Monday, January 12, 2009

'Love left a window in the skies'

I am irritated by all the brew-haha with 'Marley and Me'. Why? 

Because before Marley, there was Trixie.

I met Trixie on my second date with Bryan. She jumped on me. She slobbered. She would not hold still enough to pet. She was a spaz. 

I can't say it was love at first sight. Or second. Or 45th. She was a giant pain in every way a dog can be: she peed all over the house. She refused to go outside if it was the tiniest bit rainy. She chewed on the woodwork on windows - down to the glass panes! She would eat anything, including a bar of baking chocolate, leading me to spend a ridiculous amount of money at Med Vet to have her stomach pumped, only to have her come trotting out to the waiting room, perky and happy, charcoal still around her muzzle, as if to say 'That was fun! Now what?" She also pulled a wrought iron railing off our porch - bolted into concrete - apparently weakened from the years of her lead tugging at it with all her might. I came out one night to no dog, no railing. The hell? I called her and called her, finding her in the neighbors yard, sheepishly pulling 50 pounds of wrought iron behind her. She seemed to have nine lives, and was insanely healthy. We joked that somewhere in our attic was a painting of a very old Trixie; that she had made a deal with the Devil to outlive us, if only to drive us crazy.

From the moment I moved in, I tried to train her, but to no avail. I became convinced she was just not that smart - and yet, she was loyal and sensitive to my needs. For the first several years I lived with her, she would follow me around the house, all day, licking the backs of my legs. She slept on the floor next to my side of the bed. And, when I was pregnant with Henry and in preterm labor, so tired and sick, she walked with me up the stairs, even though I could only take one step at a time. When I stopped, she stopped, looking at me patiently and waiting. What she lacked in, well, everything a dog is supposed to be, she made up for with her heart.

Sadly, Trixie began failing several months ago, with multiple ailments snowballing into a case of 'we can't fix her'. She lost more and more weight, became confused and would pace in circles around the house, or sleep so soundly I would have to make sure she was still breathing. I asked the vet 'should I bring her in for more bloodwork? Maybe we could try a different food?' And he just slowly shook his head. 'It's time.'

I didn't think it would be so hard. I thought 'this is Bryan's dog, I'm not really that attached'. And yet, I found myself crying off and on all day, second guessing our decision, thinking maybe we should wait... but in my heart, I knew I had to do it. 

They laid a blanket on the floor, and we sat down with her. It took longer than I thought it would to get the process going - she fought it until the end, and all I could do was bury my face in her fur and cry. She finally fell asleep, and the drugs started to take effect. The vet told me to take all the time I needed, and I laid next to her on the floor and put my head on her chest. I listened to the thumping of her heart - that big heart of hers that kept us from throttling her all these years - as it became slower and slower, and finally stopped. It was so peaceful, so quiet, just me and her. I stayed a few more minutes, then went and got the vet. "I think she's gone". She came in and checked, and then we gently lifted her off the floor and onto the table. I whispered into her ear and told her good bye. Because that was all that was left to say.

Friday, January 9, 2009

'there is only Mercy'

I don't look for big miracles. I don't expect burning bushes, or angels appearing in my room. When I think about a sign from God, I think about the little things. Those small gestures that let you know that you're not alone, that someone out there sees you and is listening to your pleas for help.

It's been a hard, long, lonely winter. I've spiraled deeper into an isolated existence, metaphorically hibernated within my own head. I've felt so cut off from the rest of the world, and unable to communicate with anyone outside my family and closest friends. Lately, I've been offering up some prayers to say 'look, God, I'm tired. I'm lonely. I wonder how much longer I can do this and not completely lose my mind. So, could you maybe throw me a bone here? I'm lost.' I'm a bit of an informal prayer. I don't do the thees and thous and thine will crap. I just speak from the heart and hope He's listening. 

It started with Charlotte's mom at preschool stopping me in the hall. Grabbing my arm, looking me in the eye 'How is your Dad doing? How are you doing?' I don't know this woman very well, she doesn't really know me, which almost made her reaching out more meaningful. I found my words tumbling out, like a floodgate opening as I told her about the latest scans, and that it's not really good, and she even let me talk about dying and didn't try to give me a pep talk. I walked out with Addie that day and thought 'well, that was one angel. Thanks, God.' 

Then it was the woman at the coffeehouse, who I've been running into for the last seven years, since we were both pregnant. We always do the idle chit chat thing, and I don't think I've mentioned Dad being sick to her, and it somehow came out today. She nodded her head 'My Dad died of prostate cancer two years ago.' We commiserated about the difficulties in caring for an ill parent, and how it makes people really uncomfortable when you talk about death and dying. I walked out into the sunshine and thought 'that's two. I don't feel quite so alone today.'

And then, it was Mom relating a phone conversation she had with a family friend who had been catching up on my blog and perhaps gave me the nicest compliment about my writing anyone has given, and then, in referring to this entry, said 'I was there with her on her bike. I was riding with her.' And I cried. Because none of us want to feel alone, ever. And I realized that no matter how isolated I may feel, there are those of you out there reading this that are with me in this journey. I'm not just sending words out into a void. Just like sending out my irreverent prayers, someone is always listening. 

'one day my kite will escape forever
and I will jump to catch the trailing string
wishes and wants will fall from my pocket
as I wave, full of peace'

Thursday, January 8, 2009

'When with every day, another bit falls away'

Henry turned seven years old, and was fortunate enough to have both sets of grandparents at his birthday party.

Here I am, looking very tied, but reveling in having everyone together:

Paw reading to Addie:

Birthday in red:

Making a wish:

We had a wonderful, whirlwind visit with my in-laws, and I was truly grateful for the opportunity, yet again, to have everyone together. Each time, I know it could be the last, so we all make the most of it. My husband's parents are not just my in-laws, they are very good friends to me and my parents, and I feel so lucky to have them in my life. They are kind and patient with Dad and all his memory lapses, and I can talk bluntly with my father in law about the harsh realities of Dad's illness. He lost his father to lung cancer as well, and knows all to intimately how difficult it is, how tiring it can be. I'm fortunate to have people like them in my family.

I find life to be exhaustingly busy, and yet somehow at a standstill. My usually full calendar is utterly empty of any and all reminders, save for doctor's appointments. It would seem, on the surface of it all, that I have nothing going on. But we all know not to trust the image on the surface, it's never the truth.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The little things give you away

(sorry for the prolific writing. Floodgates have opened, and sadness is always the most prolific writing time for me. This is actually cross posted from my private blog)

I've been struggling with a myriad of issues. It's not just about Dad being sick: it's all the crap that goes with it. Your entire life, from the top on down, is affected. Nothing stays the same. People you thought were your friends, as it turns out, aren't. But then you find friendship and support in the most unlikeliest of places. I've spent months being really angry about it, feeling abandoned and ignored, and only recently have I begun to understand it. 

Life isn't perfect. Fifty years ago, our grandparents understood that. Past generations knew. People were used to struggle and hardship, they didn't expect life to be smooth sailing. There were horrible wars to be fought, there were epidemics of influenza, polio, measles, mumps - diseases we don't worry about that back then would wipe out tens of thousands of children. There was starvation, there was the dust bowl. Life was hard, and you tried to take joy in the little things in life. 

We've come a long way from that era. We are in a world of total excess. We are the society of 'gimmee', of instant gratification. Twenty four hour news desensitizes us from the horrors in the rest of the world, though most people don't pay attention to the news, as it's 'too depressing'. We shop at Costco and buy our chicken nuggets in bulk, we buy more food than we could possibly eat, and live our lives like the glossy cover of a magazine, never wanting to delve  below the surface. We envy, we covet, we buy into the facade. We believe our lives are supposed to be perfect. I admit it: I moved to suburbia and I bought into the lie. I believed that I had to fit in - and fitting in means having more. It means masking reality. It means: no tragedy.

When something bad happens, you can see some people recoil. It's palpable, visible on their faces. It's like the lions picking out the weakest member of a herd - they sense the weakness. Some people don't know what to say. They know that they should say something - but you can tell that when they ask 'how are things?' - they really just want the stock answer. And it's those times I have to struggle to not be rude and say 'really? Don't bother.' - because I feel sorry for them, I do. I'm sad that they're so disconnected from other people that they are completely unprepared for dealing with any raw emotion. 

Then there are those that just don't want to be around it, period. People that are so focused on presenting the perfect, idyllic, strife-free life that they are woefully unable to deal with sadness. They think that illness and death is somehow contagious, like an airborne virus they'll catch just from being in the same room with me. It will infiltrate into their painted on perfect life, and eat away at the facade until they, too, can see they it's all a lie.

Am I judging? Yes. And I do it unashamed and unabashed. Because here's how I deal with tragedy and loss: when my neighbor was sick and dying of breast cancer, I went to see her at he hospital, several times. It was difficult, and I dreaded doing it, but I kept thinking: if the roles were reversed, and it was me dying, what would I want Buffy to do? I would want her to suck it up and come see me. 

I'd never been around someone who was dying before. You could feel it in the air. It was oppressive, dark. Death was crouched in the corner, waiting. The last thing I said to her, I whispered in her ear I would keep an eye on her kids, I'd look out for them. Because if it was me? I would've wanted to hear that. This is where I differ with the vast majority of the rest of suburbia. I am able to put myself there. I am over actively empathetic. I always think 'that could be me.' Easily. Where do I get off thinking that nothing bad will happen to me or my family? The hardest part for me is faith. I struggle to hold onto my faith. I pray for guidance. I don't pray for miracles. God doesn't strike bargains. I believe He has a plan, but sometimes I think His plan sucks. I try to make the best with the hand I'm dealt. I try to make each day good, even if it's in the smallest, most imperceptible way. And I try to have compassion and empathy for everyone, as best I can. Because I always ask myself: if it was me, how would I want to be treated? How would you want to be treated?

"There's little we can say and even less than we can do, to stop the ice from getting thinner under me and you"

I rode my bike on one of our unusually warm days, down to the Village and winding through Mission Hills, up to my old grade school and down to Mom and Dad's house. I have lived in this city my entire life. Thirty-six years living in the same 10 mile radius. There isn't an inch of this town that I don't know, that isn't immersed in my history and branded in my memory. The city has changed over the years, but I can see it like it was when I was a child, and when my parents were young - my age. 

There was a red barn on Mission Road, next to St. Ann's, where those condos are now. When I was very little, they sold Christmas ornaments, and I can remember going in there with Mom and Dad and Steven, I was so young I couldn't reach the counter. Mom let me pick out an ornament, it was a little wooden girl with red yarn hair. She hangs on my tree now, her hair is coming undone.

The Village used to be all pastel and Spanish style. There was a burger place with the unfortunate name of 'Smaks' - I put a sticker from there on the inside door of my chifforobe, and it's still there today, in Addie's room, a testament to the unusual stickiness of all stickers made in the 1970's. There was the toy store that went out of business years back, and I can remember looking at all the Madame Alexander dolls up high on a shelf, and wanting one of those big baby dolls so desperately. My parents, despite an financial struggles they may have had that year, made sure that Baby Victoria was under the tree on the Christmas Eve in 1976. 

My old grade school hasn't changed too much, and that ride home made me feel like I was 8 years old again. I was - and still am - a square peg that just doesn't fit in the round hole of suburbia. School was not the best experience for me, and that route home meant comfort and a place where I was free to be my own quirky oddball self. I was always lucky to have a family that loved me unconditionally - let's face it, in a society where the emphasis is on appearance and achievements, true acceptance is in heartbreakingly short supply these days - and let me travel my own path in life. 

I have, for years, loved the comfort and familiarity of living here. Sometimes, lately, the memories are too hard. Everyplace reminds me of Dad, my youth, his strength and wit, our life together. There are nights where I lie in bed, unable to sleep, and I want to get in my car and just drive away. Go somewhere where nothing is familiar, where I don't know anyone. Where I can walk into a store or a coffee shop and no one greets me or knows my name. I lie there in the dark and imagine a different life, and what it might be like. I know I can't run away from this. The memories of what Dad used to be will follow me everywhere. 

No matter how fast I rode my bike, how hard I pedaled, I couldn't outrun it. Someday, the memories will be sweet, but for now.... there is just bitterness.

"We're not the same dear and it seems to me.
There's nowhere we can go with nothing underneath.
And it saddens me to say that we both know it's true.
The ice was getting thinner under me and you"

Thursday, January 1, 2009

"there, in the midst of it, so alive and alone, words support like bone"*

First post of 2009. and unfortunately, not a good one.

We saw Dr. Kelly yesterday for results from his latest CT and then to get chemo, our usual routine. I have to say, I had a feeling it wasn't going to be good news. The tumor on his adrenal gland has almost quadrupled in size since the last scan 6 weeks ago. It has grown 4mm in one direction. I have a feeling that taking him off of the carboplatin was part of the culprit. He's been getting just the taxol for the last few cycles, and apparently, it's not enough. So, no chemo for now, Dad starts radiation in a week. Every day for two weeks, then scans a month after that. After that, we have two options left, one of which is a clinical trial she thinks he'll qualify for, the other is another chemo medication. And then, that's all. 

Our future is full of both wild uncertainty and most concrete certainty, all at the same time. All we can do is take the next step and wait. Please keep all of us in your prayers.

*Mercy Street, Peter Gabriel's homage to Anne Sexton