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Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Zona Rosa Exorcise


As I have mentioned before, I attend a writer’s workshop in Savannah, Georgia, that has been ongoing for more than 26 years.  We meet (usually) on the first Saturday of every month, except August, when Rosemary is on sabbatical.  I joined in 1996, and over the years my attendance has been spotty from time to time for a variety reasons with which I will not bore you. The group is called Zona Rosa, and it is the brain child of Rosemary Daniell, a wonderful writer and teacher.  You can find out about Rosemary, her books, and the group by visiting http://www.myzonarosa.com/.  Please stop by and see for yourself.  

Anyway, each month, Rosemary assigns us what she calls “exorcises,”  short essays that make us think.  There are always several from which to choose, and some of us, and we know who we are, make up our own, like the time at one of our retreats on Tybee Island, I wrote a note to every man I ever slept with.  In the notes, I told them why I did it, and I gave them a rating.  It was very cleansing for me, and I recommend it to any woman - or man.

Here are some of the latest exorcises:
*Are women today as happy as they were in the past?
*What are the differences among satisfaction, pleasure and happiness?
*How does weather (or aging or money) affect my writing?

I have decided to make up my own exorcise again this month and write about how Clint’s death has affected my writing.  So, here goes.

Clint was a man of great integrity.  I could leave my journal open on the bed, and he wouldn’t so much as glance at it.  Everything, except my address, has been reshaped by his death.  No corner has gone untouched.

My writing has taken on a life of its own, I think.  My energy for writing was so sapped by Clint’s illness that it very nearly dried up.  I was overwhelmed with responsibility and heartache, with little of me left to be creative.  I have heard it said many times that hard times make for good writing.  Not for me, at least not then.  Today is a different story altogether.

Losing Clint gave me back my energy, and my crippling grief gave me a reason to write.  I almost have survivor’s guilt when I say that, which is absurd on its face, but there is nothing rational about grief or, for that matter, any emotion.  They are what they are.  Period.

Writing about Clint the way I did opened up in me a writer’s heart that I never really believed I had.  Before I lost him, I felt like a fraud, an impostor when I wrote, or tried to write, stories and essays and poems.  Now I am sure of every word I put on the page, even the ones I will later take out or change.  Some of them are just plain shit, but most of them are good, and I proudly claim all of them.

My poems are stronger and more raw, fueled in large part, I believe, by the suffering I have endured at losing The Love of My Life.  It created for me a platform from which to scream and cry and rage.  I could not survive without putting it all out there - all of it.  I cut open my bruised creative veins in public and hemorrhaged words all over anyone who would read them.  

And I am a stronger and more confident woman than at any time in my life.  I have proved to myself that I can survive without Clint, that as much as I want him back, his leaving opened not just doors, but windows from which I could shout my truths, my story.

Even from the Other Side, he gives me strength and courage and self-worth.  No wonder I loved him so madly, that losing him nearly killed me.

Monday, April 26, 2010

This Thing with Proust

This Thing with Proust

If My Dead Husband were here, wearing his red cashmere sweater and propped on an elbow reading Churchill’s History of the English-Speaking Peoples (for the third time), he would scoff at me and the thing with Proust.  Rather, he would pretend to scoff and be secretly proud of me.  He would laugh and say my quest for the works of Marcel stemmed from my need to find a genre in which I need not have a plot at all if I didn’t want one.  

I don’t think that’s right.  I don’t know why I am doing this.  Maybe it’s because of Elaine Hughes, a writer and teacher of writers who went to high school at the same time as Clint.  (They even had a few dates).  He attended a Brothers of the Sacred Heart school, while she attended the public school in Vicksburg, Mississippi.  I met this tiny and loving and talented woman in 1994, when she and Clint were united on one of our trips to that dreary town.  She had been living in Manhattan for years, teaching at Nassau Community College.  She died of breast cancer seven years later, but during the time we had, we formed a bond around our mutual love for Clint and of a love for words and writing. She was one of the best friends I ever had.

She begged me to restart my long abandoned journal and to read Madame Bovery and Proust.  I immediately restarted my journal and have continued to write in it to this day - except for the two months after Clint died when I couldn’t write a single word, the pain of reliving his death too much for me to bear.

“Which Proust?” I wanted to know.

“Why, A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, of course”

“All of it?.”

“All of it.”

So, 16 years later, I have finished Madame Bovary (I’ll make another post of that). and am reading only Proust and - on the side - NIN.  To be totally honest, I am not reading Proust.  He is being read to me by an outstanding narrator and routed through my iPod and into my ears via a hot pink set of ear buds.  I am really reading NIN for myself - A Spy in the House of Love - for the second time.  I love it.

Yesterday, I finished Swann’s Way, and today I will begin to listen to Within a Budding Grove, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower.  I’m saving it for dessert after I work on some poems and write this post.

I love the flowery prose, the descriptions of the caste system in France at the time.  (I believe all societies have caste systems, even today).  I love Proust’s use of the involuntary memory, perhaps because it so often happens to me.  It’s the source of many of my poems.  I find the descriptions of persons and their attire and of their habits fascinating.  The characters are drawn so skillfully as to seem real and plastic all the same.   Charles Swann is a friend of the narrator's family, and he is ostracized from much of high society for marrying "beneath" himself and for his political views.

The narrator, whose identity is carefully undisclosed in the book, is widely believed to have been Proust himself, is a whiney mama’s boy who fancies a desire to be a writer.  So far, he has only read dozens of books and wandered in the garden and taken long walks with his parents around their country home in Cambray.  His pathological attachment to his mother is  disturbing to a great degree, but I find his love for flowers and plants appealing.  I don’t know whether I have ever seen a Hawthorne bush, a plant of which he was particularly enamored, but I am now planning to put at least one in my own little garden.

I aready have a psychiatrist and a therapist, thank God. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I Sank to Her Level


I need My Dead Husband today, need him more than usual.  My son, who is 40 and has severe bipolar disorder, is being harassed by his sperm donor’s wife.  She is sending him facebook messages chastising him for past sins, real and imagined.  I want to find her and bite off her head and spit it down a mine shaft.

Clint was the only father Parrish knew, except in the most superficial of ways.  When P was two years old, I left the sperm donor, and when I did, the sperm donor abandoned his only child.  Any contact they had was engineered by me, who, fool that I am, thought a father and son should have some sort of, well, father-son relationship.

Wrong.  There was always conflict with the wife du jour, and I have wished a million times that I had just told P that his father were dead or in prison or somewhere outside his reach.  All my good intentions caused my child more harm than good, and he grew into manhood without the love and respect of his  biological father.  He grew into manhood believing - and rightly so - that his father did not love him.

Now this.  If Clint were here, he’d calm me down if it took a fire extinguisher to do it.  He would have advised me, in all his wisdom, to teach P how to block the bitch on facebook and forget about it.

But, he’s not here, and I went into kick-ass mode and sent the following message to the spawn of Satan:

There is a front row seat in hell for people like you, and I am certain that the devil is keeping one warm for you.  Don't you have anything better to do than to terrorize Parrish on facebook?  He has severe bipolar disorder, and for the first time in years, his doctors have his medications stable and he can actually function.  Chastising him for past sins will only make him sick again, so for God's sake, leave the man alone.  Thanks to your and Lawrence's unwillingness to accept that he is mentally ill, Parrish has spent time in prison when he should have been in a mental facility.  Aren't you proud?  Clint's death was very hard on him as he was the only REAL father Parrish had.  I am begging you.  Leave him alone.  His computer instructor is teaching him how to block your messages, so just give it up.  You have done all the damage you will ever have a chance to do.  And believe me when I say, if he dies before I do, you will not be notified.  Take your poison and spew it at someone else.  

It didn’t make me feel one bit better.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

No Smoking


My preceptor turned her dark red Altima off the blacktop onto a rock road, or what should have been one if the torrential rains of spring had not washed much of the gravel into deep trenches carved out by the runoff from the rain.  The car was dusted yellow with pine pollen, and we could feel its grit in our eyes and noses, even with the air conditioner trying to filter the air.  

Then she turned left onto a dirt road, rutted and potted by the rain, large roots exposed and, along with the pots, making for a bumpy and swaying drive up to the back of the trailer.  The dirt yard was littered with old toys, a rusty tricycle, paper fast food wrappers and the skeletons of two old cars sitting on the dirt, wheels long gone.  

Two operational vehicles - both red muscle cars -  were parked beside one another, their pointed hoods aimed at the back stoop, which was supported by an arrangement of boards and concrete blocks which also served as steps.  There were three open packs of unfiltered Pall Malls on the rail. 

Our patient stood alone on the stoop, shirtless, shoeless, wearing only an old stained pair of beige Bermuda shorts, his is steel gray hair in disarray.   He waved, and we tooted the horn while we tried to find a place to park without blocking in the other cars or running over a nail or broken beer bottle.

Mr. X has no voice box.  His larynx was removed several years ago in an effort to cure the cancer growing there.  He breathes through a hole in his neck.  Now, on the right side of his neck, there is a gaping wound, tunneling inward, and next to it is a tumor the size of a small roma tomato and the color of a ripe plum.  It looks as though it might rupture at any minute, but it has looked that way for a while.  I think it is bigger today.  We advised his daughter - the one who came from Texas to help him die -  to keep dark towels at hand for when he bleeds out.  

He opened the screened door for us, and we walked into his dark living room where the out-of-focus TV blared from an entertainment unit pushed against the opposite wall. He took his usual seat in an old loden recliner in the corner and pumped the handle on the side to kick his feet out, then waited for us to start taking vital signs and asking questions about pain.

His daughter from Texas came into the room and helped interpret for us.  The way he moves his lips makes it hard to read them.  She is in charge of his drugs, which she keeps under lock and key.

The others, two sons and another daughter with a small girl in tow, walked past us out onto the stoop, scooped up the Pall Malls, each lit one and got into one of the red cars, tobacco smoke swirling around the child's head.  They said they were going to Wal Mart.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Brain Crisis


I’m having a brain crisis.  I’m in left brain overload, and my right brain feels like it’s shriveling up getting ready to dry out.  It’s the studying and testing and practical thinking that my nursing re-entry requires that’s causing it all.  I know why it’s happening, but how to I shift back into my genetic right-brained mode without becoming a ditsy nurse?  Am I over-thinking this?  Probably, but I feel like, along with Niagara Falls behind my eyes, I now have the Sahara Desert in my right brain.

When I think up anything interesting to say, I'll get back with you.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Baptism by Fire - Part 2


In hospice care, we expect our patients to die.  Our job is to help them - and their families - make the transition as painless and peaceful and as possible.  But, without contradicting myself, I can say that some of them are, indeed, unexpected.  It was Friday afternoon, March 26, and we had seem this precious little man the day before.  He was not actively dying when Debra and I saw him, and had in fact made plans to see his dentist.  He lived in a personal care home, and one of the residents had wandered into his room one night and stolen his upper plate, so he was going to get his new one.

Debra was at lunch, and since I live right around the corner from the restaurant, had, in lieu of eating, asked her to drop me at my house to check on my sick dogs.  

She got the call at about 2 PM and (as much as Debra can) rushed to pick me up.  It’s our job to be first responders, even though we are only there to confirm the death before anyone calls the family or the funeral home.  He was, indeed, dead, had fallen over in the bathroom and was discovered by one of the workers.  With help, she put him back in the bed and covered him.  He was fully dressed, and Debra and I put light dressings on the wounds on his arms that he sustained in the fall.  His family didn’t need to see that.

I can think of nothing worse that getting a telephone call saying a loved one is dead, (I has happened to me). so we gathered the family by phoning to say our patient was worse and maybe they should come see him.  That took about an hour, and we waited for them on the front porch to tell them the sad news.  Maybe the only thing worse than a phone call would be finding your daddy dead on the bathroom floor.

This all sounds clinical and detached, but stay with me.  It’s just background.  I promise not to go through these details in future posts.

The average time from death until departure for the funeral home is two to three hours.  We were there for 3 because we waited for a son to drive from his home, which was about an hour away.  We didn’t have to stay.  We chose to because that’s who we are.  The preacher came and prayed over all of us, which I suppose didn’t do any of us any harm.  I have my own ideas about spirituality that might have made him say extra prayers over me, but that’s another post altogether.

So, we left at 5:00 PM, the hour at which we went “on call” until 5 AM.  We still had two routine follow-ups because of the extra time spent with our grieving family, so we went and took care of those and grabbed a wrap for dinner and ate it in the car.  Between patients we were notified of a pending admission, but we had to wait until the patient was dismissed from the hospital and had arrived at home before we could do anything about that.  

Then the phone rang again.  It was our on call nurse who fields phone calls after hours, and she delivered a message from the daughter of a patient with whom we were not familiar.  Remember, we were on call.  Her nurse was off duty.  “I think Mama has stopped breathing.  Please come.”  Our phone nurse gave us the information we needed about her diagnosis and directions to the house.

At Debra’s usual breakneck pace, we hunted down the house .  When we were almost there, we got another call saying “Mama has started breathing again, but would we please come by and check on her?”  It was dark.  It was in a semi-rough part of town.  I’ve been in worse.  We parked on the street and waded through the crowd assembled on the porch and spilling out onto the sidewalk.

Then we walked into the room, and there in the hospital bed, was a perfect, tiny, light brown angel wearing a baby blue knit hat pulled down over her ears, bedcovers pulled up to her neck.  Her eyes were light brown and round as plates and from them emanated love and and kindness and light.  She flashed a short toothless smile, and I don’t think I have ever seen a more beautiful face.

Her daughter was at her bedside drenched in tears, and I was drawn to her and she stood and we embraced and I offered her my power and strength.  She held me fast and took it, pulling gently away to once more take her place at her mother’s side and wipe away her tears.

That winsome little lady had experienced a long period of sleep apnea, but she was far from dying.  Her eyes followed us all around the room as we checked on her vital signs and reassured her family.
It was a good thing.

It was 10:00 PM, and our admission was still waiting to be dismissed from the hospital.

Why, you may wonder, have I chosen this subspecialty of nursing?  After all, My Dead Husband has been gone less than a year.  I find it healing to offer comfort - when I can - to patients and their families.  I know where they are.  I have watched the light go out in the most precious eyes in the world, and it in a strange way completes me to be able to help others through the same experience.  Clint did dying right.  I would give my fingers to have him back, but he is gone.  Some people, patients and families, need permission to express their sadness, to say their good-byes.  I want to be the person who gives them that permission.  Some of them just can’t do it, and I want to be the person who listens and understands when they say that, too.