Posts Tagged ‘life’

Transitions

January 26, 2013

Here I am again after another long absence. I tell people sometimes that I feel like the author Fran Lebowitz, who has spent more of her career talking about not writing than actually writing anything for publication. And of course, I am neither published nor anywhere near as skilled as she.

For me this is a time of transition, but I don’t know the destination. I have two jobs, one as a full-time caregiver for my partner Freddie, the other as caretaker and editor for my late friend Keith’s web sites. The future of both positions is unclear. I wait for Freddie to get better or get worse, pondering our future lives. I wait for Keith’s estate to be settled, pondering my future career options while also managing a tight budget and financial uncertainty. Each day is lived more and more in the moment as I try not to worry about things I cannot control.

Freddie had six short to medium-term hospitalizations in 2011, and a somewhat lengthier stay in 2012. His problems are – to use my new favorite term – “muti-factorial.” A Type 1 diabetic since childhood and a long-term HIV survivor, he has been officially disabled since the early 1990s. When we met in 2000 he was doing relatively well but then fell off a ladder just days before we moved in together. Our life as a couple has revolved around his health, increasingly so in the last few years. There’s been a stroke. A pulmonary embolism. A heart attack and then quadruple bypass. Surgery on his cervical spine. And over all of this, increasing fatigue and mild cognitive impairment.

As this has progressed I am now the one in charge of everything, from medical matters to walking the dogs to cooking the dinners to cleaning the commodes. It all comes down to me.

There are times when I feel resentment or anger, or more often, a simple desire to escape. I have come to recognize, however, that my feelings are simply that, feelings. They do not define me or control me. My feelings come and go. They are not the essence of myself. Once I recognize them and express them in some appropriate way, my decisions and actions are what truly matter.

Beyond that, I choose to cultivate gratitude. I know that I am lucky to have the opportunity to work from home and set my own hours. I am lucky that Freddie is still alive. I am lucky that, in spite of financial challenges, we are still in our home, can pay our bills, keep our dogs and cat happy, and keep food on the table. And the dogs and cat love us so. For all these things I am grateful.

And thus I choose to carry on.

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That’s My Job

May 7, 2009

I’ve written before about my “mental soundtrack.”  Songs get stuck in my mind, sometimes for trivial things.  Sometimes they get stuck for momentous things in my life, and the lives of those I love.

When I was going back and forth to San Antonio so often in 2007 when my mother was sick, she’d always thank me for coming and helping.  I’d hem and haw as grown children do When Mom Says Thank You From A Hospital Bed, but often, that last year of her life, I used to think about the words in a Conway Twitty song, and I’d hum it to myself:

That’s my job
That’s what I do
Everything I do is because of you
To keep you here with me
That’s my job, you see

I’ve done this for years, actually.  Not just the mental soundtrack thing, but the “job.”  I’m the one who fixes what’s broken, who takes care of the one who hurts, who lends a listening and non-judgmental ear.  That’s my job.

These last few months I’ve been doing it more intensely than ever for Freddie.  He’s weak, unsteady, can’t stand for more than a couple moments without getting dizzy.  The other night he fell.  Walking across a big parking lot is pretty much out of the question.

We went to the doctor today, resulting in a scheduled hospitalization next week for tests, leading to who knows what.  Another one under the belt, maybe to result in “answers” or treatment, maybe more referrals and tests, or maybe palliative and adaptive measures.  Who knows what.

My money’s on Thyroid, like the name of a quarter-horse, but really, who knows what.

I’ve known all of our years together that times like this do come, but I never know where or when.  There was the day Freddie fell off the ladder at the San Diego house, and the next several months confined to an upstairs room.  There was the night in Galveston his blood glucose went down to 27 and I woke up to hear him moaning.  There were the countless hundred-mile round trips to the Houston-based doctors, and to the Houston pharmacies required by bureaucratic necessity.  And then our last move, with me preparing the house to sell while he was hospitalized again.  And here we are, today, not knowing, but still, always, knowing.

That’s my job.

That’s what I do.

Just A Little Attention

November 19, 2008

The New York Times has a story today about the plight of communities devastated by Ike.  It’s nice to get just a little attention from the national media.

We here in Southeast Texas see these stories in the local newspaper and the local TV news every day.  It seems to some of us that unlike previous years, the country now has a sort of “hurricane fatigue”.  Or maybe it’s “disaster fatigue.”  Stories about Mother Nature’s latest fury used to last for weeks and months.  Now they rise and fall in a few days, leaving the hurricane-blighted coast and the fire-blighted hills to rebuild as if in shadows, largely ignored in favor of politics and the financial crisis.

People have a shorter attention span these days.  We don’t read as many books we once did, and instead we read pages.  We network and tweet and have cryptic asides on our text messages.  That is, when we’re not actually talking on the phone while pretending to ourselves that we’re listening to a store clerk or really paying attention to traffic. There are some of us who seemingly don’t know what to do or how to make decisions without an electronic tether constantly connecting them to parents, to siblings, to friends.  And yet, in some ways this constant flow of information and interaction makes us more ignorant and inattentive than ever before.

Can we just take a time out now?  Can we just stop and pay a little attention?

Cada Muerto Tiene Su Día

October 11, 2008

My mother had a peculiar sense of humor, to say the least, and I have inherited this quirk.  With her many years in San Antonio, Mom’s funny bone sometimes developed a Tex-Mex Spanglish twist to add to the puns and occasional bawdyness.  I can still hear her saying: “Que hora es — Poor Kay!”

As I think over this last year since Mom’s final illness, I feel a stronger sense of her presence than ever.  Although there is a deep sense of regret when I think of those days and weeks in strange hospitals — sometimes with stranger patients in the next bed — the grief has passed, giving way to peace.  Sitting here, writing as she once wrote in her newsletters years ago, her violets in the window, pets on her chairs, the birds and wildlife she loved outside the door, it seems like she is here with me.

This isn’t to ignore my father.  It’s more that throughout my life, Dad had typically been at a certain distance.  Either physically, off flying in Turkey or Korea or somewhere, or later simply off on his own separate life.  (Classic gay formula: Absent father, overprotective mother…)  There was a short time, maybe four years, that I got to know him before my parents’ marriage declined.  Then Dad was gone about his business, back now and then for a few cameo guest appearances, and then he was further gone in a fog of health issues culminating in dementia.  He wasn’t quite there.  He isn’t quite gone, if that makes sense.

But back to Spanglish, my title is typical of one of Mom’s jokes.  As San Antonians, every year we saw El Día de los Muertos, the Mexican Day of the Dead that marks what other Catholic cultures know as the Feast of All Saints and the Feast of All Souls.  Yes, this “day” is celebrated over two days; no matter.

When we first came to the city in 1969, we lived by Kelly Air Force Base.  I remember going with Mom to the H.E.B. supermarket at Las Palmas Shopping Center.  Across the street from the enormous San Fernando Cemetery No. 2., this landmark was once home to a Joske’s department store where she bought my school clothes.  Every year, traffic jams developed in the streets around there as devotees came to pay tribute and tend the resting places of the muertos, the beloved dead.

Our Air Force life was marked by repetition.  We left San Antonio after a year, coming back in 1972, leaving again, then coming back to stay for good when Dad retired in 1975.  With each round, unknown to me at the time, San Antonio was becoming my home town.  For years I’ve said that I had none, that I came from everywhere.  Now I know better.

Also with each round, the muertos came back.  Ever present in the lives of Mexicans, seen in countless calaveras and calacas, the dead evoke memories and devotion.  In the United States, the custom has spread far beyond South Texas and the border states, but outside Mexico and other Latin countries, the images seem most powerful here.

I’m planning a remembrance for Mom and Dad.  He died first in July, she followed in October.  With their over thirty years in San Antonio, it seems appropriate to me to commemorate them according to the custom, but with a few twists.

So I’ve read the Wikipedia pages on the Day of the Dead and the calacas.  As noted, calacas

…are generally depicted as joyous rather than mournful figures. They are often shown wearing festive clothing, dancing, and playing musical instruments to indicate a happy afterlife. This draws on the Mexican belief that no dead soul likes to be thought of sadly, and that death should be a joyous occasion.

With the celebrations themselves

…many people believe that during the Day of the Dead, it is easier for the souls of the departed to visit the living. People will go to cemeteries to communicate with the souls of the departed, and will build private altars, containing the favorite foods and beverages, and photos and memorabilia, of the departed. The intent is to encourage visits by the souls, so that the souls will hear the prayers and the comments of the living directed to them. Celebrations can take a humorous tone, as celebrants remember funny events and anecdotes about the departed.

That makes a lot of sense to me, and it sounds like something Mom and Dad would both appreciate.

I don’t know if I’ll get the traditional marigolds.  Maybe I’ll opt for the blue irises that my sister always says Mom loved, or maybe I’ll look for some Texas yellow roses.  Instead of the pan de muerto, I’ll look at H.E.B. for pan dulce, the not-so-sweet pastries that Mom used to buy at a Mexican bakery.  There should be a cup of black coffee for Mom, and later in the day, a Lone Star Beer or a shot of Scotch for Dad.

They would approve.