loracs: (Default)
Today I am 59 years, 7 months and 3 days old.  Betty died when she was 59 years, 7 months and 3 days old.  Tomorrow, I will have lived one day longer than she did.  Betty had 4 years, 7 months and 3 days of retirement, but the last few years were filled many days of doctor’s appointments, cancer treatments, hospital and skilled nursing stays.  That time was also filled with laughter turning to tears and tears turning to laughter.  Sometimes just laughter, sometimes just tears.  Hours of sitting quietly watching “Frasier”, while waiting for her to fall asleep.  Other hours filled with shouting out answers on “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune”.  More hours of watching “Rachel Maddow” and discussing the issues of the day.  And, of course, the hours she spent online, especially when I was at work.  

I have been retired 1 year, 9 months and 22 days.  Take away the cancer related health issues, add in a 10 day stay in the hospital last year with a leg infection, and my retirement it not unlike hers.  Most nights, Guy and I fall asleep listening to “Frasier”.  After watching “Rachel Maddow”, we switch over to “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune”.  
 
So, what does all this number crunching mean?   It’s not survivor’s guilt, or more accurately, it’s not only survivor’s guilt.   If feels like a metric of where I am (possibly) in my life span.  Barring a weird twist of fate, in a few hours, I will have lived to be older than Betty.  How much more time will there be?  The only thing I can accurately state; I have more years behind me, than in front of me.  The first time I gave serious thought to how long I would live was 16 years ago, shortly after my mom died.  I didn’t dwell on it long, my life was full with Guy, Betty (well before she was sick), a dog, a house, dancing, friends, and a job I really liked.  While it had briefly crossed my mind in the intervening years, there was no serious navel gazing on my death.  Then Betty died a little over 5 years ago.  The grief, exhaustion and putting one foot in front of the other took all my energy for a few weeks.  On the day I opened the big, manila, official envelope from the County of Alameda, holding a dozen copies of Betty’s death certificate, was day I started the countdown that ends today.  I don’t know if I will continue to track time in relationship to Betty’s age.  It’s not been a contest; just a weird combination of sadness and curiosity about how much longer I will live.  
If I do feel the need to reach for another milestone, my mom lived 82 years, 11 months and 10 days.    Let the countdown begin!   
 
loracs: (Default)

A year ago today, Gilly (our dog) was still alive. 

A year ago today, Stacy (our friend and attendant) was still alive.

A year ago today, dbubley had 2 kidneys and did not have cancer. 

The last one isn’t entirely true; we didn’t know there was cancer swimming around in her body. 

 

Gilly died Aug. 29, 2008

Stacy died last February.
Dbubley has cancer and it may be inoperable. 

 

What will this next year bring?

I'm sure I could make a list of good things that happened this last year, but I'm just not in the mood right now.

loracs: (fingers)
Death is in the news
(isn't it always?)
Disease of body and mind
thieving time away from
me and mine - you and yours.
Never ready
even nine years after it's a fait accompli.
Past, present and future loss muddled up,
Sadness seeping bone deep
Below the tear table
Warning: a bewailing night ahead.
loracs: (Default)
He played my favorite character on Angel.  At 33 years old, he died of heart disease caused by a tooth infection he had years ago,  I never watched Angel in the original run, but in the last few years I'd catch it every weekday morning.  They play the episodes in order, one at 6 am and another at 7 am.  I get up at 6:30 am and leave at 7:30 am, so I see about 1/2 an hour of each episode.  It starts my day.

I know very little about Andy except he had the chops and pipes to pull off playing a green demon who ran a karaoke bar in L.A.  A demon who could read your future when you sang.  He often was the comic relief, a scaredy cat clown, but when his friends were in danger, he was there hitting a high note as needed.  He could be a world weary cynic on minute and crack me up the next with a pithy spot-on comment.  I know the words had to be on the page and the director had to do his thing, but Andy pulled this minor character off that page and made him the heart of the show.

In the last episode, the big battle against evil, Angel asks him to do something important, but something he finds despicable.  He says, " Hey, Angel, I'll do this last thing for you, for us...but then I'm out, and you won't find me in the alley afterwards. Hell, you won't find me at all. Do me a favor. Don't try."

Now we'll never find him, no future "hey, isn't that the guy who played Lorne" when watching a new tv show or movie.  And then the required run to IMDB to prove if we are right or wrong.  Funny how a person I never met, most likely never would meet, even if we both lived into the next century, has left a little mark on my heart.   

http://www.eonline.com/uberblog/watch_with_kristin/b106789_angel_star_andy_hallett_dies_of_heart.html
loracs: (Default)

Today we say the public good-bye to Stacy.  I'm so glad she was cremated.  There is not an undertaker in the world that could have made her look even a little bit like herself after cancer tore up her body.    Here's a picture of her with Gilly in Dec. 2003. 
loracs: (rose)


November 3, 1964 - Feb. 4, 2009

Our friend Stacy died this morning.
After many days in the hospital, she was taken home yesterday. 
I think she waited until she could be in her own bed. 

If there is a journey after this life, may it be everything you wished it to be. 
We love you Stacy.

loracs: (Sunset)
Stacy, stonebender's long time attendant and our friend, is in the hospital.  Her niece called and said if we want to see her to go soon.  They don't know how long she will live.  The pancreatic cancer, misdiagnosed for so long, has spread all over. 

I sit here as a non-believer wishing I could pray.  Stacy is very devoutly Christian.  She's very involved with her church, sometimes spending all day Sunday in prayer and worship.  Every Christmas and Thanksgiving she worked serving meals.  She collected clothes for "my homeless" as she called them.  There was always some in the trunk of her car and if she saw someone on the street that looked like they needed something she had, she'd stop and ask them.  She gave as much as she could to support her church and their homeless project.  In Dec. 2007 she collected money from her family and friends because she wanted to directly help someone.  She didn't know who, but she knew she'd find someone.  One day at the laundromat, she met a young woman with two children.  The woman was a single mom living nearby.  She had very little money or family support, but she managed to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads.  Stacy offered to give the woman and her children a ride home.  Stacy told me the next day that she'd found her family to help.  A few days later she knocked on this woman's door and offered her a shopping spree.  Shoes, pants, tops, underwear and socks for everyone, groceries for a week and a couple of toys for the children. 

Stacy never had a lot of money and she worked very hard for what she did have, but she knew she was graced with a large supportive family and her belief in god.  These two things got her through a lot of hard times and when we met her in 2000, she'd become one of the pillars of support for her family.  She and her mother raised her nephew from the day he left the hospital, neither her brother or the baby's mother could take care of him.  Pooh (not his real name, of course, but the only name I heard him called for at least a year) is now 16 years old and plans to go to college.    When she first found out how sick she was she didn't want to tell Pooh because she said "he's never been very good with death, when his gold fish died he was upset for a week." 

Stacy saw her mom through more than a year of hospitalization and nursing home stays.  She is diabetic and eventually loss one of her legs.  Stacy has been her mom's primary caregiver.  When it came time for her mother to get a prosthetic leg and insurance wouldn't cover it, Stacy collected money from her family and they brought her one. 

Now I'm just rambling and procrastinating getting stonebender up.  I have had to wake him up with awful news way to many times, but it's not like I can just wait until he reads this entry while he drinks his coffee.  

One last thing about Stacy - she LOVED our Gilly girl.  She was scared of her when she first started, but eventually she became one of Gilly's people.  One day I realized I was almost out of cans of tuna fish.  I thought I had a little stock pile.  As Gilly aged and went through her own illness, Stacy would sometimes give her a can of tuna to make sure she ate in the morning.  And more than one piece of bacon was slipped into her bowl too.  She missed Gilly as much as we did.  

Now I will be missing both of them. 
loracs: (Default)
 I didn't make it to my friend's memorial yesterday and that makes me very sad.  I wanted to be around other people who knew her.  It was held in her art studio.  I imagine there would be a feeling of life interrupted.  When last she left her studio, did she put everything away, empty the trash?  The current work, sitting on her easel, was it almost done or had she just started it?  

I think about this stuff sometimes; if I don't come home what is the state of my space.  How much laundry is waiting in the hamper - did I actually put all the dirty clothes in there or are there any laying on floor?  What pages are open on my computer?  Are there dirty dishes in the sink?  Are there yucky items in the fridge I should have thrown out days ago?  These are safe things to think about; I don't go near how the people in my life will deal with my death.  

I've wandered away from my original thought.  I didn't make it to the memorial because we took Gilly to the vet.  She was in pain and she is a living, breathing creature.  We are responsible for her and the need to get her help outweighed every other need.  I also missed an important board meeting.  Life is one big negotiation on how to meet our needs. Some days it feels like a triage, who/what do we "save", what can wait, what do we bail on?  Yes, life as triage, that's how I'm feeling right  now.  And it doesn't feel good.
loracs: (rose)
When we let go
of our battles and
open our heart
to things as they are
then we come to rest
in the present moment.

This is the beginning
and the end
of spiritual practice.

-J. Kornfield
This was a card on the desk of my friend Nancy Backstrom, who died so suddenly last week.  This is just So Very Nancy. 
loracs: (rose)

Sixty-four, while maybe not young, is not old either.  First email I read this morning brought me the news of another death.  Nancy Backstrom was a wonderful artist and a superb teacher.  I meet her approx. 15 years ago when she began teaching at Studio One, where I worked.  She was a quiet, kind soul who lived an examined life and she brought all of this to everything she did. A feeling of calm and peace flowed with her - when she walked into a room - the air changed.  You felt more relaxed.  I saw (and felt) this happen many, many times over the years; whether it was a classroom, a staff meeting or my office.  She was a 10 year post diagnoses cancer survivor - no that's not quite right.  She did more than survive; she took the measure of this experience and created another layer to draw on.  During her treatment, cancer did not define her; it was an addendum only. 

When she spoke to you, her eyes meet yours first.  There was a concentration about her gaze that included all of me.  Covering up how I was feeling was never an option with her; when she asked, “How are you?” it was not a social nicety, but a real question meant to have a real answer.  Engagement in the moment, in people, in the issues was her social contract with the world and she did not default on it. 

Nancy loved to problem solve and I think we solved all the ills of the world over the years in my office.  “If only” often started and ended each conversation.  Part of my job was canceling classes when they did not have enough students to cover the basic cost.  A few years ago, her class was one student short of making the cut off.  Nancy came to me with a proposition her students made; they would each pay a little more to make up the difference.  Many of her students took classes from her for years and not having that class would leave a hole in their life.  Now, as a city facility, with a published price for this class, I could not charge people more for this course.  Nancy said, “What if we enroll “someone” and then that “someone” just never showed up?”  I said "give me a registration form and payment for “Someone” and the class will be a go."  An hour later I received a registration form and payment for Beautiful Backstrom.  Beautiful was her cat.  Problem solved.

I had not seen Nancy very much since I changed jobs, but through happenstance, I was at Studio One on July 30th and I hung around long enough for the evening teachers to arrive.  She came through the door, as usual, loaded down with stuff for her class.  That night it was a simple and elegant bouquet of flowers for a still life set up.   The look of recognition spread from wide eyes to a wider smile.  She hurried to empty her arms so we could hug.  The scent of flowers clung to her clothes. 

In all the sadness, I feel a little pocket of happy because that was my last, most current memory of Nancy Backstrom, person extraordinaire and friend.  

 

loracs: (Default)

The theory goes that young people are fearless because they think they are invulnerable.  I remember that time in my life.  The before time, when I couldn’t conceive of anything bad happening to me . . . to other people, sure.  I’d see it on the news all the time, but that would never be me.  There is no one moment when my identity switched from invulnerable to vulnerable.  I can trace the gradual process back to starting in my mid-thirties and becoming more solid by my mid-forties.  Even now, I have a trace of the invulnerable, but it is only a whisper.  The louder voice tells me bad things not only might happen, but WILL happen to me. 

 

Where once wishing parting friends or family a safe trip home was a formality, now those words carry the weight of a prayer.

 

Where once I had little fear of falling, knowing I’d get up with maybe a scrap, or sprain, now I fear the more serious aspect of falling and breaking a bone.  I even fear I might not be able to get up at all without help.

 

Where once I thought having a cell phone was just a cool toy, now I see it as a lifeline and I panic when I’ve left it at home.

 

Where once a cold meant a few annoying days of coughing and sneezing, now I listen intently to my body for signs of an MS flare-up. 

 

Where once I had little fear coming home late at night by myself, now I proceed with caution, checking the area before I get out of the car. 

 

Where once I only sporadically wore my seatbelt, now I use it 99.99% of the time. 

 

Where once I feared verbal taunts by young men on the street for being fat and female, now I fear physical violence just for being in that place at that time. 

 

Have I really become that much more physically weak and defenseless?  Has the world really become a much more dangerous place?  Aging accounts for some of it.  The barrage of media reports of violence has a cumulous effect, I suppose. 

 

My spiritual well is shallow, so thinking about death, specifically my death, does not lend itself to volumes of word.  When I was younger, my death was unthinkable.  I had always been and could not truly understand a time of not being.  Now this amorphous image of my death is taking on a greater firmness of shape.  I cannot see it, but I can smell it.  It may be years or decades away, but it has a measure of time I can comprehend.  “Tomorrow or next week” was forever as a child.  Now tomorrow too quickly becomes last month. 

loracs: (Girl with Pearl Earring)
Unfortunately, it's been confirmed.  It was Casper who was shot and killed by police last Saturday.  Everyone is shocked.  He was a gentle, soft-spoken man.  I own an embossed print of his work.  He donated to Studio One years ago (1992?) for our silent auction and I was high bid.  I brought it into work with me today and hung it on the wall.  I've placed a copy of the article from the newspaper next to it.  At lunch, I'm going to buy a flower to place there also.  

I'm not mad at the police, I know the pressure they are under.  I wish the non-lethal weapons arrived earlier, they were on their way.  It's the larger system that carries the shame of his death.  A health care system that didn't monitor his drugs; he complained many times to his doctors and his friends that he didn't like how the drugs made him feel.  An economic system that caused a 71-year-old man to fear he would lose his low rent apartment and end up on the streets.  He was confused and scared; the system let him down big time.
 
Did he know what he was doing when he raised a replica of a gun towards the police?  We'll never know what he was thinking, but I can't believe that the man who created such incredible art, the man who would sit in my office at Studio One to wait for his friend and my co-worker (T), or sometimes he just came to rest between his errands, the man who was so concerned when I fell outside his apartment as I helped him move a printing press, the man who always wore a cap and a doleful expression until he smiled with a sideways glance at you to make sure you got the joke, that this man’s life ended with a single shot from a policeman’s gun. Too much violence. Too much sadness. Can I go crawl in a hole now, please.

http://www.insidebayarea.com/oaklandtribune/localnews/ci_8610629

My Friend

May. 5th, 2007 11:16 pm
loracs: (Sunset)
She has knocked on death's door before.  She has run back to breath another day.  When everything going in and coming out of the body is contained in sterile plastic bags, when breath rushes in and out on the tick tock of a machine, when the body is just plain worn from the inside out, it may be time to knock on that damn door until someone answers.  

The doctors don't expect her to leave the hospital this time.  They've said this before.  It's different now.  More and more medical intervention to keep her breathing.  The number of places to get good lines in are rapidly decreasing.  And yet, when I saw her 2 weeks ago, she smiled, enjoyed my bad jokes, communicated in one word whispers, a little sign language, and lots of interpretation from her partner.  We talked of silly things; her adventure in learning to drive a power wheelchair, just before she entered the hospital.  Wheelchair- 1, her mother's antique coffee table - 0.  The fence that "jumped" in front of her, snaring her front wheels until helped arrived.  Future plans to get an accessible van and take road trips with their daughters.  

I'm tired for her.  At this moment, I'm too tired to cry. 

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