Sunday, August 29, 2010
Today is the anniversary of Katrina. New Orleans is thriving again, but the scars will always remain. The same is true for me. I've gotten on with my life, but it will never be the same. It always comes back to that, doesn't it--the loss, the what if's, the last precious days.
On August 29, 2005 Ralph was still alive. He'd had a relapse of leukemia so we knew time was running out. His mother and sisters came to visit. We sat around his hospital room and I listened to him reminisce. He and his sister Karen, the closest in age, laughed (well, Karen didn't laugh as much as he did) about the time he connected the phone to a loudspeaker and broadcast her conversation with her boyfriend through the whole house. They remembered one summer when they were sure they'd found an Indian burial ground in the back yard and dug it up...and how mad their dad was when he came home. Susan, the middle sister talked about how tough Ralph had been one summer she spent with him.
Carol, his youngest sister, who had been his stem cell donor, went downstairs and donated blood to the blood bank. Ralph's mother sat with tears in her eyes. This was the last time she'd see her son...except at his funeral.
We all watched in horror as New Orleans was devastated by Karina. It wasn't long before evacuees were headed to Houston's Astrodome. Several transplant patients arrived on Ralph's floor.
Five years ago. I can hardly believe all this time has passed. I'm still working, still loving being a speech pathologist. I'm busy with new activities--book clubs, the Transition Network. This week I shared the angst of my granddaughter's big leap to middle school and yesterday saw my daughter, who looks 35, turn 50. I travel with my sister, cuddle with my cats, chuckle at the remarks my preschool students make, panic when something goes wrong in the house or the car, miss Ralph and wish he were still here to share my life. I'm not a wife any more, but I'm still a friend, a sister, a grandmother, a mother, a writer, a speech pathologist. I think Ralph would be happy to know how far I've come. Somehow I think he does know.
Posted by thelmaz at 11:38 AM
Sunday, August 22, 2010
Friday, August 20, 2010
Isn't it amazing what can make you sad? A few weeks ago I wrote about shirts bringing tears to my eyes. This past week it was a parking garage. Not just "a" garage, but "the" garage where I parked every day when Ralph was at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. My gastroenterologist moved his office to the cancer center a few years ago, and I was there for my annual checkup and to get the expected news that yes, this is my colonscopy year, but, yuck, let's not focus on that.
As soon as I start up the ramp into that dim, gloomy place, I am overcome with dread. I must have spent hours in there, driving around looking for parking spots, then trying to maneuver into them without scraping the paint off the car in the next space. I know that I spent almost $2000 on parking that year because I added up the receipts after Ralph died.
I lost my car there twice, the last time just two days before Ralph died. The nice man from parking services who drove me around trying to find it, said politely, "Think someone maybe repossessed your car?" Oh, gosh, I thought, I wasn't a debtor, just a woman who was about to lose the person she loved most. We finally found the car and I headed out for an appointment with our attorney and promptly got lost on the way.
Loss of one kind or another permeated that year. I lost my mother--she made it past her hundredth birthday and died a couple of months later. I lost my wallet several times, I lost a file folder from my office, I lost my keys. Most of those items I found after panicky searches but all of those memories seem connected to the garage.
I parked there during Hurricane Rita, the non-event that sent thousands of people fleeing from the city and getting stuck on highways with no air conditioning,
no gas, high tempers. I spent the weekend at the hospital and kept an eye on the garage from Ralph's window. Fortunately, the storm made a turn and Houston escaped its wrath.
I often left the hospital at night, trudging through the dark garage. Someone asked me if I was afraid and I replied that fear had never crossed my mind. I was too focused on Ralph's illness to worry about running into a mugger or some other unsavory character. Besides, I think people who park at cancer hospitals have other things on their minds than accosting someone in the parking garage.
There is another garage that links to M.D. Anderson. It's Garage 4, which is newer, airier, and has larger parking spaces and a sky bridge that connects to the hospital. You may wonder why I choose to park in Garage 2 instead since I hate it so much and see it as a symbol of Ralph's last year. I think I'm compelled to face the demons of Garage 2, to try to exorcise the ghosts that haunt me there, and maybe this doesn't make sense but I guess I also park there to prove to myself I can.
Monday, August 16, 2010
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture.
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
Do you have a will? Of course you do. Those of us touched by death know the importance of having one. Everyone, no matter how young, should have a will, the legal document that bequeaths assets—home, bank accounts, stock portfolio (such as it is these days) to one's heirs. But what about the intangible assets you’ve acquired over a lifetime, your wisdom, values, even your dreams for the next generation? Shouldn’t these be passed on as well? They can, by means of an ethical will.
I first learned about ethical wills in an article in AARP Magazine. I usually don't read it, but I happened to glance at it one evening a few months after Ralph died. There was a short article about ethical wills. Serendipity. I knew immediately I wanted to write one. I remembered, after my father's death, suddenly thinking of questions I wanted to ask him about his early life, but it was too late. Here was a way to circumvent that for my kids. I began learning more.
An ethical will isn't a legal document. You don't even need a template to compose one. It can be whatever you want: a letter, a short statement of your values, the story of your life, a poem, a scrapbook, a video, a CD--whatever feels comfortable for you. Just be sure, if you're writing, to use acid free paper. My will is a long autobiography, with anecdotes, lessons learned, accomplishments, disappointments, historical events.
What better gift can you give those who outlive you than the essence of who you were?
Here are some resources to get you started:
Baines, Barry, M.D: Ethical Wills: Putting Your Values on Paper. Perseus Publishing, 2002.
Baines, Barry, M.D. The Ethical Will Writing Guide Workbook. Josaba Ltd., 2001.
Baines, Barry, M.D. The Ethical Will Resource Kit. Josaba Ltd., 1998.
Binder, Madeline. Your Ethical Will: How to Write Your Legacy in Your Own Words. Purchase and download e-book at www.spiritual-ethical-will.com
Davies, Susan. After I’m Gone: Thoughts, Wishes, Memories and Secrets to Share with Those I Love. Gotham Books, 2009.
Foltz, Sharon: Passing Your Heritage On. Infinity Publishing, 2007.
Freed, Rachel: Women’s Lives, Women’s Legacies: Passing Your Beliefs and Blessings to Future Generations. Fairview Press, 2003.
Phifer, Nan: Memoirs of the Soul: Writing Your Spiritual Autobiography. Walking Stick Press, 2001.
Reimer, Jack; Stampfer, Nathaniel. So That Your Values Live on: Ethical Wills and How to Prepare Them. Jewish Lights Publishing, 1991.
Spence, Linda. Legacy: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Personal History. Swallow Press, 1997.
Turnbull, Susan: The Wealth of Your Life: A Step-by-Step Guide for Creating Your Ethical Will. Benedict Press. 2005
Websites to Investigate
I hope this will inspire you to get started.
Sunday, August 8, 2010
Saturday, August 7, 2010
Thought I'd share some of the books I've read this summer. Some are books I'd never have chosen on my own but were selections from my book discussion group. Some are non-fiction. I usually read one fiction and one non-fiction book at the same time. So this list is, to say the least, eclectic:
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Larsson. The writing can be clunky, but in each one the plot is riveting. I could not put them down. Suggestion: See the Swedish movie versions. The girl who plays Lisbeth Salander is perfect.
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: A Young Adult book that takes place in a post-apocalyptic world in which 2 teenagers from each district must compete until all but one are dead. Yes, it sounds gross, but it was great, with a gutsy heroine. I'm looking forward to reading the second and third books in the trilogy.
The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albon. From my book club. Waaay too syrupy for me.
Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson. Also from my book club. Okay.
Quarantine by Jim Crace. Another book club selection. An off-beat view of 5 pilgrims, Jesus among them, who go into the desert to spend 40 days and 40 nights.
The Holy Sinner by Thomas Mann, based on a legend about Pope Gregory. If any story can out-Oedipus Oedipus, this is it.
Replay by Ken Grimwood. One of my favorite books ever. What if you could relive your life, knowing what lies ahead? Makes you think, but it's not just a philosophical view of life. It's great reading.
Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief. It's on my granddaughter's summer reading list. I'm reading it, too, so we can have a book discussion dinner.
Hardcourt Confidential by Patrick McEnroe, known best for being John's younger brother. A not-too-interesting look at men's tennis. For a much more interesting view, read Open by Andre Agassi.
Final Exam by Pauline Chen. A doctor's musings about dealing with death and the dying. Wonderful.
Heaven by Lisa Miller. Various takes on Heaven. Of course she hasn't been there...
Rapt by Winifred Gallagher. How our attention shapes our lives.
The Resiliency Advantage by Al Siebert. Slanted toward business situations but has some good pointers for everyone.