Monthly Archives: July 2013

Reflections

Image

 

There are years of Kodak home movies, years and many feet of silent family movies, in addition to who knows how many photographs.  In the home movies, in most of them, right at the end there’s an eye, my mother’s, as she once more turns the camera around, thinking the film is finished.  But it’s not.  Time after time, she catches a final image — her own eye.  

Mother was always the photographer, and though there are photographs of her, I find myself thinking about what it means to be the one behind the lens, taking the photographs.

Sometimes the photographs are snapshots in the truest sense — snaps of moments in time, unplanned and unstaged.  Yet even then there is selection involved — selection of the moment to capture, the scene to commit to film. Sometimes, though, the person who aims the camera makes conscious decisions about framing and staging.  

For years I’ve meant to collect family photographs and digitize them, but never quite found the time.  There would be time, I suppose I always thought, to ask questions about who people were, or what was going on.  Now, of course, that’s not necessarily possible.  

I do have time now, of course.  As I was straightening my office today, I put up the photo link and a scanner.  They’re where I can find them, where I see them whenever I sit at my desk at the computer.  And the photographs are in boxes and cartons in my back room, the study.  Some of them I’ve already put into a physical album, captioned and easy to talk about.  

Now, though, I am the photographer.  I’ve always been one, of course.  I got a Kodak when I was in middle school.  I bought my first 35 mm SLR when I was teaching at Lamar, probably in 1975 or 1976.  I’ve got my brother’s cameras.  I’ve got the Kodak that belonged to my dad’s parents, from the early 20th century.  Mother’s Brownie movie camera is here too. There are digital point and shoots, and a digital SLR.  

Despite that, there are far too many gaps in my photographs, too many moments lived but not captured on film and many now forgotten.  That’s particularly true of my college years, of my first teaching job.  There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of photographs I’ve taken over the years, of friends and family, parties and travel.  

At some point, I began making yearly albums, neatly boxing the unmounted photos (with the negatives, in their paper cases).  Mostly now they’re all somewhere in the study, boxed and not sorted.  

When I was using a film camera, the film had to be processed and printed, and the physical artifacts had to be handled, sorted, and dealt with.  The digital photos, though, reside in that nebulous cyberspace on hard drives, and most aren’t printed at all.  Most aren’t even labeled.  

It’s easier to forget them, you see.  They take up no real space in the physical world, and require no actual handling and sorting, not with human hands, into piles.  Mostly, like many other people, I take dozens of photographs, even hundreds,  on a trip.  Perhaps I upload some to Facebook.  Maybe I label some.  But most just stay in a folder on my laptop, linked to my cloud memory.  And that’s not quite enough, that cloud memory.  I can’t rely on it not to simply disappear one day.  

Not that actual photographs and albums can’t disappear.  They do, every day, in fires and tornadoes and hurricanes.  They get left behind somehow in moves.  

So now, in a couple of weeks, I want to open the boxes, to sort once more into two piles (family photos and my photos), and to put the actual albums together.  I want to start with those unmarked, unsorted family photos, trying to identify what I can, digitizing and organizing.  

There is no other eye behind the camera now.  My eye is left to work through the past, to maximize the family story and minimize the confusion.  Aunts and cousins will enjoy some.  Friends will enjoy some. I know my sister will like it, and I hope my niece will come to appreciate the family she never really knew. 

And as I sort through them, both the physical photos and the digital ones, I will examine the moments captured there.  Those that I took might take me back to my own past, spark memories dimly tucked away in the back of my mind.  Those that others took, though, will take me on a very different journey, not just of identifying times and people and places.  

No, they will also let me think about the person who isn’t there, the person behind the lens.  What did that person see?  What was that person thinking?  Why that photo, that place, that moment?  I know it will all be guesswork, some outright speculation or imaginative reconstruction.  But that’s the best that I can do.  

So I look forward to that adventure, that journey into the photographs.  Into the past.  Into people and places.  Into me.

I think about photos I take of myself — as in the one here.  I’m there, barely visible (though more than I often am).  I know that I took this photograph in Cortona, Italy, in a street market one summer day while I was visiting friends. 

I’m hiding, but I’m there.  And I know other photographers will be hiding behind the photographs that they took.  

You might think you hide behind the lens.  But you can’t, not really.  You’re always there, a reflection.

 

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Remembering Mother

I often write about my dad, but less about my mother.  That’s not because I didn’t love her; very much the opposite.  In fact, only a couple of days ago I realized that today is the 20th anniversary of Mother’s death.  So she’d been very much on my mind, and writing about her today seemed right.

Mother was a loving, generous woman with a tremendous sense of humor.  She also had severe anxiety disorder, which in the 1950s and 60s wasn’t fortunate enough to benefit from the medications available today.  When I was in first grade, shortly after my sister was born, Mother had her first breakdown.  I often tell people that I had two mothers — the one before that and the one who replaced her.  Before, she’d put me in the car and drive to Beaumont for a few days if Dad was out on the road on the job.  By the time I was eight, she had panic attacks so devastating that she feared driving alone without another driver.  That’s when I learned to drive.  I was eight or nine.

Medication and therapy helped her.  She was never hospitalized.  And when she came home from a therapy session, Dad took me on a truck ride to talk to me about her.  I was the oldest of three, and I was the one most conscious of her problems.  At times, she’d whip me for not making my bed just right.  Frankly, I think I simply defied her often and “protected” my younger brother and sister; I don’t think now that she would have harmed them, but I was only eight or so and that’s clearly what I feared.  So I took the brunt of her emotional problems.

By the time I was a teenager, she was stable.  I just was wary.  I loved her deeply; I also had the usual teenage daughter attitude and we clashed.  Often loudly.

By the time I left for college at nearly 18, I was ready to hit the road.  Of course, that was only 45 miles away from Egan, but I lived in the dorms.  I was growing up and away.  By the time I was 25, I was working full-time as an adjunct instructor at Lamar University.  And by then, I’d grown up enough to love her without reservations.

Indeed, I think it was only then that I began to appreciate just how wonderful Mother was.  We got to be friends, we could talk about the past, and we could laugh.

That laugh — that’s what I cherish even now.  When Mother laughed, it was complete.  Her mouth spread wide, her eyes sparkled and her head went back as she let out a rich, body-deep laugh.  She was quick to laugh.  And she loved to play pranks.

One story I remember about her happened shortly after she and Dad married in 1948.  They were at the farm in San Augustine, Texas, for the weekend. It was Sunday lunch and everyone was sitting around the table, Grandmother at one end and Granddad at the other.  Mother somehow dropped a piece of ice under the table.  When she went to pick it up, she noticed that Granddad was barefoot.  The temptation was just too great.  She succumbed.  He jumped.  And then he laughed.  The ice broke the ice.

She could also take a joke.   Once (after I’d moved back to Lake Charles and was teaching at McNeese) I was in Egan visiting.  We were in the kitchen and I had a fresh bowl of buttered popcorn.  She said something (I no longer remember what).  I said something like “Don’t say that again or I’ll dump this on your head.”  She grinned and said it again.  I dumped it.  Her smile was immediate and the laugh was huge.

So despite the emotional problems she had and the daughter-mother issues between us, I never doubted that I was loved.  Our home was one with laughter and love, with music and friends (theirs and mine).  My friends loved to visit; they were always welcome.

As with many children, I simply took so much for granted.  My admiration for what Mother and Dad achieved has only grown as I matured.

Their marriage was not necessarily one that everyone welcomed. She was Roman Catholic; Dad was Church of Christ.  This wasn’t too common, and some family members (on both sides) were less than tolerant.  While they were dating, they broke up a couple of times.  It was an issue, but one they overcame.  Though some family members were openly insulting, Mother and Dad were respectful of each other, of their different religions, and even attended church together at times at first.  When my siblings and I were growing up, we never heard anything disrespectful by either parent of their religions.  Never.

Mother’s generosity was amazing — Dad always described her as someone who would give you the shirt off her back, as “too good for her own good.”

She was never confident about herself or her own abilities, yet always fostered confidence in us.  She never doubted our abilities.

Her health was a problem by the time I was in my mid-20s, and within days of my 42nd birthday, she was dead.  Recently I’ve realized that when she was my age (62), she had less than five years to live.  I think about that a lot now.

Her health declined rapidly and she was very ill.  Yet in all that time, I never heard her complain or whine.  Never once.  She had a surprisingly ferocious desire to live, and survived a number of crises.  Even her own doctors were amazed at that.

Their love was deep and abiding; they remained together when many marriages would have broken up.  Their respective faiths and personal ethics — and their love — kept them together.  Years after her death, Dad would say (when someone asked him why he hadn’t remarried) “Why would I?  I already had my best friend, my lover.”  That astounded me, that my father would say that so matter-of-factly.  And he missed her every day of his life after her death.

So today, 20 years after she died, I am remembering my mother.  With love, some tears, and lots of laughs.

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End of Life Care: The Conversation We Need

Many people, I’ve found, avoid talking about — or even thinking about — what happens at the end of life.  I’d say that they also avoid discussing end-of-life care.  It’s uncomfortable, it’s disturbing, and it’s emotional.  What was once a matter of fact, faced quite naturally, and handled at home became something we distanced.  Death took place not at home but in hospitals or nursing homes, and thus divorced from what for hundreds of years — thousands — was part of everyday life.  Instead of happening in familiar surroundings, with loved ones around, it happened in sterile environments.  We do not ask our loved ones what their thoughts are; we do not ask what their wishes are.  We don’t talk about our own thoughts and wishes, either.

That distancing has been our loss, not our gain.  And our failure to face the end of life conversations means that too often we are unprepared for that which happens to all of us.

Perhaps my attitude is different.  Our family never “protected” its children from death.  Though we certainly weren’t face to face with it, we knew when grandparents were ill and dying.  Between 4th grade and 9th grade, I lost a great-grandmother, a grandfather, and a grandmother.  I also lost a classmate when I was entering high school, and while I wasn’t that close to her, I well remember going to her funeral.  When I was in college, my great-grandfather died.  My father came close to death after surgery.

But it was the mid-1980s that we faced something quite different.  When my maternal grandmother was in the hospital once, near death because her C02 levels were high and 02 levels were low, she was well on her way to sleeping her way to death.  She’d been clear to her doctor and to us that she didn’t want heroic measures.  My mother and I were in the hospital room with her, ready to let her drift quietly into a painless death.  A nurse refused to let that happen.  Instead, she told us, if we didn’t wake her up and keep her awake, she’d bring in others who would.  She didn’t care what my grandmother’s wishes were.  She didn’t care what the doctor knew.  So my mother and I stood on either side of the bed and kept my grandmother awake.  She hated it.  She blamed us vocally.  She did not want that to happen.

She lived for another couple of years, much diminished both in body and in spirit, and it was not what she wanted.  My mother and I vowed that we would never do that again.

Less than 10 years later, my mother was dying.  She was not one who talked about her thoughts on dying (at least, not about her own death).  My dad and I talked a great deal about it, though, and when her dialysis was no longer really working and she was beyond speech, we agreed that it was time to stop dialysis.  I’m sure he talked about it to my siblings as well.  She was lingering, until the day my brother came in from Florida, held her hand, brushed her hair, rubbed her feet, and kissed her.  She died that night.

By that time (July 1993), my brother, Phil, had already had cancer twice –colon cancer at 26, and then a melanoma on his arm by the time he was 33.  Two years after Mother died, Phil had a new cancer — the melanoma had emerged in his brain.  Radiation and surgery were “successful” in that he lived a bit longer, but neither he nor I was under the illusion that this was permanent.  Not that we talked about it. Not at all.  Yet when the fourth occurrence was diagnosed in summer 1995, I was the only one who knew what he’d been told at Sloan Kettering in New York — and what they’d told him, that the experimental treatment he would soon undergo would, at best, extend his life a matter of months.  I was sworn to secrecy, not to tell Dad.  Phil and I had this conversation over the phone, not face to face.

Phil had told me, face to face, about his original cancer in 1982.  When I began to cry, he quickly ordered me to stop and told me I’d have to be strong for Mother and Dad.  He did not want me to be emotional.  That was that.  I learned to talk about my own feelings with friends.  He never talked about his own feelings.  He did, however, lash out.  He was frequently angry with me.  For a long time I was so hurt and angry in turn.  It took me years to realize that I was the safe place — maybe the only place — where he could express the anger, albeit not in a discussion but in lashing out at me.

Yet by the last months of his life, he was explicit in discussing with me what he wanted after he died — not a funeral service, not embalming.  He wanted cremation and he wanted to be buried next to Mother in the cemetery in East Texas near our farm.  Every weekend, shortly after I arrived at MD Anderson, and whenever Dad was out of the room, Phil drilled me on this.

Where we’d had to extrapolate Mother’s wishes from our experiences with her mother’s illness and death (no direct discussions for Irene!), Phil was direct in ordering what he wanted.  He didn’t give up easily; he kept fighting.  The day after Christmas, his doctor told us that the treatments had worked, but not enough, and that there wasn’t really any point in continuing, but in going home and spending our time together.  By that time, Phil was often not clear in thought, but he was concerned — not about himself, about whether the doctor might need “more numbers” for his lab results.  I was the one he asked this of, not the doctor.  When I answered “I think that he has all the ‘numbers’ he needs, Phil,” my brother then asked me “Now what, Cheryl?”  Dad was right there.  Phil’s fiancé was right there.  But he asked me.  I was once more “Cheryl Lynn” to him — and he hadn’t called me that since he was maybe 8.  I glanced at Dad and at Dr. Papadopoulos, and at Darcy, then looked at Phil and said, “It’s time for us to go home and spend what time we have together there, honey.”  He simply said “OK.”

So after talked to the doctor in the hall about hospice and what to expect, I left for Egan while the doctor made the arrangements.  I went to Egan.  I dismantled and moved a double bed and moved the mattress/foundation set.  I vacuumed.  The next morning, a hospital bed was delivered and set up.  When the ambulance arrived, and Dad and Darcy arrived, the hospice people also arrived.  Our new experience had begun.

From December 27, 1995-January 4, 1996, we cared for Phil at home, with great help from hospice.  They were there daily, often several times a day.  He could talk for a few days, and then had a stroke (fluid build-up in the spinal column, untapped and unrelieved, built up and resulted in this, which we’d been told would happen.  That happened a couple of days before he died.  But regardless, we continued to hold his hands, stroke his face, kiss him, talk to him, even sing to him.  One of us sat in a chair by his bed.  One always slept on a cot in the room.  The third would sleep in a bed in another room.  My sister, Kay, came in when she could, but wasn’t there when Phil died.

That was a very quiet event.  I was sleeping on the cot.  Dad woke me up, and he and Darcy and I stood there, around him, touching him, kissing him, telling him he was loved and that it was alright to go, that we’d be alright.  From one breath to the next, he simply left us.

Then Dad was on his own.  In the following years, he aged, he mourned, but he kept going.  We talked a lot about Mother and Phil, and about their illnesses and deaths.  When Dad was 80 or so, he had stents, and soon had to have a triple coronary bypass.  As we prepared for that, he was very clear-eyed in planning.  We visited our attorney.  Dad signed a durable power of attorney, allowing for medical decisions, and made sure that I knew what he wanted if I had to use that power of attorney.  He signed DNR papers in the hospital.  I didn’t have to use it then.

Dad was very ill  in the last months of his life.  He was in a nursing home for physical rehabilitation after surgery.  He came home; he died two weeks later. By the time Dad was dying, we once more called for hospice.  Kay and I were there together.  The last day he was alive, Kay was out running errands for a few hours, and in that short amount of time, Dad was in great pain and no longer cognizant of where he was.  He talked to his mother, often directing his remarks to me.  “Mama, can we go home now?”  Over and over.  And the pain couldn’t be helped with the pain medications we had.  I already had the morphine, and what had worked that morning simply no longer did.  Hospice helped when I called, and through a couple of hours, kept calling to guide me and support me.  The morphine dosage had to greatly increased, but finally (several hours later) he was comfortable and no longer conscious.  Kay came home later and I told her what had gone on.  I went to bed about 11:30, and she sat up.  A couple of hours later, she woke me, crying.  She’d fallen asleep and when she awakened, he was already gone.  I came in and confirmed that.  I got her to call hospice, and then we called our neighbor Charles and our friend Billie.  They came to be with us.  The hospice nurse came and was wonderful.

There’s a major news issue in the U.K. now about the Liverpool Care Pathway, designed to allow patients a dignified end-of-life experience in hospitals and nursing homes,  As I’ve followed this in recent weeks in The Times of London,  it’s been clear that what was designed isn’t what has been followed.  So many horror stories abound about utter neglect and outright inhumane treatment.  Indeed, chances are that within months, the Health Secretary will probably recommend the termination of the LCP.

What a horrible example of end-of-life care.  Hospice as we have experienced it has been the antithesis — it has been caring, supportive, and dignified, even spiritual.  This is the ideal.

Kay and I continue to talk about what we’ve experienced, and we talk about what we think and want for ourselves.  That’s not morbid.  Not at all.  Rather, I think it’s  comforting, healthy, and wise.

As I was writing a draft of this earlier today, I ran across a  CNN story about Scott Simon, host of Weekend Edition Saturday for NPR, who tweeted as his mother was dying this past weekend.  As I read about it, and read his tweets, I found myself weeping in memory.  I know what he was feeling, and what one bloggist wrote: “We do not talk enough, I believe, with each other and with our parents about the end of life, especially when there is still time to discuss some of the issues involved.”  Such truth — and such a need for openness.

Scott Simon’s tweets are worth reading.  He was allowing readers to be there as he participated in the most meaningful of experiences.

So I find myself saying to everyone :  Don’t be afraid.  You need to know what to expect, and what to plan for.  Will it be difficult?  Painful? Probably.  Worth it?  It certainly has been for me.

I know that not everyone can have these conversations.  Our culture certainly doesn’t encourage it.  I can only say that I have been enriched by it.  I have wonderful memories of precious moments that I cherish.  Do what you can, though.

And I remind myself — I’ve made a will.  But I need a power of attorney, one that allows someone else to speak for me if I can’t.

My dad would expect no less of me.

This week I need to make that phone call.

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Re-Entry

Since I was in Greece for nearly three months, the last 10 days back in Lake Charles have presented me with the usual adjustment issues.  I’m getting there, but still have some challenges.

For the first few days, I found myself awakening (without any clock) between 3 and 4 a.m.  Wide awake, not sleepy.  Of course my still-on-Greek-time body thought it was 8 hours ahead, and that I’d slept until 11 a.m. and noon.  By 5 p.m., I was whipped and ready for bed, sound asleep by 6 p.m. This was awkward when I wanted to meet friends for dinner, or watch television, but I just let my body dictate what it needed.

So from the day I landed (Thursday) until the following Wednesday, I woke up early and went to sleep early.  Each day, though, I found that I woke up just a bit later and went to bed just a little later.  By the Thursday after returning, I was sleeping until 6.  That was fine.  I had no real demands.

Now, ten days after my return, I’m waking up at a more reasonable hour (between 7 and 8 a.m.) and staying up as I’m used to doing.  Right now, it’s almost 11 p.m., and I’m beginning to yawn.

Sleep patterns are only the most obvious and immediate adjustment, though.  Others quickly emerged.

For three months, I’ve gotten around by walking and taking trolleys, buses, and taxis.  Until last Friday, I hadn’t driven at all.  Within 24 hours of my return, it was a different story:  once more if I wanted to do anything, I had to drive.  Driving is something I’ve always loved, so that really isn’t too big an adjustment.

Shopping has also been something that I have to do differently.  In Athens, I walked to the markets, limited to buying what I could carry home to the apartment.  My refrigerator there is American-style, not a small apartment-sized unit, but there I shop frequently.  Here I have a car and can manage to shop less often.  I found myself buying for a day or two, though, and only today did I actually buy enough for several days.

Usually, I’m gone until mid-August, but this year I went to Greece early (I landed in Athens on April 20) and thus returned in mid-July (July 18).  I returned to Louisiana in full summer, with high humidity.  My air conditioner here is always on, while I ran the apartment AC only when I needed it; it wasn’t yet hot enough there to keep it on for hours (unless I was cooking and having guests).  I get outside here, walk to the car, get in, and realize that my sunglasses have fogged with temperature changes and have to take them off and wipe the lenses so that I can see.

In the 10 days I’ve been home, it’s rained almost every day — not necessarily for long, but enough to leave the sidewalks, lawns, and streets damp for a while.  Only on Saturday, while I was driving back from Baton Rouge, did I actually find myself in a full-on thunderstorm, complete with sheeting rain and lightening.  I slowed down and tried to guide by the taillights of the 18-wheeler in front of me.  Luckily, it cleared pretty quickly.  High temperatures, high humidity, possible thermal showers, thunderstorms, and light rain.  Normal summer in Southwest Louisiana.

Oh, and it’s hurricane season, of course.  I keep my eye on the Hurricane Tracker app every day now.  And remind myself that it’s time to begin gathering the usual hurricane supplies.

For the first time in months, I’ve got to deal with the pets.  Dogs need attention.  Cats do too.  Cat litter.  Dog papers.  Water.  Food.

Once more I have a house to keep up, not a small apartment. I need to mop floors.  Mondays are the days I must roll the garbage can out to the curb for pickup (and I have to get up early enough tomorrow to have it out there by 7:30 a.m.).  I think this week will see me re-organizing my office, first of all, and getting ready for the writing projects and some jewelry work.  The office looks nice, and I want to keep it that way, but it definitely needs some work before it’s just right.

My calendar has also begun to fill with appointments and meetings – even in retirement.  In the coming week, I need to schedule an appointment for car maintenance, another for a three-week program I’m going to direct at a local library, and yet a third for a writing project I;m planning.  I realize that I have no idea where my checkbooks are, and I will have to find them.  I still need to finish sorting through the mail that piled up while I was gone.

In a few days it will be August.  I haven’t been in the U.S. at this time in a while, and I’m remembering daily what my summers usually are like.  Hot, steamy, and sticky.  I find myself wearing shorts a lot, even to run errands.

At least I don’t have to worry about getting ready to begin teaching in a couple of weeks.  I now am planning writing projects and road trips to the beach and to Egan.

Re-entry into my Louisiana life isn’t too bad.  The  issues are familiar from almost 13 years of summers away.

Time to get some sleep.  Garbage day is tomorrow.  Pets are ready for some cuddle time.  And the laptop battery needs recharging.  Guess my battery does too.

Ah well.  I am still retired.  That’s the continuing adjustment I face now.

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Packing A Life: Decisions

packingPacking for short trips is not really a problem for me.  Or at least, not compared to packing for three months away.  Especially when those three months include a couple of different seasons.  Even with my own apartment and some clothes in storage, I inevitably pack enough for two suitcases.  Unfortunately, I only get one “free” checked bag and have to pay for the second.

As you can tell from the photo, I pack a variety of things.  Clothes, items for the apartment (especially sheets and towels and bedspreads).  And food.  Here, you can see the Community Club coffee (presents) that I pack for some friends.  What you don’t see is the second suitcase, which contains the frozen crawfish (in dry ice) that is a staple for me.

No, the dog did not get packed, though she wanted to go with me.  ZsaZsa simply climbed into the suitcase, turned around a few times, and curled up quite comfortably.  A small hint, but not one I followed up on.

Some friends laugh at me and tease me about my packing.  I start long before I leave.  First, I collect things I want to bring.  I pile them in boxes and bags.  The week before I leave, I get out the suitcases and begin to pack.  First are the clothes — cotton and linen pants, t-shirts, etc.  Shoes.  Then come the apartment items.  Food gets in there too, but the crawfish is only packed the actual morning of departure.

A couple of days before, I close the suitcases and weigh them.  Then begins the de-construction.  I remove things.  I switch things from one case to another.  Finally, the morning of departure, I make final selections, zip the bags, and weigh them once more.  The roll-on bag gets packed only the day before departure, and it too gets the final departure once-over.

That roll-on bag and my purse contain absolute electronic necessities — laptop, iPad mini, camera, phones (and all cords).  Plus adapters.  I include medicines for three months.  I jam in a notebook.  My iPod and earphones.  Snacks?  Sometimes.  Sometimes, as this year, I ended up forgetting them altogether.  They were still in a bag when I returned last week.   And of course, there usually is a change of clothes.

When I’m in place in the apartment, I reverse the packing and manage to unpack in a matter of an hour.  I put things up as I go.  The very first thing I take out, of course, is the frozen crawfish, which goes right into the freezer.  Everything else gets unpacked on the second day.

With two big bags, you’d think I’d manage to remember everything. But oh no– I usually forget something.  But never the passport or the computers or the phones or meds.  Other things?  Yep.  I manage, though.

And when I’m there and travel, then I have to decide all over again.  What will I need?  What can I manage without?  I am getting better at it, but still manage to pack more than I actually use.  I also sometimes forget that I will buy things while I’m wherever, and that I’ll need room for that.

So when I was in London in May, I needed to buy a bag — and I picked out a rolling backpack for the plane.  I checked the roll-on bag.  And it was jammed, expanded inches and all.  Every zipper pocket was filled.  The large travel purse had my iPad and phones and journal.  The new wheeled backpack held the teapot I bought, other items, and was full.  Next time, I’ll just pack a larger checked bag.

For Istanbul in June, I was prepared.  I used the larger suitcase, not the roll-on bag, for checked luggage.  I also had the roll-on bag. Plus I carried my travel purse, which holds a lot (lightweight, easily cleaned, with lots of pockets and zippered areas).  Nevertheless, my acquisitions from various shopping expeditions meant that I once more jammed the checked bag as full as it would go.  And the roll-on bag held as much as possible.  It’s amazing to me just how the guys at rug stores manage to reduce a large rug to a relatively compact (though not light) package, complete with its own carrying bag.  The two small lamps I bought?  In the suitcase.  And they made it back to the U.S. unbroken.

Sometimes I long for the trip I made in 1992, when I went to Greece for about a month with only a duffel bag.

But those days are gone.  Now I am simply glad that I can manage at all.  I always look at new suitcases and roll-on bags, seeking the absolutely perfect bag.  Sometimes I think I’ve found it — only to discover some problem.  This summer the problem seemed to be that the roll-on bag which was no problem at all on the eastbound journey to Greece somehow didn’t meet the approval of personnel for my westward return journey.  The measurements hadn’t changed, so who knows?  Maybe I just need a slightly smaller bag.

Oh well, I’ll start looking soon.

Somewhere, I know, there’s a bag waiting.

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The Joys of Sleep

When I was still working, sometimes it seemed that the only time I could really sleep was on weekends, or at least one day of the weekend, the one where I wasn’t running errands all the time.  Otherwise, I awoke to an alarm clock that went off far too early to suit me.  Of course, I stayed up quite late, often till past midnight.

But then, I am a night owl.  I think I always have been.  It’s not just that I enjoy staying up late, but that I really function best late at night.  But the world runs on a different schedule, and as a working member of society, I had to comply and fit in.  Of course, as an academic, I found a schedule that was more flexible.  I rarely had 8 a.m. classes — 9 a.m., perhaps, but not earlier, not if I could help it.  It would take me forever to wake up.  But then I was managing on 6 hours of sleep at best, and only during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina did I finally get a sleep study which established that I did indeed have sleep apnea, a rather severe case.   I’d get 6 hours, but I awoke constantly,and I rarely achieved REM sleep (I averaged about 5% per night).  Then came the CPAP machine, which provided me the REM sleep I was deprived of.  What a difference that machine has made!  Within days, I felt refreshed and clear-headed.  How I’d managed to function still astonishes me.

Adapting first to sleeping with a full mask that covered my nose, and then to a different mask with nose pillows, I began to refer to my nighttime gear as my Frankenmask.  When my sister and one of my cousins and I are all together, we can compare our CPAPs.  Clearly the literature is accurate when it recognizes that sleep apnea often “runs in the family.”

Now I sleep through the night.

Just how valuable sleep was became so clear to me while I was living with Dad.  During the last 6 months or so of his life, I rarely got more than 2 hours of sleep at a time if I were with him.  I really used weekends, when my sister Kay came in, to sleep.  A lot.  And for months after his death, I slept often and long and late.  I’d spend entire days sleeping and reading and sleeping more.  As though I could make up for all the hours lost, I took advantage of the opportunity to sleep whenever I felt like it.  That was, I’ve come to believe, not just for the physical loss of sleep but for the emotional losses of months.  Healing takes a long time and comes in many different guises.

And in retirement, I don’t have to set the alarm clock if I don’t want to.  I can simply stay up until I’m ready to sleep, and wake when I want to.

Sometimes that’s exactly what I do.  Of course, that means that I might not get up until 10 a.m.  But unless I have a meeting or an appointment, I can set my own schedule.  Just what schedule works for me is something I’m still exploring.

If I simply stay up and read until I fall asleep, that might be 2 or 3 a.m.  Then I sleep for 7 hours or so, rise and dress and go about my day.  The problem is that sometimes I don’t want to get up at all, and simply decide to make a really lazy day of it and stay in bed, read, and sleep in a cycle that owes nothing to the clock.  That’s okay, too, but not for too long.  I could easily become a hermit, following such a non-schedule schedule.  My own body-clock seems to revert quite easily — and quickly — to this pattern.

Instead, I have decided perhaps it’s best to get up by 8 a.m. and spend an hour or so reading the papers, then spend some time writing.  This still surprises me, and I’ve yet to see if it works, but I’m going to give this semi-schedule a shot.

Even so, the seduction of sleep is often difficult to resist.

Naps were not things I usually took, not during the school term.  Maybe occasionally, maybe during semester breaks, but not usually on a work day unless I was really, really tired.  In summers, though, which I spent in Greece, I quickly adapted to the daily afternoon nap.  And now I find myself napping if I want to.  When I was a child, certainly before I entered school, my mother made me take naps.  Why do we stop that lovely habit?  Just because of work.

Some days, naps are absolutely necessary. Some days, they’re not.  Today was one of the days when one was necessary.  For whatever reason, I felt tired and drifted off while I was reading.  Of course, I did get up for an 8 a.m. meeting, and then had coffee with a friend after that.

Sleep, though, has become such a pleasure.  With the CPAP and REM sleep, I dream often.  Spectacularly, at times.  Vivid colors, wild plots.  Sometimes the dreams are so real I awaken and am not quite sure where I am or what’s going on.  Sometimes the dreams are science-fiction wild.  At times I keep a dream journal to record them.

I don’t have to wait for weekends to indulge an all-night reading orgy followed by an all-day lie in.

But tonight?  It’s only about 10 p.m. and despite a lovely nap this afternoon, I am yawning and feeling the need to crawl into bed.

My dogs are sitting at my feet as I type this.  But the minute I get up, they’ll be right at my heels, following me.  They’ll jump into bed when I get in, curl up on either side of me, and drift off as I read a bit.

Shakespeare has Macbeth speak of sleep as

“the innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the ravel’d sleave of care,
The death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast-”  (Macbeth, Act II, Scene 2, lines 36-40)

And that’s just what sleep does — daily it is the “death” of each day, resting us from “sore labor’s bath.”  It is balm to hurt minds.  I love that it is “great nature’s second course,  /Chief nourisher in life’s feast.”  This really emphasizes the vital role sleep plays in our lives.  It is not time wasted, not at all.  It’s when we recover so that we are ready for the next day.  When we’ve suffered through great physical strain and emotional turmoil and loss, it provides a depth of healing and restoration that sometimes we think we’ll never truly get.

So even though my day hasn’t been especially difficult or even full, I am ready for a new night’s feast, for my second course.  My Frankenmask awaits.

As my mother used to say to me, “Good night.  Sleep tight.”

Dream well.

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Home Again, Home Again

When you’re young, travel has a romantic appeal.  The realities of transit sort of get ignored.  Maybe the problems and discomforts even have a certain appeal– for the first few times, anyway. By the time you’re my age, though, the logistics just are part of the planning, and often require patience and endurance.  My budget doesn’t stretch to first-class, or even business-class.  Though I would love to indulge in that, when it comes time to pay for a ticket, I just think how many more tickets I could get if I continue to fly economy, so I do.  Anyway, I figure that my immigrant ancestors probably came steerage, so I’m simply honoring them.  I do dream about a first-class experience at some time, though.

In the meantime, I endure the ups and downs of tight layovers and transfers to other flights.  I measure my bags and weigh them, careful to meet the guidelines of individual airlines.  And usually I pay for a second bag when I travel to Greece since I buy linens and things for the apartment and can get better quality for less in the U.S.  I arrange for taxi pickups and transfers.  I arrange my travel myself.  It’s do-it-yourself travel, at least as much as possible.

There’s not much left for me with the romanticism of travel, not with the actual getting there and getting back.  That’s just necessary. The joys of backpacking are still with me, but now I want to sleep in a nice bed, in a room with a private toilet, and with some amenities.  Not on a train overnight or in an airport lounge, not if I can help it.

But being someplace and getting around?  That still has its original appeal, even after (hard to believe) nearly 40 years of traveling internationally.  But now for me travel is more than tourist sites to be checked off a list.  Now, I visit a site or two, but I spend time walking, looking, shopping and observing people.  When I want to, I find a coffee shop and sit for a drink, watching what goes on.  I take out my journal.  I write.  I take photos.  I don’t feel the need to rush from site to site.  I savor the whole experience.  I am a traveler rather than a tourist.

For example, when I went to London in May, I was only there for a long weekend.  One of my objectives was to see the special Pompeii exhibit at the British Museum; I got my ticket for the day before I left London, and that left me two and a half other days.  I went to Covent Garden and to Neil’s Yard, shopping and watching the buskers around Covent Garden’s Apple Market.  I bought cheese and bread for my room for eating dinner.  I usually ate lunch while I was out and about.  I wandered on the Tube a few stations away from my hotel for that.  I wandered only one stop away for Saturday’s Portobello Market.  Once more, I walked and shopped, took photos, sat and had a pint of cider, wandered more, bought some prints, sat and had a glass of wine after eating.  I listened to street musicians.

One evening I met a friend for drinks and caught up with her at a pub I knew.  I hadn’t seen her in far too long, and that was so nice.  Her late brother was a dear friend, and it was great to be able to share memories and catch up on the news about her two children, who have grown up.  My last night, another friend met me at the hotel bar for some wine and good conversation.

While I wandered around Kensington, and in Covent Garden, and in Bayswater, I found myself fantasizing about living in London, at least temporarily.  One day, I promised myself, I would do so — I would find a short-term let and stay in London for a month or so.  And so I plan to do, maybe in the next year.

Even for such a short trip, the realities of transit get tedious.  By the time I made it back to my place in Athens, all I wanted to do was take a hot shower and clean up. There was a clear sense of relief at returning, even from a short trip.  I was home.

Living out of a suitcase in a hotel isn’t so much fun as being someplace, but I put up with it.    It’s a necessary element.

A second trip in June took me to Istanbul and once more I just liked being there.  I was traveling with someone who’d never been there before, so I did more tourist-sightseeing than I might have, in a quick two days.  Next year (or whenever I return), I might well stay in the same little hotel, near the Blue Mosque, and just wander more.  I want to return to the Spice Market and get lost wandering around.  I want to go to the small bazaar near the Blue Mosque.  More time to sit and watch, that’s what I want.

Once more returning to Athens, getting back to the apartment was being home.

I love being in my “other” life, as I’ve come to think of it.  Since I am not really a tourist, I don’t do a lot of sightseeing unless I have company, and I had three visitors in three months.  Generally I putter around the apartment, do domestic things, and read a lot.  There are days when I do nothing except read murder mysteries or biographies or science fiction.  Sometimes I re-read through an entire series over a week.  Certainly I grocery shop, I pay bills, and I sit in favorite coffee shops. I meet friends for coffee or dinner.  I write.  I surf the internet.

Quite simply, the apartment is home.  When I first arrive and open the building door and first see my apartment door, I feel such relief, and then when I actually open the apartment door and enter, there’s almost no way to describe that feeling except the body itself seems to sigh and I feel “I’m home.”  And I relax completely.   I turn on the water heater for the bathroom (“boiler,” as it’s labeled in my switch box), grab a couple of shopping bags, and walk half a block and across the street to the supermarket, the “Bazaar.”  I load up, walk up the incline to the building, and let myself in.  I put up groceries and staples.  I shower and change.  I get online to email my sister and friends that I’ve arrived safely and am comfortable.  Then I cook something to eat, wash dishes, and head to bed with a book, ready to collapse.  After all, at that point, I’ve probably been up for something like 30 hours.  Only the next day will I unpack suitcases, and it will take another couple of days to sort out what I need from storage cabinets.

As much as it’s home, there always comes a point during a 3-month stretch that I find myself homesick for my other home.  Or homes.  I’m homesick for my car, for being able to drive somewhere, anywhere.  For my pets.  For my family and friends.  For American conveniences.  For Southern / Texan/Cajun cultures to envelop me.  For the quiet of my home as well. The pull of responsibilities kicks in, too.

Emerson was right about travel:  You can’t escape your problems when you travel; you simply take them with you.  At times I know that I have traveled for temporary escape (and probably will do so again, frankly), for the time and space to sort out something and return ready to deal with it.  I know better than to believe that running away means you can leave troubles behind.   I know that I will not escape anything, that such traveling is “a fool’s paradise,” as Emerson says in “Self-Reliance.”

Travel is also to enrich, to learn. No matter how many times I go to London, there’s always more to discover, as there is in Greece or Istanbul or Italy.  There’s always another country I haven’t been to yet, another culture to explore.

But travel can also be a respite, a kind of recuperative time for contemplation.  If anything, I come to value my American home and to weigh its pros and cons.  I know that I will, at some point, be homesick.

And when that homesickness comes, it’s usually at the time when I’m winding down, packing up the things that stay in the storage cabinets in the apartment, packing the suitcase(s) that will return with me.  That is a kind of limbo time.  I tell friends that there is a sort of “click” that goes off in my head and that I’m already transitioning for the return and re-immersion into my American life.  That usually is the last week of my time in Greece.

When I finally get back to my house in Lake Charles, there is a similar physical relaxation, a sigh of “I’m home again.”  I close the door and check that my world is still in place, waiting for me.

And then there’s that word:  home.  Home is where I am.  Home is here, in Lake Charles, in the house I’ve owned since 1986 or so.  In Egan, in the house I’ve known since I was 16.  In Texas, at the family farm or at the beach house my sister and I rebuilt.  Home is my family, my friends, my pets.  It’s not the physical places, as comfortable and known as those places are.

No, it’s a state of mind, of being.  It’s that moment of sighing into a return.  That moment of recognition, of total comfort, of release.

So now I’m home.  Again.  And rediscovering the joys of here, wherever here happens to be.  Time away gives me time to reassess, to renew, and when I return, I return with a new vision and appreciation, ready to tackle things, ready to go.

Tomorrow I’ll have been home here for a week.  It feels right.

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Lady Day (and Other Items in the Woman Ritual)

No, my title doesn’t refer to the late great Billie Holiday (though I am certain she would appreciate the idea).  Rather, it concerns something that my friend Carolyn and I (and occasionally her daughter Katie) have come to see as part of our Woman Ritual.

It refers to a manicure-pedicure day.  Our Lady Day time.  Sometimes we celebrate it with wine, but often with Diet Dr. Pepper and/or Diet Coke.  If our budgets allow and our calendars match, we try for a monthly date.

Lady Day is sheerly for pampering.  We all need those times.  I expand my definition of Lady Day to include Hair Day and even Massage Day.  Those are all just for me.

Today was Hair Day.  I’ve been gone for 3 months, and my hair showed it.  My color had faded out, my hair had grown a lot, and I have been reduced to pulling it back with a ponytail holder or catching it up with a barrette.  It’s summer, and I do not want hair on the back of my neck.  My hair had grown so much that last week I had to drop by my hairdresser’s for a triage — my bangs desperately needed cutting.  I had to have my driver’s license renewed and while I can live with the color difference, I could NOT live with straggly bangs.  Sorry.  These photos are bad enough without that problem.  Today, though, was the full deal — color and cut and blow-out.  Now I feel renewed.

Or at least partially renewed.  When I look at my hands (short nails, messy cuticles), and my toes (uncolored and short nails), I realize that those must be attended to as well.  I’ve had one mani-ped in Greece while I was there, and basically dealt with the nails myself, but now they just look sadly neglected.  Especially with newly done hair.  So I just might have to deal with that today.  Oh, and throw in a brow-wax while you’re at it — that’s another vital component of my Lady Day.  Yes, I suspect that I will make time for those today.

When I was younger, I never paid much attention to my nails and painted my toes myself.  But for the last 10 years or so, this has become girl-time to visit with a friend.  Plus I get a foot massage at the same time, which is always welcome.

And as far as the massage?  Another indulgence, one I can date to the last six and a half years or so.  Another monthly indulgence (if the budget stretches).  One I’ve come to value not just for the fact that I leave without knots under my shoulder blades (a residual of tension, grading, writing, and now just writing and working at the computer).  Rather, it’s something quite different.  I zone out so much that occasionally I awaken myself with snores.  I’d say that’s relaxation beyond a mere massage to get rid of knots.  One is scheduled for tomorrow.  I treated myself twice while I’ve been gone, both times for shoulder/neck tension relief.  Tomorrow, though — 90 minutes.  Nirvana.

My time with women friends and my level of stress always got attention during the last 5-10 years with these Woman Rituals.  We do so much for others and often neglect ourselves.  These are small things that allow us to self-pamper, at least when we can.  In lives filled with taking care of homes and family and pets and the immediate world (or at least that’s what it often feels like), we can take a bit of time for ourselves, catching up with gossip and important details of our lives.

So after three months away, I feel the need for my regular Woman Rituals.    I was feeling bedraggled by last Thursday, when I returned to the U.S.  I already had the hair appointment.  I can walk in for mani-pedis.  But my massage had to be scheduled, and I took care of that yesterday.

Why, you might ask, is it important to have these Rituals?  I’m sure many of us do without.  I know I did for many years.

After all, I could (and did) take care of my own hair — once I’d gotten a good cut.  I colored it myself for years.  But somehow the color just didn’t satisfy me anymore.  I’d reached the stage I never though I would — where I gladly pay someone else to take my hair into her hands, not just for cutting but for coloring.  Somehow it does look much better than the monthly-to-six-week-pick-your-box-up at the market treatment.

And I could (and do) take basic care of my nails, hands, and feet.  But again, with a professional, they just look better.  And again, it’s attention I often skip if I’m doing it myself.  This way, they look decent much longer.  Even if I manage every 6 weeks, I am happy.

The massage?  The best I could manage on my own — a hot bath.  Maybe one of those massage mats.  But nothing really does the trick unless you’re on a massage table getting the knots taken care of.

Oh I guess I could manage without all of this.  I often did.  Many women do.

Women and men both have (and need) their particular rituals.  Those things that relax us, that fill some need for pampering and indulgence.  When we give a lot of ourselves to others in runnings households or working, we need to give ourselves something to renew us, if we can manage it.  If budgets are small or children are young, just managing some alone time is a treat.  A long bath.  Soaking in the tub.  Doing your own nails if you can’t get someone else to do them.

But as I’ve gotten older and my budget has grown enough to stretch, I indulge myself.

Thus Lady Day.  And Hair Day.  And Massage Day.  Back on home territory, I feel the need to renew myself for the summer sauna that we live with on the Gulf Coast.  Being renewed with my rituals will prepare me to enter my life here again.

This week, though, my friend Carolyn and I found that our calendars didn’t match. I think she went with her daughter and her son’s girlfriend.  That’s okay.  The girls have learned the importance of such rituals. We’ve passed on the secrets of the sisterhood.

Pampering yourself when you can keeps you feeling good, and it allows some girl-time with friends.  It also keeps you going when you’re stressed, when the calendar’s full, and when you’re frantic.  For a couple of hours, at least, you have to stop, slow down, relax, and just breathe.

So now?  I have put on my flip flop sandals, which are what I need when I head out for a manicure and pedicure.  After all, I don’t want to smear the polish!

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Photographs and Memories

Recently, I’ve decided that there’s a club no one invites you to join, but that you join without realizing:  the caregiver’s club.  Even though you intuit that one exists, there’s no real way to anticipate how it operates, not exactly, nor how it changes your life.

Most of my life, I think, I knew that I would end up being the primary caregiver.  I was, after all, the eldest.  I wasn’t married.  My career teaching at university meant that I lived closest to our parents.  My brother lived in Florida.  My sister lived in Natchitoches, in north Louisiana.  I also had the most flexible job.  I didn’t feel trapped.  I didn’t question it.  I was happy to fill that role.

Mother was ill for a long time; Dad retired early, at 60, and took care of her.  They had some good years before she became an invalid, with a wheelchair, and on dialysis.  For her, I was the fill-in, for the times when Dad and Phil went hunting out in West Texas.  Of course, I was also there many other times, and by the 90s it felt as though I began every semester with Mother in the hospital in Lafayette.  I learned how to read her blood sugar, how to get her into and out of the wheelchair, how to tell when she was probably having a small stroke, etc.  My knowledge of medicine grew around her.  Now I realize that her health really became problematic when she was only in her 40s, while I was teaching at Lamar University in Beaumont.  First was the blood pressure, then the brittle diabetes, then the congestive heart failure, then dialysis.  After a while, her medicines cost about $1500 a month — in the early 90s.  Yes, I learned a lot, especially to be grateful for solid insurance. I was the helper, the one who asked questions and took more notes.

But I knew I was only second-best; that was clear.  It was Dad she wanted, and he wanted to be there with her.  I don’t think I really knew just how close they were until then.  Somehow you don’t see your parents as anything other than, say, your parents.  Yet there was that one time in the hospital in Lafayette when I saw them look at each other and realized that they were still the young couple who’d fallen in love despite the odds of different religions and married in 1948.  I could help Dad out, and did.  But the job was his, and not mine, other than temporarily.  When Mother died on July 30, 1993, Dad and Phil were with her at the hospital, and I was in Egan; Phil had come in from Florida only the day before, and I remain convinced that Mother waited for him.  She hadn’t talked in several days at that point, but she was aware of us with her, and she wouldn’t leave without Phil being there.

I watched Mother and Dad take care of Phil, my brother, when he had cancer the first time, at 26.  He recovered, eventually moved to Florida, and was later diagnosed with a melanoma on his arm; that traveled to his brain, and then his spine.  By the time he was terminal, Mother had died.  Dad was once more the primary caregiver while Phil was in M.D. Anderson Hospital in Houston in fall 1995.  I was there every weekend, from Friday afternoon to Sunday evening, and on every holiday.  My sister, Kay, was there when she could be.  Again, I was closer and when my last class was over, I was on the road every Friday.  Dad slept in the pull-out chair; I slept on the floor.  If I could convince Dad to take a weekend off and go to Egan, I got the chair.  Occasionally I stayed in my cousin Jim’s condo; that was a real treat at Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Phil was released two days after Christmas and came home to Egan, where we had hospice.  He died on January 4, 1996, with Dad and me and Phil’s fiancé, Darcie, at his side.

While he was at M.D. Anderson, I became familiar with yet more medical jargon and helped daily when I was there as nurses and Phil’s primary oncologist cared for him through one procedure after another.  For the first time since he was a little boy, he called me “Cheryl Lynn,” and I had to be there right at the bedside holding his hand most of the time.  Together, Dad and I helped take care of him, but during those weekdays while I was teaching, it was Dad who bore the heaviest load, because he had to be there alone.

Dad was such a vital person, independent and stubborn (I get my stubbornness honestly).  He went on dialysis when he was 80 or 81, and drove himself there 3 days a week. Well into his 80s he drove to East Texas almost every other week to meet his sister, Mildred (she’s 18 months older) so that they could mow the large yard and part of the pasture at the family farm.  I worried, but there wasn’t much I could do, frankly.

He was determined not to give up driving, and that was difficult for him.  Yet his family practitioner took that chore out of my hands, and when she put Dad on oxygen, that effectively ended his driving.  While I was still working, I relied on a close family friend to drive him to dialysis.  I spent a lot of weekends there, and eventually did more commuting to work than commuting to Dad’s.  Kay came in too on weekends, and spent time helping out.

We were fortunate, really, that we enjoyed each other.  We really liked each other.  Spending time together wasn’t a chore. And I needed to remember that, because there were still times when I was so tired and exhausted that I was snappy and bitchy.  (Just ask Kay!  We were each other’s “safe place,” and could unload with each other, then apologize, and it was all okay.)

So as Dad’s ability to live alone ended, I “lived” with him much of the time and commuted to Lake Charles, spending weekends at my own home when Kay came down.  She and I laugh about tag-teaming, but that’s exactly what we did.  My last semester and a half of teaching was spent doing a lot of driving, but it was no hardship.  I got tired at times, and learned to treasure sleep, but was so grateful that I was able to work out the responsibilities that way.

When I retired in May 2011, I spent most of the time in Egan.  Dad was still pretty mobile and relatively stable.  He was losing weight.  He was more unsteady on his feet.  While I was gone on a trip in December 2011, he got tangled in his oxygen cord and fell, and that was truly, I think, the beginning of the final slide.  By the end of December, he couldn’t really walk without a walker AND someone helping, but that was only for a few steps.

I bought all new clothes for him so that I could dress him — sweatpants and pullover sweaters.  I fed him too.  By the time we finally got a diagnosis for his problem — an L1 compression fracture — he was dependent.  His surgery seemed to help, but he went to a nursing home for rehabilitation care.  In the two months he was there, I got the house renovated for him.

He came home and had a good first week.  The second week?  Not very good, and he died at home just about two weeks after he’d returned.

He had been such a role model for Phil and Kay and me all of our lives, and was such a generous, loving man.  His own role as caregiver for Mother and Phil was unstinting and without complaint.  He gave joyfully of himself.  I think that by the time it was my turn for that full-time role, I had the way made easy.  I only hope that I lived up to my role model’s example.

Caregiving requires attention.  It demands much.  I don’t know when I’ve ever been so tired and exhausted.  Yet it can also be a blessing.  Time together, laughter, talks about so many things.  I would do it all again, even knowing the outcome.  While I was living with Dad, I spent time online looking for stories by other caregivers, looking for articles about others like myself.  There are a lot of us out there, and not everyone has the flexibility I had in my teaching.  Not everyone has the support group.  The club is huge, my friends.  Some of you are in it too, and we’ve talked about it.  Just as caregiving became my life, it continues to be part of me even though Dad has died.  It remains part of the way I live, defines how I see things.  How I appreciate things — family, friends, home, pets.  Even — maybe especially — time.

It’s been over a year since Dad died.  For the rest of the year afterwards till 2013 began, I think I hibernated.  Sometime in December 2012 I seemed to wake up.  The next six months have been a gradual recovery of my own life — or maybe a rediscovery, a re-invention, even.

At times, I’ve felt absolutely lost, without purpose.  So much of my life had been focused on teaching, a career I cherished and loved.  And then my life centered on taking care of Dad.  The second focus overlapped so much with the last months of teaching that I didn’t really have a transition period.  I simply moved into caregiving full-time. But after?  Neither focus was there; I was cut adrift and felt it.

I am slowly finding myself again, learning to make a life again.  Rediscovering my own home and finding the pleasures of it once more.  I’ve realized that I have never simply lived in this house without working.  Now I live here in a way that I never did before.  Schedule?  No, I don’t have one, but I’m setting one for myself.  Defined not by someone else (not most of the time) but by me and my interests.

In January 2013 I began (finally) the renovations on my home in Lake Charles.  For far too long I’d not been able to do what needed to be done.  But suddenly, it seemed, it was my time — and the kitchen project took off.  Progress there made me feel as though I hadn’t simply abandoned it to fall apart. I got the porch and brickwork repaired.  The kitchen’s not complete yet, but will be before too long.  And I don’t need to feel frustrated when it doesn’t happen immediately.

When I left for Greece in late April, I took a break.  Friends came to visit there.  I spent a lot of time reading and simply taking care of my apartment. I went to London for a long weekend.  I went to Istanbul for a few days with a friend. I visited with friends in Greece, had coffee, went to the movies, did the shopping.  And the last three weeks I was there I participated in a poetry workshop.  The companionship, the daily writing — what a treat.  The last dam of the writer’s block that has characterized my life for a year has (fingers crossed) been broken.

I know I’ve written about this before, but I am reminded of it all at the oddest times.  My cousin Mike sent Kay and me some photos he and his wife had of a few days of a trip to Lake Sam Rayburn; I’m not in either photo.  But what a treat to see Mother and Dad and Phil and Kay (and Mike and Sis) enjoying themselves.  Even now, I get a bit teary thinking of the photos.  Mother is there sitting with Dad; they’re laughing.  Phil is clearly telling a story in the photo of him in the boat — he’s grinning and has his arms stretched out as though to say “it was THIS big!”

To see them healthy and happy and laughing is to remind me that the caregiving has only been a blessing, truly.

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Changes to my blog. Changes to me. Changes.

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything in either of my blogs, and after some consideration, I’ve decided to combine the two blogs into one.

The two blogs began as separate entities, but now it seems natural to merge them.  The intensity of daily life in my world of caregiving drove “thedaddiary13,” and “cwareintheworld” seemed appropriate for travel.  No longer, though.  My dad’s death in April 2012 ended that caregiving world, and though I certainly think about people and events and issues connected with it, it no longer remains separate from but rather part of my “other” life.

Similarly, travel is now just part of my life.  That travel might well be to another country and culture, but it might also be here, in the U.S., in my own hometown(s).

Writing was one of my lifelines while I was caring for Dad in the last months of his life and in the months afterward, but before too long I realized I was bone-weary and that my desire to write was quite simply gone.  In December 2012 and January 2013, I thought I’d broken through that, but clearly hadn’t.

However, this summer I participated in a 3-week poetry workshop, in Athens, Greece, and immersed myself in re-reading The Odyssey (2 books a day) and in writing poems (daily).  Somewhere along the way, my love of writing was re-kindled.  Maybe it was just on hiatus.  I will write about the workshop at length in another blog, but it served to remind me of so many things about poetry and community and writing.

Anyway, with many thanks to my friend Alicia Stallings and her workshop, I find myself energized about so much again, and writing is once more part of my life.

While I was pondering just what to do with two blogs, I was reading a relative’s blog, and he mentioned that his blog had changed.  That sparked my own realization that just because the two blogs had begun separately, they didn’t need to stay separate.  Nor did my blog have to remain static — I certainly haven’t, and my life hasn’t.

Consequently, I will now keep the “cwareintheworld” title, blend the two sites, and archive earlier posts in the one site.

Also, I have decided to write on travel at least once per week (Fridays) and on Dad-related topics once per week (Mondays).  The other posts will be on whatever topics that occur to me.

Finally, I realized that I have never posted the final days of my trip to Jordan in 2012!  I will do that, late though these are.  Apologies.

Welcome, then, to my newly conceived “cwareintheworld” blog.  Welcome to my world.

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