Friday, September 15, 2017

If you're saving it for good, the time is now...

This is from 2010, and I can't say I remember the reason for writing it. I like it, though. I still feel the same way. Yeah, I know change is good, but I also know that no matter how old I get, I'm not good at it. When I think of collections I think of my mother-in-law's teapots--and of her--and my heart breaks a little, but I also remember the fun she had collecting them and the fun we all had helping her find them. They were, like the quilt I talk about below, well loved, and I like having the ones she gave me.

She had collected experiences, I realized, as much as she had collected all these things. - Jenny Moore

I’m not a collector. I’m also not a saver-of-new-things. About the only thing I collect or save up is dust, and I’m told that’s not in demand on the resale market. While I enjoy other people’s collections, I don’t want any of my own. (In a disclaiming aside here, I will admit to having more fabric than I’ll ever get sewn and two more laptops than I actually need, but I’m not collecting them. Exactly.)

To try put my shattered focus into semi-one-place, let me try this again. I don’t save things for “good.” I don’t have Sunday dishes or company towels or candles that have never been lit. The quilts I have from previous generations are on beds, not put away to be passed on. I’ve learned not to maintain a three-size wardrobe, because even if I lose enough weight to wear the smallest size, I don’t like the clothes anymore.
My grandkids’ drawings are not kept neatly in scrapbooks for them to have and laugh over when they are grown; they hang on the refrigerator until the paper is yellow and curled and has footprints on it from hitting the floor too many times. Sometimes they hang there even longer. My first granddaughter’s drawing of a lion is held in place by a business card magnet. Mari was probably five when she drew the lion and she’s now in her third year at Ball State. I might take it down if she drew me another, but then again I might not. I like it where it is, the way it is.

The drawing would probably look much better if it had been kept clean and flat for fifteen years, but I would not have enjoyed it every day. I wouldn’t have taken a fresh mental snapshot of our own little red-haired girl each time I looked at it. I wouldn’t remember the day of her birth so often.

A few years ago, my daughter-in-law Tahne gave us a set of Christmas dishes. My first thought was to use them just during the holidays, and then only when we had a sit-down meal. This way they would not get broken and sometime in the future, the aforementioned granddaughter would inherit them and look at her mother and say, “What am I supposed to do with these? I don’t think Nana’s washed them since 2005.”

Instead, we use the dishes all the way through the holidays and whenever else we feel like it. That none of them are broken yet is both miraculous and maybe a clue that they are meant to be used and enjoyed whenever the mood strikes, not just at Christmas.

Christmas, by the way, is the reason I’m writing this. I know I’m not saying anything original here. I’m pretty sure there are Lifetime movies based on this very premise. But we’ll get and give gifts at Christmas, which is going to be here in about fifteen minutes, as quickly as time’s going these days. Some of those gifts will be complete failures, some will be okay, some will be fun, and some will be keepers. Ones you put up to use at the perfect time and the perfect place.

I hope you don’t—keep them and put them up, I mean. Use them. Wear them out. My other daughter-in-law, Laura, made me a quilt as a reward for quitting smoking nine years ago. It’s queen-size, beautiful, and never gets too far from my bed, but I told my son I thought maybe I should put it away so it wouldn’t be worn out when it came time for Laura’s and his son to inherit it. He said he thought something well-loved might be a better gift than something well-preserved. I didn’t put it away.

Collecting isn’t bad, by any means, but I’m kind of glad I don’t. I’d rather wear the things in my life out by enjoying them. I don’t want the gifts I give or the ones I receive to be keepers. I’d rather they were things remembered than things passed on to the next generation in good shape.

As another side note (remember my little problem with focus), remember what my son said about well loved being better than well preserved? I think that goes for people, too. Even though I’d like to be a whole lot better preserved than what I am, well loved is better. I wish it for all of you. Till next time.

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Gift of Grief

I don't remember how old this is, and I've used it often enough I apologize if you've read it in another time or another place. I still feel this way. Most of the time. Sometimes when emotional or mental stresses or losses pile on top of each other, it gets nearly impossible to kick the bad stuff to the curb. It's as if you can't even lift your leg under its weight. But once you have, once you've gotten past the "I can't do this" thing, you can find the good. The gift. Finding the gain doesn't get easy, but it has value. Hold onto it.

“Love is an engraved invitation to grief.” ― Sunshine O'DonnellOpen Me
Simply because there is always hope in flowers.

It’s Sunday afternoon when I write this, and the sun is almost out.  How nice it is after two weeks of unremitting gloom.  As it grows lighter outside, I grow lighter inside as well.  Which is odd when you consider what I’ve been thinking about.


We all see a lot of it in our lifetimes.  When we’re young and if we’re lucky, we see it from afar.  We see old people die and it’s too bad, but ... you know, they’re old.  Then, of course, comes the time when it’s not from afar and the person who passes on isn’t old.  This is when we really find out about grief.

My grandmother died when I was seven, and even though it felt strange that she wouldn’t sit at the table and drink from her cracked cup anymore, she was eighty-four.  So I didn’t grieve.  Not really, though to this day, I think of Grandma Shafer when I see a cracked coffee cup.  Then when I was eleven, a 10-year-old schoolmate died.  Forty-some years later, I still feel profound sorrow when I think of her.  She was smart and funny and had so much to give here on earth that even now I have difficulty coming to terms with her death.  But I couldn’t identify the feelings I had about her passing, couldn’t explain the tears that came to my eyes for years whenever I thought about Cindy being buried with her red cowboy boots.

When I was thirteen, I lost the only grandfather I’d ever known, and the hurt came in waves, like the throbbing from a bee sting.  He died in June, and by the time school started, I’d gotten over the worst of it, but junior high was different than it might have been.  Because grief wasn’t far away anymore.

I’ve thought about it, off and on over the years.  When my parents and father-in-law died, it hurt, but the grief part of it was far-flung, long lasting, and unexpected.  Life was so busy — we came home from Louisville after my father-in-law’s viewing to go to my son’s football game, then went back the next day for the funeral — that it just went on.  I would see things, of course, that made me think of the parents we’d lost, and I kept Christmas-shopping for my mother long after she was gone.  She was always hard to buy for, and I’d see things she’d like.  And then, in the middle of J. C. Penney or Kmart, I would mourn, because I couldn’t give them to her.

We often drive by the cemetery where my parents are buried.  Sometimes we are past before I even think about it and occasionally I wave —“Hi, Mom” — and sometimes those bee sting waves of hurt strike again.  They’ve been gone for more than 20 years, how can this be?

Sometimes we grieve for things — items irreplaceable but gone, or times — youth, when everything worked right and gravity was our friend, or even places — remember the Roxy and the railroad hospital and those spooky mansions on North Broadway?  Now and then it is a state of mind we miss, or a conversation we wish could have gone on longer, or a friendship we wish we could go back and fix because we blew it big time.

I write a lot about gifts because, being the Pollyanna sort of person that I am, I think nearly everything is a gift.  While I realize that this can be annoying to people who get tired of trying to be happy when they’re just not, I find it much nicer than being unhappy when I don’t have to.  (Don’t even try and straighten that sentence out; you can’t do it.)  But even I’ve never considered grief a gift.  Until now.

Because until you love somebody or something, you can’t grieve losing them.  I wouldn’t still miss my mother if she hadn’t had such a positive and profound effect of my life.  I wouldn’t remember Cindy’s red cowboy boots if I didn’t recall their owner with affection.  I wouldn’t smile at cracked coffee cups if not for the grandmother who died when I was seven.

The buildings and the times and the friendships that are gone all leave remembrances and, in many cases, laughter, behind them.  So, even though the Roxy is gone, I remember watching Woodstock there and singing along, “, two, three, what are we fighting for...”  And although the high school now climbs the Broadway hill, I remember walking quickly past the railroad hospital because it was scary looking.  It is fun to remember that.

I remember boys who went to Vietnam.  None of them were still boys when they came home, and some didn’t come home at all.  A part of me — and of everyone else who remembers the Vietnam era — mourns them still.  But another part remembers how tall they walked and all that they gave.  There was one who seemed stronger and better than the others and though I’m still sorry he had to go there and I regret the 14 months of his life he can never get back, I’m happy he came home safe.  And married me.

So there you have grief.  It tangles up with memories and joy and good things.  It is, when all is said and done, a gift.

Friday, September 1, 2017

...whatever gives you pleasure... @Vicki Williams

My friend Vicki Williams, whose teaching probably led me to becoming a published writer, wrote this post this past week. It's on her site at You can read it there or, because she gave me permission to post it again, read it here. Either way, don't skip any and don't stop until you reach the end. It's that way with good stuff, you know--you want to skip the middle. You shouldn't, because as in real life and Tootsie Pops, that's where the good stuff is.

Vicki and I are way different, and I'm sure I've made her roll her eyes more than once--the reverse is just as true. What else is true is that she is, in words I'm pretty sure she'll approve of, one gutsy broad. I appreciate all she's taught me and the courage and the friendship she's shared. 

Not that she's done. Not yet.

by Vicki Williams

To Chemo or Not to Chemo


When Jim and I were young, we both swore that should we ever be diagnosed with the Big C, we would refuse treatment. But then it happened. Jim got pneumonia that didn't respond to the medicine they gave him. His VA doctors ran tests and called him into inform him that he had lung cancer, the inoperable kind, the terminal kind. The Veteran's Administration doesn't mince words.

"If you have treatment, we might be able to buy you two years. Without it, you'll be dead in two months."

Two months doesn't sound like a very long time when you're only 44 years old. He said yes to the treatment and we started on a 19 month ordeal of chemotherapy (13 sessions three weeks apart), radiation (five times a week for 5 weeks), a heart attack (brought on by the chemo), isolation (due to an infected tooth and a low white blood count) and then more chemo.

At the time, none of this could be done locally so we made 100-mile round trips to the VA Hospital in Fort Wayne.

He was nauseated and vomiting much of the time during chemo. This throat had sores from radiation and he could only eat food like soups or pudding. He got so bone-tired during radiation that I had to feed him part of the time as he was too weak to lift a spoon.  Of course, he lost his hair (which doesn't sound that important in the scheme of what all was going on but it is traumatic to the people involved. In fact, Jim told me if he died when he was bald, I was absolutely not allowed to have an open casket..

He was 6 feet tall and weighed 180 pounds when he was diagnosed. He weighed 135 when he died.

After the first series of chemotherapy treatments, the doctors told him that his tumor had shrunk so much that it couldn't be located on an x-ray. Yay, right? Not so fast. As I said, the VA doesn't sugar-coat anything. The doctors also said that if there was even one cell left, and that was a sure thing, then it would begin growing again.

The chemo was followed by the radiation. When that was over, they recommended more chemo. If I remember right, he had three sessions before the hospital told him, he was so weak, his body couldn't tolerate any more. He lived two more months.

All during his final months, I continued to believe that if I ever got cancer,  I would refuse treatment.  You never really know how you'll feel until you're faced with it. Life can be ironic.

In July of 2015, my dog tripped me and I fell down the stairs.

"Shit," I thought, "I hope this isn't one of those I've-fallen-and-I-can't-get-up scenarios."

It wasn't but I knew I'd broken some ribs. The pain from broken ribs is intense. You can't sit up or lay down or walk or breathe or laugh or cough without feeling as if lightning bolts are jagging through your insides.

After a few days, I went to the Redi-Med Clinic to get some pain pills. In order to prescribe the pills, they had to do xrays to see if I really did have broken ribs. I did.

Then the nurse came out and said, "we found a spot on your lung. We've made an appointment for a cat scan."

"Don't you think you should have asked me first?" I asked.

She looked startled, then told me, "well, if you don't want it, it's up to you to cancel it.

So, I did.

When I saw my family doctor, she said, "Vicki, you know my recommendation is that you have the cat scan."

"I look at it this way: if it's not cancer, then the cat scan doesn't matter. If it is cancer, it still doesn't matter because I don't plan to do anything about it."

The following May, I had what I guess you'd call an "episode". I woke up in the middle of the night panting for breath. I felt like a heavy boulder was sitting on my chest. I tried to go back to sleep but I couldn't so I finally came downstairs and made a cup of coffee, debating with myself about what to do. I knew I wasn't able to get dressed and drive myself to the emergency room. I didn't want to call an ambulance because I knew they'd ship me off to Fort Wayne. I didn't want to go to Fort Wayne. It honestly never occurred to me to call any of my friends though they all asked me why later.

So, I went and sat in my recliner and dozed off and on. The pressure eventually subsided but the shortness of breath didn't. I was watching the clock, planning to go to work but when the time came, I told myself, "Old Girl, you're fooling yourself if you think you can drive to Kokomo (45 miles) and talk to clients." So I called in sick.

I worked for another three weeks. My main symptom was exhaustion. I slept a lot when I wasn't working.

When I was young, in my family, if you got sick, your Mom always told you to go lay on the couch. They'd let that go on for a couple days to see if you'd get well on your own. If you didn't, they'd give in and take you to the doctor. What I did in this instance was sort of my version of that philosophy.

Finally, one day I was coming from one of the courthouses where I conducted intake for low income clients. I walked down the halls, panting, and got to the doors. I could see my car parked across the street.

I thought, "I can't make it that far. I'm going to collapse on the Courthouse lawn and make a spectacle of myself."

I forced myself to take a step and then another step and eventually made it to the car. The next day, I called my clinic and they told me to go to the E.R.

I was there for four hours having test after test, for one, the dreaded CAT scan and for another, an arterial blood draw which, if you've never had one, is nothing like a regular blood draw when it comes to pain. My little woman couldn't get her needle into my vein. She poked and prodded and changed its direction. She felt so terrible, she was almost crying. In the end, she said to go do my x-rays and she'd come try again in the other arm afterwards. That time she got it after only a few tries.

The doctor came in after he had all my results.

"Well," he said, "the spot on your lung is definitely cancer....and in addition to that....."

"Wait," I exclaimed, "you mean there's more."

"Yes, in addition to that you've got some congestive heart failure going on."

They gave a intravenous dose of Lasix. Lasix makes you urinate to get rid of the excess fluid around your heart and lungs.

The emergency room doctor advised me to see a pulmonologist.

I went home with a sheaf of papers the size of an encyclopedia. I threw them on the kitchen table and threw myself on the sofa. I never looked at them again.

The Lasix began to wear off and I was back to panting again. I decided to see the pulmonologist. I got the stack of papers from E.R. that were still on the kitchen table and, low and behold, there was a prescription for Lasix (actually Furosemide - same thing). My girlfriend ran to the drugstore to have it filled.

A friend took me to Fort Wayne where the pulmonologist was located (of course). He looked at all my paperwork. (The Fort Wayne Hospital is allied with the massive Parkview system, as is my home hospital in Wabash.

"Stage 3 lung cancer," he pronounced. "Do you want to tell me you your options?"

"No, I've already made my decision. No treatment."

He looked at my papers again. "I see you're a long time smoker."

"You're not going to give me a lecture about smoking now, are you, Doc?"

"No," he smiled, "I'm going to tell you to go home and do whatever gives you pleasure."

I smiled back. "Good, because that's what I was going to do anyway."

I quit my job the next day. It had been such a strain to keep going on when I felt so terrible and had so little stamina, that it was a huge relief to have the responsibility off my shoulders.

My family doctor had been on vacation but as soon as she came back, she gave me an appointment.

I love my doctor. She's the perfect doctor to have during stressful times, a friend as well as a physician.

She did some more tests and discovered my sugar was very low and so was my blood pressure. She took me off some of my medications. She sent me to the lab for a test for Potassium.

Turned out my Potassium was fine but I was extremely anemic. So she started me on iron pills.

I call them my miracle pills. I went from barely being able to walk across the room and napping off and on all day to feeling a lot like my old self. I couldn't run around the block but I stay up all day now. When I was so far down, I practically made the Walgreen's, which is two blocks from my house, my main grocery store. I just couldn't face walking around a large store like Krogers. After the iron pills, I could go to Kroger's again.

Of course, a lot of my friends tried to encourage to have the cancer treatments and if I'd had a husband or kids or anyone else depending on me, I might have. As it is, my mother, who'd had dementia and whom I'd retired once before to care of, died in 2013. My only child died in 2015. Now, there is no one who needs me to take care of them and I damn well hope no one ever has to take care of me.

I tell people that I feel like I'm in a boat, just drifting around, watching the sun and the water and the palm trees. I know my boat has a leak in it and some day it will sink but until then I'm enjoying my life. I feel fine right now. I have my pets for company; I plink around on the computer; I watch t.v. I'm still passionately interested in politics. I still live for the NASCAR races. I still love casinos. I can't wait for Outlander to start again. My friends come and see me.

When I compare my life to Jim's last 19 months of tests and treatments and infusions and hospitals, I think, I'm way ahead of the game.

I've never been afraid to die. Sometimes when I'm lying in my bed (I some times have to struggle to get up the stairs but my bedroom has been my bedroom since 1991 and it feels like my safe space) I think to myself, "I hope I die right here", then I close my eyes and go to sleep.