What’s Next?

Years ago – when my friend Maureen’s boys were little, we met in DC for a weekend. I was there for business and stayed an extra weekend. Maureen, who had lived there years before brought her boys and they showed me the town.

I remember in particular the visit to the Hill; I gather, digging through hazy recollection, there is a process whereby young men and women act as interns for their congress men and women. One of the chief duties of these young people is shepherding tourists around the hill.

We had two young men, as I recall. One, I think was from Arizona. There came a point in the discussion where I made a reference to West Wing, especially to Leo McGarry and Big Block of Cheese day. It was a somewhat obscure reference, but the young man immediately got it, and we chatted about our love of the show and the entire notion of politics.

DC is many things. It is a town of memorials, of memories, of hopes and dreams. It’s an icon and a beacon. It’s exactly where two young men should go to participate in the dream that is freedom and democracy.

What happened today in the Capitol, it was and is and will be history. It is a pox, a blight, a horror.

And I think of those young men at the hill. How we traded jokes about West Wing, about the best of what is the experiment and dream of the United States of America. Maureen’s boys, who are not so little, watched an armed insurrection on television today. They are brave and curious young men. The young men I met that day on Capitol Hill won’t be young anymore either.

There would have been young men and women on the hill today. Some of them with stars in their eyes, some of them who still believe in the experiment that is democracy.

Bartlett, the President in West Wing, the President we have dearly wanted and missed these last 4 years, the President who called forth our better angels, he used to say something. It reminded us to keep moving, to keep hoping and to keep working. It seems like a good thing to ask right now . . .

“What’s Next?”

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The Lights in the Tree

It was a late August night when the sunset seems to last for hours, and even past the sunset the lights in the tree and the solar lights and the company make another sort of day out of night. It was the sort of Alberta night, the sort of party where at the very end, when you send the last person home, you pour another scotch, drink it, and then turn out the lights. You can deal with the food and the mess in the morning.

That was a year ago August.

Yesterday, on the shortest day of the year, Anne left. She had been in ICU, only a few blocks from my house, for the last month. You would think Covid, but no. Atypical pneumonia. One they struggled to treat. Her body, broken by MS, broken by other things, finally unable to fight.

She chose this. She said her goodbyes, decided that this was the best path forward. I have wept at the update that she was going, wishing that the angels would sing her on her way. I wept again at the update she was gone.

And I think of Anne in her snazzy motorized wheelchair, Art beside her, filled with love. They had their own sort of light, the two of them. The world is darker today and we are less without her.

Late in the summer of 2021, when we are vaccinated, when it is safe, I’ll throw another party. The sunset will last for hours, the merriment will make the night seem like day.

We’ll raise a glass, to absent friends. Think about the hell we lived through. Stare at the lights in the tree and remember how they fell on her face. And we’ll miss Anne.

Posted in Feats of Wonder, Learning Life | 2 Comments

Maybe in 5 Months?

I realized that I hadn’t had a period in months. Seven to be exact. I thought about the times I wake up drenched in sweat and throw all the covers off (and positively snarl at poor Mark when he tries to sweetly cover me up). I thought about the insomnia and the forgetfulness.

I tried to figure out how old my mother was when she went through menopause, and it turns out that I’m more or less right on track. I do know, based on the absence of drama and complaint, she must have moved through this transition fairly easily.

Maybe.

I mean, this hasn’t been particularly difficult. The night sweats are a bit much, and it would be nice to remember my neighbour’s son’s name and the term for health care specific data exchange standards, but really. Given the hell I lived through in menstruation and pregnancy, this is easy.

I asked my doctor about this lack of period. My doctor, who is good and careful and thoughtful, kinda shrugged. I asked about blood tests and if there anything I should do and . . . . it turns out, no.

Am I in perimenopause? Maybe. Probably. It turns out that medicine, which was very interested when I could not conceive, when I lost baby after baby, doesn’t at all care about this part of my life. They are happy to warm me I could still get pregnant (and would probably forget the baby somewhere) and then leave me to it. The doctor told me if I hadn’t had a period in another 5 months to come back and . . .

I don’t know what she will do.

Maybe I can throw a party?

Posted in Feats of Wonder, Feminism | 4 Comments

Places You Can’t Go

It is 3 am on December 10th, and I am awake. Waking up to worry is a near constant part of the pandemic, the stress of my job, perhaps even my nature. Usually I can sleep until 4 am.

I am wrapped in Mark’s arms, supposed to be asleep, and between worries about work projects and the state of the world, is my son. In the dark of the night, Mark and Gabriel collide and they do not know each other.

I tucked my son in the space between my heart and my lungs to keep him safe. You would think this fact means that he goes to every place that I do, and yet. I am alive and my son is dead and there are places he cannot go. We are indivisible and yet permanently divided. My son, the most amazing thing I will ever accomplish, the light of my heart, he is invisible.

Mark knows about Gabriel, after a fashion. He knows that a long time ago there was a baby, but I got sick and the baby died and there could not be any more babies. He knows the ashes on the shelf are that baby, the photo on my dresser is me holding that baby. He knows that today is the anniversary of his death.

He does not know that tonight I will post a photo of his birthday cake, with a single candle. That I have done this for 12 years. I will sing him happy birthday in a darkened room. Today will be terrible and tomorrow will be better. Mark does not know me as a mother.

13 years on I am rarely caught off guard by grief. My sorrow is low maintenance, I can hurt and stand on my own feet. I know the cadence of the year, which will be the hard days. I know that today will pass unnoticed by most of the world. I know that there are places my little boy cannot go, even though he is always with me.

The day will come when I am the only person who remembers. When I am the only person to say his name, to treasure the half an hour we had. That will be enough. There is never a moment that I don’t see my son, never a moment that I forget.

Happy 13th birthday little boy. I miss you still. Always. Forever.

******

Dear friends and loved ones,

With great joy and heartbreak, we wish to announce: at 10:26 PM on December 10, 2007, Gabriel Anton was born into the hands of Cathy, his midwife, sang to in the arms of his mother, rocked in the arms of his father, bathed in the arms of his grandmother, and baptized in the arms of Regula, his Parish Priest.

At just after 11 PM, he was carried to Heaven in the arms of the Angels, where we will meet him again one day. At 520 grams (1 pound 2.4 ounces), and 33 cm (13 inches) he was wee, with 10 fingers and toes, and a full head of hair. He was a perfect, but very tiny baby.

For where your treasure is, there also will be your heart. Luke 12:34

Posted in Baby Loss, Gabriel | 8 Comments

Hard Things

On the wall, above my bed is the photo that is in the blog header, and printed over it is “You were made to do hard things”.

I sometimes think the lesson of 2014 was that I was made to do hard things, but not all at once and not all the things.

I have gotten so much better at self-care and essential kindness in the last 5 years. I went to see my old therapist a few weeks ago about something unrelated to self-care, but one of the things I was so excited to tell her about was how much better at self-care I have gotten. A few days before my appointment, frustrated at school, at work, at life, I turned off. I had a bath, went for a walk, read a novel, put myself to bed early. I didn’t even hit the overwhelmed stage. I caught it well before that, knew what to do.

In short, I’m not the woman I was 6 years ago. More and more I embed kindness to myself in what I do. I may not put myself first, but I’m on the list. I’m gentle with myself so I can do hard things.

The gig came to me in another form. It was supposed to be smaller, it was supposed to be simple. A bit of help. It’s . . . . not that. It’s bigger. For the last 5 years, when something has gone wrong, when there’s been a problem, I’ve reminded people that no one would die. I have closed my laptop with work to do, because the work will keep.

When they came and found me, I tried to demur. Tried to say that we could find someone else, pointed out that I would be oversubscribed. And then my boss, the one that came and found me – she reminded me. This time people are dying. This time the work won’t keep.

Hard things.

Posted in Warthog Air | 2 Comments

Dangerous

Years ago a partner who did not drink watched me pour half a glass of wine down the sink before we went to bed. He said he’d not had a drink in more than a decade but my casual discard set his nerves jangling. This is the danger in the parts of ourselves we cover over. There is danger in the casual offer of your heart’s desire. There is danger in what someone almost hands us, without ever realizing the value we place on it.

I adore the gentleman caller’s children. This isn’t a surprise, not really. I like most kids. As we made pizza on Saturday night, when I showed his daughter how to knead dough, laughed with his son about the salad, it felt . . . . comfortable.

Which is dangerous.

Posted in Adult Dating | 2 Comments

$50 Sad

The thing about where I live is that on the longest day of the year, it will be light for about 17 hours. Even when the sun goes down, it doesn’t really go down. The flip side to that is on the shortest day of the year, it will be light for about 7.5 hours.

This is the time of year that I look up from making dinner and it’s dark. I know that it’s only going to get worse. We still have another 2 hours of daylight to lose before the winter solstice. Normally I would count on the lights, the company, and the comfort of Christmas. I would start making plans for what I’m going to feed my international students. I would start building stockings for them, thinking about decorations. While it isn’t the same as having an actual family, for a few hours at least, on Christmas day, I get to be someone’s family. I’m a bit less alone.

Covid means that there will be no international students this year. There won’t be a trip to Messiah, there won’t be drinks with colleagues, there won’t be much of anything. I will spend the holiday completely alone, instead of mostly alone. I don’t know what to do with that. It feels so overwhelming that my breath freezes in my throat. I’m going to have to deal with this, but if Covid has taught me anything, sometimes you postpone your sorrow. Sometimes you go for a long walk or a bike ride or your dig in your garden and wait on feeling those feelings until it isn’t all too much.

It’s winter. My garden is not yet frozen, but it will be. I will walk the dog, but my bike is put away. Fresh air and sunlight will be harder. I need another plan. Someone on twitter (one of my main sources of socialization these days) suggested a SAD light.

I figured I might be about $50 sad. I can sit in front of it and play the Beach Boys, and just for a little bit, pretend I’m somewhere else.

I’m hoping it will help as winter sets in.

Posted in Pandemic | 5 Comments

Expunging Guilt

Dear Universe, I feel guilty. I feel guilty for a thing that is not my fault, but the fact I shall have the benefit of it isn’t fair either.

On the 20th of September, I was scrolling through the headlines of my local paper and saw a headline about a doctor being asked to withdraw from practice after he breached a chaperone rule. I was interested in the story because my Neurologist has a chaperone, and well, you know where this went.

My neurologist has been asked to withdraw from practice.

I have a chronic disease which requires monitoring. I have taken medications that require monthly bloodwork to ensure that I do not die, and that needs a doctor to look at lab results. I live in a province where the Premier and his cabinet decided to go to war with Doctors, in the middle of a pandemic. I know that one of the other MS Neurologists decided to retire this year, which means that there are already thousands of patients without a neurologist. Now there are thousands more.

I called in some, well, not favours, but personal relationships and got a recommendation to a good neurologist. I called my GP and got them to write a strong referral letter, noting that I’m a low maintenance and well managed MS Patient. I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll have a new neuro soon enough.

I feel guilty because I knew professionals to ask for a referral and those people likely name-dropped me to the new neurologist. I feel guilty because I knew enough to know that I needed to be very proactive about this, and I have the sort of skills to know how to be proactive. I feel guilty because I have the sort of job that allows me to do virtual doctor’s appointments from the privacy of my home in the middle of the day. I feel guilty because my doctor is going to write a referral that makes reference to the fact that I’m low maintenance and compliant. I feel guilty because even when I ask questions, I’m a white middle-aged woman who is coded as curious and involved in her treatment, not arrogant and non-compliant.

Dear Universe, I feel guilty. None of the above is bad. None of it is my fault. It is a set of advantages that not everyone has.

The rain it raineth on the just
And also on the unjust fella;
But chiefly on the just, because
The unjust hath the just’s umbrella.

Charles Bowen

Posted in MS Gets on Your Nerves, The Cheerful Agnostic | 3 Comments

The People You Love

A year ago, Andy handed me the results from the pathology lab. Results, which were, it turns out, his death sentence. I texted my boss and stayed an extra day and took the kids to the trampoline park and the bird sanctuary and McDonald’s. They went to the doctor. They heard a year, maybe 2.

In the end, it was a shade less than 8 months.

When I got past being angry at the universe, the shock set in. Sometimes I think I’m still shocked.

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All My Thoughts on Marriage

Dear Dean and Rachel:

You have asked for all my thoughts on marriage as you get married. I thought very hard I realize, I only have 2 thoughts about marriage. Still, you wanted them, so here they are.

While I was married for almost 16 years, the wisest among us will remember that I am not currently married. Should you find someone who has been happily married for 32 years, and should they make a suggestion contrary to my thoughts, I’d go with theirs.

With that limitation of liability in mind, I’d like to introduce the concept of the do-over.

You see, there will come a time when you will not be the person Mr Rogers knows you can be. Indeed, there may come a time when your promises to love, honour, and cherish your spouse fly out the window and your inside voice becomes your outside voice and things become rather ominous. This happens. I know you think it won’t, but I promise you, in the instant words, or a look or even just a door slammed loudly happens, you have the option of a re-do.

A re-do is simple. In the instant that you know you have not been your best self, you get to stand up and ask for a re-do. A re-do requires something from both of you: your ability to admit that you were not your best self – you need the re-do; and your partner’s ability to remember that we are all human, providing a bit of grace and mercy – granting you the re-do. A re-do does not eliminate the unkind words or actions, but it does let you start again.

My second bit of advice is this: there is no wallpaper simple enough or attractive enough, and there is no wall that is straight enough for any sane couple to wallpaper together. Hire someone. There’s no limitation of liability on this one. Anyone who tells you to wallpaper with your spouse doesn’t like you or isn’t in their right mind. Trust me on this.

Wishing you a life of care and joy. Sorry I cannot be with you, but you will be in my thoughts.

(As it so happens, I was asked to record this, so that the very happy couple could put it, and many other like it, in their wedding video. I miss the days of handwritten letters, but needs must. The blog worked because it was a place I’m used to writing things down, and more than that, I could read from here while recording myself.)

Posted in Marriage | 3 Comments