Acorn Becomes the Oak

I have found myself in such an interesting place in recent months. I had heard the term before, from friends whose parents were aging and required a bit more attention and care, and while I don’t want to say that I am becoming the parent to my parent… I have to admit, it feels like we are moving into a sort of role reversal.

My sweet Pop has lived 80 of his 81 years with epilepsy, and in the last ten years it has really taken a toll on his body. I call it body betrayal, the way that simple commands the body once executed with barely a thought suddenly (or gradually) become tasks which require serious concentration and a concerted physical effort to perform. In 2008, Pop spent a good part of the year traveling to and from Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville. Test after test failed to reveal what was causing symptoms which impaired his ability to walk, to feel his feet and fingertips, and eventually… his ability to find words while speaking. I will never forget the day he told me that he was deeply depressed, and that he didn’t think he would live out the year. I was heartbroken, but I was also still working in a high demand, stressful job in the corporate world, which didn’t leave me with much time or energy to be of service.

Finally, he saw a local neurologist who reviewed the same lab results that Mayo Clinic ordered and reviewed, and my beloved father was diagnosed with a serious B-12 deficiency. Apparently, his epilepsy medication, his age, and the fact he was living with a vegetarian had left him seriously depleted. I later learned from a friend whose pediatrician had the same diagnosis, that if it had not been discovered, he would have ended up in a coma. The end result of this oversight for such a length of time was permanent nerve damage and neuropathy in his feet and from a lifetime of small seizures, down his left side.

So, Poppy has been using a walker to get around for the last ten years, and he and Mom moved closer to me a few years ago. I’d never really imagined living seven houses away from my parents, but I have to tell you that I am really glad to have them so near. I worry less than when they were 45 minutes away with no neighbors around to check on them. I don’t necessarily stop in every day, but I can glance over on the way to my house to be sure all appears well, and can be there in two minutes if they call for assistance.

There are a few new things that we are experiencing this year. First of all, in my role as careholder, I am witnessing my father’s stubbornness when I ask if he has accomplished certain tasks for self-care, and he informs me that he has not. Twice in the last two months, we have been to the dermatologist, and both times he failed to mention wounds on hidden parts of his body until we were getting back into the car when the appointment was over. He’s been falling down a lot lately (scans show that a compression fracture in L4 and L5 may be to blame), because his left leg just drops out from under him, and a few times we’ve had the lovely men-on-duty at our local fire department stop by for a “lift assist” when he wasn’t able to get himself upright. This was the very best tip ever, that you can call ‘911’ and tell them it is a non-emergency and that you need a lift assist. When they hear you have an 80 year old man on the ground who needs a lift, they transfer you immediately to the nearest available fire department.  Dad has offered on a couple of occasions to bake them cookies or invest in their children’s college funds. Seriously, we love these people!

Yesterday, he finally followed instructions and remembered to call me when he got out of the walk-in tub (I can’t say we loved the installation process, but we love that dad can get in and out of a hot-soak relatively well now). He said, “I’m out of the tub. You’d better hurry over before my toenails turn back to steel!” And within two minutes, I was serving at the feet of one of my heroes in his pajama bottoms, with reading glasses (for protection as much as for magnification) and a pair of industrial strength clippers. I made sure the talons were shortened enough, then applied lotion before putting on his socks. Next, I helped him put his shirt on and giggled as I exclaimed, “There he is!” as his head popped through the neck hole. (He’s a pretty good sport about it all.) I finished up my service by brushing his hair, and made him a bagel with cream cheese.

I am not sure what I thought this time in our lives would have entailed, but I’m sure I might have imagined it to be sad or tedious, but so far, it is not. For me, right now… it is joyful. I am one of the lucky ones, to have a father who is warm, kind and generous to all who are blessed to know him. He was a social worker who served the physically handicapped for over 30 years, after all. I don’t know if he imagined that some of the tools he made available to his clients, all those years ago, would be something my mom and I would be seeking for his comfort decades later.

Beyond any luxury that this year of freedom from the corporate world has given me, the freedom to care for my father, and be present for my parents is my favorite most sacred thing. I’m so grateful to have them in my life, to have them nearby, and to have this time to show them my love, my affection, and to be of service when the future feels shorter and less certain than they’ve previously known. I hope they know that every single day… they are loved.

acornbecomestheoak

A Blessing or a Curse…

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had trouble remembering.  Many of my friends will joke about how they can’t remember why they entered a room, or what they had for dinner yesterday as a commentary on aging.  And though I am only five months from 50, I have to confess that this has been my truth for quite some time.  One of my co-workers from my former life in the corporate world affectionately nicknamed me Dory, after the character in Finding Nemo, voiced by Ellen Degeneres.  That came after only a few months of our partnership, since her desk was right next to the copy room, and I was frequently sighing as I exited to return to my desk – hoping for a clue why I had gone there.

I once may have believed that it was due to an easily distracted mind in the chaos of a corporation.  Having been liberated from office life for nearly a year, I don’t see anyone often enough to live up to that nickname, but that doesn’t mean my memory has grown stronger.  In fact, these days if I visit with a friend who inquires about how I am spending my time, I may have to refer to my calendar as a guide to share… ‘oh, yeah – my grandniece stayed with me for a week’, or ‘I went to the mountains with the boys in July’.  Truly, the best way to share where I’ve been and what I’ve really been up to lately is to refer them to this blog.  This is where I have been placing my thoughts, my discoveries, and well… my memories.  Actually, looking at the beginning of this paragraph, I realize that if I were still in that world, if someone asked me what I’d been up to, the conversation would have led to how everyone around me was doing, having considered the responsibility and wellness of others to have been more important than my own.  Having the heart of a caregiver in an executive office means that you are holding space for the enormous stress of others, where fluctuations in stock somehow reflects on your worthiness to lead.  Have I mentioned how completely I do NOT miss that world?  My stomach flips at the thought of such an atmosphere.  Gratefully, those memories, too, are fleeting.  They are at my reach, only when I need a reminder of where I have been and where I may choose to venture forward.

I’ve often wondered when and where this memory shortage began, and I have wondered if it was that moment when self-doubt set in at the age of 9.  I wrote about that event in my post called ‘My Favorite Tomboy’, when my friend’s father accused me of lying to him.  I was so dumbfounded by the accusation of a grown up, that I must have questioned if I had actually done so… even though it makes no sense at all.  In recent years I have decided to let go of identifying a cause, and simply accept it.  This is what I have chosen to believe:  The Universe has gifted me with a deficient memory to enable me to live more fully in the NOW!  Think about it.  Eckhart Tolle urges us to discover The Power of NOW, suggesting that we “Realize deeply that the present moment is all [we] ever have.”  When your memory is limited, there really isn’t much choice but to be present.

At times, this can feel like a curse – especially when you are in conversation and wish to add value to the discussion.  But it can also feel like a blessing – as having a poor memory makes you a great secret keeper.  I’m sure that would look amazing on my resume, right?  I call it Swiss Cheese memory, because I may recall having a conversation with someone, but I may not remember the outcome… some of the details seem to have fallen through the holes.  Another benefit to this condition is that it can make you extremely efficient.  I was known to complete a task within minutes of assignment, because I feared that I might fail to do so if anything got in the way of that intention.  It can be a tedious skill set should you work for someone who changes his mind with some frequency, though.

In my current world, where more time is spent with those I love and cherish, I am witness to memory loss suffered by my parents and other elders in our beloved community.  I’m sure that this is not uncommon as we near or surpass our eighth decade upon the Earth.  My parents seem to lose things easily and may not recall the specific instructions from a doctor visit, and if you have an hour with a friend of ours, you may hear the same story about her youth more than once.  I always listen to each tale-retold, smile and nod, and say, “I know!”  I have to admit that I have been caught telling a story of something I have recently experienced to a friend who was actually with me at the time.  This probably happens more often than I realize – I just have really compassionate friends.  Oy…  this does not bode well for my future!

My favorite tomboy (my lifelong friend) has shared with me in recent years that one of the obstacles that has held her hostage from leaping toward the life she truly desires involves leaving the job she has been doing since she was 19.  She doesn’t love her job, but she does it well and it has delivered comfort and prosperity for which she is grateful.  Recognizing that her memory is not what it once was, she fears having to learn laws and regulations for states that would be new to her.  She is convinced that she may not be able to learn new things… and so her dreams are left waiting to be realized.  Truth be told, I had to leave my job at Dairy Queen when I was 16 because I couldn’t remember how to make each item on the menu.  Each time was like the first time (this is true for movies and television I may have seen before, as well).  So, I feel her pain and share her concern.  I’m hoping that if I have to go back to work in a ‘traditional’ workplace someday, someone will want to hire me for my obvious positive energy and extraordinary inner light…. somehow valuing my ability to not dwell on the past.  Ha!

In my last post, Transformation Dawning, I wrote about a trip to a local spring with my grandniece, and how I found myself wondering why I had allowed decades to pass since my last visit.  Well, yesterday my friend and I made another trip.  This time we were able to get into Kelly Park, which offers a lazy-river feel to the public swimming area.  You may notice that I am writing this post on a Tuesday, which means that my friend and I escaped the routine of our individual daily lives on a Monday.  A MONDAY!  This is not something one does when trapped in the monotony of a corporate work week.  On vacation, maybe… but never on a work day.  My soul-daughter (a blossoming medium) tells me that I am learning to let go of the structure I once held as law… that I must have specific structure in my life to get things done.  She says, intuitively, that my future prosperity will not fall into such an oppressive mold.  I’d love to know what that future holds, how an income will be generated to support the lifestyle to which my cat has been accustomed.  However, if I am to glory in the gift of my poor memory, unable to wallow in the regrets of the past, I should be reminded not to drown in the worries of the future.

For now, the only plans I make (unless a reservation is required) shall be somewhat spontaneous and with an aim for joy.  I did not need the books and materials about becoming an end of life doula to inform me that there is no guarantee of future days over which to worry.  Each day, in this new existence, is met with my commitment to hold space for myself.  I am madly in love with this life, right now… not ‘someday, when’.  My funny memory just brought to mind the turtle that we saw near the spring yesterday.  I meant to look up the symbolism (and of course had forgotten until now), and this is what I’ve just learned:  Turtle symbolizes our peaceful walk on the earth, representing the path we take on the journey through life.  The way of the turtle anchors our personal unfolding in a slow, more grounded series of steps and longer cycles of transformation.  So… that’s all I need to know about the future.  I am firmly planting each footfall upon this sacred ground, allowing transformation to come when it comes.  There is nothing more to do, than to simply be.  That seems pretty easy to remember, don’t you think?

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WTF Menopause?

Since the day I got my period, when I was twelve years old and in the sixth grade, I have been counting the days until menopause would grace me with its presence.  I’ve waited 37 years for this, and now… you are failing me.  I have always held the strong belief that fertility should be a choice, something that if you really wanted the burden of childbearing, you would have to take a pill or flip a switch to endure.  I know this is not a popular belief, as there are actually some women who have gladly exchanged this inconvenience for the blessing of children, and others who would choose to bleed every day if only they COULD be so blessed.  But seriously, why should someone who never wanted children be forced to face month after month of discomfort, inconvenience, mess, and expense?  Nearly four decades later, and I am still rather miffed about this evolutionary slap in the face.

You’d think I would feel differently, having discovered the goddess path in my early twenties, but alas… no.  I would hear women talk about their ‘moon cycle’ or their ‘red tent’ moments, and try my best to adopt a positive view of what always felt like more of a curse.  “The curse has come upon me!, she cried… The Lady of Shalott” (makes me wonder what Tennyson knew about either bleeding or having children forced through a tiny hole in his gut)… now I think I’ll go lie down in the boat and wait to bleed out.  Sheesh!  I did find it funny to realize that in a certain faith, men and women were expected to give up something each year as a symbol of reverence and commitment to honor the sacrificial king, when women were literally giving up their life’s blood at the drop of a hat, or rather the drop of an egg.  Clearly, men should get to do a forced blood letting on a monthly basis in order to keep up with the species that is always giving more than their share.

Perhaps I would feel differently if the religious right felt the seed of man was as ‘holy’ as my own, and regulate and limit ‘his’ right to choose how he would spill his semen upon the earth.  But no… pregnancy by rape or by love, though unwanted is demanded to be carried as a stain upon a woman’s soul, while no burden or shame shall ever be placed upon the penis that put it there.  If you think I feel bitter and outraged, you are right!  I have been free from this bloody curse for an entire year… until the fall of midnight on the morning of June 11.  F you, menopause!  Now, the glorious countdown to freedom has to start all over again… and I hate math!

I guess I should be relieved that the gut wrenching pain I suffered several days back was not actually my body being empathetic to two friends having abdominal surgery that day, and that my nipples haven’t been aching because I’ve developed some kind of bilateral, fast moving breast cancer.  Shew… it’s not cancer, it’s just the f*ing curse of fertility, back to torment me… like Buffy being ripped out of heaven and brought back into the demon dimension of hell on earth.    Too soon?

Perhaps I would feel less bitter if I’d not lived most of my life feeling a sense of body betrayal and self-loathing.  With a diagnosis of poly cystic ovarian syndrome in my early twenties which blessed me with rapid weight gain and insulin resistance, I put on a hundred pounds in four years without ever consuming enough calories to put weight on the most sloth-like being.  Despite a hundred different programs, pills, and even surgery… my body never lets go of her claim on the fat cells she harvested through these lumpy ovaries.

Sigh… but alas… I have spent the last several years cultivating self-love.  I have worked hard to reprogram the negative voice that once lived inside my head, constantly reminding me that I am not good enough, that I am not thin enough, that I am not pretty enough, that I am not smart enough, that I am not working hard enough, that I am not sacrificing enough, that I am not worthy of being loved, that no man will love a fat woman, that I don’t deserve the happiness of others whose bodies never betrayed them, that never ending barrage of hateful, unkind, unloving language that would never roll off my tongue to harm another living soul… only mine.  That old voice has been silenced, finally.

So here’s how I shall interpret the swelling of my belly and the shedding of dark flesh from inside my womb.  I am transforming!  I am becoming something new.  I am leaving behind that which no longer serves me, and it is being scraped out from the inside… flushing away from this sacred vessel, cleansed by water and transmuted by Mother Earth, into something healed and refreshed.  In April, the shedding occurred on the outside, through an angry dermatitis, and now… the work is just being wrapped up, on my behalf.  Here you go, dear… let’s just be done with this bit of outdated flesh.  It can’t hurt you, if you just send it love!

Okay, then.  I’m marking my calendar, and unlike in my youth, when I prayed that my period would come… I’ll say a little prayer that the lining of my uterus and I will never have to meet again.  I shall commit it to holding.  Not holding the loathing and distaste of old, but of something much healthier.  Let her hold onto the light of my love, and the healing red of root and orange of sacral chakra energy, and from there… let her energy bring birth to creativity, with words that flow freely rather than blood, and new projects that bring enlightenment, empowerment, and prosperity for self and community.  I will take this life blood and pour it onto the earth as my prayer, as I did at the full moon in May of 2000 in dedication to Artemis, with a promise to “open up and let a piece of myself fall away”.  Okay, great lady.  I hear you.  I am allowing this last remaining bit of false belief and bitterness to fall away from my body, never to be entertained again.  I promise.

Beloved vessel of loving expression, I commit to you that all of my words shall come to you with love.  Body of the universe, I vow to hold sacred every curve and every curl.  Sacred being, I promise to love you, cherish you, hold you close, to always be honest and express my truth, and will never ask you to endure suffering from self or others, for you have done your time, and I am choosing to set you free.  With this freedom, I find a release of tension in my belly, and I am finally able to breathe, and perhaps to sleep.  The rage has passed, and we have earned a dark chocolate reward.  May peace be with me, and also with you.  Amen and Blessed be.

(The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse – my favorite non-living artist)

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