recollection, we had not been intimate at this point for nearly 2 years. I was a bit of a mess, I loved being a mom and the family we were, though I was desperately unhappy with my marriage, and yes, as he writes, completely confused. I simply did not understand what had happened to us.

Andy and I had in most ways a spectacular relationship. We had married young, and then waited five years before we had children. We got along very well, had things in common, loved our home, our life. We especially loved our children and being parents together. By all appearances we had the perfect life, the perfect family. Except it wasn't a perfect marriage. From the stunned moment when he told me that he thought he was Gay, I could not imagine staying in the marriage. He is right, I wanted out. It explained everything for me, the distance, the secrets, his lack of desire for me. If I can pinpoint one major event that was a wake up call for me about the state of our marriage it was in the fall of 1983, we went to Hawaii for a week, we left the boys at home in the care of my friend Lorna. In Maui we perfected our tans by the pool, played at the beach, went to Luau's, ate in nice restaurants, shopped, drove around, and for the entire vacation he did not lay a finger on me. By the final night, it was my tears and his apologies, that prompted our decision to seek marriage counseling when we returned home. He did not know why, but he did not have interest anymore. I was 26, he was 30. To set the record straight from my heart, I did love him. I loved him until the day he died. Andy was my best friend, the kind of love we had for each other was unconditional.

I also found a Valentine Card that Andy wrote me on February 14, 1989...


You open the card and it reads...

"One of the best things
about Valentines Day
is the chance it brings
to tell you
what should be said more often
you're very special
and you mean so much."


"It feels so funny sending you a Valentine's card but when I saw this card, I had to buy it for you. Kelly, you still are very special to me - in more ways than you can even imagine. Thank you for staying by my side and for being my friend."

"Love, Andy"

Note found, written on Andy's monogrammed stationary



"Dear Kelly

Please stop worrying. Things will be okay. If you need anything, I will be out of the hospital hopefully on Monday and I'll take care of it then. I only wish I could help more but my stupid health won't let me.

Kelly you're still my very important girl I hope you know that...

I love you,


Sadly things would not be okay for a very long time.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Thought for the Day

This has been on my mind all day. We are not defined by our "wins" or our "losses" but how we handle ourselves when we are dealt them. Either way, it is a test. In good times and bad, whether it is your dignity, or humility that is being tested, be mindful.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

What the day takes away

Sometime during the evening of January 3, 2009, between the hours of 8:00 p.m. and 12:00 a.m. Dahr Gary McCurry took his own life. Dahr was my first cousin, the youngest son of my mothers sister, he was 44 years old.

Our grandparents, W.G. and Lelah Crowe, known to all of us as Mom and Daddy Crowe, had 5 children and 17 grandchildren. Dahr was the 15th grandchild, the youngest child of their youngest daughter, Jeri Sue. Mom Crowe died of lung cancer in March 1974, for Dahr and his brother, her death was like losing a mother, having spent much of their childhood in her care.

My memories of Dahr in childhood are of a boy with unlimited energy and a tendency towards mischief. He was the silly, goofy kid, always clamoring for attention, somehow always being scolded. As a child my knowledge of Dahr's situation was limited. I knew that his mother and father were not together. His father, a Merchant Seaman would be gone for long periods of a time and was largely absent from Dahr's life. From a young age Dahr struggled, primarily with behavioral issues. He was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and took medication. Eventually, he was home schooled.

As an adult, I had very little contact with Dahr. I had moved away from the area and missed most of the family picnics, holidays and reunions. I would hear of him now and then, I knew that the struggles of his childhood did not end at adulthood. Dahr was never in trouble with the law, though he did have drug problems at one time or another. Dahr was extremely smart, he went to trade school and community college. For a time he worked as an Emergency Medical Technician, after that, a Security Guard.

In September 2000 Dahr became the father of a beautiful boy, it is remarkable how much his son looks like him. The marriage to his son's mother was brief. All of Dahr's attempts to lead the normal, productive life of an adult failed, he would struggle with disorganized thoughts and impulses which would result in lost jobs and cycles of frustration and depression. I have learned that Dahr was treated by a Psychiatrist since his teens, he was prescribed various and many medications. For most of his adult life he was on State Disability and lived with his mother, who was also on Disability. I am not completely certain of the diagnosis. What I do know is that as a result of what I perceive to be a mood disorder, Dahr had trouble maintaining relationships. For the last several years of his life, he was estranged from many of the people he cared about; uncles, aunts, cousins, and his only sibling. He had a contentious relationship with his former wife, she was angry at him for his inability to support his child, or maintain consistent and healthy contact with the little boy.

Dahr's mother has stated that he had no friends and thought everyone in the family hated him.

Of the last days of Dahr's life, we know very little. We know that he attempted to contact his child by phone and the boys mother would not let him speak to him. We know that he spent a quiet New Year's with his mother, they toasted with a drink. On the evening of his death he had a minor quarrel with his mother, she told him to calm down and at approximately 8:00 p.m. she urged him to go to bed. She got up near midnight to check on him and found him too late.

We will never know for certain if after death Dahr's spirit could hear the wails of his young son upon learning of his death. Did he hear his mothers cries, how she blamed herself and had to be hospitalized for 6 days for fear she would take her own life. Could he hear her when she said she did not know who she was without him. Did he listen to the conversations of the cousins, wondering what, if anything, we could have done differently, how could we have helped him, what have we learned? Did he hear his brothers regrets for staying away so long. Does he know that the family he thought hated him would pull together and send money from near and far to pay for his cremation and plan the memorial to celebrate his life.

On the day of her release from the hospital, his mother came home to an empty house. We received the call and came to her. As we sat in her living room, she looked straight at me and said, "Dahr would have loved to see all the company".

We have each been asked to send our memories to my two senior cousins who will give the service. I remember a tow headed boy, full of life and fun. I remember his delight when we surprised his mother a few months ago bringing dinner and a cake for her birthday. His hug so tight. His repeated "I love you" to each of us. His excitement to show us the hand gun he had so recently purchased.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Like the Phoenix

As we start the New Year, many of us make resolutions to change the things about ourselves, or our lives, that are not working. With a January 1st birthday, this is especially true for me. As one year ends, a new one begins offering a new opportunity for self examination and improvement.

Last year, I began 2008 with the acute reality that I was desperately unhappy with much of my life, especially my marriage and career. As I celebrated my 50th birthday, I resolved that I would make huge changes; I would tear it all down and start over. I made no impulsive decisions, I did not let my heart rule my head, and I planned. Step by step, I ended my marriage, I relocated from San Diego to the San Francisco Bay Area, and finally, I quit the mortgage industry.

And like the Phoenix, I have emerged from the ashes of my former life and began again.

My son Adam gave me a book for Christmas called "Scratch Beginnings". I loved the book, read it in two evenings; I could not put it down. At the end of the book, the author, Adam Sheppard shared the wisdom of his friend Surry, "there are three types of people"...

1. Those that make things happen.
2. Those that wait for things to happen.
3. Those who sit back, scratch their heads and wonder "What in the hell just happened?"

2008 was a good start, significant external changes and plenty of internal ones. I am free. I let go of grief, saying goodbye in my heart to more than one love. I have learned to be alone, not what I want for the rest of my life, but I am okay, more than okay. As the year ended I rested, I was tired, actually exhausted. After all that change, a dismal job market and what seemed like years of not sleeping, I spent the last few weeks in introspection. I admit, I have been wondering, what the hell happened?

I arrive in 2009 without a job, I have enough money to pay the rent and my pantry has food. In spite of my diminished financial status, Christmas was one of our happiest in years. I am more at peace than I have been in longer than I can remember, (at least a decade). My goal for 2009 is to land a great job and once again financially prosper, meet new friends and perhaps even a new love. Who knows, my heart is open and that is a great place to start. Even with all that is yet to be, I can honestly say, my better life is NOW. As they say, every step of the journey, is the journey.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Good Men

A good man it's said
is hard to find.
Not true,
good men inhabit the earth
and sleep in our beds
and set the sky aglow.
Good men are best
when we have earned them,
because we are good women.
One cannot distinguish
good men
from other men on sight,
since ordinary men have been seen
to wear goodness
as a wolf wears sheep's clothing.
True goodness makes itself known through acts of caring and ethical conduct.
A good man aims to please but without expense to his dignity
and separateness of self.
That is his way of life.
The best of goodness expresses itself naturally and all of the time.
Not just when it is needed.
At its uppermost goodness is trustworthiness
and comes to call
as a fusion of teacher, physician, father, lover, friend.
Goodness in a man allows a woman
to live with him off guard.
William Saroyan wrote well of goodness...
Seek goodness everywhere
and when it is found,
bring it out of its hiding place to be free and unashamed.

Frances Lear
Lear's Magazine - 1988

Well said Frances. They also say you need to know what you want before you attract it. In this year of heightened self-awareness, I thank you for reminding me with your words of wisdom and clarity.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A New September

I used to think I thrived on change. I considered myself a restless soul, always seeking. Those close to me would joke about how they kept my contact information in their address books in pencil; as it was likely to change.

For several years I would move not only houses, but cities. I am embarrassed to admit that I moved my young children 10 times between 1985 and 1992. Like an addict, my drug of choice was the excitement of moving, it was for a time euphoric, though too soon I needed more. One common theme prevailed, new places brought new friends and the fresh chance to erase the past and the sad memories associated with all that had been lost.

We first moved to San Diego in 1988, it was less than a year when my career relocated us again. We returned to San Diego in 1992 when my sons were ten and twelve; this time I made them a promise; we would not move again until they were both out of high school. Though I kept my promise, staying in one place did not satisfy me; when I could no longer move cities and houses, I would change jobs.

September was often a big change month. In September 1987 the children and I moved to Southern California from the Bay Area. In September 1990 we moved to Denver. In September 1992 we moved from Denver to San Diego, seeking yet another new life. 

Since returning to the Bay Area at the beginning of June, I have made every effort to process through the grief I have carried with me for so many years and tried to avoid. I understand more clearly today, I had never fully processed the loss of so many life dreams that did not either manifest, or last. The ending of my 8 year marriage changed every single part of my life. As I moved away from my husband who took care of all finances, I said goodbye to a life of security and time with my children, a life I was not ready to leave. I let go of my identity as a stay at home mother and our beautiful home with the carefully wallpapered and decorated bedrooms of our children. The kitchen I had baked the character cakes for their birthdays, the cabinets I had refinished myself.  For years I would long for my dear friends in the neighborhood, our playdates and walks to the park with toddlers in tow. To nearly everyone around us, the end of our marriage was a choice.  What everyone else did not know, and a lesson I would learn over and over again in my life; some choices make themselves.

Coming to terms with all that was lost has been an integral and often painful part of the experience of returning home. It happens even now, so many years later, I will drive by a place, hear a song, smell a familiar scent and memories will flood my consciousness. There is no way around these doors, you must open them and walk through.

Though I have returned to the Bay Area many times since Andy's death I have until this summer avoided visiting his grave. Just the thought of driving over the San Mateo bridge towards Half Moon Bay where he is buried would elicit a tightness in my chest and a sick, heavy feeling would engulf me. Just remembering those awful days before and after his death, my sadness and fear of the future painfully acute.

At the beginning of this year I made a promise to myself, I would change everything in my life that was not working and I would begin again, but this time, it would be different. I wanted to go home. My 50th birthday was the catalyst. I was living with a man I did not love. Working in a profession that was no longer supporting me and was fast becoming obsolete. The financial crisis in the economy had arrived to shake many of us to our core, to teach us the lesson about what really matters.

Returning has not been easy, I have had to process through the events of the past and not only feel them, but accept them. It has been necessary to forgive myself for being the lost, anxious, vulnerable and insecure girl who lived here before. If there is one thing I have learned about this process it is that you can't go back, but you can come back.

Last Sunday was the anniversary of Andy's death. After nearly two decades, it was time. I got up early and began my drive, it would be my first visit alone. He was buried in a breathtakingly beautiful hilltop cemetery. His bronze plated coffin, regal and elegant, as he was. I had chosen an exceptionally large spray of white roses to blanket his coffin for the mortuary visitation and funeral. After the ceremony at the cemetery our friend Gary tried to hand me a rose he had pulled from the spray as a remembrance. I would not take it, my habit of blocking painful feelings had begun. I didn't want to see those roses, I didn't want to remember the coffin, or the day, or the place. In fact, I did not want to remember any of the events that lead up to that awful moment, I just wanted to escape. I wanted to forget the entire experience as if it had not occurred. But of course it had, and I was never to be quite the same again.

After the funeral and in the days, months and years preceding, I have worn my strong woman mask. I can handle anything, I can take care of everyone, if you need anything, just lean on me, I will hold you up. This theme has carried into my poor choices to marry men who were far less deserving of me than I understood at the time.

On this day at the end of summer 2008, I do feel differently. I have begun to accept, so much that happened so long ago, and since. As I savor the best of my memories, I embrace the grief that has changed me. On this new September I want to visit and leave him something from me. Along the drive, I had stopped in San Mateo to purchase a beautiful bouquet of white roses, I ask the florist to please give me a red ribbon, I will tie myself. I write him a note on the ribbon. I let him know I will always love him, and we shall never forget him.

I stood at his grave for a long while, in silence, then talking. I tell him that I wish I had handled it all better. By that I mean, all of it, his death, my life and choices since. I finally go back to the car and drive down the long winding road out of the cemetery. The tightness in my chest returns, though this time, rather than wanting to go far away, I am drawn to return. I do not want to leave him alone there, I must go back. He has been there nineteen years alone, yet it felt as if I was leaving him for the first time.

I drive back. This time I park near his grave, I do not get out, I sit in the car. All that I have saved inside of me returns, I sob. I feel. I am so fucking angry. I am disgusted at the apparent unfairness and fragility of life. Why did this happen to Andy, with his magnetic personality and brilliant mind, sons who needed him, he did not deserve this. I am selfish, I miss him and the unconditional friendship we had. I miss the life in his huge smile, I miss the confidence in his stride. I am sad for him, he missed being there to see the boys grow up. I am sad for the boys, they missed all he would have taught them. My frustration with the outcome of Andy's short life is futile, it will not change a thing.

Our relationship endured and evolved, beginning just as I was turning sixteen, ending on the day of summers death in 1989. From the bouquet of flowers I leave for him, this time, I pull one for me. I drive away, long stem rose safely in my lap. As fall begins, it is a new September.
"I'll remember you too clearly
But I'll survive another day
Conversations to share
When there's no one there
I'll imagine what you'd say
I'll see you in another life now, baby
I'll free you in my dreams
But when I reach across the galaxy
I will miss your company..."

Lyrics from the song "Company" by Rickie Lee Jones

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Looking back

Many of us have at least one chapter in our lives so significant, we were forever changed. For me it was the years from 1985 to 1990.

My first boyfriend after my marriage ended was with a handsome and fun friend of my sister's. We met at a barbecue at her house in the early summer of 1985; both twenty-seven at the time. It was an instant attraction, the beginning of a relationship that would last nearly two years. Our romance was everything my marriage wasn't; passionate and stormy. I was completely enamored; attracted to both his playful spirit and intelligence; he introduced me to a world I'd never known. It seemed like we were always doing something fun; picnics on Mt. Tam, sailing, dancing, dinners in the city with his interesting friends. A Berkeley grad, driven to be successful, he worked hard building his business. He seemed to be the perfect blend of ambition and play. Mostly I remember the comfort I felt when I was with him and the enormous patience he had with my children, and me.

Most of the time we spent together was on the weekends when my boys were with their father. What is obvious to me today; was the source of much frustration for me then, as a young mother with responsibilities, his life and mine were desperately out of sync. Week nights I was home with my working single parent routine; pick up the boys from daycare by 6:00, prepare dinner, give baths, read stories and fall asleep myself by 9:30 or 10:00. In spite of the obvious challenges, I was in love and could not envision a life without him; projecting expectations of him and our future that were clearly unrealistic.

We broke up in May 1987. It was almost immediately thereafter I learned from a mutual friend that he had a new girlfriend, a friend of one of his friends. I was told he met her before we had officially broken up. At the time I believed I had lost him because I was desperately flawed; surely she was everything for him I wasn't; prettier, smarter and easier to spend time with. Time has given me a new perspective; she was merely the catalyst for what was inevitable.

I took our break-up hard. I had gone from my parent’s home to marriage at eighteen. He was the first man I dated after my marriage ended. In six short months I had gone from marriage and full time motherhood, to single parent and career girl. I had not yet learned to be alone. Our ending left not only a void in my life; there was an overwhelming void in me. I was growing, not yet grown up. I had been going through the motions of adult life; marriage, children, divorce, though emotionally I was still a girl, completely dependent on what others thought of me to define my self worth.

The key event that added a particularly devastating dimension to that dark spring and summer of 1987 was Andy's diagnosis with Kaposi’s Sarcoma an AIDS related cancer. In March 1987 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved AZT as the first antiretroviral drug to be used as a treatment for AIDS, this drug was not offered to Andy until the spring of 1989; by this time he was too sick to tolerate it. What we knew in 1987 was that there were no drugs on the market that had been proven to be effective in stopping the progression of his cancer, we were told he would likely die within a couple of years; the perception was that anyone with the virus had a certain death sentence.

In the years since his death I have researched the history of AIDS and the drugs used to treat it. I now believe it was the cost of AZT that prevented Andy from receiving it sooner. He had what we perceived to be "good" health insurance at the time, it was with an HMO called Pacific Care. I've since learned that at that time a year’s supply for one person would cost around $7,000; the clinical trials showed that AZT could slow progression to AIDS in HIV positive individuals with no symptoms, As a result of his cancer diagnosis, Andy had full blown AIDS. I'm certain they spent their money where they thought it would do the most good, he never had a chance.

My first HIV test was performed by Alameda County in early 1987. My blood was drawn and I was given a number; that number identified my blood rather than my name, confidentiality was a serious matter; people feared that if they were HIV positive and their status revealed to health insurance carriers, they could lose not only their coverage but their jobs. I was told to return two weeks later and present my number.

Fortunately the results that matched my number were negative. I do not know why I did not tell anyone, not even my boyfriend. At the time I was tested I was unaware of Andy's diagnosis. There was so much we didn't know about the virus back then and so much fear. I recall asking Andy about getting tested, he told me not to worry, he would get tested but I would not have it, I believed him. After his diagnosis my doctor advised me to be tested again and to have the boys tested, even though we were told that you could not be infected by casual contact, at that time no one knew anything for certain. Fortunately, we all were negative. Emotionally this was a time of catastrophic life changes; the perfect storm, the ending of my two year relationship, and the beginning of the slow wasting away of Andy's life.

Two weeks after learning of Andy's AIDS diagnosis, I accepted a promotion with my company and relocated to Southern California with the boys, it was September 1987. I thought that if I could move to a new place and make a fresh start, I would be able to put everything that was painful from the past behind me. Andy supported my decision, though it is one I have regretted often; those last two years of his life, I should have given my children every possible moment with their father. Truth is, I was scared. I wanted to run as far away from his illness as I could.  I wanted to protect my innocent children from the awfulness that is terminal illness. Of course that would ultimately prove to be unavoidable.

In the preceding two years my career continued on an upward swing while my personal life became increasingly more difficult. By the spring of 1989 Andy's condition had worsened to the point that he needed help, we needed to return to the Bay Area and care for him. In May 1989 I found a job with a San Francisco Peninsula territory and rented a house in San Mateo. By late summer, Andy could no longer live alone, with the help of Hospice, he moved into our home. The last weeks of Andy's life were spent in a hospital bed in my bedroom while I slept on the couch. This arrangement was not only necessary, it was the right thing to do. Andy died with me by his side on September 21, 1989.

More than two decades have passed, I've chosen what memories to savor, and those to release. The changes that took place during this time launched the beginning of a new life chapter that would take me to all the places I was destined to go.

After so many years living away, I have returned to live in the Bay Area I love. I am alone and remarkably okay after the ending of a seven year marriage to a man who was often angry, scary and violent. I am, once again, healing. I look forward to the possibilities of all that life may still hold in store.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Middle Aged Woman Seeking New Life

Ending a marriage is a process. I'm still in it in that we live in the same house, though we have separate bedrooms. We live as roommates and communicate with each other politely and without emotion (most of the time). I did not want to be divorced again. I am having a hard time imagining myself alone the rest of my life, I can't.

Where am I? I am in the space between the old and the new. Seeking a new career and planning a relocation within the next couple of months back to the San Francisco Bay Area. I am struggling with the move because I will be leaving my sons behind here in San Diego. I cry every single day, multiple times a day about this. My son's will soon be 27 and 25, it is the thought that I can't just get in the car and drive to their home to see them that bothers me. That if there were an emergency, I am not close by. I know that for my well being I need to go home. Home is where my sisters are, my parents, my old roots. Even perhaps (if I can have a second chance), a few of my old friends. I am having a hard time imagining not having my own place to live and selling so much of my "stuff". I know that in the end, it is the right decision.

"Bad day looking for a way home looking for the great escape
gets in his car and drives away far from all the things that we are
Puts on a smile and breathes it in and breaths it out; he says
bye, bye, bye to all of the noise
oh he says bye, bye, bye to all of the noise
hey child, things are looking down
that's OK, you don't need to win anyways
don't be afraid, just eat up all the gray
and it will fade all away
don't let yourself fall down
Bad day, looking for the great escape
he says, bad day, looking for the great escape
on a bad day, looking for the great escape, great escape"

Lyrics from the song "The Great Escape" by Patrick Watson

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Getting from Here to There

In the past month, aside from starting a new year I've turned 50. I have also decided to get a divorce.
First with the best...I'm happy to be 50, I actually feel quite lucky to have the privilege. The divorce on the other hand, is hard to write about.  My marriage is not quite 7 years old and I have finally given up. I moved into the guestroom just after my birthday. Unfortunately we have a lease on the house until July 1st. 

The year began with more of what I've dealt with for years; bad moods, slurred conversations over dinner and words said he can't take back. I am embarrassed. I married an alcoholic and I should have known better, I have an education in addiction. One would think I knew better.  The most shameful part of my marriage has been the physical abuse; I tread carefully as I walk in the door at night, I never know what will be there to greet me on the other side.

Sometimes endings come quickly and without notice, some catastrophic event happens and your life is changed. With marriages most often the ending is experienced with such slowness it steals little pieces of you in the process. Bit by bit, day by day, gone. This is the case of life in an unhappy marriage with an addict. I call them my "lost days". Days when life with this person is so awful you wish the day had never happened. Days you can't get back, you don't even want to remember.
For me it took turning 50 and thinking about people I have loved and lost like Andy, how he would have loved to celebrate this milestone birthday and didn't have the chance. I am here and I can't afford to waste any more of my days.

I feel both self loathing and great sadness. I also feel anger. I did not know how to the change or stop the course my life has been on sooner.  I compare it to a fast moving ride at Disneyland, you get in your seat, the bar comes down and holds you in, the ride starts slowly, then faster, you want to get off, but you can't. You are on this ride till the end.