The first worst year

After almost a full year of horrible firsts, I now face the most daunting of all.

Over these past 11 months time has held absolutely no meaning, and evinced no hold on me.  I made it through holidays, birthdays, and a uncelebrated wedding anniversary. I fractured my ankle, dealt with the ravages of ,,,  the flu without the “there, there” support of my beloved, and took countless solitary plane trips, landing with no greeting heralding my return. I even took my first trip back to the vet’s office where James died so unceremoniously on March 14th.

It dawned on me with almost an electric shock a few weeks ago, that it has been almost a year since he died. Where did a year go? How is that possible? It still feels so fresh, so recent. It can’t be! I say to myself. Time truly has had no meaning. It’s been one painful, foggy slog to get through the next “first” in a seemingly endless laundry list of painful milestones.

It’s like a constant rollercoaster ride with no time’s up. You don’t disembark, so no opportunity to gain firm footing. Back up the slow and steady incline – clack clack clack, all the way to the top with no view of what’s below. Then whoosh! Your stomach is left far behind as you hang on for dear life, while outwardly trying so hard not to look like you’re scared.

My favorite scene in the movie Parenthood with Steve Martin, comes near the end and is uttered by the unnoticed grandmother who often gets left behind by her large, self-absorbed family.

“You know, when I was nineteen, grampa took me on a rollercoaster ride…it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited and so thrilled altogether! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the rollercoaster.”

James liked the steady and expected pace of the merry-go-round. I knew it wasn’t representative of real life. Shit happens. Up, down. Up, down.

We don’t have to like it, we just endure it.

The lukewarm psychic hotline

Mary Lincoln, so overcome with grief by the horseless carriage-load of tragedies in her life, was said to hold seances in the White House and so was a firm believer in the afterlife.

I know most refer to her as Mary Todd Lincoln, but she never signed her name that way and so I am setting the record straight.

Who could blame her for reaching out to lost loved ones? She buried three out of four sons, a husband who was shot right before her eyes, and her remaining son later in life, had her committed to an asylum. Talk about a crappy life! I’d want to reach out to the hereafter too. Oh, wait, I have.

Even before losing my husband, I would reach out to mediums and psychics in an attempt to contact my mom, who had died about 20 years ago.  I admit I had spotty success. I certainly don’t believe everything I hear, or that all reputed psychics are genuine. But I’ve had enough spot-on feedback from some to make me be open-minded about it.

Probably my worst experience was fairly recently.  A few months after James died, I made an appointment with a “psychic” whom I found on-line. (Should have been my first warning bell. It’s best to go by recommendations from friends and family.)

stocksnap_8pws9yv4cuAfter arriving at her place and amidst the smell of sage, we started to chat a bit. She immediately started to channel a woman, but I told her I was really only interested in getting in touch with my husband.

“He wants you to know that he is glad you buried him with his wedding ring,” she proclaimed.

I waggled my fingers at her. ” I’m wearing his wedding ring and he was cremated,” I said, trying not to be curt about it. I mean, these visits are not cheap. The typical hour appointment can be $120 or more. I don’t want to waste time on having her shotgun a bunch of disparate feedback.

Another misstep on her part: “He says he is worried about the children.”

I looked at her puzzled and with a sinking feeling in my stomach. “What children? We don’t have any children.”

It continued with the same amount of success (I say, sarcastically). I think she took one look at me, a middle-aged woman, and made some basic assumptions. We had been married a long time (not!). We had children (none!).

Now, not all psychics are charlatans. I made a more recent visit to another medium who has had some local acclaim and has even assisted in police investigations. She made some good assumptions about my husband in her attempt to talk to him. He had a beard (yes), he had blue eyes (yes) he loved cars (oh, yes).

But at the end of the session, perhaps sensing that I was not totally satisfied with the reading (I guess I thought I would have a direct line to James and he would say something to her that only the two of us could know) she launched into what I can only term as personal growth advice.

I hadn’t asked for it. I realize that a lot of people come to her seeking life advice – Should I take that job? Will I find love? Kinda like a bartender dispensing advice to the drunk, but in this case, to the dissatisfied.

“It’s a dog eat dog world, and I’m wearing  Milk-Bone underwear.” Norm, Cheers.

I was not interested in her comments about how “lightning can strike twice,” and that I still have a long life to live (that does not give me comfort these days) and may find another love. It made me mad. I don’t want anyone else. Not now, and likely not ever. (If she was a good medium she should have sensed that, right?!)

I mean Mary Lincoln, a troubled woman for sure even without all of the personal tragedies, mourned the loss of her husband her entire life. And she was short! Not sure what that has to do with it, but anyway.

These spiritual sessions are really about confirmation and comfort. Confirmation that our loved ones are still with us, albeit in another dimension. I believe that, but still wish that man of mine would get off his fat, heavenly cloud and give me a more tangible sign that he is still with me.

Our cell phones, ourselves

I was standing in line at the airport gate waiting to board my connection from Detroit to Hartford following a week-long business trip in Las Vegas.

As I glanced over at the ticket counter, I happened to see a man standing at the counter, lost in thought. What was so compelling was not his appearance. Continue reading “Our cell phones, ourselves”

Give thanks

I’m spending Thanksgiving with my family like countless other Americans today.

For me it means getting on a plane and flying to Ohio or Tennessee to see my sisters’ and their families. We’re lucky. We all get along really well. It could be in part because we don’t spend much time together, but I prefer to think it’s just because we genuinely like each other.

Continue reading “Give thanks”

The six pound gorilla in the room

What weighs six pounds, is covered with white fur and has horrible halitosis?

That would be my cat O’Connor, whom I believe may be 19 years old, but I am not totally sure.

I have always had a cat in my life. When I was six, my brother brought home a tiger-striped kitten he found while playing war down at the wooded stream near our house. Tiger (such an original name) was absolutely an outdoor cat. He had the war wounds to prove it, and would drag himself home from a rather nasty night of what I can only imagine was vying for the paw of some much sought after female. He lived a long life, but his ears were ragged and he sported a collection of battle scars. A no nonsense guy who did not like a lot of coddling. Just as well, since those decades ago we didn’t treat our pets like children. They lived outdoors, and trips to the vet were few and saved for dire medical emergencies only.

Today my cats are kept indoors. I had learned the hard way that letting them roam in suburban neighborhoods with a prevalence of cars and coyotes was a bad idea.

According to statistics, Americans spent more than $60 billion on their pets in 2015. A lot of this was on food, but a significant chunk was toward vet bills, grooming and designer doggy purses. We are truly kookoo over our furry friends. Just look at the prevalence of pet spas, heated beds and silly outfits on Pinterest. We humanize our animals for sure, which perhaps the petless cannot truly understand. We do it so much it has earned a fancy clinical term:anthropomorphism.

Yes, I talk to my cats and believe they understand me.  (As much as a cat wants to. They’re so stuck up! Like the snotty, pretty-girl clique in high school.)

But let’s look beyond our regular pets at the four-legged heroes – cats that sit with dying nursing home patients; military and police dogs that risk their lives to protect humans. They are truly remarkable, and only ask that we keep them fed and loved.

My friends tease me because I am so soft-hearted about pets that it’s put me off Sarah McLaughlin forever. Meanwhile, give me a juicy episode of “The Walking Dead” and I’ll watch unflichingly as the heads roll. It does not make sense I know, except I just feel that animals are so much more defenseless than people. They provide such comfort that it makes putting up with a roommate with bad breath who doesn’t allow you to wear black outside the house well worth the small sacrifices.

Join the resolution revolution

Just when it seems darkest, one of my tribe reaches out with a Coleman lantern and waves it in front of my face.

I am fortunate to have a family I get along with. But since they have always lived an airplane ride away, I have formed wonderful relationships over the last several decades with many friends who I will now refer to as my tribe members, since the line drawn between friends and family has become so blurred.

Today, sitting drinking my morning coffee, I get a text message from one of the tribe elders, Pam.

“Call me when you are up. I have ideas!”

Many people besides myself were impacted by the loss of my husband. Pam has found it to be especially tough, coming on the heels of a year when she helped her husband through a bout with cancer (he is now fine) and other events which have made her question her life’s purpose at this juncture. It was a tough year for all, indeedy-do, in Pam’s lingo (and as I may have mentioned ever so tactfully, in a previous blog).

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This is not us but could have been (except for the gal holding the cell phone, as they were not invented yet when we were attending JFK Junior High School).

But Pam has already been trying to pull herself back up by her boot straps. We are part of a core group of friends who met in junior high school and camped together a lot. We gals thought nothing of packing a cooler and tent and heading for nearby Vermont for the weekend. We still see each other. Most of us went for a walk on New Year’s Day at a local park. We have more shared experiences than we could ever hope to remember. That’s why I know my friends were happy when I met James and married. At last I had found my mate as my friends had decades before me.

In either case, back to the text message. I immediately picked up the phone and without preamble, asked Pam for a run down.

“Here’s what we’re going to do. I’m calling it six in six!”

“Like a lottery scratch off game?” I responded.

“Well, yeah…OK,” she said, used to my offbeat quips.

Pam’s idea takes the New Year’s resolution to a different level.  We would each commit to plan something to do together. It could be read a book, take a day trip, sneak into the movies, steal a car (haha) –  something we have either never done or want to revisit with fresh eyes, she explained.  She takes six months of the year and I take six months and we plan one event per month.

We are all familiar with the typical type of singular resolution. The gyms are full of them come January. This idea appealed to me. A new twist that could inject some life back into our lives. Something we both needed desperately. It recalibrates the stale idea of making a resolution. Create a roadmap of experiences to look forward to throughout the year and share them with a friend.

I could already feel a small ember in my core, starting to be fanned ever brighter by a light breeze. It was not a giant plan, we would never conquer Everest, but maybe it could inspire us on to bigger and better?

“I love the idea!” I said to her, already starting to think of what we could do as the year unfolds.

The wheels are starting to turn, a bit resistant due to recent rust formations but moving all the same. So I dare you – go ahead – foment your own kind of revolution in 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

When your monkey mind is a gorilla

I’ve been making feeble attempts to meditate.

I say feeble, because  I can’t seem to blank out my mind for more than 30 seconds at a time. I know it takes practice, and I keep thinking there is some magical knack I have not yet come across, so I keep at it.

It’s not that I have a lot of stress in my life, it’s just because I am intrigued with the notion of finding inner calm and in new-agey language “feeling more centered.”

The reality is I am the antithesis of the stereotypical earthy crunchy,  down to earth type. (I hate the smell of patchouli. My late husband James equated it to the smell of bug spray. Maybe that has something to do with it.)

The monkey mind is a Buddhist term meaning restless, unsettled, confused. That is the state of mind for many of us in this oh so modern world, where responsibilities, addiction to electronics, and too much Netflix swirl around our brains like cookie dough in a  Vitamix. (I do love Netflix. I’m not trying to judge. Hhmmm…now I want a cookie.)

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During my recent trip to the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health I took a class about leading a more contemplative life.  It was very interesting and oh so full of spiritual nuggets we all know make sense but can’t seem to get the hang of, such as:

  • Make time for contemplation
  • Try to find your true meaning – what do you really value and make it a priority

The woman leading the class admitted there is no answer to the contemplative question -just more questions. It is the process we go through that informs us of how we can make our lives a bit more meaningful (journey vs destination?).

So what can we do more of?

  • Better self-care. Not just health-wise. We’ve all heard that until we’d like to punch someone in the throat. It’s about the whole self, and giving yourself a break for being human.
  • Gain greater appreciation for the small things. The lady in the grocery store who lets you cut in line because you only have three items; your cats greeting you at the door after work.
  • Expand your curiosity. Don’t be afraid to try something outside your comfort zone – like going to a Yoga retreat by yourself.
  • Appreciate the power of silence. Shut off the tv and put down the cell phone for a few minutes. Gaze out the window at that pesky squirrel that shakes its tail at you while climbing a tree in your backyard.

The class ended with a 15 minute meditative practice. I think I came as close as I ever have to actually clearing my mind. It took effort, but I focused on one word over and over again that I am trying to be more mindful of, and to still my simian thoughts.

Gratitude.

Gratitude.

Gratitude.