Tag Archive | health

Destiny Always Leads

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You can dance through life, but destiny always leads.

 

I hadn’t planned to go to Prescott Arizona, but when one of my husband’s few remaining relatives took a fall and relapsed from her brain surgery, I grabbed a carryon, threw in a few sweaters and headed for the airport.

I didn’t want to go to the deep red state, carpeted with sage brush and gun stores in seemingly equal proportion, where the air is so dry and the people are so conservative it makes my nose bleed, but someone needed me—so I zipped up my suitcase and my mouth and went to help. It’s what you do.

I have lots of family, and sadly, as with every family, I have lost quite a few of my very favorite relatives, I’ve sat bed-side at home hospice through the end, cleaned houses turned to hoarders’ caves by senility, and spent endless hours dealing with lawyers, hospitals, insurance companies, and hysterical loved ones who selfishly tried to make it all about them. I’ve shopped for caskets, planned memorials, and visited gravesides and hospitals enough for a lifetime. I have comforted, fought, stepped up, and wept, I have wept as I thought I would never weep again.

Until I did.

Luckily, overall my side of the family is a healthy, long-living bunch. My mom is one of seven sisters and I have a large family on my dad’s side too, so there are plenty of aunts, uncles, first, second and third cousins to keep those photo Christmas cards rolling in. I look forward to seeing how everyone has grown, where they’ve gone on vacation or to school, who’s starting college, graduated, gotten married, pregnant, addicted, arrested, the whole sordid, magnificent, ongoing, family saga.

But my husband is an only child with no offspring of his own. He has only one first cousin who also has no children, so his generation is functionally the last. He wanted children of his own very badly, but instead opted to care for my girls and raise them with me. It wasn’t always a job filled with gratitude or promotion, but ultimately they came to love and treasure him because he adores them, takes care of them, always puts them ahead of himself, but mostly because he treats me like a treasure and they like to see me happy.

But it’s not the same, I know it’s not. I know that he gave up the dream of marrying a younger woman than me (I’m four years older than he and didn’t meet him until I was 40) who could give him children and the subsequent family that flows ever outwards in the form of in-laws, grandchildren, future wives’ second families, ad infinitum.

Okay, maybe only one wife, but you get my drift. Some families seem to keep expanding like yeast when you soak it in water, and some families sort of slowly empty like a cookie jar that no one refills. Once, shiny and new, it was stuffed with multiple generations, group gatherings, weddings, and birth announcements, but now it sits, chipped and gathering dust on the countertop, and all that is left inside are the funerals and a fading family album.

But that doesn’t mean the cookies weren’t delicious.

It’s odd to say, but I think being part of a large, extended family is both an advantage and a drawback when it comes to hardships and death. I suppose the fact that I have been through much loss makes me better prepared to handle the tragedies when they come, on the other hand—they come more often.

I’ve learned things. I know who to speak to if you want to get the right care, I know not to harass nurses for doctors’ information, or challenge the insurance company without a lawyer, I know what details should not be allowed to fall through the cracks, I know people will lose it sometimes, that they will laugh inappropriately to keep from going insane, I know how much work it is to clean up after a life and dismantle a home, I know that relatives will fight over things they never cared for in life, I know that this too shall pass, and I understand that I will now have a new indelible date on my calendar—a death date.

Stepping back into caregiver role is familiar for me as it is for many people my age, especially women. It so often falls to us to care for the infirm or hold a hand as a spirit slips quietly over. I know what it is to have someone in room with you one second, and then they just aren’t there anymore. I truly believe that in general women have more strength for suffering of all kinds. Throughout our lives we have dealt with blood and pain on a monthly basis, seemingly irrational emotional upheaval has been a frequent visitor, and cleaning unthinkable messes is all too familiar to us. I don’t mean to discount the strength that men have, it can be profound, but it is seldom sublime.

The times in my life when I have forced myself to function while tears streamed uncontrollably from my eyes and my voice broke from the strain of debilitating emotion are too many to count. Inevitably when this happens to me whoever I am dealing with, confronting, or comforting, will tell me to calm down or try to sooth me. Mostly because an honest display of feeling makes them uncomfortable. To this I always say, “I am fine. My emotion is not a weakness, it is a strength. I can, and will, go on. I can feel all of this and remain standing”

So when people start to lose it around me, I double up on grit. I get so full of grit I might as well be made of sand, and sand, as we all know, melts into glass. I have never been through the fragility of a severe illness or a death and not come out of it feeling more beautiful and enriched than I was before. The hue of sand may be bland, but after it passes through the fire, it turns into colors that deepen and strike back at the sunlight that strives to pass through them.

But not everyone has that sense of recovery or the experience to know that they will. Some people have bad things happen and say, ‘why me?’ rather than, ‘my turn.’ So when I was talking with my Aunt-in-law, who has no children and made most of her life choices around herself all her life,  my perspective was somewhat different than hers.

In the last ten years this aunt has lost her parents, in their eighties, her brother, in his sixties, and her much older husband. This is nature, this is the circle. Family members grow old and they die, and if there are no children, the family line eventually ends. This is a fact, not a punishment. So when she looked at me with tears in her eyes and bleated, “What is happening to this family?” I was able to look back at her with a smile as sure as dawn and say, “Every family goes through these things.” Then I told her that because of my charity I have often dealt with families losing a young child and pointed out the difference between losing a three year old and a husband in his eighties. I know it’s not any easier to lose a husband than a child, but I never met a parent who wouldn’t change places with their child, if only they had been given the choice. I told her that my great-grandmother buried all five of her children before her own death at 104. That shocked her into a different, much needed, perspective.

Then I sat down and took her hand. I told her the Buddhist story of a woman who lost her child and was so distraught that she went to the monk in her village and asked him what to do, she wanted nothing but to die.

He gave her an empty jar and told her, “Take this jar around the countryside, and every time you find someone who has not lost a loved one, ask them to put one pebble in the jar. When the jar is full, return to me and I will tell you what to do.” So the woman took the jar and went from village to village, from house to house, but she never did get even one pebble, for every family had lost someone beloved. What she did find were others who had suffered as she was suffering and and they comforted her, they understood and shared her loss. What she found was that she was not alone, that death and loss were an integral part of being human. At long last, she returned to the monk, gave him the empty jar, and thanked him before going on with her life, always taking time to help others through their losses and their own unique, but familiar, unfathomable pain.

The time came for me to return home for other family responsibilities and my husband stayed on, he’s still with his aunt. At the departure gate, I received a phone call that another family member (mine this time) has just been diagnosed with cancer, and so that journey begins. Already filled with leaden sadness, my trip home was one misadventure after another, nasty airline personnel, bad directions, a bumpy flight through storm clouds, lost parking ticket, and on and on until it cumulated in me leaning against a trash can in front of terminal two at San Jose International and crying from my gut just long enough to bleed that poison out before bucking up and getting on with it. If anyone bothered to notice, they may have thought I was weak or broken, but it was exactly the opposite.

Somebody needs me, and I need to be there.

We all get a turn. We all hold a hand, feel the desperation of not being able to make it better, we all wake up at night and dread the coming dawn, we all think we will not be able to take one more step. But we are not alone. Each of us knows devastation to our souls at some point. Though we may feel that no one suffers as we do, if we search for them, the jar stays empty, at least until we fill it with compassion and memories.

And the light of a thousand departed souls.

Until we join them.

Be brave, be strong.

Cry for the loss.

Cry for the strength that it shows.

Your pain is love.

Would you have it any other way?

 

Shari, December 3rd, 2018

 

Learning to Fall

 

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When life knocks you down, try to land somewhere soft.

Recently, one of my most talented and positive friends asked on Facebook, “How do you reset when you are blue and stressed?” Wow, great question and there were many wise and humorous suggestions posted, most of them featured nature, music, or watching other people make fools of themselves, but I couldn’t help wondering if the better question would be “How do I keep myself from becoming blue and stressed?”

Which shows both my naiveté and a severe drop of IQ, probably due to early drug abuse combined with late menopausal symptoms, because the glaring truth of course is that you can’t. Anxiety, sadness, stress and frustration are all quite normal parts of being human and alive both at once.

You can try a few things; blunting, transference, isolation and alienation, but that doesn’t feel like much fun either, and ultimately, all of those things will only make you feel worse not to mention pretty much universally despised, which will make you angrier and more afraid which will make you stressed and anxious and well, we’re right back where we started, only deeper. That hasn’t stopped me from trying them all!

It’s the carnival ride of the insane. Climbing on the dark carousel of avoidance is a morose and discordant experience where the only appropriate exclamation is a wheezing gasp of despair. Nobody, and I mean nobody shouts, “Wheee!” when that funride gets up to speed. But we all seem incapable of avoiding being sucked into the line along with the rest of the crowd every once in a while.

In fact, the only people who don’t have a ticket to that not-so-merry-go-round is a true psychopath, and frankly a life without compassion, empathy and remorse is not a life worth living, so be grateful when you can recognize that the ticket in your hand was paid for by the yearning for unconsciousness and go get it punched in another part of the park. Oh look, over there, I can crawl into a cage and be the attraction for a bit, or see the circus freaks by entering the house of mirrors. It might be hard to keep your eyes open but at least you got the hell off the round-about and are moving in some direction, it might be down, but eventually it will lead to up.

So now that we’ve established that shit happens, we have to face it. And that’s where falling comes in, and here’s my advice.

Tuck and roll.

You might not spring back to your feet, you might lay on the ground moaning for a while— a lateral move to self-pity can be quite liberating actually, I personally recommend blaming everyone else from a hot bath from a view through amber whiskey in cut crystal—you might scream for mercy or smash crockery in a rage, you may stare at a blank wall and confess that you are nothing, less than worthless and there’s no hope for a bit, but believe it or not, those are all good. Well…better than pretending that life is a fairyland of sprouting wildflowers and gentle summer days. Because baby, I’m here to tell you, rain will fall and your best option is to dance in it, cry in it, rail at it, but damn it, get soaking wet. It’s the only way back out.

Now, wallowing is fine for a while, still you wouldn’t want to live there.

I was a competitive ice skater and falling was something I did several hundred times a day. You can actually get good at it, and you’ll never improve if you don’t do it, so suck it up and get bruised every once in a while.

It’s fascinating to me that science and experience are now showing me that we learn our responses to stimuli, like, say…your mom’s disappointed face, or your classmates mocking you, or a scary man yelling at you. Our brain actually memorises a chemical pattern that cannot be broken with logic, reason, or even intense self-examination and realisation. When the lady at the store twists up her little puckered mouth in judgement, those chemicals remember your mom’s criticism and start an instant chain of chemicals firing that affect a physical sensation your body and brain have diligently rehearsed. There is a perfectly good physiological reason for this: self-protection. When we are in fear or danger, we have responses that are necessary to our survival, but the odds are that someone attacking your political views on facebook don’t immediately threaten your life. (Okay, idiots who defend automatic guns and greed-fueled health care systems actually do endanger us all in the long run, but I’m talking about right now.) None-the-less, the reaction is the same in us. Trouble is, we don’t have any use for all that adrenaline and fear response so we can’t express or expel it.

And so, our hands shake, our head hurts, our hearts race, our stomachs churn with acid, and we generally feel like crap.

Which is not fun but it is unavoidable. We can’t help it, it’s what our amazing bodies learned to do to protect us. And those things are there to help us when we really need them. We can’t stop them from happening, nor would we really want to if you think about it. Should you stick your hand in a fire? Probably not, your brain tells you. When a car swerves into you lane, your adrenaline fires, time slows down, and you respond without even thinking to brake and avoid a collision. These responses are good and they are our friends.

But what about when they aren’t wanted or necessary?

Tuck and roll baby, tuck and roll. The chemical hit (anxiety, palpitation, increased blood pressure and the inevitable come down, i.e. sadness and depression) will still come, and all we can do it take the punch, lick the wounds and learn to let it go more quickly.

Best thing you can do, I think, is recognize that it’s happening. Identify where in your body it’s affecting you, and then change it up when you can.

That’s why nature helps so much, why the calming energy soothes us, especially water for most people, because the brain releases serotonin when your eyes gaze out over the ripples of a lake. That’s why music switches on a different reaction the strain cause oxytocin levels to surge. That’s why dancing and laughing stir a healthy dose of dopamine into the mix, exercise releases endorphins and that counteracts the overdose of other nasty chemical excretions that we unwittingly shot up with when we were triggered by the fear of loss of even very real exposure.

Aren’t I smart? Aren’t I so very capable of understanding and dealing with all of life and it’s many challenges? Aren’t I a ball of calm and light?

Oh HELL no! (Just ask hubby, he’ll be glad to tell you when he stops laughing.) What I have gotten better at is explaining it all to myself, that doesn’t mean I don’t weep in the back of the closet or wrap myself in a shell of bitterness or occasionally declare that I need nobody and nothing and I’ll show them…!

Oh yeah, living hurts sometimes like going over the handlebars a mountain bike downhill in rough gravel, which, I have done, recently.

But it’s nice to know that no matter how depressed I get, if I put a stupid, forced smile on my face and march around like an idiot clown on bungy cord springs singing “La la la la” in a ridiculously high voice I can actually change my chemistry! Works every time, at least a little bit, and sometimes when I’m desperate and beat all to hell I’ll take whatever I can get.

Tuck and roll baby.

The best thing I’ve found to make a permanent change is tapping, a process that can actually break and retrain those memorised chemical pathways and thought patterns but that’s for another day. I do recommend you look it up. Go on youtube and try a led session. It works. They use it for PTSD patients.

Meanwhile, drag your falling ass up off the carpet and look out the window at anything green. Smell some lavender, listen to Mozart or rap or whatever lifts your heart, and for Goddess’ sake laugh. Even if it’s not funny, even if there’s nothing to laugh at, even if it’s more-fake-than-bad-acting laughing, laugh. It will change the lethal mix of excretions and thought patterns that bludgeon you into an emotional pulp on a daily basis. It will smooth the ride through the Waring blender of life.

And then…share it with someone else.

Because they are hurting too.

We all do.

That’s okay.

Tuck and roll, baby.

Tuck and roll.

 

Shari, from Ireland, August 15th, 2018

The Swirling Reds

 

 

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There is a moment in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” where Holly Go Lightly says she gets the reds and is corrected, “I think you mean the blues.” But she knows very well that she means the ‘reds’. I do too. It’s that muddy anxiety that starts with nervous prickling and grows until it’s as though sharp metal shavings and shards of glass are being power-blasted in your chest and stomach. The reds suck.

It happens to me more often that I would expect for someone who, let’s be honest, is having a pretty damn amazing life. I’m happy, strong, positive and lucky, yet it happens anyway. I can feel it creeping up on me, slithering into my body, my brain and my attitude, an actual chemical cocktail that I can now identify as surely as the flu. I know it is coming, and I know it will last a day, or two, or a week, or two. It sucks.

It is beyond my magic powers to just make it go away. I cannot reason with myself that it’s not real or worth the trouble, the shitty feeling is indifferent to debate. Like anyone experiencing ugliness and discomfort I’d love to simply make a different choice, but it isn’t simple. You can’t just shrug off the reds anymore than a virus or chronic depression. Talking about it incessantly or passing it on to others who are unfortunate enough to incur my wrath only exacerbates the situation. (Just ask the guy who tried to cut the line at the grocery store in front of me. He’s probably still muttering ‘bitch’ under his fetid breath. Oh how I hated him!) I feel as though I’ve been thrown from a car and then run over—scratched, bruised and bleeding, and even the mildest of irritants hit me like a switch on an open sore. Which sucks.

What does help is realizing what’s going on, naming it, and acknowledging its presence in the room. Of course, that doesn’t mean it will stay in the room while I sneak out and shut the door behind me. The reds are parasitic, they only exist because I do and the effects linger, mocking any attempt to shake them off. My efforts to muster a positive attitude are met with evil laughter like sniggers from a cruel sibling. So…that sucks.

There are some things I can do to lessen or even sometimes alleviate the worst of it. Exercise helps a lot, but getting motivated takes a herculean effort. Spending quiet time in nature, meditating, hot baths, massages, and comfort food can help, (though you have to watch out for overdoing alcohol and sugar which can both make it worse), and one of the best remedies is laughter. Which doesn’t suck.

On the worst days I cocoon. I lock the door, turn off my phone, and climb into bed with a good book, something that won’t hurt me like P.G. Wodehouse or Rex Stout. On these days I don’t read stories where children die or woman are abused. I don’t watch dramatic movies or violent TV shows, that would be like shopping for shock therapy.

It’s not that I’m weak or afraid. I am a strong woman, make no mistake. Once, at the funeral of a child I loved very much, my thankfully now ex-husband wanted to leave and when I refused he asked me, “How much of this can you take?” With a surge of fury, I looked through him and answered, “A lot. I can take a lot.” It wasn’t about him being comfortable, the son of a bitch, it was about the reality of pain and confusion and a horrible, sudden, gaping void for people whose loss was greater than mine. I was there to offer what small support or comfort I could. I was there to bear to witness. These are the things for which I save my strength, and I’ve come to learn that excess strength is finite, so I try to use it well.

Still, even with all the determination and will in the world, the reds come. Still, I have days where I find myself sitting in my car, slumped in my seat, feeling too vulnerable to face some random asshole cutting the line at the grocery store. (Oh how I hated him!) It’s not that I won’t stand up to someone, as that guy would probably love to tell you, it’s that to do so today will cost me far more any normal day. I am heavy, exhausted, sad and I do not know when my back will straighten and heart lift, I cannot see an end.

And then, miracle of miracles, a child laughs on the sidewalk and I find the strength to turn my head and watch his dancing eyes. The corners of my mouth twitch upwards. Right behind that beautiful boy two young women are walking hand in hand, clearly in love, and my heart soars with the realization that I have lived to see this freedom to love, it’s a gift for me. My forehead softens, the creases easing. A grey haired man walks up to a homeless family and offers them his lunch and couple of bucks, smiles and handshakes are exchanged and my heart flops like a fish in the mud, showing signs of life. Sounds dramatic, I know, but what do you expect from an author-slash-writer-slash-fully-alive-woman? I see the world in extremes sometimes. I did not choose a soft, easy, suburban life where the hard things are easily dismissed or wilfully ignored. I see it, I feel it, I know that I am a part of it. A part of what you ask?

All of it. Yep, even the reds. It may be hormonal, it may be a by-product of the evil that men project, I feel such things, I’m sure of it. I believe we all do, but very much like hearing or smell or vision, some of us have one sense that is sharper than others. When the reds sap my life force and defenses, the hits go un-deflected. Some days the reds leave me trembling and gasping for happiness, not for any reason that I can see, but oh boy, I can feel whirlpool sucking at my soul. Which…well, sucks.

Today is a red day. So I will look closely at flowers by the side of the road instead of the line of traffic in front of me, I will be still and listen to the river beneath my deck rather than the acidic news, I will go stand in the sunshine when my husband stresses over the real estate agent’s last text, and I will watch or read a comedy. I will laugh, I will heal, I will feel stronger tomorrow.

And slowly, the reds will fade, they will soften to vibrant orange, then pink, and finally blend into the myriad of colors that offer so much variety and vibrancy to my days, my months, my life. Until at last, I realize that I wouldn’t trade this experience, I wouldn’t choose to feel less. There is only so much of life and I will not live it numb.

I hope that when the reds get you, you remember that it will pass.

You are not alone and it is not your fault.

Be patient.

Joy returns.

Love is worth the effort.

If only you remember.

 

Shari, April 23rd, 2018.

The Honor of Weeping.

 

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My very special friend, Daniella.

For many years I have been one of the directors of a charity that assists pediatric cancer patients and their families. In that time I have learned so much about myself, suffering, kindness, courage, life, and most importantly death. I cannot now look at a child and not imagine the possibility that they might not make it to adulthood, or even their teens. It infuses every experience with the radiant reminder of true importance, a glowing reminder of the moment most precious, this moment.

There are so many memories that stand out. The director of the charity had already lost her own child, and yet she had the courage to face this unthinkable journey with others, again and again. But then came the call, she needed to talk, to weep, another of our kids was dying, and she just couldn’t fathom it. She wept, and then went on to hold other mothers’ hands and help them through the journey. Again and again. I stand in awe.

I remember walking down the halls of City of Hope and hearing screaming, I remember one of the nurses, while we were there decorating the ward for the holidays, exclaim, “I hate Christmas! So many kids die.” Because, she went on to explain, the terminally ill have a tendency to hold out for a special date, maybe a birthday, maybe Christmas, but then they let go. The nurses can do nothing but try to comfort, ease pain, hug family that are enduring the unthinkable in a constant state of shock. And when it’s over, they get back to work, clearing away the evidence of a loved patient who they may have known for years, and the room their lives once occupied returns to empty, until the next child comes to fill it. They return to work and start all over again. I stand in awe.

The Pajama Party, which we hold every year, patients, current and alumni, are invited. Each patient and their siblings receive pajamas, slippers, and many other fun gifts. Hundreds of people attend. We have a dinner, a raffle, games for the kids, and then Santa! My favorite doctor greets and embraces family after family with a huge smile and genuine joy, often remembering a child who is no longer with us by sharing a moment with the parents who lost them. I stand in awe.

When it became clear that a 12 year old who loved photography that we worked with was not going to make it, the doctors and nurses organized an art show for him. His lovely photos were displayed and sold to help his family with the horrific bills that would be all they were left with after they buried their child. My favorite photo was a shot down a city street with the sunset in the distance, he called it, “A Door to Heaven.” I remember standing next to the doctor as he talked to the young artist, who had received a huge platelet donation that day so that he could get out of bed and attend this event. They joked about him enjoying his cocktails. I stand in awe.

I remember one funeral, for a boy of eighteen, who we had been assisting since he was nine. He had lost an arm in the long hard process but he was the best hugger I ever met. He also had an amazing voice and he sang Wind Beneath my Wings at one of our fundraisers when he was only 11, not a dry eye. I remember his friends carrying his casket, the stunned loss on their still too young faces. When they sealed the casket at the gravesite, his mother, whose entire life for nine years had been caring for her gravely ill son, kept on straightening the drape on the casket as gently as if it had been a blanket she was tucking around him to keep him warm. The gesture was so intimate and it was so strange to me that such a large crowd of mourners were watching, that I turned away and looked to the sky to give her a sliver of privacy, though I doubt she even knew or cared for anything in that moment. That last, horrible, powerless moment when she could do no more. I will never forget the sound that she made, it wasn’t a cry, or a sob, it was from her very soul. It was a long, drawn out sound that rose and fell and vibrated the air around her. Keening. That sound is part of who I am now, I hear it when I think of these families and what they have endured. I stand it awe.

And then there are the children themselves, to a one they were the bravest, most accepting souls I have ever met. It’s as though they were finished with being mortal, they didn’t ‘need’ to be here any more, it was time for them to move on to the next stage. To a one they taught everyone around them what was true and important. To a one they offered a sense of perspective. I stand in awe.

Which brings me to the reason we began the charity. Desi. This girl, who at nine was diagnosed with a cancer so severe that the doctors gave her a five percent chance of surviving a couple of months, lived two years. In those two years, she got well enough to do many things, including going horse back riding with me, something I had promised her when she was very ill. This child, this exceptional human being, never lost her faith or her courage. Multiple times when we thought it was the end, she fought her way back, and she never missed a chance for a laugh. When a child is at the end, they are attached to machinery that counts their breaths per minute, and when it goes to zero and stays there, that’s pretty much it. So there she was, with her loved ones around her, watching the monitor, praying, comforting each other, when the monitor went from 5 to 2 to 0. They all leaned in, watching to see if this was it, after so much suffering if it was time for her to go home. No one breathed, everyone was drawn toward the bed, curling physically downward to be close to her, waiting, when suddenly, Desi’s eyes flickered, and she very weakly, but distinctly, formed an o with her mouth, and said, “Boo!” Everyone straightened up, laughing and relieved, she actually pulled through that time. I stand in awe.

But it was a short reprieve, and she was back in the hospital a few weeks later. When she finally, quietly, slipped away, only her mother was in the room with her. She told me that she knew that her daughter had died, but she didn’t call the nurses, she didn’t leave or reach out, she just sat quietly beside her daughter’s body and waited, thankful for the time she had with her, she told me that the thing she felt the most, was honor. She said she was honored to have been Desi’s mother. I stand in awe.

I still am a part of this charity, though now that I am not living in Los Angeles, I cannot take part in the active service as often as I would like, though every time I return to LA, I make it a point to go to City of Hope and donate blood and platelets, and visit with some of my friends there. I hope to find another place to fill where there is need when I settle wherever I may land, but my life is irrevocably changed already, my sense of perspective has forever changed. Things I once thought important are now laughable to me. My own children, who often accompanied me to events and the hospital to visit with the kids or help decorate for holidays, are markedly better people because of their experiences there. We are endlessly grateful to those children and those families, they have given us the gift of perspective that softens life somehow, makes the little things easier to bear, to release, to set free. I am not afraid to die, what better gift could I ever receive?

And sometimes I weep, just to think of them. Sometimes I smile when I recall their courage, and always I respect and admire the people who lost and lived to love and give back, almost every one of them turn to helping others in some form. I think of the remarkable human beings who care for these children every day, again and again, and never lose their ability to grieve each devastating death. Doctors and nurses who weep for the loss of every child they have cared about, and for, sometimes for years. I stand in awe.

Mostly, I remember the things I’ve learned so completely, that they are a part of who I am now.

That beauty can be found in a ravaged face. That love never dies. That your heart can be torn from your body and you can be glad to have had the capacity to feel that much, because the choice to not would have meant that you would never have have had that someone in your life at all.

I weep often, but not forever.

I care more fully, now.

I judge less, and look closer.

You never really know someone else’s story.

Especially the end.

You don’t know what might shatter your heart.

You might not yet know that you can survive it.

You can live to feel only honor.

You can make a difference for someone else.

I stand in awe.

Won’t you join me?

 

Shari, November 9th, 2017

Why I Need to Get My Head Examined

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the cliffs of insanity, or just a bad headache

You might think it’s because I hang off the edge of cliffs, and that’s probably a good enough reason. But then there’s this. Three days ago, I get a call from my sister that my mom has fallen, smashed her head and has no memory of how it happened or what’s going on. Because she’s a Shattuck woman, she insists to her friend who found her wandering around outside that she doesn’t need to go to the hospital. Her friend texts a picture of the open gash in mom’s head to my brother, an ex-paramedic, and he texts back, “CALL 911”

I feel horrible that I’m not there. Normally, I’m the go-to choice for trips to the ER. Next thing I know, I’m getting calls left and right, she’s in the trauma unit, she doesn’t recognize my brother or sister, who are there with her by now. She’s disoriented, can’t remember her birthday and has no recall of the last few days. They’ve done a brain scan (meaning she had her head examined!) and it looks okay, no internal bleeding. It’s late in the afternoon and I’m up in Santa Cruz, so since she has family with her, I tell them all I’ll head down to LA the next morning early. I feel so guilty that I’m not there I go ahead and pack a bag so I can leave super early. I’m not feeling great myself, so I go to bed early.

Within a few hours I wake up with a fully loaded Ram pickup truck parked on my head. I mean I have a headache like I didn’t know you could survive, like I’m not sure I can stay conscious if it’s going to hurt this badly. Like second only to childbirth but with no breaks between contractions painful. I can’t take light or sound, any movement makes me want to scream but at the same time I wouldn’t dream of making a sound, it hurts even to breathe. All I can do through the night is cradle my head in the dark. I take as many ibuprofen as is legal, maybe more, and try to meditate the crushing pain away. That requires focusing on my breathing, which hurts, so…that’s not helping.

By morning the headache has lessened a half a degree, but I cannot get out of bed. I’m the worst daughter in the world. I should be in LA taking over my mother’s care. My cell phone is buzzing and ringing with news about my mom, questions about when I’m coming, etc, and every time I look at it the light pierces my brain. Still, I force myself to find out what’s happening from my siblings and let them know I’ll leave in a few hours if I feel better. Doctors call, and squinting and grimacing, I answer their barked questions about my mom’s medical history. Why are they all so loud?

Then the phone keeps ringing and the screen says it’s my mom, but when I pick up and whisper hello (all I can endure) there is no answer. After four or five times, we have this exchange.

“Mom? Mom? Are you there?”

“Oh, hello.” She speaks as though she’s surprised I called.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

“Well,” she say indignantly, “I’m in the hospital and I have no idea how I got here. No one has even called me except my friend Sharon.”

“Mom, Shawna and Dwayne were with you all day yesterday.” (my siblings)

“Oh.”

“Shawna is on her way there now.”

“Oh.”

“And I’m going to try to drive down later today.”

“Oh. Well all I know is I woke up and nobody is here.”

“Shawna will be there soon.”

And I knocked out a tooth,” she says accusingly, as though I snuck up behind her and yanked it out with a rusty nutcracker.

This simple exchange feels like grenades going off in my head. My whole body feels like it’s been hit by a truck, but I still kind of want to slap her. How many years have I spent taking her to hospitals and doctors appointments, making sure she’s okay, but the one time I missed a turn…

“I love you mom, I’ll talk to you later.”

Her response was a tortured sigh and her saying she had to go now. A nurse or doctor came in I’m assuming.

But my own little parcel of hell doesn’t lessen, it gets worse. I spend the whole day in bed, and then spend yet another night begging for sleep and relief. My body is exhausted, I’m nauseous and sweating. My brother, the ex-paramedic, is texting me that I might have a blood clot and I need to go to the hospital, which isn’t alarming in any way. Just what a gal wants to hear when her forehead is being used as a dance floor for a thousand super-sized river dancers wearing golf cleats. I don’t want to go anywhere, do anything, speak, think, or move thank you very much.

But hubby sets up an appointment at Urgent care and off we go, me carting my pillow to block out the horrific lights and sounds of sleepy Scotts Valley. The doctor decrees that I probably don’t have a blood clot, which is somewhat comforting, though a more definitive choice of words would have been welcome, ‘probably‘ leaves the door open that maybe, I just might, possibly have one. That’s how I hear it in the five alarm fire that is my head anyway. He thinks I have a migraine type headache, but not a migraine because I’ve never had one, and he prescribes super mojo painkillers to ‘break’ the pain and sends me home.

I’m never leaving home without those pills again. You can have all the credit cards and fancy cars you want to show off with, I’ll take the pills, thank you. Within a few hours I was mostly headache free. Still limp and barely animated, but sweet relief is in sight.

So, I’m recuperating today. Keep thinking I can do my usual stuff only to wilt like arugula on a bbq within a minute or two. I’ll try to get to LA and mom tomorrow. I still feel badly I didn’t rush to her bedside, but driving requires the use of light and sight, two things I couldn’t pretend to face.

And my mom? She’s home at my sisters house, complaining that she’s bored. She’s back to normal,(translate as level-three hurricane force activity) and insists that we’re being ridiculous for wanting her to take it easy.

Yep, that’s me, the jokester with a first time migraine-slash-maybe, possible bloodclot who needs to get to LA to make sure that her 80 year old mother doesn’t slide down my sister’s stairway railing or drive to Santa Anita to wander around the cherry blossom festival.

She would do it too.

I might still have to get my head examined for clots or even just for hanging off of cliffs, but so far, I’m happy to be able to sit up and eat.

But I still feel guilty.

Lesson learned? Try not to pile shame on top of physical pain and keep your prescriptions within arm’s length.

But first, get a prescription.

Stay healthy.

Shari, March 15th, 2017

 

 

 

 

Shout, Laugh, Love.

Mein Heir, "Cabaret.

Belting out ‘Mein Heir’,from the hit show “Cabaret.”

My life may not be stress free, but it’s never boring! A couple weeks ago I went to the gynecologist for what I thought was a minor check up, next thing I know I’m being biopsied for uterine cancer. That part wasn’t bad, but between the time the nurse informed me they would do the test and hearing back about two weeks later, (everything is fine) I spent a lot of time thinking about how quickly things can change.

The minute the nurse said, “I need you to sign this release for a cancer screening,” until I got the good news back from the Dr., I could only think of one thing—my girls. What would I do if I were to go through this journey, how will I prepare them for both this stress and the possibility that I wouldn’t be around? I made mental lists, prepared what I would say to encourage them, and how to reassure them that even if I leave them, I’ll be there for them.

Because I believe that. That’s what the novel I’m writing now is about. Of course, these are things we should consider often, it puts a fabulous perspective on those little annoyances in life. People who stalk you on social media, (Hi Rene! Having fun?) too much traffic, money troubles, family squabbles, unstoppable dust, stains in the laundry, the occasional wild fire or mud slide, and my cats yakking up fur balls on the new carpet, none of these seem to bother you as much when you are faced with a potentially life threatening reminder that you are, in fact, mortal.

I like that fact actually, it comforts me often. As it should, because sooner or later, it will be true. On the other hand, as an artist, it puts pressure on. Is what I’m doing worth it? Does it help and change people for the good? Is it…at least entertaining. I consider it a day well spent if I make a lot of people laugh. So, if I can ease a smile out of you, or the waitress, or another patient at the doctor’s office, or even a future reader, I’ve had a good day, as a writer, a mom, and most important, a person.

I was speaking to an author friend who writes wonderful stuff. (Braveheart) He told me that he thought of God watching him over his shoulder as he wrote and it should be worth Him reading. Now, I’m an atheist, but I believe in the creative, collective force of the universe, I believe that death only rejoins us to the whole, but I got what he was saying. I compare it to being able to see your Christmas lights from space or lighting a candle. Sometimes it’s great to create a spectacle for many, and sometimes illuminating a soft smile across the table is enough.

They both count, not one more than the other.

So, laying there on that cozy half table with the stirrups, waiting for the doctor, I had a chance for silliness and took it. When the nurse asked me later if I wanted to take my picture for my electronic files today, I asked, “How about this one? I just took it.” IMG_5113

And she laughed, really hard.

I loved it.

And I live to laugh another day.

Shari, October 20th, 2015

An Energetic Life

 

Image

Drawing joy and strength from the beauty around me.

Recently, and not for the first time, I had someone contact me and ask about maintaining what appears to be my high energy level. (Thank you Whitney.) It is true that I always seem to have had more than my share of energy, hence my propensity for running, jumping and climbing trees when I was a kid, my nickname, The Shari Action Doll, when I was modeling, and now, in my fifties, my delight in playing hide and seek with the kids for hours on end.

I have always found it easier to maintain a more productive schedule when I can stay active, and as a writer, that isn’t always easy. Yes, there are days when I can write for eight hours and feel annoyed when I have to interrupt the flow for something as mundane as food or a bathroom break, but those days are not the norm. Usually, I find it best if I write in the morning, preferably after a hike, and use the afternoon for editing or reviewing because my rpms seem to slow from a roar to a casual idle. If I don’t do some kind of physical activity before I begin writing, my endurance drops drastically. The human body was not designed to sit behind a computer screen, it was designed to walk, to run, to hunt, to gather, to keep moving, and so we should.

I also have days when I’m dragging. When, mid-hike, I could lie down and take a nap. When, regardless of deadlines and desires, I simply cannot find the strength to create or even take much of an interest.

But those times are usually caused by some kind of depression brought on by general bad behavior of the world around me, or someone specific, even me when my ego or anger gets the best of me. I cannot, for instance, watch the news and then go to sleep. Meanness, cruelty, aggression and apathy all affect me adversely and strongly. I’m super sensitive to stupidity, selfishness and rudeness, as though I have allergies to mean people, and confrontations drain and exhaust me much the way a fever or a flu would. That does not mean I won’t meet those challenges and take them on, just that it costs life force to fight evil, especially in ourselves.

Getting away from the greedy suck of depression, for me, has several steps. First, acknowledge it, and the effect it is having on you physically. Do you feel weak? Are your shoulders an inch higher than they should be? Does your stomach burn? Pay attention to identifying those effects and spend a few minutes thanking your body for those warning signs and then let them go by saying, “Thank you, I get the message, but I don’t need this anymore.” The second, and most important step, is do something. Anything that is active. Watching TV or talking on the phone do not count. Pot a plant, walk to the mailbox, even going out to lunch can be good, though medicating with food should be an exception not the rule. Next, count your blessings, be grateful for all that you have. If you don’t have much right now, be grateful that you have the intelligence and consciousness to be able to observe that, and line up your possibilities. Finally, set yourself a project or goal and make some small step toward it. Want to write a book? Write 20 ‘first lines,’ or make up two interesting characters out of people you know. Want to get in shape? Spend ten minutes walking in place or do some leg lifts while you are on the phone. It doesn’t, and sometimes shouldn’t, be a big or daunting first step, just something small but pointed toward your final goal. Just plain turning yourself in the right direction can be a huge step, and the fear of taking that step is often the only thing that keeps us from accomplishing our goals. It feels good to start.

Now for a few ways to keep up that energy.

 

  1. Cut back on caffeine. Go ahead and have that morning cup, but that’s it! No teas, sodas, or caffeine rich foods for the rest of the day. On top of depleting your adrenal glands, which means you have no adrenaline when you need it, caffeine interrupts your sleep patterns, and a good night’s sleep is crucial to energy.
  2. Eat well. Plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, grains and low-fat protein. Eat smaller portions, (digesting heavy foods makes you sleepy) and eat more often to spread the fuel evenly through your day.
  3. Exercise. I cannot over-accentuate this enough. It does not have to be a excruciating trip to the crowded gym, no special equipment is required, and exerting yourself until you drip sweat, puke, or pass out are completely absurd. You need to move, to make your blood flow, to increase your heart rate until you can’t complete a full sentence, but can still hold a conversation. If you do something active for even 20 minutes a day, you will have twice as much energy. Don’t forget that a few stretches will help you keep in touch and check in with your body!
  4. Do what you love. Even if you have a job that seems to suck the soul from your body, take some time during your day to do something you love. Cook a simple recipe, stare up at the clouds, knit, polish your car, what ever it is, find something to look forward to, and if it’s something creative and productive, all the better!
  5. Hug, kiss, have sex, laugh and sing. All of these things, done in a loving sharing way, help eliminate stress and increase endorphins in your body, so you feel better, so you do more. If you are not in a relationship try putting on some music and singing from your gut. Just belt it out. If you want a quick fix, try this. Sit down, put on hand on your stomach, just below your belly button. Now, make a sound like, “Huh, huh, huh!” from there, forcing out the air. Keep doing this and eventually, I can almost guarantee, you will laugh. The physical action stimulates the response that normally results in that physical action. Just like smiling releases hormones into your body that make you feel good.

All righty then. There’s a few ideas, but I want to add this—sometimes you have to eat macaroni and cheese, cry, and go back to bed. There are times that all of us are just overwhelmed and need to hunker down and heal and rejuvenate. When you are sick, you have to pamper yourself and give your body the chance to channel its energy into healing. It’s the same sometimes for stress, depression and even lethargy, but don’t wallow!!

It’s very important to put things in perspective. The next time you allow your grievances to resonate too loudly and too long, recognize that you are identifying with being a victim. Not good. You are not a victim, you are the boss of you. Take those bitchy little complaints, make an appointment with them, and keep it!! When the allotted time come, sit those annoyances, fears and or worries down, and tell them they are not allowed to interrupt your fabulous life. After that, every time they coming knocking on your mental attitude, tell them it is not their turn and close the door. They don’t get to take up all your love and energy.

The bottom line here is, take care of yourself, look at the bright side, and do what you love!

Wishing you luck, direction, and the energy of bouncing ball!

 

Shari, April 3rd, 2014