Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Most Bizarre E-mail I've Ever Received

My blog before this one was a heartfelt expression of my thoughts and feelings about a friend named Jane, an unfortunate victim of a stroke. Last week we received an invitation to meet with some of her friends, but we declined because we had already planned to make the 1-1/2-hour drive to visit Jane herself, just a day before the gathering. After our visit I received an e-mail from the woman who had invited us, asking me how our visit with Jane went. I responded politely, and suggested she might like to read my blog. She then replied to me with the most bizarre e-mail I've ever received. It appears here, with her name deleted.

From: .... [] Sent: Tuesday, September 28, 2010 10:03 PMTo: Ginny LucasSubject: Re: Jane

Jesus Christ, oh God, you were not there for any of this. What a jackass you are. Ha ha I read your blog. We have been there from day one trying to help our Jane. Gads, get a grip on yourself you stupid fool and go back there and try to help Jane as I have done since we saved her life thinking she had the flu back on March 24th. She asked for my help & my husband & I gave it, saving her life, following her from hospital to hospital, moving her possessions, answering the calls of her nurses & doctors daily, taking care of her car, her possessions, watching out for Jane. Wow, who are you or what you have to do with Jane we will never know everyone else, tons of people have tried to help her. Your blog is bullshit and you are a fool for writing it about our Jane.

On a personal note, I was first absolutely astonished, and then plain pissed. From the perspective of psychology, I found this an interesting study and a sad display of emotional disturbance. When Frank read it he was appalled. He and I talked about it, and discussed whether or not I should even dignify it with an answer. After careful deliberation, I sent the following to "...."

We’ve known Jane about twenty-five years, but were not in close touch. Two or three times a year one of us would call the other and talk for an hour or so. It was always as though no time at all had passed since the last call. Every few years she would come and stay with us for several days. Everyone in the family enjoyed dropping by to see her.

Had we lived in San Jose and had she called us, we would have done for her exactly what you and your husband did. I find it sad that, instead of feeling grateful that you were in a position to help, and proud of yourself for taking on such a monumental responsibility, and honored to be the people she turned to in need, you are apparently resentful and bitter, and certainly hateful. This boggles my mind. I find it hard to believe that Jane would have a friend of your caliber… arrogant, petty and so vitriolic. Obviously your connection with her isn’t grounded in her love of Buddhism.

I know Jane well enough to know how she would feel about what I’ve written, and how she would feel about what you have written. You are bitching in tone about what an imposition it was to “save her life” and implying that no one else has the right to hurt for her because they didn’t do what you did. How pompous of you.

My husband and I will visit Jane as and when we choose to. And certainly not because you have TOLD us to. Excuse me but who the hell do you think YOU are? We were told by staff that she is not, cannot process mentally, and has little if any recognition of visitors. Based on the tone of your irrational, rude, in fact despicable e-mail, do you think for one second I would place greater value in what you say about her condition, than what they say?

And by the way, touching though it is that you call her “our Jane,” she does not belong to you or to anyone else. Your thinking so, hints of a God complex. Your involvement and long term stress has obviously taken its toll on you. You might want to seriously consider getting professional help.

Don’t bother responding.

We blocked any future e-mail from her, because it goes without saying that you cannot carry on a rational exchange with an irrational person. I was sincere in my suggestion that she seek professional help. Raw emotions can be ugly monsters that raise their head to strike out at others, and if you care about those others, you do what you can to calm them, even if it is after the fact. That's what therapy is all about, and of course the concept of forgiveness, inherent to all major religions. "...." obviously doesn't care about me, which is perfectly fine. I hope she cares enough about herself though, to come to healthy terms with her psychological upheaval.

To mix metaphors, there will be no fence mending between "...." and me. Fence mending takes time and energy, both of which diminish as we grow older. I don't have as much of either, as I used to. I've learned in my old age to save my time and energy for the relationships that are near and dear, and even then I no longer rush in where I'm not wanted, to try to do the job alone. It isn't enough that I care. Others have to care too, if there is to be a fix.

As for "...." the fact is I don't care about her anymore than she cares about me, except to be thankful that there was someone in a position to handle matters for Jane when she could no longer do so herself. I find it regrettable, however, that this person's participation didn't elevate her to a higher place. I wish her well.

And hope to hell her path never crosses mine again.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Stroke of Genius Named Jane

I can't stop thinking about my friend Jane. She is in a convalescent hospital following a stroke, and that's all we knew until we visited her recently. We intentionally waited several months from the time of the incident, hoping for improvement and allowing her time to adjust to her new circumstances. I asked myself, in her condition would I want people swarming to my side to see me at my worst?

So now she is apparently at her best, but to say that her best isn't what it used to be is a gross understatement and an insult to the woman I know and love. In my naivete I thought (hoped) that she would be making progress all this time, and that the healing would continue. The hospital staff assured me a few days ago that this is not the case. Jane will live out her days being bathed, dressed, and fed pureed foods, by others.

It seems odd to speak of her in the past tense, but necessary. She was a brilliant woman. An attorney most of her life, but always engaged with life apart from her career. She read voraciously, and anytime she found a topic that caught her interest, she "went there." She investigated it with passion, and if possible she went there literally... travelling to places she had studied, to get to know them firsthand. She would come home running over with stories that braided "way back when" (history) and "then" (her visit) and "now" (her reliving the personal experience) like Dorothy's hair in the Wizard of Oz. Something you can count on. Jane's voice danced across details and her eyes sparkled like spotlights showing her off as the star of the show, and the show was the life she created for herself.

Yet she was keenly interested in the lives of others. When she asked about my scattered family, for example, she always remembered everyone's name, where we left off the last time we spoke of their circumstances, and she genuinely wanted to know more. She asked questions not like an attorney holding interrogatories, but more like a top notch therapist needing to delve deeply enough to gain an understanding. If she could have she would have phoned each one of my kids and grandkids, written to or e-mailed each one of them, visited each one of them, the way she approached every other topic of interest. But of course her time and energy were limited, even though her curiosity and caring were not.

She had the idiosyncrasies not uncommon to geniuses, sometimes viewed by others as flaws. Her glasses were often smudged, her clothes unkempt, her plans disorganized. But those were part of what made Jane... Jane. She had a laugh that still rings in my ears, a wonderful laugh, heartfelt and hearty. She loved to laugh, and laughed a lot.

Now she looks at visitors with no expression on her face, although she does look at her visitors. If her eyes wander off, she somehow brings them back. There's no way of knowing if she can understand what we say to her, and although the staff assured us she can say "yes" and "no," she said nothing while we sat with her, holding her hands. Made no sound. Other than the sound, now and then, of someone trying hard to cry but unable to do even that to her own satisfaction.

If I know anything about Jane, I know she wants desperately... to understand what happened to her, and why, and what she can do to have her life back. But this, of course is speculation. Staff assured me she cannot process mentally. I almost hope that's true. I hope she has no inkling of where she is or why, or even who these people are, holding her hands and holding back their own tears as they try to say the right thing, whatever that means at a time like this. If this is the case, if she has no intellectual awareness, then there is nothing left of Jane there in that wheelchair, except a shell.

And the question I'm left with is whether or not to visit that shell again. I will, at least once more, in time, because my recent visit has left me bleeding at some level where a band aid won't reach. She tried to cry several times throughout our visit, including as we left. I promised her we will be back and I'll keep that promise. Because, I tell myself, shells don't cry. And the next question becomes: do we want to go back, should we, what's the point if we... make her cry? But crying may be all she has left.

Some would say, "It's about you. You visit her to make yourself feel better." But, trust me, seeing her doesn't make me feel better. It hurts. Bad. Maybe what it comes down to is being there to share her suffering. If creating heartache for myself lessens hers, I'm willing to do that. Again, there's no way to know. But if pain is the only place Jane and I can connect, I'll go there for her, rather than leave her there alone.

Alone is a nice place to visit, but no one should ever have to live there. Because that's not living. Not even close.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Thing About Things

I know we're not supposed to love "things." Actually, technically, I believe it's okay to love things as long as we're not attached to them. Emotionally, that is, not as in joined at the hip.

And of course we have to take into consideration the definition of love. Is it a feeling that enfolds such qualities as trust and loyalty and commitment, or is it merely a blip that appears on our radar screen regardless of the quality of a relationship? You may know someone who says "I love you" the way others say "God bless you" when a person sneezes. That kind of "I love you" -- forged from shallow habit --sounds good, but it's based on quantity (being said to practically everyone), not quality, as in "What we have is special."

That having been said, let's get back to things. These are some of the things I love, and why:

I love my bathtub. My husband installed it when I retired, so that I could take my luxuriating to a higher level than a mere soak. My tub has adjustable jets that churn the water, and a heating system that keeps the water at a desired temperature regardless of how long I remain emerged. I've had it for seven years now and I suppose I could become blase and simply take it for granted, but I choose to remain appreciative and enthralled.

I love crickets. Not the little critters themselves, but the sound they make rubbing their little legs together in an attempt to find a mate, and announcing the arrival of spring. I've had people tell me their chirping drives them nuts, but to me it's a nighttime lullaby that connects me with nature even as I rest indoors, snug in my soft, warm bed.

I love the first big sip of a cold beer from a frosty bottle, on a hot summer day. Anything after that first sip looses my interest and I may continue drinking the brew to be polite, but I'll never down the last swallow from the bottom of the bottle. By then, it's already over for me. And I don't need another. But that one beer has to be cold, and it has to be in a bottle, not a can or a cup or a glass. Well, maybe a glass, if it's not plastic or styrofoam or cardboard. A glass glass.

I love the thing that happens when my horse and I look into each other's eyes. It doesn't happen with all horses, not even those I "owned" years ago. Just Brandi. It doesn't happen now and then, it happens every time we look at each other. There's a message that passes between us, that can't be put into words. It didn't happen at the onset of our relationship, it simple appeared at some point in time, and took my breath away. It still does.

I love the American Flag. For most of my life I took it for granted and assigned it little value, until I attended my father's burial with full military honors. The flag that draped his casket brought home to me the message that my father, at great personal risk and sacrifice, devoted his life to defending what our flag stands for. Now when I see our flag, I sigh. A deep in-breath fills me with loyalty to my father and gratitude to others like him, and an out breath directs my emotions toward all who have earned and will forever deserve my deep admiration.

I love gardenias. They're very assertive. Even though they have a "what-you-see-is-what-you-get" attitude, you know when one is nearby even if you can't see it. Their fragrance is distinctive, never to be confused with the rose or sweet pea, for example. And they're so self-confident that they don't need to dress up in colors. White does quite nicely, thank you very much. Nothng subtle about a gardenia, or pretentious. It makes itself known unapologetically. It is authentic if it is anything.

Lastly, I love love. It is a warm and fuzzy thing, but also has some rough edges. It isn't for the weak of heart. It can lift you up and it can drop you down. Either way there's no denying it's power. It's what makes life worth living, and even when it's bad, it's good. You simply need to accept that love, like everything else in life, changes. It's a living thing. It can take some lumps, and if they aren't too many and don't come too hard too fast for too long, it can self-heal. It can also fade, which simply means transform itself into something perhaps indiscernible. I don't believe it goes away. It just goes into hiding -- and sometimes stays there, rather than go back to where it is unwanted, unappreciated, or unnurtured.

So the thing about things is that things matter. When we run into trouble, is when they matter too much.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Grandkids Are Great. Animals Are Awesome.

When I was a child we always had a family dog. The first one I remember was when I lived with my gramma. He was named Boxer. He was old, always dusty, and walked on three legs with the fourth bent permanently up against his ribs after having been hit by a car. When my mother remarried after divorcing my father, my sister and I moved in to live with her and our stepfather, and a succession of dachunds began, but later as a mother myself, our dogs were of various breeds and were joined by cats, hamsters, parakeets, and so on. I've always loved animals of all species, shapes, colors and sizes.

At some point in my forties, and for some reason I still can't identify, I became fixated on seals. Maybe because the seashore is a favorite retreat of mine. But I began to collect pictures of seals, ceramic, stuffed, sandstone, and so on -- seals. This placated me somewhat, but -- I wanted to touch a real seal! And sure enough, on a trip to Sea World, trainers brought a seal out of the water to sit on a platform and I was chosen from the crowd of volunteers to come forward and pet him. I'll always remember that magical moment. His name was Peabody. Touching him, touched me. Some silly (?) need inside me was met that day.

Later it became all about wolves. I had photos of wolves, paintings of wolves, posters of wolves, statues of wolves, and of course soft, stuffed wolves. But I wanted a relationship with a real wolf! I heard of a wolf rescue program in the foothills, and my son drove me to pick out a hybrid to bring home. I chose the runt of the pack, a female I named Albertine. My son brought a male home and named him Mano; but it wasn't long before Mano outgrew my son's back yard, so came to live with his sister. The two of them decimated our huge yard, and proved what we had heard -- that wolves are different from dogs. They were sweet and I loved them, but they lived in their own world. After a year we found a home for them with old friends of ours, where they could be together on a large ocean side ranch south of Ensenada, Mexico. I cried when they left. Mano jumped in the van, tail wagging, and wanted to drive! But Albertine hid behind me and I had to pick her up and put her in. She had been neutered, but we later learned that Mano fathered many pups. I still think of them often, and remember how they loved our back yard, playing in and drinking from our waterfall.

Eagles came next, and the longstanding theme of my bathroom is... eagles. Beautiful wood, glass, ceramic and brass eagles fill the shelves of my greenhouse window. No, I've never owned a real eagle, but here's a cute thing that happened. About a year ago we rescued a pet cockatiel that either got loose or was set free. We bought a cage, taught him to say his new name, and my little granddaughters loved talking to him. Annabella, five at the time, went to school one day and told her teacher excitedly, "My gramma owns an EAGLE!"

Of course there is a special place in my heart for horses, and I can't tell you when that began. I had horses many years ago and have had one more recently for seven years now. Although I don't think of her as "mine." I think of myself as "Brandi's person." When she is gone I'll never have another. I feel toward her the way I feel toward my husband. No one will ever take their place. The memory of them will have to carry me through to the end of my days, if I'm ever to be left without them.

After a knee injury in Alaska, I tried yesterday for the first time to ride. I was able to get into the saddle, but when I tried to place my right foot in the stirrup my knee was having none of it. The "ride" lasted all of 30 seconds, and I was so disappointed. But looking back, what comforts me is reliving the exchange of energy that took place between Brandi and me. There's always something in her eyes that sends a heartfelt message, and yesterday she was particularly patient with me and gave me "love nudges" to boot. I think she was as disappointed as I was, that we didn't get to play.

Aside from the sprained knee, my husband and I have been caught up in a family crisis that has affected us deeply. We're helping each other through it, and our dog (Artax) and cat (Mismatch) have been even more tender and attentive than usual. They seem to sense our sorrow, our sense of injustice and helplessness. As is usually the case with animals, they ask no questions and make no judgments, they simply accept us and do what they can to provide solace. They offer unflinching loyalty that is much needed and much lacking, at this stage of our life. Yeah. As we age, things change. Including the way others think and feel about us, and behave toward us. As my clever little Annabella once said when she was four and broke a crayon, "It's just part of life Gramma." Grandchildren are great. They're irreplacable.

Animals are awesome. They're irreplacable, too.

Once precious grandchildren and special animals have touched your life, even in their absence you can never feel alone. You just have to dig deep enough inside yourself, to where their love lives.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

On Injuries, Healing, and Falling Apart

My daughter's dog Artax was her "practice baby," meaning when he was hers she did everything but put a bonnet on him and wrap him in a baby blanket. When she actually became pregnant, we all knew Artax would not do well in second place, so she gave him to my husband and me. He fit perfectly into our empty nest.

We call ourselves Gramma and Grampa to him, as in "Gramma and Grampa have to leave for awhile but we'll be back." He has severe separation anxiety, and that's a fact. He has a doggie door and goes outside to... take care of business... but otherwise he is indoors and either at my side, in my lap (all 65 lbs. of him), or close at my feet. He sleeps with us, and during the night, if Frank and I happen to move apart, we wake up to find him lying between us, head on pillow. Aside from that, if Frank gets out of bed before me, Artax moves immediately to take over my husband's side of the bed.

One morning Artax lept into bed to be beside me, and pawed at my face as a gesture of affection. Unfortunately I opened my eyes at that very second, and his long, rough toenail went into my eye. In a more alert state I would have blinked instantaneously, which would have let my eyelid provide some protection; but I was still in a groggy state and so an injury was incurred. Two scratch marks from top to bottom across the center of the cornea.

In the three hours we waited for Urgent Care to open, I kept a compress on it and focused on banishing fearful thoughts as they entered my mind. "I'm going to be blind in one eye." "I'm going to need surgery." "I'm going to have to cancel my trip to Alaska." I converted these to, "The body is designed to heal, and healing has already begun." It's great to have training that kicks in when you need it. I used slow, deep breathing to keep myself calm, and Frank used hypnosis with me to reduce the pain.

I was not the least bit angry at Artax, in fact I felt sorry for him. He realized there was a problem that he had had a hand (or paw) in, but smart as dogs are, he of course could not apply any reasoning beyond that. When I came home from seeing the doctor, I had gauze and tape that covered half my face, plus professional assurance that no permanent damage had been done. Artax cuddled up to me with his chin in my lap, but kept his paws to himself. By the time I left for Alaska three days later, I was able to replace the patch with dark glasses, and continue the antibiotic drops on my trip.

It sounds somewhat mild as I write about it now, but Frank and I were both very scared at the time and, no pun intended, I keep a closer eye now on Artax's paws.

There was a time when I would have fallen apart, but as a therapist I've spent years helping clients not fall apart, and on a personal level I've learned from my own past experiences that falling apart is easy, but putting yourself back together again later isn't. Better to avoid that problem, than try to fix it.

Sinking requires no energy or effort, which is why it is part of our nature to wind up in a low place from time to time, whether we wanted to go there or not. Rising up again afterwards is the challenge. Sometimes, some people can't recuperate alone, and the fortunate ones have others who care enough about them to help with the heavy lifting. Sadly, there are also some who, in a low place themselves, can hold us down -- because they like the company and lack the initiative to do anything but settle in and hope you'll do the same.

This is why it is so important to surround yourself with people who help make your life better, and who help you to be a better person (which isn't all about you. It's also about how you treat others). I am fortunate and grateful that for me, there is always Frank. We've been through worse than the Artax incident together, and have grown closer as a result. We have our differences, we have our own highs and lows. but most importantly we have each other. Even when one of us is "gone" (and we're at the age where this thinking is significant), one of us will still have the other, because I have internalized him and he has internalized me, and we are both better persons for it. "Till death do you part" doesn't apply to us. Nothing will ever keep us apart. There is a line from some movie or other, about a wife who has died: "She's gone, but I'm still married to her."

But enough about Frank and me. What comes to mind when I ask myself how I can offer readers something of value to apply in their own lives, is a simple technique that helps when facing a difficult choice: ask yourself, "What, in the long run, is going to let me feel better about myself as a person?" As an example, to be candid, I didn't like my mother and she didn't like me, and there were times when I didn't want to invite her to this or that event. I learned that it always feels better to be inclusive, than exclusive. It lets me feel better about myself. Maybe all those Sunday School classes did some good when I was a kid, after all. Love and foregiveness are somewhere to be found in all religions, though sometimes confined to empty rhetoric rather than actual application.

On a global level, wouldn't it be wonderful if races, cultures and religions could live out the concept of inclusion -- letting others in, accepting them rather than rejecting them because they aren't who or what or how you want them to be? But what are the odds, when there are so many individuals who don't get it.

It's so much easier to settle for a crappy fence, to let it fall apart rather than make the effort to maintain or mend it.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Like Mother, Like Daughter

My daughter is expecting her third daughter any day now, which means for awhile she won’t be able to walk our firstgrader right up to the classroom door, as in the past. I recently received this “report,” which I found so amusing I asked Jenn’s permission to post it as a blog. The “steps” she describes took place over a period of many days.

My first step was to walk Annabella to the same gate where I will soon be dropping her from my car. I let her lead as I walked behind her to make sure she knows where to go and what to do, etc.  

If the kids get there early they get to play on the playground until the bell rings, when they line up outside their classroom. So my next step was to, after following her lead, sit and watch her on the playground. I then walked her to line up for class, waiting to watch her walk into the room, and waving goodbye to her.

My next step was to say good-bye to her as she left me to go and drop her back pack at the door to her classroom and head off to the playground alone. Then I watched her play without her knowing it, and followed her to make sure she lined up for class without me.

Next, I said good-bye to her after her back pack drop-off, and stayed in the courtyard across from her classroom where I could still secretly watch her line up. This was to make sure she made it there from the playground alone, as she was supposed to. 

Next step, I followed her to her classroom as I had been doing but I actually left when she went to the playground, hoping she would remember where to go and when, then line up as expected. She did fine.

Today: the BIG step! I took her to the gate where I will be dropping her from my car, stayed there and let her go through the entire routine all by herself. I did watch her from the gate, of course. I saw her walk across the big courtyard without me, like such a big girl, put her backpack down by her classroom door, walk off to the playground, and go to line up when the bell rang. I was so proud! And then I left! 

Part of me wants to call the school to make sure she got to class okay, but I realize this is just me feeling insecure.

It's so hard to let your kids grow up!