Tuesday, June 9, 2020

WALKING FOR SANITY

It has been hard to start living alone just as this stay at home way of life started.  I know it has been hard for pretty much everyone.  All of us have our different dynamics, challenges and feelings.  The exception has been my youngest daughter.  She has been working non-stop in the food and beverage industry since she was in high school - she was furloughed  and has had the first break in 10 years!  But I digress.

 One of the reasons I decided on the little house I live in now is its proximity to Rancho San Rafael Regional Park.  It has a huge dog park, an Arboretum & Botanical Gardens and covers about 600 acres of space.  I have been going walking through the park several times a week all through the late winter and spring.  

It turns out Reno is really windy.  Did not know that before I moved here.  As a cyclist, I hate the wind - but as a pedestrian, it isn't all that bad. However - gale force winds gusting 30-60 mph is not conducive to a walk in the park.  As a Californian, I am geared for warm weather to start in March. It snowed and hailed and froze the water in my birdbath on June 7 here! 

When I go for a few days making excuses for not walking and then shove myself out the door I am always so happy my better nature took over and sent me out into the fresh air - be it cold and windy or scented with new blossoms.

This past week I discovered that the iris finally bloomed as did the lilacs.  There was a heavenly scent coming from the Mountain Roses. There are little cotton tailed bunnies all over the place and ducklings in a row paddling across the pond.


My sister got me started painting little rocks to be left behind when out and about, and it is always fun to see if my latest rock has been discovered and carried off.  I am no artist - the rock pictured here is my homage to Kandinsky. I made a whole series of them!

I usually walk for 30 to 60 minutes.  I go pretty early and find people are good about distancing and are still friendly.  I bring my mask but have not needed to wear it. 

I have made an effort to reverse my routes and find new paths and to climb at least 1 or 2 hills on each walk.  I don't listen to music on headphones, I listen to the birds and rushing water from the snow run off while it is still melting. I like to walk past the dog park and watch the romping pups.  I usually stop and find a bench and do a brief "meditation." Then head home again glad I made myself go.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

SIX MONTHS A WIDOW

We all know time is a fickle thing - for me last month seemed to last forever, for you it might have passed in a blur. Six months ago just happened.  Six months ago seems like a lifetime past. Six months ago today was a Saturday.  It was Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.  It was the day my husband died.

I had to look up what day of the week it was.  The 22 days living in the hospital were marked by the rhythm of shift changes.  The whiteboard laying out each day's status updates, planned meds, infusions and procedures. During the last few days spent in the ICU many of those personal connections were lost as treatment stopped and reacting to each new problem and symptom began.  In the ICU they didn't know him when he arrived 18 days earlier, weak but still himself.
Tom at the top of the "Rocky Steps" in Philly. September 2019

And now here I am.  Living alone in a little house in a new state with a fraction of my belongings collected over 37 years of living with my husband.  Each day I am reminded of things planned which will not happen. I open a cabinet and see his hat or the velveteen bag containing his ashes.  I usually say "Hi Tommy" and go ahead with what I was doing. I have moved from pain to wistfulness. 

I know for sure that I would be in a more positive mood today if not for the Covid 19 situation.  The classes I signed up for were cancelled, the social groups I had hoped to join have delayed events until late June or July, the gym closed.  The voids in my life I had hoped to start filling will have to wait a little longer.

I have the benefit of living in a small house with a large yard.  I don't particularly like gardening but I find myself pulling weeds, planting herb gardens, fussing over tomato plants, spreading  bark, watering, sweeping off the patio and porch.

There is a large park nearby with many walking paths and I have watched winter turn to spring as I traipse through it several times a week.  I've stopped having the TV on all the time for company.  I make lists of things to do and check them off as I complete them.  I am baking low carb cookies and cinnamon bread, grilling salmon, eating the first cherries and apricots.

My son and his wife have shared their murder mystery boxes with me following nice meals in their home.  I am in touch with all 3 children nearly every day and have Zoom gatherings with other family and former co-workers.

Alone together - isn't that the theme of the day?


Wednesday, April 29, 2020

SAD SHOPPING

 They say never grocery shop when you are hungry.  I have learned it is very expensive to grocery shop when you are feeling sad.

When I feel sorry for myself I spend $153.00 on things like:

1. Pate (2 kinds)
2. A nicely shaped pot I can put mosaic tile on even though I have 3 at home waiting to be similarly  adorned.
3.  Four sweet indulgences which I hope will last 2 weeks until I shop again - they won't.
4. Shrimp - because no shrimp packing plants are under siege - yet.
5. Three kinds of cheese even though I already have 2 kinds in the frig.
6. A $2.00 avocado - which will never be worth what I spent. 
7. Three kinds of berries not on mark down. 
8. Green onions to replace the 2 slimy bags of green onions I removed from the frig.

I also bought some ground lamb and chicken - because meat packing plants. Four greeting cards which I need to swear off because they are ridiculously expensive. I have been saying that for about 2 years now, it is an addiction.

I couldn't buy any Lipton Tea and a few other things on my actual list.  There were many more empty shelves throughout the store than I have seen before.  My cupboards and refrigerator are full - no more shopping just for something to do. 

Except for plants at the nursery...

Sunday, April 26, 2020

NO LONGER HOME ALONE

Am I the only one tired of hearing about in these "unprecedented, unpredictable, un-whatever times"  that we are "alone together"?  If those companies spending a fortune on the sappy, repetitive ads would direct that money toward their employees - I wouldn't get so irked.  But that is a rant for another day.

Apparently, I am no longer sheltering on place alone.  The signs were subtle at first,  then nothing for a bit, then they were unmistakable.  Mice.

This nice little house I live in has very little kitchen cabinet space, but there is a sort of semi-finished closet off the kitchen. Previous tenants housed their dogs and pet supplies in that space. I set up shelves and organized my overflow bowls, pans, storage containers and some pantry items I couldn't fit into the kitchen.

The first alert was the tiny mouse I surprised while it was exploring the trash under the sink.  I went out and bought the standard glue traps (I know, none of this is particularly humane but those snap and squish things seem worse.) I placed two of them under the sink at the spot that looked most likely to be the point of entry.  Nothing. For weeks no sign.  Maybe the trash explorer returned to the hide out and reported it was a no go.

Then I started finding droppings in various places and the glue traps still perfectly in place.  In the closet there was a nibbled potato and I had to wash a basket of dish towels, but no other signs.  I stopped storing my occasional potato in the "pantry" and put the towels in another location.  Wiped down the shelves with Clorox, put a couple more glue traps on the shelves and started doing daily inspections.

Turns out these mice have very high end taste.  The only thing they focused on were my very expensive low carb crackers which I order by the case from San Francisco.  I tossed the first package they had ravaged and placed all the cracker type items into very heavy duty plastic bags my husband used to store yard and pool chemicals in the garage.

All seemed well. Traps clear and no new nibbles.  Or so I thought.  I went to get a package of my special crackers and I found they had chewed through the plastic and into one of my new cracker packages.  I related my battle to my sister who advised me to get electric traps that zap the mice.  She swore by the effective and more humane little killing devices.

Stay in your own damned house!
Amazon apparently didn't think them essential enough to deliver right away and I didn't want to wait 3 weeks so I left the safety of my home, went to Home Depot and paid more but had my new battle plan.  As directed, I put peanut butter in the traps even though I knew the hearts desire of the mice - so nothing happened.  I left trails of crackers up to the entry of the traps - they ate the crumbs but did not enter.  I moved them around, I cleaned out the peanut butter and put cracker crumbs inside.  No go.  I got the smart rodents.

Meantime I completely rearranged my storage and got all soft packages out of the closet pantry.  Was that a smart move?  Will they just hightail it into the kitchen cabinets now?  Is this really how I am spending my days?

Well, I don't know what changed the dynamic, but all of a sudden, 2 tiny mice on glue traps to dispose of.  Still no action in the $40.00 fancy reusable traps - but progress.  Then another on a glue trap.  Then the big time - a much larger critter entered the zap trap - I could see the tail hanging out.  I am not particularly squeamish and I will step up and deal with this myself with gloves and newspapers to remove and wrap - and try not to look at any of it.  Yuck.

Two days now and no new action.  I may be alone again.

Probably not - still alone together.



Monday, April 20, 2020

ALL THIS AND ISOLATION, TOO

Three weeks after I moved to another city in another state to escape the high prices of the SF Bay Area and to be near my son and his wife in Nevada - the stay at home orders came out.  I had managed to get really well settled into my little house and was looking forward to being out and about  - getting to know the area and to start finding ways to meet people.

 I had signed up for a couple of classes and was researching bike and social groups.   I had visited several gyms and chose one to join.  I got all signed up with a local doctor.  I completed the process to get a new drivers license and register my car.  I was all revved up to get out there and start a routine and meet people and fill my no longer work and husband filled time. 

It all came to a screeching halt.  For good reason - I am not arguing that at all.  I don't have health issues, but I am of the age group that is at risk.  The last thing I would want is to do something reckless and cause others to get sick or require care for myself.

It just seems to me when I think back over the last 6 months that this is personal.  Which is crazy, I know that.  It just seems like the universe is really piling it on considering all the drama and problems and issues and frustrations I have had to work through beginning with my husbands diagnosis and continuing to this day.  The number of hours invested in dealing with the fall out from his death, including identity theft, tax and financial issues, settlements from the moving company and disbursement of funds from accounts and even just trying to get mail delivered to the correct address. It seems endless and I have such empathy for anyone having to go through all of it. 

I am glad I was not working and able to be with my husband every one of his last days.  I have the time and the capacity to deal with all of the challenges I am facing. I can afford my little house in my new city and my car payment and groceries and the things I need.  I am near my son and my daughters who live across the country check in pretty much every day.  This will pass - at some point I'll do all the things I was looking forward to.

 Right now I am a bit too steeped in being alone and all the platitudes are getting annoying.  But in writing this I also feel annoyed by my own complaints.  So I am just going to knock it off and make a list of things to do for the rest of this week - and then the next one and just stay busy and active and stop whining.


Tuesday, April 7, 2020

GRIEF - ONE SIZE NEVER FITS ALL

Much has been studied and reported about grief.  We have all heard about the stages of grief and the requirement that one has to go through them to go forward emotionally.  The most frequent  statement is that we must express our grief or it can't be put to rest.

It is four months ago today that my husband died.  He was hospitalized for 22 days.  He went through a complete round of chemo during that time.  He struggled physically and emotionally.  He would say to the Palliative Care team that he looked at the disease as a "blessing - a new beginning".  He never talked that way.  The entire family engaged in eye rolling over that one.  But generally he was himself to the day he died.  Difficult, demanding, hard working, sentimental, loving.

I loved my husband of 35 years.  Our relationship was interdependent in many ways.  I am a nurturer by nature. As a lonely only child he sopped up all that I did for him with gratitude. He was my protector, provider and companion.  We have 3 amazing children.  We - all five of us - are independent people.  We agreed to let him go when it was clear he was not going to recover, we were at his bedside when he breathed his last breath.  We told stories and laughed and none of us thought he would go as quickly as he did because it was his way to put up a fight and drag things out.

I did not cry then - and have shed very few tears since.  We went home and started getting things organized the next day.  I did not take to my bed.  I did not feel that there was no reason to go on, or that my life was over. I recognized that my life had completely changed - but that I am still my whole self.

After the initial shock had worn off and many tasks had been taken care of and things around his death had slowed a bit - I started to wonder if there was something wrong with me.  I didn't feel I was denying any of my emotions but I wasn't distraught.  I felt pretty secure in the decisions I was making.  When I felt overwhelmed by things I took a step back.  I engaged in self care - went for walks, made sure I ate well. But still I wondered if I was "normal."

I went online and looked at information about grief.  I don't think I am repressing things - Brene Brown would say I was not being authentic, that I was denying my negative emotions and that suppression would bring more suffering.  I don't think so.  I am not denying who I truly am.  I am not fearful of being unlovable.

I had and still sometimes have a lot of anger toward my husband for the financial situation he left me in - but I also recognized immediately that he suffered knowing what was coming for me and I have, as best I can, forgiven him for it.  So I explored if that combination of being sad and mad was something others had experienced - and there is a bit out there about similar situations - but mostly it goes back to the "stages of grief" kind of anger.  So I was satisfied with the general sentiment that not everyone grieves the same way, on the same timeline - one size doesn't fit all understanding of grief.

Then I ran across some newer studies about resilience.   I am nothing if not resilient.  The Mrs. Brightside moniker is all about that. For me it isn't about glossing over or denying the negative - it is about finding your way through by focusing on what is possible, the positive, the light.

George Bonanno's studies and book The Other Side of Sadness: What the New Science of Bereavement Tells About Life After Loss  is about "studies which followed bereaved people over long periods of time we always found tremendous variability in how people react to loss. We found a pattern we call "resilience" in between one third and two thirds of bereaved people. It looks like the term suggests. People who show a resilient outcome struggle initially with the pain of loss, as almost everyone does, but they manage to deal with the sadness and distress with equanimity. Their pain is acute, usually lasting most pointedly for a few days to a few weeks but then begins to subside. It is not that they don't grieve, or that they didn't care; far from it. Rather, they are able to put the pain aside when they need to and they continue to meet the demands of their life. They even laugh and experience moments of joy. They accept the loss, readjust their sense of what is, and move on."

I don't report this as in "I am of superior mental health" than people who are traumatized and grieve for years and years.  I am well aware that sudden, violent loss or the loss of a child is much different and creates more of a PTSD response.  I am just comforted by the approach that lets me know I am not a cold, unfeeling or suppressed person for experiencing my grief in my way.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

TRIGGERS

I have not experienced grief in a go to bed for days, weepy, can't cope way.  I moved into the what needs to be done zone and stayed there for weeks - to the point that I wondered what was wrong with me.  Am I normal?  I loved my husband, he died.  Shouldn't I fall apart at least a little bit? 

Then a cascade of problems started to set in - and I found I was fine putting out fires but unable to cope with simple things.  A notice from the bank that required me to change my log-in just threw me - I couldn't think of something new.  The woman on the phone nicely came up with something until I could think straight. A CPA I called for advice told me what killed him probably was the financial stress he was under and I hung up on her but was so shaken up I didn't make phone calls for days.  Paperwork for the new bank account I opened had to be corrected because I put in that I was married.

Driving through the city where we used to live brought on tears.  Seeing people out on their bikes brought waves of memories. Passing by things I used to buy for him at the store made me sadder than planning meals for one.

After moving to a new state, I have not had many of those moments, until today.  I went to donate
blood - which is the thing I told people to do when they asked how they could help following his diagnosis and death.  I  didn't really give it much thought until I saw all the people there doing this generous life giving thing.  I had gone prompted by the Covid crisis, but realized once there that the hospitals are still full of leukemia patients in need of this precious resource only we can provide.

I had strong mixed emotions all day.  The loss. The life sustaining gift we can  give. 

Sunday, March 22, 2020

THE REVEAL

Tom and I had certainly not foreseen that this would happen so soon in our lives - we expected a good 10 years before major health issues might occur.  We lived a healthy lifestyle and had no medical issues.  We had, however, spent time discussing things like quality of life and how far we would or would not allow medical intervention for each other.

I served as his advocate and was respected by the medical staff in that role.  His mental capacity was compromised and he had trouble speaking on and off during his hospitalization.  When he was lucid and could communicate well, he had many things he felt strongly about telling me.  He was extremely focused on his work, he made sure his clients had been taken care of.  He repeatedly told me about financial stuff like passwords and when bills were due that he handled. Even when he was delirious or sleepy, he insisted on holding his phone and having his blue tooth in his ear - during the nights I would wake up to him talking away as if he was conducting business.

It was clear to the family that in the last days he was asking for our help, asking to be let go. Things had deteriorated so significantly that much of his day was spent undergoing care that was painful and intrusive and not creating any gains.  We were all in agreement about stopping treatment and the staff handled the end very well with great respect and consideration.  He knew we were all there and the last word he said was "love".

The entire family retreated to our house to sleep.  In the morning we started making lists of things that needed to be done - divided it up and got to work.  We are a family of "doers".  Each of us in our own state of shock/grief/bewilderment we set about our tasks.  As the day went on, it became clear that there was a big problem.  I knew that I would not be able to afford the big house we had just rented, but the financial situation was significantly more dire than I had ever imagined. 

He would be very angry that I am even revealing this to others, but I think it is very important not to gloss over things - not just because this is the grim reality of my life now, but because it should serve as a warning.  I am not one of those old fashioned women who left everything up to my spouse.  I knew we had tax debt because I signed the taxes and payment plans every year.  I argued with him about his refusal to pay his quarterly estimated taxes as a self employed person.  He always argued back that if he had bad months back to back he might not be able to pay the rent or his bills to keep his practice going.  I know he lived in constant stress about his business month to month. 

Going through the finances, notifying creditors of his death, determining what accounts had to be paid or closed was significantly aided by the fact that he had created a comprehensive list with all his accounts and passwords.  What going through that revealed was gut wrenching.  Long story short (sorry, I guess this is not so short) he had massive consumer debt in his name that I did not know about and he had gotten behind on the tax payment plans and the IRS was after us. Big time.

Not only is finding I would have to deal with all this another kick in the gut, the kids were all exposed to this information and, quite frankly, we are all really pissed off about it.  Yes, he had no idea he was going to get sick and die.  Yes, he clearly was upset and obsessed with this throughout his illness and confinement in the hospital. Yes, he was trying to shield me with the belief he was somehow going to get it taken care of over time - but he didn't end up with time. 

I feel such pain knowing how worried he was all during his illness, he knew this hammer was out there and if he didn't survive it was going to come down on me. 

On the other hand - REALLY?  Keeping all this from me for years? Not being honest?  Pretending like we could actually purchase a house again?  Agreeing I could retire?

This reveal was only the beginning - much more to follow.


Sunday, March 15, 2020

I'M STILL MRS. BRIGHTSIDE

The last time I posted I was getting back into the swing of things after getting 2 new knees.  For the record, that has continued to be a great improvement in my life.  My husband Tom and I increased our mileage on our bikes and though I never managed to become a great hill climber - with the addition of an electric wheel on one of my bikes, we joined a biking group and took many wonderful rides.

So what brings me back to writing here? I always thought I'd get back to writing when I  stopped working full time - but my life has taken a wholly unexpected turn. I was trying to figure out how to update my profile with my new information. (Still can't figure out how.)  I considered starting a whole new blog.  Anyway...

We had just moved into a different house, both of us were exhausted from the effort. That Tom was tired and sore was a surprise because he's in such great shape, but not too worrisome - after all we are in our mid-sixties.

A couple of weeks later, on the last day of my job, my husband called an ambulance and got himself to the ER.  I left my retirement party and by the time I got to the hospital, the blood draw they had done was already conclusive that he had leukemia - so acute that they were pretty stunned he'd been upright for the past few days.

 Long story short - he was transferred to a hospital in Oakland where they specialized in treating AML. He started chemo a couple of days later.   It was 22 days from the diagnosis to the day we let him go due to multiple organ failure.  The chemo had worked, but his body was not up to the side effects.

I will save many of the stories and information I learned for future posts. Pretty much living in the hospital for 3 weeks, gathering, dispersing and then gathering the family again,  working with the doctors, nurses and Palliative Care team was all consuming in addition to his needs and demands and frustrations.  In many ways I shut down my emotions and here I am three months later and only now just starting to get my feelings back.  And I will tell you - they are a real mixed bag.

I will be writing with some frequency to express my feelings, thoughts and experience on this most unexpected turn in my life.




Thursday, May 17, 2018

FOUR FULL MONTHS TKR POST OP

I wasn't sure a couple of weeks ago that I was still making progress, but as has been the trend, as soon as I doubt, I turn a corner.

I am still leaving work a bit early to get in some extra PT time every day.  To be honest, though, I frequently use the time to do errands and just escape that last boring hour of work that feels like it lasts 2 hours!  I still experience enough stiffness by the end of the day that I am taking  my PT seriously most days.  Honest.

I realized about a week ago that when I get out of bed in the morning, I hardly notice my knees - I am back to my lower back being more of a bother than my knees. Hurrah?  By the time I am up and around for awhile I tend to get a bit stiff, so I do a few stretches before I leave for work.

 I started parking up the hill in my usual spot and have given up the luxury of the handicap spot right in front of the building.  I am fine on the hill and the extra walking is good before and after a day of sitting. I am also getting in and out of my car with much more ease.

The biggest issue I have had is a bad tooth infection in a molar I had a root canal in a year ago - I experienced several days of significant pain, stiffness and general feelings of being unwell until the antibiotic kicked in.  Those admonitions about oral health are not to be taken lightly. The infection did not travel to my knees, but they were definitely impacted.