Monday, August 30, 2010

Books and ribbons

We went to Books-A-Million the other day, like we need more than the umpteen thousand books we already have, but sometimes a little retail therapy is nice. I usually have no interest in the self-help section, but this time I wandered over to it. After lots of scowling at the offerings, I found a book on grieving that looked fairly helpful and intelligent.

Then I put it back. I've found or been given 2 books and a website already. Is there really any reason to get another book? I think that in some way I pictured grief as kind of an assembly-line process, where 4 workers could build a car 4 times as fast as, say, one doing it alone, so 4 sources would make me feel better much faster! Nah, probably not.

I bought The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, instead. I'm impressed! It's good.

Last year I discovered the mental health benefit of making chains out of shiny, colorful Christmas ribbon. It started as a way to use up tangled messes of old ribbon, but became so much fun that when I ran out, I began scouring gift-wrap displays to buy more. By January, the good colors were gone from local stores, and I began searching online for metallic ribbon dealers. That's where I finally happened on Mystic Alley. I bookmarked the site, but the year was going in other directions and I didn't get around to picking my colors and ordering.

Last week, I realized it would be a happy activity to get back into, so I ordered a box of ribbon. A very big box. Anything worth doing is worth overdoing. Mystic Alley is great to deal with, by the way, fast, accurate, and service-oriented.

That's a standard 12-inch LP album, which I put in the box only for size-reference. It was not obvious how big the box and the contents are, so I used the album to show the size of the ribbon reels. Only then did a cat come helpfully along to pose with the box and make it unnecessary. She couldn't do that before I went to the trouble to hunt through our albums and find it. Certainly not.

It takes as long as it takes, but we're all doing OK.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Grief, briefly observed

It's not going to become a grieving blog. Grieving is a major part of my life right now, and if I've learned anything at all, I've learned that "the only way out is through." I wouldn't try to bury the feelings and Soldier On like everything's swell, but I haven't got much in the way of words or insights so this is a one-timer.

One thing is that my feelings change so often. I could write about Sad, or Lethargic, or Life is a Joyful Gift, or Irritability, or the peaceful feeling that Mom's life was complete and fulfilled, or the frustrated, angry feeling that she got cheated out of some years. Pick any one, and by the time I get it written up and reviewed and spellchecked, it isn't even the way I feel anymore and I've shifted into one of the others.

Maybe the one unusual thing about my experience is that I got such a long, long, deferment from grieving. I've never really experienced this before. They say that all major losses -- job loss, divorce, etc -- are types of grieving, accepting a loss and remaking your life. I did that during my life-implosion in 1994 when my job and my brief marriage tanked all at once. But this is different. That earlier sorrow was one of grieving my own illusions, facing the reality that people I'd trusted were not who I thought they were. But this is the loss of one of the best people I'll ever know. There's no "something better" out there.

And it's odd that grieving feels so new, because I dearly loved my grandparents. We were close. They were my advocates and supporters. My grandmother sent me to graduate school. Funded the whole thing. I could do so little for her in return except visit her in the nursing home, write them funny letters, give her university souvenirs and, when I was done, my diploma.

But the era of great trips to see them on their farm, of all the good times, was so long over by then. By the time I lost them, they'd had years of illness and it felt more that the "real life" of having them had been gradually going away for awhile.

Mom was born in 1927. This cherished little girl made it through a decade before antibiotics were available. I remember my grandmother telling me how parents worried about getting their babies to live through their "second summer." The second summer was a precarious time, I guess because when breastfeeding ended, its immunity benefit ended too, and they seemed to have a somewhat higher death rate.

This baby lived to be over 80, flew in jets, owned a computer, had children and grandchildren, yet I feel like she was entitled to more years, and I guess I'm still at the grief-stage of looking back, thinking, Why didn't TWO doctors find the infection years ago? She'd be here. She still seems so close. 6 weeks ago, she stood in their kitchen scrambling an egg, and I feel like she's barely moved out of reach.

Most of my readers, unlike me, have been through grieving long before this, through deaths timely and untimely. I feel guilty about finding Mom's death a few weeks short of her 83rd birthday "untimely," but there I am.

But on her last day in the hospital, my Mom said to me, with a smile, "Don't worry about all this. It's just ridiculous." I didn't know what she meant, but she either knew, or had decided, that life was ending, and wanted us all to feel that this was right. I guess she deserves to be taken at her word on that, so I will get there. Eventually.

Meanwhile, here's a flickr photo set of my beautiful, dear, funny mom. One of the smartest people I ever knew, and what stands out about her to me was her complete lack of bullshit. She could see through, and cut through bullshit in a heartbeat. I think that's what I treasure most about her, but there's plenty more.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Two oddities

If i have any literary ability or culture at all, it's due to my mom. She took me to plays and musicals, locally, and in New York and London. We rifled old bookstores and junk shops together. She introduced me to Brookgreen Gardens when I was 11 years old. I haven't been able to go to Brookgreen in the last couple weeks, though it's usually my favorite de-stress place, but things are progressing and I'll get back there soon.

She also took me to The Big Library: the downtown Charlotte Main Branch library. Going "downtown" was an expedition and a special treat. One subject among many that I got into while browsing the Big Library was English history. I was the usual romantic teenaged girl -- I read all the library's books about the abdication of Edward VIII, which fascinated me even as it became quickly clear that romance was the least important part of that story.

One book that they had on the subject was this rather vitriolic thing called Gone with the Windsors. The author, who had spent his journalistic career writing food and hospitality books until then, was so outraged by the Duke of Windsor's sentimental and sometimes self-contradictory autobiography, A King's Story, that he felt compelled to write his own book about the events of 1936, in which he took the couple apart piece by piece. Some justified criticism and some serious over-the-top snark.

Awhile back, someone offered the book, now a library discard, on eBay. She's a Charlotte seller who gets a lot of the library's discards, and I'm pretty sure it's the same copy I checked out when I was about 14, since it came from the main library, not a branch, and they only had one copy.

It's one of the thousand things I've thought about in the last two weeks. "Mom would get a kick out of knowing that I now own the same copy! I never thought to tell her! Now I can't."

I can't tell her things anymore. This will keep happening a lot for awhile, and on occasion for the rest of my life.

Meanwhile, last week Dad asked Larry and me to walk around the yard and make notes of things that needed to be done to the landscaping. I pulled a pad of paper out of my mass of junk on my desk shelf, and this photo fell out.

Mom and my dear dog Sparky, around (?) 1971.

They both live on in my heart, but that doesn't cut it for me. Whatever comes next, we apparently are on a Need To Know basis about, and the Higher Power doesn't seem to think that we Need to Know, so all I can do is hope that the photo tumbling out for me was a little message that she's there with loved ones, and with all her favorite animals, and that she's as delighted and joyful as she looks in this picture.

Thursday, August 05, 2010


They say that everything happens for a reason and it could be true or it could be bull that we use to comfort us in loss, I'm not equipped to determine that, at least not right now. I do think some things can be turned to a purpose. I also think I have a need to do that right now, whether it matters or not, so put up with it while I share a little, possibly useless, wisdom I've gained just in the past couple weeks.

If you're diagnosed with pneumonia, and it's not the first time, make sure it really is pneumonia. Whatever your age, though the elderly usually are less strong for the fight.

There are some bad bacteria out there. Tuberculosis is one but it's not the only one. Another, biologically related to TB, is called MAC and acts much the same, and needs pretty much the same treatment.

MAC is different from TB in that we all get exposed to it all the time -- it's a common bacterium in the environment, we get little bouts of it and our systems knock it out quickly.

But if you've got a vulnerable zone, as my mom had in her left lung since a bad bout with pneumonia in 1965, MAC can settle in and become chronic. Ordinary courses of antibiotics, for secondary bronchitis/pneumonia things, won't kill it.

Several chest X-rays, which revealed the colony of bacteria over the past 2-3 years, all were diagnosed as individual bouts with pneumonia. The same shadow appeared, over years' time, in the same place on the x-ray. And I guess it wasn't totally illogical to mistakenly think that she'd repeatedly get pneumonia in the same vulnerable location. But it was a pouch of MAC, and settled in over, the doc guesses, 5 years or so.

If .... if. The "if onlys" may be a very natural reaction, and I'm not inclined to either diss myself for having it, or to dwell on it and let it fester. My mom's doctors tried. We got her to better ones, but it needed to happen years ago.

She was ready, even happy, to stop the fight. It had been a harder, longer fight than any of us realized, circa 5 years of it sapping her. She'd had enough. None of us feel that, things being what they were, there was another outcome.

So maybe things have a purpose and maybe some that don't can, still, be turned to a purpose. Don't live with an infection like this for years. It's not necessary.