Saturday, March 19, 2011

Crash, Burn and Re-group

Thursday night I lost it. I know what (who) got it started, but it was a long time coming. After dinner with another couple that I am trying desperately to consider "friends," but who continue to press buttons that make that a challenge, I got in the car and before Sam had backed out of the parking space I was wailing. This is not an over-statement. It was the kind of crying that feels like I might turn completely inside out. There was moaning and screeching and sobbing. Somehow Sam managed to drive us home. I even scared myself a bit. I knew that I could choose to get a grip, but I chose not to. I just wallowed in letting go and getting it all out. I continued a bit after we got home; a limp mass on our bed sobbing and then groaning until I realized that both Sam and the dog had gone downstairs to get away from what clearly appeared to be a psychotic break. I figured I should pull it together before the men in white coats showed up.

The past few months have carried numerous stresses and moments of pain and sorrow. Throughout the fall and winter I have nursed continuous worry for my son who is struggling emotionally while somehow managing to do well in the first year of his PhD program. I think there will be a break-up with his girlfriend within a week and I believe (hope) that will help with his anxiety and as a result, with mine. I start each day hoping it will be a good one for him and I go to bed each night praying that he might find a way to fall asleep. I get a daily report each evening as he waits for the bus in Seattle's winter rain and rarely do I hear a spark of anything close to happiness. It has been hard.

My dear friend Sue died in January. She had survived ocular melanoma in 2004 but five years later it returned in her liver. The early prognosis was for 3-6 months, but Sue has the determination, and at times the demeanor, of a bull and she sought out trials and managed to keep the inevitable at bay for over a year. In November of last year the tumor started to win and grow and the cancer was showing up in her heart and lungs. They tried new treatments but I think we all knew the battle was being lost. Sue was healthy and worked right up until Christmas. Her goal was to have Christmas with her family and to make it to her 58th birthday which will be on April 2nd. But the day her family returned to California she started to turn yellow. I saw her the first week in January and it was clear that she had turned a corner. A week later the doctor told her she had 2 weeks to live. Hospice came in that night and set up a bed in her family room. The next day I saw her in the afternoon and she was blissfully drugged up, but clear-of-mind. We held hands and shared "I-love-yous," then she said, "Ok, bye now." That night she died. It has been 2 months and I still find myself reaching for the phone to call her.

I have reached the age where my parents and those of my friends are truly elderly. One mother fell and broke her hip; another fell and hit her head on concrete and died several days later from the brain trauma; my ex-mother-in-law had a stroke, and each time I call "home" I realize that my own mother doesn't find the word that she wants as readily as I expect and at times she just chooses another. Aging - it is inevitable and even at 50 I am very aware of the mighty force it uses on our bodies, but the reminders that this generation above me will soon be gone and I'll be the "old people," can be sobering. There is too much to see and do - in many ways I have only recently discovered what I enjoy. This year my son will be half my age - in that much more time I will be my mother's age. It goes too quickly.

Our Corgi is slowing down and soon we will have to make "the decision." He has a neurological condition that is not treatable and he is losing the use of his back legs. One day he will not be able to get up, and then we will know. We are watching for signs from him but for now he still has moments of puppy-like joy and as long as we see that we'll celebrate having him in our lives. There is no physical pain with this and so we stay alert to his sense of pride more than anything.

And then there is the news. For Lent I have given up reading anything about national politics because it is discouraging and causes spikes of rage inside of me, and has really become so petty. But I will not stop reading about the things that are real. The numerous Arab nations where the people have decided to use their voices and demand democracy and the resulting violence: and now today we have launched air strikes on Libya. Whenever we get involved I think of all the suffering and abuse that we have not used our might to try and resolve - Rwanda comes to mind - or famine that is a constant abuse in Sub-Saharan Africa. The list is long. Human suffering. I can barely read about Japan - the children gathered in their classroom a week later still waiting for their parents to come pick them up; the snow and freezing temperatures that have hindered any lingering search and rescue attempts in areas destroyed by the tsunami - a touching, but heartbreaking tale of two dogs, one near death and the other muddy and cold, but standing by his dying friend. I didn't read that story until the headline made it clear they had been rescued. The pain is so strong as a spectator far away- what must it be like for the 50 year-old mother who has lost everything and doesn't yet know if her son and daughter are alive or dead? Not to mention the pending consequences of the nuclear meltdown...

At work it is the time of year when we get endless phone calls from kids and their parents hoping, asking, and at times begging for more financial aid so that they can "make their dream come true." They really believe I can do something if they just talk to me. Only I know they are just a cell on a matrix that is a combination of their grades, test scores and financial need.

I carry all of these things inside. I don't have a very good filter but instead I feel it all is if it is happening to me or my kids or my mother or my dog.

And so sometimes I fall apart. The last time I cried like that was in 2006 after another long period of stresses and life-changes. That night I thought I hit a cat with my car and that was the trigger. (Sam took the car back and swears he didn't find a dead cat, but I have never believed that). That night the dog ran downstairs to get away from me too. So much for "man's best friend."

I woke up Friday morning feeling as if I was at the bottom of a cliff. I have written before about clinging to the edge when I feel depression looking for me, but this time I didn't have a chance to get a hand-hold, I just went - free fall all the way to the canyon floor. I was frightened. I have not fallen all the way since I met Sam and I didn't know what to expect. But today I am ok. A friend wrote recently that if you let depression take you - as if you are drowning in the deep end but you don't fight it and instead you sink to the bottom without a struggle, then you can use that momentum to spring back up again. Perhaps she has found the secret to a quick rebound.

I am alone this weekend. Sam is skiing with a friend and I am home with the elderly Corgi. I realize that I am never alone. Never still. My first impulse is to go someplace or at least go for a run or clean the house or something that will justify the space I am taking up. But I have decided to use this time to be still and to re-group. I will read and meditate and drink green tea and hopefully by Monday I'll be ready to face another week.

Totally unrelated photo except that I remember at that moment thinking about how happy I was and recognizing that I should note that for use later as a memory.


  1. Laura it is some months since you posted, so reading this post made me think that you really did need to find a way of pouring your heart out. You are at that very difficult stage in life, I know and understand as a few years ahead of you. This millenium we have had three very close friends die too early and one parent, two more now in nursing homes and it shakes you to the core. Try to stay positive and be grateful for the good things in life. I bet you cannot wait for your trip :) Take Care.

  2. Laura my apologies, this an old post so why it showed up in my google reader as a recent post I have no idea. Anyway I hope you are feeling much brighter now almost a month later!

  3. Hi, Laura, what strikes me about this post is that you are not neurotic at all-- your meltdown is a very normal human response to a pile of stuff that isn't easy! I hope you'll take time to show yourself compassion, to feel love for the woman who bears up under all these struggles. Above all, don't blame yourself. And if you slip into that, try to hold the negative stuff lightly. It passes. You've got a lot of skill negotiating all of this. Hugs!!

  4. Hi Laura
    I now have no other way of contacting you as your profile does not have an email or message facility and you have disappeared as promised for awhile from FB!
    Thankyou for calling by and taking the time to comment on the Our Garden in August post.
    In answer to your question about the variety of figs I have absolutely no idea, sorry.
    Do Take Care and keep in touch.