When “what we usually do” isn’t what we usually do anymore

Earlier this week, my brother Greg met with the potential buyers of my parents’ home and the assorted lawyers.  Mom and Dad’s house is now officially sold.  It’s just about over.

My siblings and I have been through a tough 5 years.  The oldest of us 6, our sister Judy, died in October 2007 after a decade long fight with hepatitis C and myelodysplastic syndrome.  She was only 57.  Our mother followed her just 10 months later in August 2008.  Her passing was due to complications of Alzheimer’s disease and kidney failure.  Dad left us last year in May, 9 days before his 84th birthday.  He had fought stage 3 lung cancer for 4-1/2 months.  The cancer won.

The last year has been spent emptying out the contents and the memories of the family home.  The material things have been claimed, donated, or trashed.  Tears have been shed, fingers pointed, and accusations made.  When you’ve grown up in a family as close as mine, you think that nothing in the world can come between you.  When the last parent dies, you find out just how wrong you were.  I’ve come out of this with no one left in my family who remembers the first 14 years or so of my life and a brother who doesn’t speak to me anymore.  I can’t tell you which one hurts me most.

There are still things that my brother Greg, the trustee of Dad’s trust, has to take care of:  getting whatever refunds are due, setting up the estate distribution plan with the family lawyer, making sure we all get our share.  Then he will be free of this burden.  He has lived with this strapped upon his back for over a year and he has done some fine work as trustee.  I’m very relieved that he will be doing this for me when I pass on.  I know things will be handled well.

For me, the biggest (and hardest) milestone is not getting that final inheritance check.  It’s the selling of the house.  I remember when Mom and Dad bought the land the house sits on.  Dad and his best friend Herman did a lot of the building themselves.  Some of Dad’s church friends helped, too, but he had a professional do the wiring and plumbing.  Compared to the house that Judy and I grew up in, the new house was a mansion.  Our old house on Pike Street had 2 bedrooms and 1 bathroom.  That was room enough when it was just Mom, Dad, Judy, and me.  But when I was 10-1/2 years old, my sister Lisa was born.  In the following 7 years, 2 brothers and another sister were added.  Eight people in 2 bedrooms all using the same bathroom was a bit crowded.  The new house was a quad-level, 4 bedrooms, 2 master bathrooms.  There was a family room and a full basement that didn’t flood every time it rained.  That house was a beauty.

Lots of big things happened in that house.  It’s where my sisters and brothers announced their engagements.  It’s where my sisters came to tell us they were pregnant.  I came out as a gay woman to my family there.  We took care of Mom there until going into a nursing home was the only option she had left.  It’s where Dad wanted to die and, thankfully, he was able to be there when it happened.

That house is where we celebrated every major holiday.  No matter which one of us kids offered to host the family at our home, it was always an “oh, no, just come here” from Mom.  Every Easter, I would fill the plastic Easter eggs with change and cash for the egg hunt for the nieces and nephews and take them down to Mom and Dad’s house.  The night before Thanksgiving, I would show up there with my toothbrush and pajamas so I could wake at the crack of dawn with Mom and help her prepare the big meal.  We would get everything ready to be cooked, I would spank the turkey (long story), and into the oven it would go.  Mom, Dad, and I would watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade and then Mom and I would get the feast ready.  It would be the same at Christmas, except then we kids were allowed to bring a dish, a ham or potato salad, baked beans.  Sometimes, I would stay there on Christmas Eve, other times I would be there over Christmas night.  And so it went until Mom got sick and her mind started leaving us.  My sister Terri took over the Thanksgiving dinner.  We continued Easter and Christmas as usual.

Now Mom and Dad are both gone.  New traditions have begun.  Terri still rolls out the Thanksgiving meal.  Christmas moved to my brother Greg’s house.  My sister Lisa was all set to host the family for Easter, but too many of us had other plans.  I hope it works out next time.  Ginger and I had the gang over for July 4th.  It was my brother-in-law Mark’s birthday.  We had planned to watch the city’s fireworks which we can practically see from our front yard, but it had been raining for days and was raining still.  Four of us braved the drizzle and were treated to a fantastic display.

New traditions.  New ways of doing things.  This is what happens when what we usually do isn’t what we usually do anymore.  And so I say, “Goodbye, house.  So long to the many Saturdays I spent within your walls with Mom and Dad and then just Dad.  Farewell to the holidays and sledding down the back yard hill.  You have served us well.  But nothing ever stays the same and I’m sorry to see you go.”

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About that Book

I don’t usually talk about things that I’m writing.  I’m not superstitious or paranoid about doing it.  I just don’t like discussing a writing project until I’ve completed the first draft.  I prefer to keep it to myself for a little while.  But one of the things I plan to use this blog for is to help me as I work on my book, so from time to time I’ll give an update or tell what I’m doing or maybe even share a paragraph or two.  In this post, I’m giving a few details about the book.  This is a “first” for me, so I’m kind of nervous about doing it, but I think it will be okay.

The thing about writing a book is that you can call it whatever title you want and make all the plans you want and then if you’re lucky enough to have the book published, an editor will come along and change everything.  However, these are my thoughts so far, pre-editor.

The title is “Goodbye, Pride: A Mother and Daughter’s Journey into the Dark Mind.”  I know.  What a mouthful.  That will most likely be changed for me, no doubt, but it’s what I’m working with now.  I’m writing the book in parallel about my deceased mother’s journey through Alzheimer’s disease and my ongoing journey with clinical depression.  What I know for sure about what Alzheimer’s and depression have in common–besides what they do to your mind–is that you kiss your pride goodbye.  Both rip what pride there is right out of you.  When you can’t remember how to eat or how to use a toilet, or you’re walking on top of your furniture because you just can’t put your feet on the floor, you’ve pretty well lost your pride.  I’m writing about how we came to our mental illnesses, how they were diagnosed, treatments, and so on.  That’s mostly the clinical stuff.  But what I’m also writing about is the personal side of Alzheimer’s and depression, and how they affect your life, particularly the “everyday” stuff.

While being with Mom and helping to take care of her as she traveled her road, there were times when something she did would give me a little insight into myself and my depression.  For example, I went to the nursing home one afternoon to find Mom literally tearing little chunks of flesh out of her arms and throwing them on the floor.  (The nurse had already been summoned and was there a few seconds after I arrived.)  There was blood running down both arms, on her hands, and under her fingernails.  I saw that and was sick to the point of repulsion.  For just a moment, I wanted nothing to do with this hideous sight or the person causing it.  But then it hit me: how was what she was doing any different than what I was doing to myself on a regular basis?  I self-mutilated and was doing so throughout Mom’s illness (and before and after, for a while).  How was her action any different than my taking a knife and making cuts on my body?  That was a major “ah-ha” moment for me.  (Before anyone worries, the last time I cut myself was over 2 years ago and I know I will never do it again.  A good therapist, “ah-ha” moments, and wanting to get better can work wonders.)

So, that’s about the gist of it.  I’ll be making changes as I get farther into it, I’m sure, especially while I’m doing some family research for the book.  One thing I won’t change or won’t let an editor change is the book’s dedication.  It goes like this:

For my mother,

Ella Mae Burke Perkins

(October 15, 1931 – August 23, 2008)

and my sister,

Judy Mae Perkins Wedding

(May 19, 1950 – October 24, 2007)

who always wanted me to write

a book about our family.

Really? No Kidding!

I read today that Albert Einstein’s IQ was 160.  Impossible, I thought.  Why?  Because the last time my IQ was tested, it was 162.  Two points HIGHER than Albert Einstein’s.

I’m pathetic.

What do I have to show for my precious 2 points?  A degree in English, after failing at a degree in music and a degree in computer science.  I haven’t discovered a cure for anything or developed a startling theory or anything that can measure up to Einstein.

If you were a follower of my last blog, Everything but the Kitchen Sink, you’ll recall my post on “How will you measure this year in your life?”  The last paragraph went like this:

I’ve wasted a lot of mine and I haven’t had a year in my life worth measuring.  That changes here, that changes now.  My sister gave me a wonderful gift in showing me how to live.  It took me a while to get it, but “get it” I do.  This birthday year–and forevermore–will be a year to measure.  I’m going to be silly more.  Play the piano more often.  Write like I’ve got a million dollar book contract.  Dance every day.  Sing like I don’t care who hears.  Say “yes” more.  Say “no” more.  Lose 40 more pounds and start dressing like the bohemian that I am.  I might write a play.  Learn the dulcimer Ginger gave me.  Study my Bible more.  Trust religion less.  Pray without ceasing.  Eat cake “just because.”  Write my own fabulous funeral.  Hug more often.  Tell family and friends how much I love them.  This and more is how I will measure my 525 thousand 6 hundred minutes.”

And what have I done?  I’m praying.  My family and friends know how much I love them.  That’s it.  Nothing else.  That’s what I’ve done with my precious two points.

Don’t worry.  I’m not having a pity party and I’m not falling into a depression.  It’s just that I look at Einstein and what he did with his life.  Then I look at me and what I’ve not done with mine, even though I’m technically smarter than he is.  (Not that I believe that for a second.)  What’s the difference?  What happened to me?

I don’t need two extra points on an IQ test to answer that question.  I tend to sabotage myself.  “I can’t do it.  I’m not smart enough.  It’s too hard.  I could never learn that.”  I tend to believe negative comments other people say to me.  “You look horrible in photographs.  Your writing is trite.”  I feel there’s just no use in trying.  Mostly, though, I’m afraid.

Fear can save your life, but it can also be a terrible emotion, almost as terrible as hate.  Fear keeps me from living my life to the fullest.  I’m very afraid of water.  I can’t sit in a tub of water.  I can’t go in a swimming pool.  I back into the shower when I bathe.  I’m afraid of the dark, too.  I also try to never, ever let my arm or leg hang over the side of the bed because I know–I KNOW–there’s some THING under there that’s going to reach up and grab me.  I will never get over these fears.  I have no doubt at all about that.  But the fear that someone won’t like what I write?  That someone will tell me I look ugly in a picture?  That someone will say, “you can’t do that, you’re not that smart”?  Why do I even pay attention to any of that?

Ladies and gentlemen, meet “Little Debby”.  No, this isn’t the “Debbie” famous for those scrumptious “Little Debbie Cakes.”  This is the “Little Debby” that sits alone, self-protected, enclosed in a tall, brick tower inside the deepest part of my heart where no one can see her or hurt her.  But she’s also the “Little Debby” who voices the doubts in my mind, who provides the evidence that fuel the sabotage and fear.  You all have your own “Little Debby.”  The inner voice that says you’re too stupid, you’re too ugly and worthless and no one cares about you, so why should you care about yourself.

But failure is as failure does, and tonight I’m here to set the record straight with myself.  Yes, I have a degree in English with a concentration in Literature and Writing and a minor in Women’s Studies.  While getting that degree, I won several writing competitions and I’ve been published a few times in anthologies since.  I’ve also won a poetry competition in which there were over a thousand entries.  I failed at getting the music degree because I was barely 17 years old when I went away to college (on both music and academic scholarships, I might add) and I had no guidance on what to expect and what to do.  None.  My mom had a high school diploma and my dad quit school in the 8th grade.  They had no idea what to tell me or how to help me.  I was too young, both age-wise and emotionally, to go away on my own.  A few years later, after I was working full time, I went back to school for a degree in computer science.  I was two classes away from getting the degree when I changed my major to English.  I absolutely hated computer science and I just couldn’t study it for one more minute.  When I began studying literature and writing, it was like I had come home for the first time and that one stuck with me.  So now I can toss those failures out the window.  I hope they get hit by a car!

All of the other failures in my life?  The things I haven’t written, the things I’ve written poorly, the oceans I haven’t swam in, not flying in a plane until I was 47 because I was too scared?  All of those things–ALL OF THEM AND MORE–they’re out the window, too, because I deserve to treat myself better.  I deserve to give myself the same breaks and permissions to screw up that I give everyone else in my life. Easy to say, not so easy to do, but it’s a start.

This time, I’m not going to write a laundry list of how I’ll measure this coming 60th year in my life.  I’m going to say simply this:  I’ll try to do better and I’ll try really hard. I promise.

Just one more thing before I go: my IQ is higher than Stephen Hawking’s, too! Ta-da!

Off and Running!

You found me.  You may have been a follower of my previous blog, Everything but the Kitchen Sink, or you may be new to this blog.  I had fun with the Kitchen Sink, but it turned into something that I didn’t want it to be.  So here I am with a new blog, a different site, and hopefully, better content.  We’ll see how it goes.

I won’t bore you all the time with books I’m reading or the book I’m writing or the medical stuff.  (But just let me note that we’re now up to 121 tubes of blood drawn in search for a diagnosis.  And I won’t even get into the number of MRIs, biopsies, CT scans, and so on!)  I do have a strong fascination with people and how they behave, particularly in public restrooms, but I promise to enter that discussion slowly and gently.  LOL!

You’re probably wondering about me.  I’m a technical writer for a software development company.  I will never post anything about my job because I’m grateful to have one and I’d like to keep it!  But as I wrote once in the Kitchen Sink, once I retire it’s all fair game.  I have the feeling, though, that I won’t be thinking about work after I retire, much less writing about it.

I’m turning 60 years old this month.  Sometimes my body feels 83 and sometimes it feels 52, but my mind always feels like an 8-year-old kid who is just discovering dirty jokes!  And, yes, the 8-year-old will be contributing posts from time to time.  I’m also short, not as fat as I was, and I have a wicked sense of humor.  All of that will be showing up here, too.

I promise, you won’t be bored.  So, please, hang around for a time, take a chance, look around, and I’ll be back again soon.  And don’t forget to tell your family and friends that I’m here!  See you next time!

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