Today my heart…

…is heavy.

Every year, come hell or highwater (which is exactly what it was this year – thank you Hurricane Matthew) my mother goes to Paris. Paris is her heart place; a piece of her soul lives there. We who love her, know this, embrace this, and send her on her merry way every October.

She’s almost 80 and legally blind and a badass adventurer.

But my 85-year-old father’s health hasn’t been so good lately. Actually, we’ve had some pretty big scares recently.

So Mom was going to cancel her trip but instead, I flew to Florida to hang out with Dad.

Perfect solution for all of us.

And then came the hurricane. Mom was gone, Dad was evacuated, I didn’t know if I was going to even be able to arrive here.

Turns out I was. Dad had just returned to his home which was damage-free, yet still a mess. When I got here, there was a massive amount of debris and the steel “shutters” still covered every window and door except the garage.

It was mighty dark and fortressed in here – like a bunker.

Dad was in pretty good shape and very good spirits. I was super psyched that I was here.

We’ve had a week of cleanup, chores, and lovely talks. We completed some projects that he would never have been able to do on his own.

And I have seen things; I’ve gained insights into my father and into being elderly in general.

I’ve witnessed that a sense of order is important. I’ve experienced the frustration of not being able to do simple things by oneself. I’ve opened the doors to the near empty refrigerator of people who no longer cook for themselves. I’ve met the comrades who take care of each other because none of them can do it completely on their own. I’ve been here for the death of a close friend’s child.

This morning my father is visiting a friend who can no longer leave the house and has become isolated and depressed.

I sat in the cardiologist’s office while he explained that they can’t explain what is happening to my dad’s heart and lungs.

I’ve watched my father wince in pain. I’ve seen that he needs to sit down and catch his breath after taking the dog into the yard to pee.

I made the decision to stay with my dad rather than take advantage of a once in a lifetime opportunity to see my best friend from high school – a choice I certainly would never have made when I was 17.

And, I’ve borne witness to his strength and resiliency. He’s still the same guy; kind, witty, intelligent, loving, and totally unwilling to give into old age and sit on his ass.

Vital.

We’ve had gallons of coffee, bowl after bowl of ice cream; we casually ate our meals at the bar in the kitchen rather than the dining room table. We’ve lingered, we’ve shot the shit, I shared some incredibly personal and painful bits of my life

For the first time EVER, we have watched the news and agreed on politics.

I have been told, repeatedly, by many of the folks in this town, “You are your mother.” I am honored.

My father is amazing, a gem. He is the most decent man I know. After close to 60 years of marriage, he and my mother are still in love.

So today, I depart. He will drop me off at the airport at noon so I can return to the rest of my family who I miss terribly.

But I am sad. I could stay here forever. I would love to be here when my mother arrives (tomorrow) and have more time with both of them.

This trip has brought to my awareness the fragility of life and the desire to share these last years with my mom and dad; they won’t be around forever.

I get that in a way that I’ve never really gotten it before.

I adore my parents. I am so fortunate to have been born into this family.

I am so thankful that I outgrew my stupid teenage rebellion.

The unthinkable

A baby has died. A teeny tiny member of our small community is gone.

I can’t, I won’t even try, to fathom what is going on in the hearts of his parents. It is too unbearable to imagine.

For everyone who is a parent, it is our worst nightmare; it is the possibility that keeps us up at night worrying. It is the reason why we yell at our child for crossing the street without looking. It is the driving force behind standing over a sleeping child searching for the rise and fall of gentle breathing.

For me, it is the fear that has given me cause to wonder if I really am cut out for this parenting gig.

With my children having reached the ages of 21, 19, and 17, that fear has not diminished even an ounce. The only thing that has changed is the possible cause of death; car accident instead of SIDS, fatal football head injury instead of choking on a Lego.

Instead of hovering over my sleeping child as I did when they were small, I now hover, waiting for them to return for the night and go to sleep.

Today, no one is sure what has happened, why this child has come and gone as quickly as he has. All we know is that he is gone.

Does it matter what happened? A very wise woman said that to wonder about the hows and whys distracts us from dealing with the fact that this baby is gone…forever.

My sadness is so very deep.

As it is within our small, insulated world. There is a collective grief that many feel and we don’t necessarily know what to do with that pain.

As I fumble around, remembering the weight of that tiny man in my arms (wailing, because I am definitely not a baby-whisperer) I also see something beautiful happening.

I see community. I see that what exists in our town is strong and unique and loving.

People everywhere are throwing around the catchphrase “community.” It’s hip and trendy to “create community.”

The reality is that if you open your eyes and your heart here in this valley, we already have it in spades.

Folks who don’t even know this family are crying tears and rallying to help in any way that they can. Food, money, childcare for the sister…it doesn’t matter what, how big or how small. What matters is that a child has died, there are people suffering, and the love that flows through our town is astounding.

One of my chickens was killed yesterday.

My son hit and killed a fawn less than an hour later.

Death.

Death of the innocent, death of the young.

I know that my chicken and that baby deer are not someone’s child and that my pain over my girl is piddly in comparison to my friends’ pain, but I feel surrounded by death.

And that is painful.

Unbearably so.

And, I appreciate living so close to the natural world that I can see that yes, creatures are born and creatures die before what we think is their time.

Today it doesn’t make this child’s death any less brutal, but maybe some day it will help with the hows and the whys.

I think that I am rambling here. I want to talk about this, I want to process the grief, and yet I don’t want to make this about me. I don’t want to presume to hurt anywhere near as much as mom and dad. And I certainly don’t want to be a gossip.

But death needs to be talked about and picked at and felt. Our culture is at a complete and utter loss when it comes to grief. If one is not devoutly religious then it is likely that there is no set of guidelines for how to cope with the unimaginable.

For anyone who has seen Rabbit Proof Fence, there was a scene where a grandmother’s children are taken from her. She collapses on the ground and beats her own head with a rock. It struck me as beautiful. In moments of intense agony, who wouldn’t beat themselves with a stone?

I loved that it was accepted.

We don’t have that. If someone saw me beating my own brains out they’d call the cops.

So we make food. We show up at friends’ homes at 9:30 at night to just have a little bit of company and not feel so alone. We accept the parents right where they are and do not judge. We worry; about the mother, the father, the sister, the grandmother. We talk about the child, the sadness, the hows and whys, because whether those things matter in the big picture or not, sharing those thoughts helps us to bond as an extended family.

We say the words coroner, autopsy, burial, in hopes that speaking them will take just a little bit of the power, the rawness, out of them.

If I can say autopsy, then hopefully it will help Mom and Dad say it too.

Because it is an unbearable word to use in the same sentence as your child’s name.

We gather together and pick at the wound – perhaps if we pick enough scar tissue will develop and the pain will lessen.

We create the container that will hopefully help this family in feeling loved and supported and not alone in this agony.

 

 

 

Run River Run

Yeah, I totally stole that name – Ann Zwinger, incredible author, boater, and all around lovely woman, came up with that for one of her books, but, it’s perfect here so I’m at least giving her credit as I pilfer her title.

Anyway…

Two summers ago, right at this time of year, when the rivers were peaking and some even flooding, I almost drowned.

Seriously almost drowned – not an exaggeration, not being a drama queen – we’re talking, sinking underwater, about to give up and accept the end, understanding the depth of my will to live, not going to leave my children motherless, completely life-altering, drowning.

Years ago a friend of mine drowned – I know that it happens.  I do not think that I am invincible in water. I have always had a healthy respect for the power and unpredictability of H2O.

And yet, I’ve also had complete confidence in my boating and river-navigating skills.

So coming that close to the bottom of the river was not only terrifying, but came as quite a surprise.

What also came as a surprise is, once I dumped out of my boat, everything I’ve ever known (and taught) about river safety, went right out the window in my panicky fight for my life.

For a brief bit in the ensuing days, I tried to convince myself that it really wasn’t that big of a deal, that I was fine. I tried to sort through real danger vs. perceived danger. I attempted to list the incident under the latter.

But then, for the first time in 20 years, I didn’t want to get on the river. The sound of rushing water caused my heart to race. I stood on river banks, thankful that I was on dry land.

This was so unlike me – the obsessive boater, the person who took to the river over and over again as refuge and respite.

That’s when I realized that this had been actual, real danger.

I’ve become afraid of the ocean. I recently had to turn off a surfing video because seeing that much water from a go-pro’s perspective was unbearable.

I’ve only been boating a couple of times since then. I have let other people row my boat. I’ve lost all trust in myself.

Last weekend we had company in town and decided to take them on a float. Our river options are currently aplenty. Big water everywhere, rivers flowing that haven’t flowed in years.

I am actually the person who suggested the one day adventure. I had hoped to float my dearest river, which usually takes 2 or 3 days, in a day. The weather is warm, (in case someone accidentally took a swim) and since I know the river like the back of my hand, it felt like the safest option.

But, no permit. That still left 4 other stretches of water from which to choose. Trying to make that choice left me stressed out and unsure of myself. There was even some tension with MCB about it until he came up with a manageable plan.

Once it felt like someone else was in charge, I was able to relax just the tiniest bit.

At the put-in, I was quite spastic – concerningly so. I couldn’t remember how to rig my own boat. I tripped getting onto it (while still on dry ground) and ended up face down in the bottom of the vessel. I slipped, I almost backed my truck into a ditch, couldn’t maintain my footing as I squatted to pee.

MCB assumed that I would be rowing. He had confidence in me that I didn’t have. Yet, I did bring a huge heap of ego with me which made it impossible for me to not jump on the oars in front of our company.

When we finally went afloat, I got an oar stuck twice in the current, I got yanked off me feet, I slipped, I got the other oar stuck in the willows, and I couldn’t manage to get off-shore.

I rowed for a little while, I negotiated a few wave trains, I practiced my strokes trying to regain my ease and composure at the helm. In my head, I repeatedly talked myself down.

Then I offered for any of the others to row. First one guest did, then the second. Then MCB jumped into the driver’s seat and I lay down on the front of the boat, able to relax knowing that we were in capable hands.

The next thing that happened took my by surprise. I began to get that familiar I Want To Row itching. It took a second to realize what the feeling was, but when I did identify it, I thought, I’d better get on those oars right this second or this desire could pass on, maybe forever.

So I totally passive aggressed MCB into letting me row again. I wasn’t really fair to him about it but I wanted to nurture this little shift from fear to familiar comfort and thought that I let him continue to row, I might never be brave enough to do it again.

And thank goodness he’s a gentleman.

I rowed. Not totally smoothly, not flawlessly, but with budding confidence and no major mishaps.

It was healing, but really, it was just fun. The kind of fun that one gets to have in a beautiful place, with water and trees and views, the kind of fun that happens when everyone feels good about where they are and what they are doing.

This was huge.

I even took a quick swim at the take-out.

So now, I am obsessed again. It’s a relief, really, to know that I haven’t been scared off forever.

I’m not ready for “big” water – I may never be again, and I am okay with that.  I can start with what is small and familiar.  If I get beyond that, great.  If I don’t, I’m super fine with that, as long as I can enjoy floating in some of my favorite places and not have panic attacks.

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Questions

Is it that more bad stuff is happening to young people?

Is it that I just know about more because I live in a small community?

Is it that all of this kind of stuff was going on when I was a young person but I was totally sheltered?

Is it that when I was young no one talked about it all and now we are?

Is it the company I keep?

Or is the world just a scarier place?

I don’t know the answer(s); it could be All of the Above.

What I do know is that another young person in our community has died a wasteful death. She has left 2 small children behind. She made bad choices. Her life was really hard.

And now the lives of those who loved her just got harder.

Life

I’m not the patriotic type.

The Fourth of July is actually one of those holidays that I can live without celebrating. I’m not even a huge fan of fireworks.

But 9/11 – it gets to me.

In so many ways.

The whole “people who serve” thing just cripples me. The level of decency from which some people function is absolutely mind-boggling. If I could have a hundredth of that pure goodness my life would be so incredible.

I think about the people jumping out of the building – deciding that it would be a better way to go than collapsing in a burning building.

I think about the mothers and the fathers on those planes, knowing that their children were about to die and trying to comfort them.

I try to imagine being so devout that I would be willing to give away my life and the lives of so many oblivious and decent people.

I try to imagine that level of hatred.

I try to imagine what a person would be feeling when they survived and their friend from the next cubicle over didn’t.

I wonder what wives would feel towards one another when one man lived and the other didn’t.

It is unthinkable. Unspeakable. Unfathomable.

Unbearable.

My brother was there. THERE.

He lives in California. He was there on a quick business trip. He went downstairs to get a cup of coffee. Everyone in his office died. He watched the second plane hit. He left when people started jumping. He ran all the way uptown. He went to his childhood town to stay in a hotel and hide.

I am lucky.

Being the liberal, peacenik, hippie, that I am, my immediate reaction was definitely not “retaliation.”

If I was my brother, his wife, his (our) parents, would I feel differently? Would I say, like my sister-in-law did, of The Patriot Act, “I don’t care what rights they take away, I never want to live those (post collapse, not knowing) hours ever again?”

If my brother had died, how would I feel about losing freedoms and killing others, because my brother had been killed by terrorists.

I am happy that this day does this to me. Thankful that my brain spins through all of these truly horrific imaginings. This keeps me humble, keeps my feet on the ground. If every other day of the year I walk around thinking only of myself and my woes, I know that for this one entire day, I will think of others with compassion and love.

 

I love this kind of shit

Brazilian Joao Maria de Souza was killed in 2013 when a cow fell through his roof onto him as he slept.

Sigurd the Mighty, a ninth-century Norse earl of Orkney, was killed by an enemy he had beheaded several hours earlier. He’d tied the man’s head to his horse’s saddle, but while riding home one of its protruding teeth grazed his leg. He died from the infection.

Paul G. Thomas, the owner of a wool mill, fell into one of his machines in 1987 and died after being wrapped in 800 yards of wool.

In 1567, the man said to have the longest beard in the world died after he tripped over his beard running away from a fire.

An Irish woman died in 2008 after voluntarily having sex with a dog. The exact cause of death is unclear, although it was speculated that an allergic reaction to dogs might have been the cause.