Monday, October 6, 2014

Travelogue: 2014.10.05

I hopped in my car yesterday (Sunday) at 10:00 and headed northeast to see a friend in New Hampshire. That's the short of it, but there is so much more to this trip.

Things have been too crazy in my life for far too long. I have no serenity anymore. I have no structure, which I depend on. How did I get here? I've got to get back to my center. Hence, the need for this trip.

My friend Steve, who has been through an awful lot of BS in his time in New Hampshire - all relationship-centered - lives in the cozy little town of Wilton. He has an old house with good bones and many needs nestled in a grove of trees on 13 acres. Because his home is a work in progress, he recommended a friends house down the road. She has a place that is listed on (check it out, if you don't already know about the site), which is her home with several rooms she makes available for guests. I'm in the Tree House Room, which is part of the converted attic space. It's adorable and quiet, and just across the hall is the meditation room, with a Buddhist altar, rugs, and pillows, exuding the scent of wonderful incense. I plan to spend some time in there over the next few days, because as my friend told me, Buddhism is spoken here. And I sorely need that salve for my soul.

It was 34 degrees when I woke up at 7:30. It's 65 now, and supposedly that's the coldest it will be during my trip. That's good, because I have to admit, it was a little brisk this morning for my bones. My teeth chattered when I sat down on the frigid toilet seat.

I said goodbye to Maryland in short order and moved into Pennsylvania. The colors were prettier there, and I was astounded by some of the waterfront homes as I passed through Harrisburg. If I'd had time or the will to stop, if I'd had a decent camera, I would have grabbed some shots, but I didn't. Riverfront Park is simply serene. The Susquehanna drifted past on my right, unhurried, rocks jutting up from the surface like the bones of gods.  

On the left were homes, at least I assume they were homes, with astounding architecture. I might never have seen them but for the tall, domino-like rectangle with a hole cut out of the top, sticking up in one of the yards. It caught my eye, and I looked up to see a home with the same weathered shingles along the face, with large round windows of differing sizes. If done wrong, it could have looked like a shocked face staring into the river. Instead, it was majestic.

A house down the road had a two-story face, half of which was entirely made of smoked glass. I imagined giant Christmas trees in those windows, filling the riverfront night with white light and glitter.

The trip only grew more beautiful along the way. In Maryland, we're already getting pops of color, but they were nothing compared to what I saw as I approached New York City.

And the city. Oh my. The last time I saw it was in 1999, when I worked on Wall Street - yes, in the World Trade Center - installing firewalls for a bank there. All of those firewalls were destroyed on 9/11/2001, along with the Marriott where I had stayed. Now, this structure stands: One World Trade Center (colloquially known previously as "Freedom Tower"), starkly reaching to the sky like a big "f*ck you" to anyone who wants to try it again. It's the tallest structure in the Western hemisphere. I was awestruck. Being lodged in traffic as I went through the toll booths was a blessing, as I got to keep sneaking looks at the impressive skyscraper. Well done, David Childs.


Today is Monday. Steve had to go to work this morning and was stuck there through 2:30. We're going to head out and catch some late afternoon sights, catch up with each other, and just hang out and eat dinner. I haven't done much today except listen to music, nap, watch a documentary, and just relax. I'm going to sign off now, but first...

Thank you, SCOTUS, for bowing out of the marriage equality debate, which upholds your earlier ruling in United States v. Edie Windsor.  Two years ago, Margaret and I set up camp at the Oktoberfest in Germantown, MD, to talk to people about Question 6 and to educate them on the language of the question (you had to vote FOR it). We resoundingly won at the ballot box, paving the way for our own marriage on 9/29/13. None of this is slipping by me. I know how hard we fought. I know we won. I know we can win again.

Until tomorrow. Peace, D

Sunday, September 28, 2014

It all begins at home

We've all heard the phrases -

 "Charity begins at home"
 "You have to love yourself before you can love someone else."

Etcetera. And I know that forgiveness needs to begin with me.

I've been such a mess since Stephanie died. I think people have an idea that the grief of a parent who loses a child is the same as other kinds of grief. It is definitely not. When I lost my grandmothers, I was sad. The first year was emotional whenever I thought of them or wanted to talk to them only to find them forever gone. But it was an expected progression of life. When my dad died, that hit me hard. We had so much unresolved between us. But again, he had had cancer for 7 years, and it wasn't that much of a surprise. I'd had time to think about it, but for some reason, I thought there was more time.

And then came the death of my mother. That one sent me into therapy. She and I had our moments of closeness and our moments of anger. Both of my parents had tempers, and my mom could really figure out what buttons to push. She certainly pushed mine. But my siblings and I sat with her the last two weeks of her life and took care of her. We had an opportunity to minister to her in her last hours, and that was a beautiful thing. Still. I found myself bursting into tears if someone said the word "Mother," and I felt that - again - there was so much unresolved between us, though I'm not sure we could have resolved anything. My family is a mess of loose ends and unfinished business.

Stephanie was difficult. From the time she came home from the hospital, she was fussy and screaming and clinging to me. I just thought she was a difficult baby (and I almost decided not to have another!). But throughout her life, it continued.

By the time she was an adult, living on her own (regardless of who paid the rent - usually her parents!), the screaming had turned to other nasty attention-grabbing devices. All of these things were going through my mind last night, whether it was while I lay there waiting for sleep to come or while I was dreaming. There are many examples, but here is one that sucked me in.

She told me that one of her roommates was poisoning her. She was very detailed in describing the way she figured it out. She was tired. She had dark circles under her eyes, joint pain, and hair falling out. She described his strange behavior and his habit of locking himself in his room when she came home from work. I listened intently and urged her to go to the doctor or ER and see if she indeed had been poisoned. As usual, I told her we would pay for it. Back then, you see, there was no ACA and therefore she was too old to be covered by our insurance plan.

She told me she had it covered. That should have clued me in, but you want to always believe your child, right?

The saga continued, and she claimed that the doctor said she needed chelation therapy. She confronted the roommate and suddenly he was going to move out (which was her desire all along). I was still stuck on her claim that he was poisoning her and that he needed to go to jail. I demanded to know his full name, not just his first name. But she wouldn't give. Another red flag. But I persisted. She was living an hour and a half away from me, so it wasn't convenient for me to just run over, and she always had some excuse when I called and wanted to come see her.

But after her first chelation therapy session, and after the roommate was gone, she let us come over. Her friend Beth was in the process of moving in. Everything was just the way she wanted it.

Before I even sat down, she showed me two needle marks on the underside of her right wrist. They were about two inches apart. She said that was where they put the two lines in and basically did dialysis. I've seen the arms of people who've had dialysis before, and they weren't quite so perfect and neat. They also appeared to be larger holes with a higher gauge needle. But I tried to hang onto the suspension of disbelief. There was never any mention of chelation therapy drugs, because I would have asked to see the bottles, and she couldn't risk that.

It wasn't until I started doing some homework about chelation therapy and noticed the way the talk of poisoning dropped off suddenly ("The doctor said I don't need any more therapy" - and that was that), that I began to realize I'd been duped - again.

Those kinds of scenarios happen more than I can ever say. I never knew when to believe her, so when I didn't necessarily believe she had been mugged the Sunday morning before her death, I hope you'll understand. No matter how much attention we gave her, she craved more. Every story was bigger than the last - up to the big one (her claiming to have breast cancer). It made it very hard to trust her. I couldn't trust her not to steal money or medication. I couldn't trust her to tell me the truth about anything. I've never known anyone with so many imaginative lies.

So when I have problems trusting now, I try to remember that my first child, the one I doted on and adored, lied so much that it killed all my trust. Like the immune system destroyed by intense radiation and chemotherapy, my trust system had been destroyed. Suddenly, everyone became suspect in my eyes. Even me.

I didn't even trust my own feelings, intuition, and emotions. I still don't, to a certain extent, but I'm getting it back. I accept a large part of the responsibility for the issues my wife and I have had. One little white lie can turn me inside out and bring out the anger in me. I know where that comes from, and I have to put it to bed. Forgiveness is going to have to start with me. And then we have a fighting chance of making our relationship last.

Peace, D

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Hope Springs...

Today was all about hope.

When you lose a child and your life falls completely to shit, it's hard to believe there will ever be anything to hope for again. I began to question whether my son even needed me anymore, since I felt I had failed so miserably with his sister, but I had to have a little hope - somewhere in me - that things would get better. I didn't believe it at the time. In fact I was in shock for a good long time, but that little spark of hope kept me alive.

Today hope reigned.

I went with my wife to my ex-husband's wedding. Our son was the best man and he looked so sharp in his suit. He held the rings for his father while the couple said their vows. When Paul's new bride, Michele, began to tear up, so did I. It was a beautiful ceremony. They didn't go over the top like we did. Instead they chose to splurge on a honeymoon in Italy. I'm sure they will have a lovely time.

Also at the gathering was Sean's new girlfriend, Jess.We adore her. It seemed right that love is blooming in his life, after he walked me down the aisle last September and stood up with his dad, today. This is the natural order of things, and we haven't had the natural order of things in this family for quite some time.

I hope for all of us that we will have love and peace now and in our future. God knows we've had enough sadness. I think for now, I'll hold onto hope.

Cheers to Paul and Michele!

Peace, D

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Empty Chairs and Questions about Co-Dependency

I used to keep a blog called Bidden or Not Bidden, which was named after a quote that Carl Jung had inscribed in Latin inside the entrance to his home. "Bidden or not bidden, God is present.”  It is from the Latin writings of Desiderius Erasmus, a sixteenth century Dutch Renaissance humanist, Catholic priest, social critic, teacher, and theologian, and it has always resonated with me. For those of us who have dealt with children who are addicts, it is sometimes the only peace we get, to know that God is there with them even when we can't be. In fact, I had the following Van Gogh painting on the blog.

This empty chair was the representation of the fact that my daughter was always with us, a part of the family - at dinner, at events - whether she was present or not. (Seeing a pattern?) She still is, even in death. She's here.

She hated that I would sometimes post things about her mental illness (bipolar type I plus borderline personality disorder), but I needed to get it out. She never understood how hard it was, us being unable to reach her or get through to her. And we never knew which came first, really, the mental illness or the substance abuse. The first time she tried to swallow a bunch of pills was just after she had been sexually attacked outside our apartment in Seattle. We didn't learn about that attack until she was 14. She never told us.

Her reason? "You and Dad always said that if anyone hurt Sean or me, you would go to prison because you'd kill them." She took us at our word, and honestly? I don't know that I wouldn't have done it, because to this day, if I could ever find the person who hurt her, I would lose. my. shit.

Since she died, I occasionally pick up a book by a fellow grieving parent, particularly if they lost their child to addiction. Right now I'm back to reading George McGovern's book about his daughter--Terry: My Daughter's Life and Death Struggle with Alcoholism.

For the record, Stephanie did die of an accidental overdose, but it wasn't much medication. It was just enough so that the Ambien plus the Percocet interacted badly and resulted in her never waking up again. Had she wanted to kill herself, she had plenty of medication to do the job. but her bottles were reasonably full, leading the detectives to believe she didn't mean to hurt herself. She was in recovery at that time, with 90 days of sobriety.

So many things in the first chapter of this book resonate very clearly with me. For example:

Terry may have died before midnight of December 12, but since her body was not discovered until shortly after noon the next day, her death was officially recorded as of December 13. "Death due to hypothermia while in a state of extreme intoxication," according to the coroner's report.

I do not expect ever to read sadder words of finality. They force me to face so many questions about Terry's life and death. What could I have done differently? What if I had been a more concerned and actively involved parent when she was a little girl, or a fragile adolescent? Why wasn't I in closer touch with her in the final months? Knowing that alcoholism is a dangerous, often fatal disease, should I have intervened to have her committed indefinitely to a locked-door long-term-treatment facility? 

Earlier in the same chapter, he said, "I fear that we unwittingly added to her sense of abandonment by following the advice to distance ourselves in the last months months of her life when she may have most needed to feel our love and presence ... She also tended to hold me responsible ... 'I understand why they're doing it, but I feel bad about it. I only wish that my dad knew how much I love him.'"

There isn't a parent alive who has lost a child to addiction who hasn't asked themselves questions about whether the common mantra of recovery from codependency is helpful or hurtful. How much damage did we unwittingly do by maintaining distance, leaving our child to figure it out for themselves, or shutting the door in their face?

In the popular series Breaking Bad, which my wife and I binge-watched over the holidays, Jesse Pinkman goes home when he starts to feel unsafe. He tries to assimilate himself back into the family, but his parents are wary. It's sad to watch him going through his childhood things--drawings, toys, and so on--and interacting with his younger brother, who clearly is a child driven to stress by his helicopter parents. He wants so much to have the love and acceptance of his parents. It appears that he might finally be ready to turn his life around. But when a joint is found in the bedroom he shares with his brother, he gets blamed. Later we find out that the joint belongs to his little brother, but his parents automatically jump to the same conclusion that has always been the case -- Jesse has brought drugs into their home.

Naturally, they sit him down at the kitchen table for "The Talk." With stiff upper lips, they tell him he can't come back into their home and pollute it with his drugs. They tell him he has to get out. This despite the fact that his little brother has already said to him, "I'm the favorite? You're all they talk about." They later reclaim the house his aunt left him, putting him permanently in a hurt locker and ensuring that he has to return to a life of crime in order to survive. (His skills only merit him a job dancing on a street corner with an advertising sign, like his friend Badger.) It's sad to watch, and it triggered a lot for me.

How much damage did we do by following the party line for codependents? Is it ever okay to kick your child out because of their behavior? Although it's too late now, I ask myself that question a lot. Yes, it was craziness. When she was in the house, we had to lock things away. Prescription drugs were especially tempting for her. So was money.

But since her death, I've found out how many times she took the hit for something her brother did. We used to think she stole from her father's change jar (which he could fill up pretty quickly back in the day of using cash). Quarters would go missing first. We always blamed her.

My son, though, was the culprit. He said to me, "You guys always thought it was Stephanie, and I let you think that and yell at her. It was me. When the ice cream truck came around, I would raid Dad's change jar for quarters, and I'd go get myself an ice cream. Because ice cream is awesome!" We laughed about that, but in a way, I felt my stomach twist. How many things did I blame her for in error? How many times was I wrong?

It does no good to beat myself up now. She knows the truth, and I know a portion of it. She knows how much we love her--no past tense here. She knows. That is what comforts me when I read these words from another bereaved parent: "Perhaps in God's good time, I shall come to see a redeeming purpose in this death."

Peace, D

Friday, January 3, 2014

Maybe You're Enough

It's a very cold day in Frederick. We're going to be in the single digits, temperature-wise, tonight. Snow is still on the ground from yesterday, and it shows no sign of melting. Sunday morning will likely start out with ice.

Instead of ending my work day by grabbing my swimsuit and heading to the pool across the parking lot, as I did this summer, I'm now starting my day in the near-darkness and ending it in the darkness. I often curl up in the bed with all the babies (two dachshunds--Dabby and Jenny-- and two cats--CC and Maya), and we pull the covers up. Sometimes I nap, sometimes not, but we all cozy up together while Mommy makes her long commute home from the office in Rockville.

This leaves me with a lot of time to think. Sometimes I will read and then put the book aside while I mull over what I've read. Sometimes I just think. Today it was a little of both.

Theresa Caputo, the Long Island Medium, recently put out a book, "There's More to Life Than This," and I've had it on my nightstand since it arrived in the mail. I pick it up, read some, put it down. I don't want to start a discussion about whether or not you believe her to be for real. I happen to think she has a talent and a gift that has been, unfortunately, twisted into a reality show. I am on the waiting list to get a reading from her. I want to see if she really does channel the dead, because I would love nothing more than to hear from my daughter. I see her in my dreams sometimes, on a really good day. I sometimes think I hear her voice. I've had pictures come out with orbs and smears in them that are unexplained by technology, tricks of the light, or dust motes. The same camera at the same angle in the same light within the same setting often produces varying results. In short, I'm a believer.

Part of me really needs to believe. Losing a child is something no one should go through, but we do. Many, many parents go through this every day. We have our hopes and dreams for that child dashed, no matter how their life ends. It makes me think about those expectations and dreams that we pin on our children. Do we really need to do that? Are they not enough, just as they are? Of course they are. And Theresa does a lot of talking in her book about positive energy, the fact that souls come to her bathed in God's white light, and finding peace in the knowledge that there is truly more to life than this.

I remember fretting over the fact that we couldn't give our kids a big house, a big money education, or even big vacations. I took a job that entailed a move to the DC area because I wanted to give the kids more. Trust me. There have been many days in which I've asked myself whether or not that was the right thing to do. While my ex-husband was a "Mr. Mom" (even before the Michael Keaton movie) when the kids were little, he eventually worked his way up the career ladder and is now a successful network engineer with Juniper. I had to scale back my own career as a network engineer because the stress was killing me - the travel, the long hours, the longer commutes, and always being on the hot seat. I moved into technical writing for a software company and let the engineers at the company work the long hours and take on the stress.

Plus, I needed to be more available to my kids. Stephanie was having emotional, physical, and psychological problems. When I was heading up the network operations center at NASA headquarters in DC, I had to start working half-days in order to meet with the folks at Children's Hospital, where Stephanie was an inpatient for awhile. I kept to that half-day schedule when they transferred to her intensive outpatient therapy, and then when she went back to school full-time so I could be there when she got home. Soon, I realized that it was impractical for me to continue to commute to downtown DC just for half-days and try to be a decent mom in that situation. I don't regret a thing. Sure, it was an awesome job - coveted. But my kids were more important to me.

The bottom line is this: today I was thinking about whether kids are better off when they are given everything. Miley Cyrus came to mind. She has a famous dad and a mom who books famous acts. Now she has simply turned into an act. All of this nonsense about embracing her sexuality and showing how grown up she is? It's crap.

I get it. She had this image that she wanted to ditch. Maybe she wasn't getting laid enough (although considering Justin Beiber and Selena Gomez running off to the Caribbean together in their mid-teens? I don't think it's a question of getting laid). It's all about image.

The problem with that is that the "regular" kids of the world get this idea that they should follow the model. Be thin enough. Take every available dance class (okay, maybe that's the stage mom's idea). Do gymnastics. Go to the most expensive college they can find. And the parents are working themselves to death to try and provide everything their children want.

Were my kids better off when I was working 10 hour days followed by 4-6 hours a night in my library writing the engineering books? Mmm. Not so much. Was I able to give them everything? No. Did I want to? Sure I did! It's the American dream, right?

The trouble comes in when this sense of entitlement or "need" or "want" or whatever you want to call it turns into the child calling the shots. It turns into a contest, and the parents always seem to lose. They are the ones who are completely stressed out and overworked. Oftentimes the child doesn't even feel the need to work, because mom and dad will provide everything. All they are supposed to do is go to school, and one day they'll be rich, like Miley, yes?

Not exactly. It seems to me that Miley Cyrus isn't exactly happy. Neither is Justin Beiber. He's tired already, and he's still a kid! What about the Robert Downey, Jrs, of the world? The Jodie Fosters, who no longer speak to their mothers because of all the pressure that was brought to bear on them. After all, if the child has a beauty or talent, profit from it, right? If you don't have the ability or talent to provide for the sky high dreams of your child, then make them do it? Who exactly does this benefit? Does money make the world go 'round?

Maybe I wasn't able to give my kids everything. My kids got their first two years of school paid for. After that, they understood that they needed to take out loans. Hell, I had to take out loans myself. We often didn't have the money to do everything we wanted to do, but one thing is for certain. We gave the kids the ability to try things out that interested them (not just for the hope they would become the next Big Thing). We gave them a lot of love. We never skimped on the goodnight kisses, bedtime stories, or "I love you"s. My son still says goodnight - okay, usually - via text message and tells me he loves me. Ditto. We both learned that you are never guaranteed that next conversation. Both of us have some regrets about how we left things with Stephanie. But I will never doubt that she knew she was loved.

And really, isn't that enough? Isn't that what life is really all about? And if you love your child and care for them, maybe it will all work out. Maybe you - just you! - are enough.

Peace, D