15 10 2014

Between times.

I am between times.

These are between times.

September 19 is my big one every year, the anniversary of the greatest loss I have known.  There is a season of the soul that starts for me then.  My birthday comes less than two weeks after that.  His birthday is three weeks after mine.  The world is not itself for that month, not for me.  That month is my between time.


The day before September 19, my son’s partner suffered the greatest loss she has ever known, when her father died.  It resonated all the way through our family as well.  There is no official state-sanctioned tie between my son and the woman he loves; the tie of love binds us all together into a new family, and we grieve together the loss of a good man.  I didn’t know him long.  Not nearly long enough.

The between time was a day early this year.


On September 19 my father-in-law entered intensive care after throwing up blood.  He is 90 years old, on a bunch of medications that all interfered with recovery, so he ended up getting unit after unit of blood – to replace what was flowing out of him, and to help him keep what was left.  The first check showed a bleeding ulcer.  The second check showed cancer.  There is no curing someone at that age, but you can make the remaining time easier, and he had surgery to remove the cancer the day before my birthday.

He got better.  And then he didn’t.  Fluid started backing up into his lungs and his tissues.  He came down with a severe hospital infection.  And another check, to find out where the fluid was building, showed that the cancer had outrun everything and had spread faster than we could ever have imagined.

He went into hospice two days ago.  The wires and the tubes have been removed.  He is kept clean, warm, and as comfortable as possible.  That means morphine now.  I watch his caregivers as they wash his diminishing body, shave his still-abundant beard, and trim the mustache that annoyed him with its length.  They are tender.

He sleeps much of the day.  He wakes up occasionally for a drink of water, or for a few spoonfuls of the lemon ice his oldest daughter brings to him.  He sleeps again.  And in sleep, he waits.

He is in his last between time.


My beloved’s birthday is in five days. I wonder if my father-in-law will end his between time before I end mine.  I don’t wish for his death.  I will wait with him.  And yet, I wish every day for this good man to finally rest.  He has had such a long time of pain and confusion.  I love him.  I wait for him to move on.

I think of him taking the hands of his wife and his son, leaving this behind, and I breathe…go.

And I wait.



5 09 2014

I married into a wonderful family.  Unlike so many people I know, I love all of the people I married… and yes, I subscribe whole-heartedly to the notion that you don’t just marry the person, you marry the family.  I lost the man I married far too soon.  Blessedly, I still have the family.

I’ve written before about losing my mother-in-law three years ago.  Her final decline was actually not that long, a few months – but they were long months, mostly in the hospital trying to get all of her systems to work at the same time.  I was blessed in being able to spend time with her during those last months.  She left behind a wonderful family, a legacy of love, humor, and compassion that we all strive to live up to.  And she left behind a man who loved her always, who loves her still.

He is an extraordinary man.  When I married his son, he introduced me to everyone as his daughter – he couldn’t be bothered with making the distinctions between genetics and love.  It caused no end of confusion.  I never asked him to stop doing it because it was such a sweet habit… but also because of how loved he made me feel, that I was also his child.  He was the terror of several generations of high school history students, people who meet me now and say “THAT man is your father-in-law?”  Yes, he is.  He has been in my life for nearly 40 years and I love him.

He is now 90.  He suffers from the degenerative illnesses of age – his eyes don’t work as well, his hearing is failing.  And he misses his wife.  He repeats the stories of meeting her, falling in love with her, marrying her and starting a family.  It doesn’t matter how many times I hear the stories.  I want to hear them again.  His body is betraying him; he has had a series of small strokes that have steadily shrunk the scope of his world.  The social and gregarious man of 40 years ago has become frail, unsteady, and afraid of his own vulnerability.  The man who told stories constantly, who learned Chinese because he could, has now found himself unable to string the stories together, or to find the words he’s looking for.  The constriction of his world has left him sad and isolated.

This week he was diagnosed with carotid stenosis, severe enough that endocardectomy was indicated.  His first response was: hell no.  After some discussion, he agreed that perhaps the quality of his life could be improved with the surgery, and he had the procedure this morning.  I have spent more time in the hospital with him… and I want to believe that this can make things better for him, but what I see is a man who is just so tired.  He is ready to leave.  I want him here.  I want will always want him here.  I will never be ready for him to leave.

I hope I am wrong.  I hope that I have several more years with him.  And maybe it’s just the discomfort of coming out of surgery – but he seems like he just wants to go.  The burdens of his body are more than he wants to deal with any more, and he wants to put them down.  I resist.  I deny.  I am not ready.

He is ready.

I am not.


16 06 2014

There was a big shift in normal last week – somewhat for me, but definitely more major for my son and the woman in his life.  She found out that her father was very ill, the kind of ill that has >90% mortality within five years.  It’s the kind of ill that takes the wheels off of the world.  My son loves her.  Her grief and fear go straight to his heart.  And he gets to experience – again! – the truth that big new grief wakes up big old grief.  He is hurting for her.  She is hurting on her own and worried for him.  And they turn to each other to hold on and love through it.

Yesterday I was blessed to be included in her family’s Father’s Day brunch.  And she’s in one of those families where nearly anything will serve as an excuse to get a lot of people together, so I met what seemed like everyone.  And I now I know where this lovely young woman finds her ability to hurt and love and hold on all at the same time.

There are as many ways of responding to this kind of diagnosis as there are people.  Denial is common for a reason – it works, at least in the short term.  But yesterday I watched a whole family open up to it so that they could embrace each other more tightly.  It is nearly miraculous to witness this kind of love in action.  I have been swept into this encompassing embrace – “Genetics don’t matter much to us.  You’re family.”  And now I can hold on to them, as they have held on to both my son and me.

It is like sensory overload in the best sense – where it is so much to take in that you have to experience it in a different way.  You feel songs, you hear colors.  They opened up, they folded me in… not because of anything I ever did, not because I had earned it, but because this is the way their world works and now I’m part of it.

It is…astonishing.  Overwhelming.  Exalted.

At least three people that I had just met yesterday told me, as we were spending the hour (for real, a literal hour) that it takes to hug everyone goodbye (I’m not exaggerating) “You have to come to ALL the things!”  I hope to return that embrace with every bit of joy they offered me.

Moving on

25 03 2014

So I have this friend that I used to work with.  She’s spiritual and loving, probably more religious than I am, and full of positive energy.  A month or so ago she sent me a Facebook message that she had met the man who was going to be my next husband.  And she connected the two of us so that we could communicate, even though he was at least a thousand miles away.

Importantly, she hadn’t actually met him.  She had connected with him through LinkedIn and was coaching him on growing the business he was trying to start.  I didn’t know that at the time and I went ahead with learning about each other through writing and phone calls.

The first problems were technological.  He’d call me and I couldn’t hear a word he said because the connection was so bad. I wrote to him and he said he never got the emails.  I’d reply to his texts and he’d say he never got them.  We connected on Facebook and the next day all of his messages to me were labeled by Facebook as spam, so I severed that connection.  I knew he wasn’t a native English speaker, so I made some allowances for the language barrier… but that didn’t explain why his LinkedIn profile said he was Swedish, his Facebook profile said he was from New Mexico, and his first email to me said he was Mexican.    I started to suspect that he wasn’t living in the US as he claimed, because he seemed incapable of figuring out what time it was in Chicago, which should only have been an hour’s difference.

I started putting my phone on “do not disturb” at night, because otherwise I’d be awakened by incoming text messages all night, and never mind that I had told him that I get up before 5:00 in the morning to go to work.  I would get up in the morning to find a series of why-are-u-ignoring-me text messages (text-speak makes me break out in a rash).

I told him he needed to simmer down, that things take time – and as our first connection was March 7 (yes, that’s 18 days ago today) that it was perhaps rushing things a bit to be planning all of the things he was going to do around my house when we were finally together.  This morning he wanted to know when I’d be ready to “move on with a life partner”.

Yeah.  I finally cracked.

“Move on”.  Move on from what?  From the life I have now, with a pretty decent job?  From my chorus family that I’ve been singing with for over fifteen years?  From the family that I married, that I’m still strongly connected to over seven years after being widowed?  From my connections to my mother and my son, both of whom live only blocks from me?  What exactly am I supposed to be moving on from?

Oh, I know the answer.  I’m supposed to be moving on from the tragedy of being a single woman.  Because heaven knows there is no worse situation, no greater torture, than not being hetero-partnered.

I am not moving on from anything.  What I have isn’t perfect, but it has deep meaning and value all on its own and it is MINE.  What I have I built with a community of people who matter, people that I love.  I am profoundly connected to families of both blood and choice.  They are precious to me and I’m not moving on.

What I am moving on from is the patriarchal expectation that a woman’s worth depends on her relationship to a man, that her life is less valuable when she isn’t partnered.  And I am emphatically moving on from any connection to this needy leech of a man.  Whatever it is he’s looking for, I wish him the best of luck…but I’m not it.


20 05 2013

Possibly a series of disconnected thoughts today. Or not really disconnected, but connected on some sort of quantum physics level that I can’t easily describe. Which is one of the reasons that I write at all, to tease out and show the shining threads that run through everything even when it feels like random crap is falling out of the sky. Nothing in my head is linear this morning. I have my own mental variety of 12-dimensional chess going on today, and all I can do is grab pieces and images as they make themselves known.

The month of May. Fraught. I think I’ve mentioned that. As I’m going through it, feeling the ache and pressure inside my heart and mind, the near-certainty that just One More Thing is going to bring on the tears… I can also feel another part of my brain sneering: “Aren’t you over this yet? How long do you think you can use this as your go-to for whining? Just invoke your precious grief response and you get to explain away everything. Other people have to cope. How come you think you get a free pass?”

Last week. A particularly demanding week inside of a month in which I was already frayed. Work demands have increased significantly as a number of projects reach deadlines; similarly, reaching a deadline of sorts with my chorus, as we came up on multiple concert performances. Many late meetings. Many rehearsals. Lots of driving through what genuinely seems like endless and increasing construction between Illinois and Milwaukee. A friend in Milwaukee generously offered to let me stay with her through concert weekend, saving me hours of driving and stress. Getting to concert weekend was the problem, though, and by Friday I was coming undone so badly that I very sincerely considered going home and hiding for the next two days.

Intervention. Dealing with someone who was as badly undone as I was on Friday can be daunting. Who wants to be around that kind of sadness? There were those that walked away – which, when you’re already a mess, just adds to the sorrow and the negative self-talk inside your head. I was literally within minutes of walking back out to my car and driving home when another alto waded into this mess and held me as I cried. Those minutes when I let go and she held on saved me.

My chorus family. How to describe what they are in my life. While chorus rehearsals and getting to them can be exhausting, the shared experience I have with this group of people is profoundly meaningful at the deepest levels of my heart. When my husband died, and I asked if some of them could come and sing at his memorial, over 60 of them came through the church doors. On a weekday afternoon, and I know they have jobs and commitments and most of them live over 50 miles away… and yet, they came because I asked. There will never be enough words in any language for what they did, what I felt, what I still feel. So much around that time is a blur of grief and tears. Within that, though, are incandescent memories, as clear as if they were happening at this moment.


Our concert this time was the Brahms Requiem. It is, without question, my most-loved piece of choral music. The Latin requiem text is about the dead, death to judgment to heavenly glory… Brahms instead turns to those who have been left, and tells them that they will be comforted. In my current month of May state, every time I’ve entered this beautiful piece has been a new emotional journey. I am so tired of mourning, and yet, I am told that I am blessed in my grief. And because I love this piece so much, I can hear it and for that time accept it. The final movement of the piece, theoretically about the dead, is instead for me the place that says it’s okay to let them go. They have a good and safe and joyous place to be. It is good and blessed to miss those who have left. It is also good and blessed to let them go and to continue living.

One of my favorite songs of the last few years is “Home”. It’s corny and sweet and every time makes my eyes fill with the memory of feeling that kind of security and attachment to someone. I miss my husband. I miss how I felt with him, what the world seemed like when he was still here. There was a framework, a structure and definition about who I was and who we were, that I never thought about until it was gone. He was home even before we got engaged. Home is different now.

I call them my chorus family. Or sometimes just family. And I also call them home sometimes. I stayed with my friend in Milwaukee over the weekend. She has this wonderful apartment, full of books and music and furniture that doesn’t match but all goes together. And also a cat who wants only her, and the rest of the world can go to hell…I am emphatically a cat person, and yet he was utterly unimpressed with my cat vibes, and made it a point to fluff up dramatically and hiss if I came near.

My friend gave me home for a weekend. Not just a place to stay, but a place in her life and time. So much time. Both mornings this weekend we had breakfast with other people from the chorus – time to have coffee and French toast (omigod, the French toast…) and conversation. So much time laughing and listening. My May condition apparently doesn’t involve a huge need to talk – but it can be soothed by the warm and generous hearts I was with this weekend. They brought me into their loving embrace and kept me there for two full days.

Grief can feel isolating. It is nearly incomprehensible it its depth, and the words that I can squeak out – “I miss him” – sound stupid and shallow in my own ears. And yet. In that isolation, I forget how much people want to care, how much they will care if you’ll just let them. While I’m busy trying to sort and stack and make sense – my friends just want to listen. They’ll even listen to me sort and stack. And then they’ll tell me I’m normal. They can bring me home.