Make a Decision

You know, I’m a competent professional. Part of my work is to make decisions, forecast the future, design plans that will move us forward into new places, and sprinkle the whole thing with innovative ideas. I’m good at it and I like doing it. I’m not a waffler, although at home I’m deliberate; at work I make decisions relatively quickly, accepting that if there are mistakes we can right them the second or third time. That would be a problem in fields where decisions are exceptionally costly or life-saving, but I work at a library, folks, none of my decisions are going to be disasters.

My wife likes to consider all of the possible options before settling on a decision. We’re incompatible this way (at home, I’m not always interested in options) but we are very compatible in that the time I prefer to make a decision (again, at home) is pretty close to the time she needs to consider all of the options. I like to think of it this way – she will lay out a range of options and then I can make a quick decision after having taken awhile to consider them all and we’ll end up landing in about the same place. You might recall that we had paint samples on our bedroom wall for a year.

My mother wants me to make instant decisions about things that are important to her. And then she wants me to do those things right then and there. Under duress, I can usually accommodate one preference, but not the other. For example, she wanted to know if I would take a lovely fountain and a fleet of end tables so that she didn’t need to move them. I said I would on the spot but they will certainly hang out in my basement until I’ve had time to consider where I’ll put them. This will take awhile, my brain space is occupied by other things, and it bothers me not at all that we don’t know where we’ll put them yet (or ever).

It agitates her that I sit on things past the .15 seconds she has provided for a decision. What dates am I thinking of traveling? Where am I planning to go? What do I think I’ll do when I get there? If there’s not a plane ticket, hotels, or a friend’s couch involved, those decisions may well come once I arrive. When we went to Disneyworld, I bent my entire will toward planning out the trip (although leaving plenty of flexibility) but this is not my regular approach. I head somewhere down the middle but closer to the last minute.

For example, earlier this month Debra and I decided that we might go away for the weekend. Two weeks prior, we decided on a location. A week prior, we made a hotel reservation. Three or four days prior, we decided what we’d do when we got there and we decided when to leave about 15 minutes before we got in the car. Of course, this is for a relatively local vacation. I don’t consider most of that last minute but I watched my mother practically tremble with agitation and judgement as we waltzed through this process.

Today I’m spending the afternoon with her wrapping up the tail end of her packing. I am well aware that she will expect me to make more split decisions about what I want to take and leave. I’d prefer to decide later once I’ve brought it home. I’m not asking her to delay any moving things and my decision will have no impact at all on her. I just want the chance to consider the greater picture and, if she behaves as she usually does, this is going to drive her insane. I’m not feeling particularly accommodating today. I’m trying not to think of this as a looming disaster.

I accept that there’s a happy medium here and that the stress she’s under doesn’t give her the flexibility to move outside of her comfort zone. The impending conflict is completely within my control. Clearly, the teenager in me is trying to act out – I could make decisions quickly, I just don’t want to. If I can just get that cantankerous 15-yr-old to cool her jets, I might be able to make it through this.

 

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A Smaller Loss

I don’t know if there’s a post marking the arrival of my parents and the subsequent overhaul of life. I looked but didn’t try too hard which I think is a good summary of how I feel about the last four years. When we suggested they consider this state over their current one and over the two inhabited by my sisters, we did so partly for their sake (better medical care! lower property taxes! four seasons!) and partly for RR’s, who otherwise would have, at best, annual contact with her only set of grandparents. It was not for my sake. I think that much is clear.

We had dinner with them, and then my mom alone, every Sunday. Our lives changed in dozens of small ways and some very significant ones. We have new electricity in the basement and new plumbing in one bathroom but the lights are crooked and the silicone lining the sink is shifty at best. Weekend relaxation ended at 3pm but we had multiple Sundays on a porch, in the fall air, with the scent of apple pie and pot roast wafting through the house. I got to spend the last two years of my father’s life with him and that’s unquantifiable. There are no more sentences for that because I can’t do it justice.

We were right that the medical care would be important. The property taxes didn’t turn out to be lower. And, in the end, winter is why my mother is moving away. That’s the kind reason, the one she drags out for friends. It’s so cold, she says, and my other daughter is in Arizona. That’s true. It’s the family she’s spent the least amount of time with and the daughter she probably likes the best. Although, to be fair to my other sister, it’s just me she doesn’t click with. But mostly, here is where my dad died. I don’t think she can get away fast enough.

As we come up on the moving date, I’m parts sad for RR and part happy for Debra and I. This is going to reduce stressful conversations and increase weekend opportunities. I’ll be able to take a deep breath. We won’t have to move a tv, or bring over supper, or change plans for anyone but us. She’ll be happier on the other side of the country. To be honest, I also could use a break from the constant reminder that my dad is gone. In the end, RR seems to be the only casualty. It’s (hopefully) the final loss in two years of losses. And just think, now we have an excuse to vacation in Arizona again!

 

Anxiety is the Worst

I wouldn’t say it’s crippling anxiety, but it’s definitely dragging one useless foot anxiety. I emailed the coaches for my daughter’s probably swim team today. I have some baggage with that, having started to swim early with what I recognize now as limping but not yet cane-worthy anxiety. I remember going into the building by myself at five, never really making friends, never being fast enough for the coaches but too fast to be well-liked, and knowing I just had to make it through or my mother would be disappointed and angry. Perhaps my five-year-old self has blown this out of proportion. Maybe anxiety didn’t start punching me in the gut until I was eight. Maybe I wasn’t an outsider right away. Maybe the coaches didn’t loom quite so large, didn’t criticize quite so much. It doesn’t matter, not really. That anxiety stayed with me right through high school and while I eventually had plenty of friends and became a team captain, an assistant coach, and a lifeguard, I still feel like I’ll throw up every time I see a lane line, block, or the black lines marking the path on the bottom of the pool.

On a smaller level, I’m gripped with sick fear each time I’m supposed to be some place where talking to a lot of other people about everyday things is expected. Can you believe I spent ten years attending parties with foreign dignitaries? No, I can’t either. I’m well-liked, I’m adept at small talk, I connect with others easily, I’m a strong public speaker. In other words, you wouldn’t know that inside I feel like I’m banging on the walls to get out trying to stay clear of the black whirlpool of panic whenever I’m supposed to be in a group with more than two others. Even one person, on an occasional basis, has the capacity to nearly paralyze me although I sometimes surprise myself with a glimpse of the me who used to attend group gatherings with only mild trepidation.

It doesn’t stop me from my professional obligations, mostly. I don’t usually attend “fun” gatherings because for me they are torture. I do go to conferences and meetings and trainings and workshops confidently with a smile because it’s the expectation and I’m particularly good at drowning out the screaming in order to be professional. Still, there are only so many times you can beg off because you aren’t feeling well or have a family requirement. And it does prevent me from doing things I might enjoy if only I could make it past myself.

I left a promising career.
I left a monthly gathering of friends and acquaintances.
I haven’t attended team building parties with my staff.
I’ve made excuses not to attend big work gatherings.
I’ve skipped live music, parades, block parties, and festivals.
I’ve put off visits with friends and family.
I didn’t take my daughter to swim team kick-off. I lied to my kid. She didn’t meet the coach. She didn’t buy a suit. She didn’t meet any other kids.

It’s this last one I’m ashamed of. Sure, she can register at anytime and she’ll get to do all of those things at practice. But I read the handbook and there is a series of “fun” events (not to mention volunteering at meets) throughout the summer. Add this to the “fun” events the girl scout troop has and I am sitting here typing and struggling to breathe. I don’t want my daughter to see this. I don’t want to pass it on in any way. But I don’t want to do this and I can’t ask my wife to do everything.

Yes, I could see someone. I could breathe deep and exercise and meditate. I’d rather have a pill to make it stop. I’d rather be a different person. But here I am and I have a few more decades to grit my teeth and endure.

There is no good last sentence here.

Technology, Man

Let me be upfront. I value the charm and convenience of technology more than I do the need to cautiously prevent my data from be sloppy all over the internet. Perhaps it’s a stint as a federal employee and knowing that my fingerprints and everything about me is in a file somewhere. At any rate, let’s all assume I know the dangers and woe and move ahead.

I love that I can keep up with my friends all over the world and that I can use facebook groups like Buy Nothing to keep things out of the landfill and meet my neighbors at the same time. I love that I can use Instagram to see pictures of food in Delhi and, right after it, your kid joyously conquering a new milestone. I love that I have exclusively online friends I’ve met here (yes, here!) and elsewhere who, on some days, are my closest friends who I happily text with regularly. I love that I have devices and apps to track my steps and tell me whether I’m getting a touch too lazy. I love that I barely need to check my email since I can use so many other more instant methods of communication. And I especially love Timehop which rolls out more than 13 years of “on this day” pictures. Just the other day there was this gem of my wife and I, three years ago:

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We look so young and so happy – it was a good reminder that we need to get away together more often and that our current states of neutral-unhappy shouldn’t be okay. There is a different standard.

And this sign from the same day, reminding me that my sister lived with us 13 years ago. On a day trip to a street fair she casually yodeled “hello prisoners” not truly believing the sign was still relevant. The voice on the loudspeaker scolding her has provided years of laughter.

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But my day died a year ago this Saturday and Timehop has been ruthless about pulling photos from shared google albums. Like today’s picture that my mother never should have shared of her propping my infant nephew on my father’s lap two days before he died. Maybe she thought the sentiment was important. My father looks worse than I remember. The tears got lodged so high up in my throat I haven’t made a sound in hours. I’m deleting the picture from my life.

I’m prepared for it to pull in the obit I shared to facebook with his smiling picture. I did a good job writing it and I think I captured him as well as anyone could. I’m prepared for pictures from the hospice waiting room of my sisters piecing together a puzzle. I was not prepared for that.

Facebook does something similar, recommending you reshare a picture you posted long ago. Many of my old friends are logging off for good and it’s bittersweet. I truly love knowing about their lives, when they have babies, where they are travelling, even when they die. But it’s true that I barely even glance at my newsfeed anymore, heading straight to the groups I belong to. I’m much more active on Instagram (that’s a hint, yes) and I appreciate the lack of “vaguebooking” and news infiltration. Also, it’s not going to remind me that one year ago I was falling apart at the seams and gently prods me to address that fact that I am not yet stitched back together.

It’s a double-edged sword isn’t it? Now go forth and follow @meridith_ann so I can follow you back.

 

Grief Beauty

Today as I was drying my hair, I noticed how unsatisfying my arms looked. I mean yes, at that angle, very few of us at this age have lovely tight upper arms. However, a year ago I remember looking in that same mirror and thinking that they weren’t bad arms. Not as terrible as I thought they were growing up. Certainly not bad enough that they deserved to be obscured by a cardigan even on the hottest summer days. Now, though. Now there’s no cardigan negotiation. These are not arms I want to be dragging around town where everyone can see.

Completely related, a year ago I was at the gym 5 days a week. I was cardio-ing away the intense sadness of watching my father die. I cried on every treadmill in the gym. I walked miles with tears streaming down my cheeks. I lifted weights I can’t imagine lifting today. I was at the gym during his final days, making an exception to my no-texting-at-the-gym rule so that I could make sure I wasn’t missing the Big Goodbye. By the time fall arrived I had stopped going entirely. I’m not even sure the gym is still there.

My weight held steady until last month when it seemed like a dam broke on the scale. I can see the extra pounds on my arms and my stomach and I am not at all happy. In fact, I think the only things I’ve done for my appearance in a year are to dye my eyelashes and cut my hair. I got tired of wiping off mascara smears every time I cried. I cut my hair because half of it fell out and it made me feel better not to be reminded every time I pulled my hair back…to go to the gym.

So now I have more weight, short hair, and brown lashes which I probably won’t dye again. My summer clothes don’t exactly flatter. I am slowly coming around to the idea of going back to the gym. If only because I want to be able to look at myself in the mirror and not be unhappy. That makes sense, right? Why is it so hard to actually do it? And why does it feel like it won’t make a difference if I do?

 

Gracefully Aging

Look, that title makes it seem like I’m going to write thoughtfully about mid-life and we’ll all nod sagely and think kindly about our own mortality and tell each other we love each other.

This is not that post.

Last week a mole that was new, or at least incognito, arrived on my neck, started to bleed, and subsided into a small scabby thing that wasn’t that much different than the spot that turned out to be melanoma. That spot relieved me of a couple of lymph nodes and a good part of my upper right arm. In exchange, I got a startling scar that looks more like the aftermath of a shark bite and less like surgical precision. At my last appointment, I received a scolding about ignoring another similar spot that faded into nothing so I went in for reassurance that it was some post-ingrown hair irritation.

There were all sorts of people in the waiting room and more than a couple with white bandages on their faces or ears. The kind that I associate with my mother and grandmother. I imagine you know where this is going. At least I walked out with a beige, smallish, bandage, a hole in my neck where the spot used to be, and a promise that they’d get back to me on Monday.

I grew up in the sunbelt. My heritage is so very fair. Skin cancer was a thing we had in my family. My mom would show up with a giant bandage on her nose. The next month my grandmother would have one spanning across her shoulder and up her neck. We mostly pretended not to notice. The bandages came as gradually but as certainly as the wrinkles and age spots did and I came to associate them with getting older. And now that’s me. I’m the person that my child will look at and see as unimaginably old, bandaged, and sacrificed to the sun.

I want to handle this with laugh lines (check) and good humor (eh). It’s not so easy. I can’t ignore the fact that the skin of my hands and the capillaries on my face look like my father’s. That I have a belly like my grandmother’s who I knew, intellectually, wasn’t pregnant but who was surely shaped like someone who was. That nothing on my body is smooth or silky and that my eyes are fading to a lighter blue every year. I want to handle this gracefully. Perhaps with sheer determination I’ll succeed.

 

 

Nearly a Year

My dad passed away in April. It seems like it has been years since he died. I think that might be the opposite of what I’m supposed to say – things like, “It feels like it was yesterday” and “Has it really been a year?” and “It feels like he was just here”. Instead it’s almost like I never had him. I have good, happy memories. They are warm and comforting but they are faded and crispy on the edges. They are also very far away.

I know there isn’t a right way to grieve. It was a harder lesson to learn than I thought it would be. People really don’t like it when you say things like, “Well now that my dad’s not dying anymore, I should be able to commit to that project more fully.” I reread that sentence and almost changed it for you because maybe it sounds glib. But to me, last year was a year when he was very busy. Just like he spent the first year of his diagnosis, fighting to hold on to normalcy, he spend the second year giving in to the inevitable. I wish some of that had taken the form of getting his affairs in order. But he didn’t and he’s dead now. People also don’t like it when you say that. No, they do not.

My sisters are still struggling while my mom seems to have taken back her life. She has friends and she goes places. She’s taking a class. She’s almost making plans for the future but doesn’t because then she probably would be someone else’s mother. She cleans out the storage unit and hugs me when I cry while I put my dad’s cowboy boots and hat into the box marked Goodwill. Of course I still cry now and again. That comforts people, I think, as long as you don’t do it too often.

It’s too quiet when we have Sunday dinner with my mom. My dad was a still man though. He wasn’t restless, wasn’t loud, didn’t bustle, or hurry, or make small talk. His absence is noisy and that’s when I notice how gone he really is. My mom forgets to turn the lights on, leaves the TV on mute (if it’s on at all), and has trouble thinking through the components of a full meal. Often I’ll get a text around 2pm on Sunday letting me know that all she has is roast chicken. She isn’t kidding. It’s as if my dad’s presence closed a few gaps for her and now the holes are wide open. Best not to tell anyone, or they begin to feel sorry for her, for you, for the way she is grieving.

I don’t feel like he’s here watching over me or that he’s close at all. At times, like right now, he’s certainly not shoving away the boulder pressing down on my heart. The rest of the time, he’s a fond memory that occasionally flits past. Are you uncomfortable? It’s okay if you are. Us greivers, we can’t actively grieve forever as much as in the moment it feels like we could or should. Then again, that’s just my brand of grief as handled by the person I am for the person he was and that particular combination couldn’t exist for any other person.

No wonder it’s so hard to say and do the right thing for ourselves or for others. But just in case, and this is for my wife, please don’t commemorate the day he died. I don’t want to know. I’m not that kind of griever.