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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Boss! Boss! The Plane! The Plane!

Places everyone, places!

Tattoo (see what I did there?  no?  so young...so so young).  I'm here to talk to you about the tattoo.  I don't have tattoos.  By the time I decided there was something I was passionate enough about in order to justify using permanent ink on my delicate skin, I was a dad.  And I had other shit to deal with.  And it seemed...self indulgent.  And Leslie wasn't a fan.  It was something I didn't NEED.  So I didn't do it.  But, as previously mentioned, now I'm doing it.

Today I met with an artist to talk about designing something.  I gave him a deposit.  And February 26th I have my first sitting.  He said 5 hours.  Then two more sittings.  That's a lot of sitting.  And hours.  And ink.  All in.

I mentioned before that I was looking now at an owl.  And that's all I'll say for now.  From now until February 26th he's going to work on the design and when I go sit down for five hours...I hope to have a design that I'm happy with and that means something to me.

I was excited to go to the consult.  We spent an hour talking about it.  He wrapped a page around my arm and marked it off so he had the design dimensions.  And then we looked at pictures and I told him what my vision was.  And he quickly sketched up some things and asked questions and took notes.  And then I left, $100 poorer, but excited.
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Meanwhile...

On my way to pick up my weekly Pad Thai, I stopped by the jeweler to check on my ring re-sizing.  "You have your envelope?"
"No."
"Well, do you know your order number?"
"No.  But...I DO know my name."
*grumbles*

They hadn't called me, but it seemed like long enough to resize a ring 1/2 a ring size to ME.  And apparently it was.  Because my ring was ready.  Good to have it back.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Endings

Caring Place had its final night for us this evening.  It was a good experience.  I don't know if it was an experience tailor made for someone like me necessarily, but it definitely was a good experience for me and for Emma.  It generated some nice conversations.

Caring Place is a group support "service"? specifically for the benefit of children who have lost a loved one.

So every other week for the past...four months...Emma and I have spent our Mondays with other families also dealing with the loss of a loved one.

Emma asked me if it helped me.  I hedged.  "It didn't hurt me."

A second went by as I considered.

"That's not the same thing as helping."

"I know, baby, I just want to be honest, let me think about it for a second."  And I thought about it.

I told her that I felt that it was helpful.  I told her that if nothing else it gave me a 'scheduled time to grieve'; a time where I didn't have an excuse to compartmentalize.

What I told Emma then was that I don't like thinking about it.  That I'm pretty content 90% of the time because I'm not thinking about it.  On purpose.  That when I DO think about it, I'm sad.  And I don't want to be.  The Caring Place for me became a time where I had no escape from thinking about it.  And I told her that was good for me.  Because I think it's good for me to think about the sadness and about Leslie and about loss...and that sometimes I'm just not disciplined enough to do it myself.

And it was good for me too because it made me feel like I was "doing something" to help give Emma an outlet.  People to talk to who "get it".

Emma told me that one of the things she liked was being in a group where discussing losing her mom or her mom's life wasn't "a downer".  Not that it wasn't still a downer...but everyone in the room was in the same boat.  It didn't stop conversation...it started it.  It was nice not to have to censor herself and just talk to people without trying to protect their feelings.

Ironic, right?

Did I love it?  No.  It wasn't necessarily my kind of place.  We did touchy-feely things that make me feel uncomfortable.  They were quick to reiterate that anyone could "pass" on any activity without judgment.  And they meant it.  But I was committed to the program...it just wasn't necessarily my thing.

Would I recommend it to someone...anyone else?  Yes.  Everyone.  Maybe it's not your thing.  Maybe it IS your kid's thing.  Maybe you might even find out that although you thought it wasn't your thing...it really WAS your thing.  Whatever.  Highly recommend it.

We did a square of a quilt that will hang in the Caring Place when it's done (in a month or two, I think).  They took a picture of Emma and I.  It looks weird.  We're smiling because we're having our pictures taken, but we're holding a square of a quilt with Leslie's memorial on it.  Yay!

Emma saw it and said, "I look so tired."
I looked at it and said, "My beard is so long."

But I thought...man we sure look happy.  Brave faces maybe.  Appearances perhaps.  But we are happy for the most part.  Just looks weird.



Thursday, January 21, 2016

Breathe In, Breathe Out

I talked to a couple tattoo artists last week.  My idea has morphed from butterfly to raven to owl.  Apparently in Polish folklore an unmarried woman who passes away is transformed into a dove, and a married woman is transformed into an owl.  And Leslie was very Polish.  That, and the psychopomp aspect (that owls guide the departed to heaven) make it a pretty good fit.  Still working on it though.  

Got some pricing information back from them too.  Whew!  Fun! Not inexpensive.

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Ever since we got this cat I've developed allergic asthma.  We knew I was allergic when we got him.  But just really wanted to get Emma a "real" pet.  Fish just weren't cutting it anymore.  So Leslie and I decided to get a cat for Emma, and maybe I wrote about the process and maybe I didn't, but essentially we pretended that we were taking her to the animal shelter to see if they had volunteer work that she could do for them.  She volunteers in Glade Run's animal program and loves it, so we thought it would be a convincing story.

the happy day
The Humane Society had two kittens set aside and when Emma got there to "talk about volunteering" they brought two kittens in to play with her.  One was very shy and hid most of the time we sat and talked.  The other was very mischievous, exploring every nook and cranny, playing with Emma, and generally having adventures.  We told Emma that she got to pick one to take home and that she wasn't volunteering...she was getting a cat for her birthday.  And she loved it.  And loved him.  And loves him.

She still will randomly hug me and say, "I am so happy that Dobby is part of our family."

But the fucking cat makes me sneeze.  And claws the furniture.  And carpet.  And pukes on things.  And...has adventures.  But he's family.

So when I first approached the doctor two years ago about what I could do to help my allergy symptoms with the cat and he said, "Get rid of the cat." I told him, "Nope.  What else ya got?"

On again off again doctoral care and two years later I returned to the same doctor (who'd left the practice, disappeared, then rematerialized at another practice) and said again...Alright...I've tried this, this this and this...what else ya got?  And he said, "Get rid of the cat?"  And I said, "Nope."

Sad sidebar...
When Leslie originally was struggling to breathe, we attributed it to allergies because we'd just gotten the cat and so we tried managing her breathing with various allergy pills and an albuterol inhaler...and ultimately got fed up with our failure to make a lasting impact and got an xray which showed the fluid building up around her lungs that ultimately took her life.

And so now, two years later, and a lot of fucking miles down the road less traveled on...when I struggle to breathe there's a little part of me that has a minor panic attack.  Asthma is tricky.  I mean, for me it means that when I breathe it's like I'm breathing through a straw, or through cotton balls.  It doesn't matter how hard I inhale...it just comes in..."less" than I feel like I need...which is a really panicky feeling.  Now when it happens...I can't help but put myself in Leslie's body, laboring for breath, and feeling that panicky feeling...for months...

I have to switch tracks...therein lies madness.

So asthma sounds like no big deal, and I suppose it isn't REALLY as long as you have medicine, but there's some baggage there.  You know?

ANYWAY...

I use an inhaler and when I take a couple puffs...I'm fine.  I'd take a couple puffs before bed. Sometimes when Lily would wake me in the middle of the night, I'd need a couple puffs.  Sometimes in the morning if I didn't wake up in the night.  Sometimes during the day.  But always fixable with a couple puffs.

So the doctor said, "Would you say that your breathing is managed?"  And I said, "Yeah.  I mean...as long as I have the puffer, I have no issues.  If I don't have it..."  And we talked about how frequently I took it.  And he said..."By definition your breathing is not managed."  Apparently the puffer is an "emergency" medication.

So he prescribed some...steroid thingy ALSO an inhaled medication...that I now take at morning when I wake up and at night before bed.  And that's pretty cool.  I've taken it for several days now and haven't used the inhaler since.  His words, "Then the inhaler can go back to being a 'rescue' inhaler".

And all that is fine.  Except that what I don't really totally understand is how being dependent upon this NEW medication twice daily is really any different than being dependent upon the OTHER medication twice daily (fine...sometimes more).  And how it is NOW managed where before it was not.  But I GUESS the thinking is that now if I struggle to breathe I can use the inhaler as an emergency relief where before there was nowhere to go.

And the reason that any of this is coming up is because the last few days I've been tired or distracted, or busy, and haven't gotten in the treadmill, where in the past I NEEDED a puff.  Like...needed.  Already breathing heavy...but through cotton balls...very panicky.  So tonight I'm on the treadmill as I write this...and no breathing issues.

So that's good!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Stalling

I keep putting off the wedding story.  I keep finding other stories instead.  And it's okay, but I think it's like New Year's Eve.  I think Leslie's life was in 2015 and so I was reluctant for 2015 to end even though she died then too because she wouldn't be in 2016.  So maybe I'm reluctant to keep writing about Leslie's life because I already know the ending.  Like a really good book that you love reading so much that you're sad when it ends even when it ends happily...and each story I tell about her gets me close to that ending.  And it doesn't end happily.  Or if it does, it ends in the happy sad way that a life well lived always ends.  Bittersweet...what a nice way to live a life...any ending seems too soon.

But there are things I want to say...need to say...about watching someone you love pass.  About things that we said to each other and to our children.  Some things I know I've already said.  Some things I can't remember if I've said.  Some things...when I think about them...my chest tightens and I feel like I can't breathe.  Those are the hard things.

But they'll get said.

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I took my wedding ring to the jeweler today.  I tried moving my wedding ring to the ring finger of my right hand.  It fits.  Snugly.  Too snugly.  After a couple days I started getting worried and pried it...with the aid of some soap off my knuckle.  So then I moved it to my pinky.  And every so often, when I wasn't really thinking about it...I'd make a sudden gesture and the ring would fly off my finger, rolling to a stop....somewhere.  And when I found it I'd be all panicked because I'd almost lost it.  And so I decided to have it resized for my right finger, which, apparently, is about 1/2 a ring size bigger than my left ring finger. 

I was putting THAT off too.  Like everything in this house...one step closer to absolute.  Her clothes still hang in her closet.  Her dresser is still filled.  Her night stand is more or less untouched.  I'll get to it...tomorrow.  So today when I picked up my shrimp pad thai I stopped off at the jeweler and walked in and handed over my wedding ring to have them resize it for my other hand.  I walked out of the store without it.  My hand feels naked and exposed and wrong.  That ring hasn't been off my finger for 16 years.

And again, like New Year's Eve, I was really feeling like there'd be this 'change' like when Frodo takes off the One Ring...invisible to visible.  But there wasn't.  It was fine.  More dread than anything.  And that was a relief.  But also made me feel sad.  Like letting go of it was easier than it should have been.

Still fighting that feeling that in order to go on living I need to suffer to grieve 'properly' instead of just thinking about her and being sad and sort of...homesick for her.

Hey, if you really want to cry...I was writing this from the treadmill and no lie, Jamie Lawson's song, "Wasn't Expecting That" came on.  Listen to it.  It's beautiful.  But a punch in the gut.  My friend Bec once begged me not to listen to it and I kept pretending to misunderstand her and agreeing that yes...I would listen immediately.  And then the kicker came and I was like..."WHY DID YOU MAKE ME LISTEN TO THAT???" for comedic effect.  I think she probably really liked that a lot.  Anyway.  Made me cry.  But she warned me.




Monday, January 11, 2016

Fierce

Part of writing more I think is realizing that there doesn't have to be anything monumental; there doesn't have to be any earth shaking "story" in order to justify the exercise.

Leslie loved the Steelers.  She was so passionate about them, and football.  Last night they played as the sixth seed in the playoffs and the game was crrrrrrrazy.  And I was REALLY aware of her absence.  I'm not kidding when I say she would have been on her feet, SCREAMING "you ASSHOLE!" at William Gay when he got called for excessive celebration after what turned out not to be a touchdown.  I can see her face, eyebrows furrowed.  Fierce.  Standing in front of the television.  Legs shoulder width apart.  Finger.  Stabbing.  At.  The.  Screen.  Punctuating each word. YOU! STUPID!  ASSHOLE!  Her hands to her head, running angry stiff fingers through thick hair.  Turning her back on the screen and stalking back to her seat.  Sitting heavily.  Still mad.  Me, looking up at her...half smirk...Her, coming slowly back to herself.

Emma hid during Steeler games.  "Mommy is too loud.  She scares me." That sounds bad.  She cheered too loud for Emma.  Hurt her ears.  She censored herself when Emma would watch with us.  Biting back the words.  Anger visible.  Vein at her temple throbbing.  I miss that crazy-ass angry Steeler wife.

She wouldn't have seen the final field goal that won the game.  Eyes closed tight.  Leaning over her knees.  Fingers in her ears.  Too much pressure.

The field goal was good.  We won.  She'd have stood then.  Cursed now instead at the Bengals fans for throwing shit on the field.  Anger redirected at the "enemy" without.  Fierce victorious wrath.  Standing again.  That punctuating finger stabbing at them.  THAT'S!  WHAT!  YOU!  GET!

I love watching football.  But I'm too dispassionate.  There's always time left.  There's always another viewpoint.  I'll never be the fan she was.  I'm okay with that.  One is enough for any house.  But I'm sort of fiercely proud of her passion.

Good friend to have.  Good person to have in your corner.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Why Is A Raven Like a Writing Desk?


okay...

So, it's a good idea in theory.  Two birds (ravens?) with one stone.  I'm writing this while I'm walking on the treadmill.  And it works.  Mostly.  The seed of the idea came from a blog post written by YA author Arthur Slade.  It's here...Arthur Slade's Magical Writing Desk.

So it's more or less been something that I thought was cool but didn't really give a lot of thought to until recently.  I was brainstorming Christmas ideas and thought...why not?  I looked on Amazon.  They sell treadmill laptop desks.  You get what you pay for, I suppose, so my version of the magical writing desk is essentially a molded piece of polycarbonate that straps over the treadmill and gives your laptop a shelf upon which to rest whilst your fingers do the walking.

Arthur's version is looking like a good investment.  I don't mean to complain...this is actually pretty cool.  But it's really more intended for people who want to do a little light web surfing or watch movies/read emails while they walk.  Not necessarily for people who want to walk and write.  That said...I'm walking and writing...at the same time.  Two birds.


This ties into my birthday present which was a fitbit.  And all the various step challenges my fellow fitbitters invite me to that I subsequently lose (by a small margin sometimes) because sometimes when given the choice of working out, writing, reading, or...whatever...sometimes I don't pick walking.  And so now walking comes standard with writing...win-win.  


The downsides:

  • no real convenient mouse placement.  I can use the laptops little pad, but it's a laptop I bought Leslie, and I'm not super familiar with it, so when I unplug the mouse, the pad is still not functional.  I just have to mess with it.  
  • the mounting height is not...ideal.  I can already feel my back twisting up because the height of the keyboard is about 6 inches above what good posture dictates.  
  • it's not spectacularly sturdy.  I can feel the laptop shift subtly as I type.  It's actually only a minor issue, because I'm really not struggling, but it's there.
The upsides: 
  • I'm writing.  And I'm exercising.  And I don't have to exercise for 45 minutes and then think...well, too bad I can't write...it's getting late.  
  • I can finally charge my phone while I'm on the treadmill.  About this time of night it's spent, and I text while I walk, but the charger doesn't quite reach the wall outlet.
  • It was $35.  There are LOTS of options on amazon.  One was $775.  I have no doubt that desk is a legit DESK, and if I were writing about THAT desk, I would just delete bullets 1-3 above from the "downsides".  But they'd be replaced by..."Jesus, I just spend $775 on a treadmill desk"
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You guys seem to like dividers.

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Lily loves going grocery shopping.  I took her Saturday.  We shop at the Giant Eagle.  When we shop at Giant Eagle we get Advantage Card savings which I can then cash in at Giant Eagle's gas station chain, "Get Go".  So I'd accumulated enough points that I could afford a full tank of gas.

Okay.  Because I'm "clever" I downloaded an app called "Key Ring".  It allowed me to combine all my little key fobs on one app and scan them at the register right from my phone instead of leafing through them on my actual literal key ring. It's super convenient.  I have at least four key fobs on it.  What I did NOT realize was that the Get Go would not be able to scan my phone that way at the pump.  It forces me to go inside to talk to the clerks.

THIS is where I found myself on Saturday.  I parked the car in front of the window at the gas station, turned the key, leaving the radio on for Lily, and walked in to get the guy to authorize my free gas. I pumped the gas, hopped in the car and ...nothing.  Battery dead.  

I called my buddy Jimmy and he...between about a dozen phone glitches...agreed to come give my car a jump.  Lifesaver.  In the meantime, I went back into the store to explain that I was stuck in front of the pump and that my autistic daughter was in the car and I would be in the car keeping her company in case she got anxious.

A few minutes later he came out and told me that his manager would give me a jump.  I called Jimmy off...got the car started and drove home.  Monday my car started and I drove it to work and home again.  Tuesday my car started and I drove it to work and home again.  Wednesday my car started and I drove it to work and home again...but today?  No.  It was dead again.  

A couple years ago I impulse bought a battery charger from Sam's Club. Honestly I didn't need it but...it just seemed so...cool.  Anyway, every year we pack this battery charger in the minivan and take it on vacation or camping because it has a comopressor for flat tires, jumper cables, and a phone charger on it.  And I figured...worst case scenario I never use it because:  I never ever have a flat tire or a dead battery.  And BEST case scenario, ironically...my battery dies and I get a flat and I use the thing to jump start myself or fill my tire and it payed for itself in one use ($89).  

So I used it this morning!  Woohoo!  And then I packed it in the car on the way to work and tonight...HURRAY!  Battery was dead again.  

Okay...so hop in the wayback machine.  About 8 months ago, I had to take Leslie's minivan in to the shop to get the battery replaced because it was dead.  So at LEAST i had the minivan to fall back on in the event that my car battery was dead, right?

Wrong.  Because they told me to make sure every couple weeks I get in the minivan and start it and run the engine just to keep the battery full.  And I didn't.  So it's dead.  Like...so dead the auto doors won't auto.  And the key doesn't click and the engine doesn't whir or rev or lurch.  It just...mechanically turns and nothing happens.  

So as I was leaving work today, I AGAIN used the battery charger and it got me home.  And THEN...I used it to start the minivan.  And THEN I waited 20 minutes or so to let the battery charge and shut it off and let it cool off and do you know what?

It was dead again.  Fucking thing.  So essentially I have to carry this battery charger with me everywhere I go like a damned oxygen tank which gives me PTSD anyway because of REAL oxygen tanks (not really, but come ON!) and I literally pray every time that I use it that it has enough charge to get the car started.

I think I'll be stopping to get a new battery for my car tomorrow.
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But hey!  Writing and walking!  Doing it!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

2016: Let's Get it Started

2016 started less stressfully than I feared.  When last we spoke, I had this weird seemingly conflicting feeling about not wanting to let go of 2015 because despite it being a big old pile of shit year-wise, it was MY big old pile of shit, and also contained within it my last memories of being with Leslie and holding her hand and kissing her head and saying goodbye. 

And despite my reassurances to myself that in fact December 31, 2015 was "just another day" it carried with it decades of meaning..."this is the last day of this year...you will start anew next year" and starting anew meant starting fresh...with Leslie not by my side.  And that was sucky.

And ultimately...like birthdays or New Years past...when the moment that the old year metamorphosed into the new...absolutely no meaning or feeling or loss or gain was conveyed, just as I'd "known" it wouldn't, and if I was a little more subdued than New Years past, I can perhaps be forgiven, but ultimately, it wasn't as painful to actually realize 2016, as it was anticipating ending 2015. 

If that makes any sense at all.
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Lily has started this new thing where she only sleeps until about 3:30 - 4:30 in the morning every morning.  I'm not in love with it.  The plus is that if I get to her before she's fully awake I can typically lie down next to her and cuddle her back to sleep.  The minus is...she doesn't give any indication that she's actually awake.  I must sleep relatively lightly, because the rustle of sheets and the change in breathing are typically all I need in order to know that when I creep quietly down the hall to check on her I'll find her sitting up in bed smiling cheerfully at me. 

Last night she slept until 3:15 or so.  I fell asleep next to her until about 3:30.  I crept quietly away and slept until about 4:15 when she woke up again.  Lather rinse repeat...I was back in bed by 4:30 until my alarm woke me up at 5:30. 
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We talked at group support about "giving ourselves permission to grieve".  The idea, essentially, that it can't always just be about taking care of the kids emotional needs, we also need to be able to process (I brought up "Oxygen Mask", "please secure your own mask before helping others", that sort of thing).  The facilitator I think made it too black and white.  One of the members in the group was really struggling and I found myself irrationally irritated with the soft-spoken discussion leader and leaping in. 

Everyone in that room is in a "similar" situation.  It's one thing to psychologically give yourself permission to grieve.  To me, that's far easier than the actual "execution".  Yeah, I'm fully permitted.  I've already decided that when I'm sad, I'll let Emma see it, and so what?  Frankly, I think it's good for her to see that I care, and that I'm sad.  I think it normalizes it for her.  Gives her permission to openly grieve too.  That said, it's like anything.  I can give myself permission to have a couple beers at night, but exercising that option means not being able to be 100% if Lily wakes and needs me. 

There are lots of things I can choose to do, but choosing one thing sometimes means avoiding/ignoring/neglecting another.  Life's way more complicated than just...'choosing to do X'.  But I do get that if you are the kind of person who really hasn't allowed himself/herself to grieve...you should.  Even if finding time for yourself is harder than what most people might think.

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I'm going to get a tattoo. 

I'm doing some...soul searching.  I've always wanted a tattoo.  I just never had anything I felt strongly enough about that I wanted to mark myself up permanently.  And then when the kids came...I don't know...I think I just sort of felt it was frivolous.  And it probably is.  But frivolous and having to explain that shit to Leslie...and frivolous and not having to answer to her...well those are two different things. 

I want something that symbolizes a psychopomp.  A butterfly was initially what I was going with.  Then I considered a raven.  Now I'm thinking of an owl.  Apparently the owl is specifically something that is spoken of in Polish folklore as a carrier or guide of souls to heaven, and Leslie was...very Polish.  So it seems fitting.  Also I'm thinking of having "Isaiah 41:10" or part of that text "I will uphold you with my righteous right hand" added because it's something that Leslie drew strength and comfort from, even going so far as to raise her right hand when she would struggle to breathe walking up the stairs to our bedroom so that she could take God's hand and accept his help. 

I'm still a ways off, but I'd love to hear anyone's thoughts or suggestions, even tips for how to work with a tattoo artist to get the design you want, or how to find a really good tattoo artist. 

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Finally...I'm looking at trying to by a laptop shelf for  my treadmill.  I talked about choices above.  Sometimes my choice is to exercise.  Sometimes it's to read.  Sometimes it's to write or play guitar.  But I find I don't have time to choose all of the above.

I want to write more.  If I can do that and get my exercise at the same time?  Well...that's just killing two birds with one stone.  One choice/option I don't have to turn aside from in order to pursue another.