Archive | Uncategorized RSS feed for this section

These are the people (published draft)

23 Aug

3 blocks south, 1 block west, 3 blocks home. Sometimes it takes 15 minutes, sometimes 45. Tonight, the dog and I spent a leisurely half hour wandering around to sniff and pee, confirming that his buddy Louie is indeed camping, and connecting with some of our human neighbors.

I came home carrying a head of cauliflower, a bag of shredded cheese, a pouch of smoothie mix, two Starbucks salads, and a black bean wrap. The lady on the corner has volunteered at the El Centro food bank for over 20 years. Her front porch is a secondary food pantry for the unsheltered “street inebriates” displaced from Triangle Park after the big tree came down–and occasionally for random people (like me) who look like we might eat organic vegetarian stuff.

Juggling her generous gifts and a leash, we didn’t make it far before we ran into another neighbor from around the corner. She was still in her work uniform, walking her daughter’s sweet little dog. Unfortunately, my dog has decided that her dog’s testicles are a problem, so they can no longer romp in the parking strip. After I gathered my dropped groceries, we continued for another block before a group of cyclists passed us as they leisurely pedaled uphill on the greenway. One guy pumped is fist in the air, chanting “No bag! No bag! Woo!”, then mused to his cycling partner about how it would be hard to find my house keys when I got home.

I didn’t say anything about how I leave the door unlocked a lot of the time. Our neighbors have our backs.

Can’t win for losing

3 May

I created some basic self-care checklists to inspire myself to…care, I guess. My kid has never been a star-chart kind of person, but I find it satisfying and helpful to cross things off lists. Periodically, I try to care for myself at close to the same level I teach her to function: eat healthy meals, exercise, brush your teeth, etc. I made it 13 days this time, until last night I intentionally went to bed without brushing my teeth because…dammit, I didn’t want to. I don’t want to take care of this stupid body. I identify waking up with gummy eyes and gross breath as being rebellious, independent, adult.

Sometimes that’s the best/only self-care I can muster.


Light up

9 Dec

My dad called me on Father’s Day, 2018 to tell me he had been diagnosed with cancer. I was camping with my daughter & her dad, along with two other families. The day before, I’d felt more joyful, peaceful, and optimistic than I could remember feeling in years. I began that camping trip confident that I deserved the amazing life I had, and that I could move forward to build a great life for my kid.

Our phone conversation was brief. Dad was making several of those calls that day, and I was in a campground with a group of kids. There was a lot to say, but it wasn’t the time or place to say any of it. We never really found a place or time to say any of it.

About a week later, after tying up as many loose ends as I could identify, I headed to Walla Walla by myself. It seemed like the thing to do, so I did it without giving much thought or talking to anyone.  In hindsight, I wish I’d made different choices–either leaving immediately after the phone call or waiting just a few more days. I was in a fog, trying to plan and also trying to rush. I regret missing my daughter’s last day of second grade, never getting (or giving closure) to the kids, families or staff.  It was a tough school year for everyone. The teacher lost her father suddenly and was gone for several weeks near the beginning of the year. We all deserved a better goodbye/closure than I allowed.

I also deeply regret missing Summer Solstice. Our family celebrates the changing of seasons during Equinox and Solstice, usually at a small park near our house. We bring gifts for the fairies, clean the park, and dance around. For as long as she can remember, we’ve visited the fairies in the big maple tree. Our little celebrations drew attention from the neighbors, who created a fairy village to accommodate the expanding population drawn to our increasingly popular neighborhood. That group of fairies followed the neighbors when they moved to Atlanta, Georgia to seek more affordable housing.

About two weeks after my dad’s diagnosis, the big tree dropped a huge limb that crushed the bench beneath it. City arborists discovered the tree was dying from the inside and cut it down.  We had skipped our Summer Solstice celebration to go to Walla Walla and never got to say goodbye to the tree. I couldn’t bring myself to tell my daughter about it for several weeks.

We were still in Walla Walla for the Fall Equinox, which we celebrated with the big old maple in our front yard. We’re back home in Seattle for Winter Solstice. The new little maples in the park can’t host as many fairies as the big old tree, but the remaining fairies are resilient. They’ve relocated around the neighborhood and will gather to join us as we remember and look forward.

For everyone in the Northern Hemisphere: hang in there. The light will return.


Good grief!

8 Dec

My kid is getting a much more honest perspective about death, dying, and grief than I did as a child. This summer, she sat in the observation deck of the slow motion train of watching someone you love decline, getting a close up view of the ways the family came together–and also how we fell apart. Six weeks after her Papa died, we’re still navigating the intense physical, emotional, and social effects of grief–hers, mine, and the extended family’s. Although it’s hard to expose her to painful emotions, I hope that being allowed to participate in the process of grieving as a child will prepare her for dealing with grief as an adult.

I grew up in the 70’s & 80’s in a small rural college town. My  mom’s family was “working class”; we were just poor. We’re a white family (European potluck, no one’s certain which countries) with no particular religious framework. We celebrated most mainstream holidays in the American commercial sense and enjoyed some traditional foods & activities, but mostly muddled along without a lot of structure. I’ve often envied friends with strong faith because it seems like they were taught how to do things that I’ve had to figure out on my own–including grieve.

Both of my favorite grandmothers died in quick succession when I was about 15. From the perspective of the kids, the end of their lives was a quick downhill progression of whatever had been wrong with them. They were only in their late 60’s, but in our world it was “their time”–it was normal for them to die. Funerals were organized and attended, people brought us food, graves were visited occasionally…but no one ever talked to us about grief. There were vague mutterings about “a better place”, but no follow up about what those of us left in *this* place are expected to do after losing someone. How was I supposed to bake cookies/play Scrabble/spend my summers? Were my sad feelings normal or was I “being dramatic” (again)?

Over the years, few other people close to me have died. Not very many, but enough that I thought I understood grief. I also had the hubris to think that the grief of losing relationships with people still living was similar to the grief when someone dies. In short, I was completely unprepared for the impact of Full Strength Grief when my dad died. I expected to be sad, but I wasn’t ready for anger, anxiety, disappointment, or fear. I certainly wasn’t ready to feel grief so strongly in my body.

The physical symptoms of grief are real–and they can be intense. Various family members have experienced symptoms ranging from hives to cold sores to general malaise. I spent two weeks almost incapacitated by nausea, and have battled colds and headaches. My body hurts and food tastes wrong.  It took me almost three weeks to finally google this, and I’m so grateful for the resources on What’s your grief. It’s reassuring to know that my experience is within the range of normal responses, and to read about others having similar experiences.

I’m not ready to intentionally explore my emotional responses yet, but I dip my toes in occasionally. “The Mom Show” on KEXP hit home harder than usual this year, in a very good way. Every year, John and Amy Richards create a space for thousands of listeners to navigate grief. The 2018 playlist is here.

As an adult, I understand that my parents (and most of the other adults in my life) were barely able to cope with daily life most of the time. They struggled under the weight of multi-generational trauma and poverty. They battled mental illness and addiction without support. I cannot and do not blame them for being unable to model and teach healthy ways to grieve.

I’m just starting to dip my toes into “Grief Theory“–barely scratching the surface of the resources available to help me navigate this stage of my life. I have the incredible privilege of a stable life as an adult. It’s my responsibility to use this privilege to navigate grief and the rest of life’s challenges in a way that will support and inspire my daughter as she navigates her life. I hope and expect she will be prepared to grieve well.

I Am Trying To Break Your Heart

27 Oct

I’ve never been a huge Wilco fan, mostly because I was doing other things when they were big. I like their music, in that abstract “Oh, that’s a good song. What’s that band called again?” sense.

This morning, I woke up with the opening track of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot in my head on loop. As I looked for the pieces of my coffee pot, let the dog out (then clipped his leash on for a proper pee), found and set up the coffeepot (then let him out again to bark at something in the compost while the coffee boiled), the lyric “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” kept playing over and over.

Coffee beside me, I opened Spotify and started the album. I’m typing at 6:02a.m. as Jeff Tweedy sings over some lush keyboards & complicated background noise. My dad is dead.

He died last night around 9. My Aunt Ilene called first, then was immediately mortified that she knew before me. Groggy and more than a little stoned, I waited for the next call before joining my 8 year old in bed. My sister didn’t make me wait long. She called to tell me that she’d be at the house with our cousin and Dad’s wife for “them” to take him away. She was calm, and professional, and compassionate. I mumbled some words and went back to bed.

We’d been at the house the evening before, after hospice administered pain relief and gave us an estimate our patriarch’s life was measured in hours, not days. Cousins and siblings stood in the back yard joking, drinking beer, and talking about how glad we are pot is legal. (Except for one brother, who doesn’t agree. His lack of open disapproval was proof this was a Serious Occasion.) I left early to collect my kid and give my dad the privacy he seemed to want.

This morning, I woke to a text from my sister-in-law offering to come be with my daughter while I went over to say goodbye. I’m touched–it was a genuine offer, and I love this woman. I’m also confused. Didn’t we say goodbye? Did I miss yet another social cue? Lacking a religious foundation or specific cultural background, I don’t understand the protocols around death. I know what to do with birth and illness, but death…I don’t know.

My dad sent me away when I came to visit, both when he was lucid and when he was fighting to die. He asked that the grandkids not see him as he deteriorated. We had no lingering deaths in our family when I was young. We never talked about or practiced what he believed/wanted/expected about dying.

I tell my daughter her Papa loved her so much it hurt him to worry she’d be scared. It distracted him from his efforts to die. I tell her this because it’s true, and because the possibility that we were explicitly excluded because is too painful to think about thinking. I tell her that we come together when someone dies to celebrate that individual and to care for those still living. We do what needs to be done, practically and emotionally. I tell her these things because it’s all I know, and we have to do something.

Right now I’m putting Jeff Tweedy on loop about breaking my heart. Radio Cure is downright annoying. I can’t listen to the album. It’s 6:24. The kid is up. I’ve made her tea, distracted the dog, and refreshed Jeff Tweedy three times. It’s time to stop typing.

Later (soon), when other people are awake, I’ll check in to see what I can do for them. We have to do something.

Rights and responsibilities

16 Oct

Notice. Know this.

You are not alone. Your actions affect everyone. No one has the right to hurt someone else.

You have the right to be safe and a responsibility to create safety.  No one has the right to hurt someone else.

You have the right to health and a responsibility to create a healthy world. No one has the right to hurt someone else.

You have the right to create close relationships and receive love and care, and a responsibility to do so. No one has the right to hurt someone else.

You have the right to ask for help, and the responsibility to offer (or find) help for others. No one has the right to hurt someone else.

You are not alone. You have the right to safety, health, and happiness. You have the responsibility to support the same rights for everyone else. No one has the right to hurt someone else.

Let’s talk to kids: death

1 Oct

Kicking off my “Let’s talk to our kids series” this morning.

I could try to organize my approach into a checklist, but for now I’ll outline the basic ways I’ve answered questions and/or introduced “difficult” topics to kids in my life. I’ve been having these conversations with other kids since I was a child, and have honed my tone over 30 years of childcare.

  • Be honest about your own feelings and responses to the situation/issue
  • Avoid concerns about offending religious relatives by limiting your conversations to very basic facts and referring the kid/s back to their own grownups
    • Understand that people will still get offended and use your own judgement for how to proceed
  • Provide accurate information in language the kid/s can understand
  • Expect to make mistakes and correct them when possible
  • Expect follow up questions
  • Provide resources: videos, written materials, other people
    • Looking up materials for kids can help you organize your thoughts and predict some of the questions they’ll answer
    • You’ll learn stuff

My 8 year old daughter is the only child in our very large extended family who knows that my dad (her Papa) is dying. That’s probably not true–kids are smart, and observant. It’s more accurate to say that she is the only child who has consistent, honest, factual conversations about the fact that her Papa has cancer and is going to die.

I answer my kid’s questions–spoken and unspoken. She wants to know why we’re in Walla Walla, why Papa closed his shop, why he doesn’t get out of bed. I want her to understand why the adults around her are tense and sad. I want her to be as prepared as possible for the changes she observes in her Papa and to know that his illness isn’t contagious–it’s safe for her to visit him.

When I mentioned to Sylvia that these conversations aren’t part of her cousin’s experience and sheepishly requested that she keep her information to herself, she was appalled. “People don’t talk to their kids? That’s stupid! Why not?” Let’s start with how I answered that question, then move on to how we talk about death.

Many adults believe kids can’t/don’t/shouldn’t understand certain issues. Unless their religion/culture provides a specific tradition of when kids may be introduced to these topics, they don’t get around to the conversations. In the United States, we lack a unified culture or religious background to offer a framework for how to discuss certain topics and issues.  Without a clear tradition or code for where to send our children to learn about sex and reproduction, death, money, etc individual adults flounder when faced with questions from the children around us. We worry about offending other adults, scaring the children, revealing our own vulnerability.

We’ve created a vacuum of information, leaving kids to figure things out on their own based on information they glean from each other and what they read. Because the kids internalize the sense of discomfort (or even taboo) we’ve created, they don’t ask clarifying questions and they never fully understand what’s going on emotionally, culturally, philosophically, or even physically with some of the most essential functions of the human body.

It’s true that young children lack a formal framework to discuss the philosophical issues  around death and dying. So do I. We can still have conversations about what we observe around us: you stepped on that worm, it’s dead now. The bug is squished on our window, the cat killed a mouse, a friend’s mom was killed in a car crash, your grandfather is sick and won’t get better.

My kid isn’t traumatized by these conversations. We haven’t had one “talk” about death, or sex, or money, or equity, or racism, sexism, war…we have ongoing conversations about the world around us. These conversations help us understand and support each other.

Try it.

Short list of resources I’ve found helpful in discussing cancer with an 8 year old:

The Canadians really do it right:

Decently presented general information:

This is a very informative book, gently presented. It mentions “heaven”, so it’s also a good way to start/continue your conversations about what happens after death.

Not for kids, but this excellent coloring book made my sick dad laugh.