Nov 172012
 

Thursday was my father’s seventy-third birthday and I spent part of the afternoon, with my mother, checking out the hospice suite where he is going to die. To say it was a surreal moment doesn’t even touch it.

In August my dad went to the hospital for a cardiac catherization because he had a stress test at his cardiologist’s office that didn’t go very well. Dad walked into that hospital under his own steam hand in hand with my mom. He’s been there ever since. The test found blockages that led to bypass surgery where there were complications that caused the six hour surgery to last nearly twelve hours. A few hours later the surgeon had to go back in because there was bleeding. All the blood thinners Dad has been taking for years had done their job so well he wasn’t clotting properly. Then there was the pericarditis that no one knew about before the surgery that kept filling Dad’s chest with fluid. That required another heart surgery. By this time he was so bloated and his kidneys were so fatigued they shut down. The doctors started dialysis to fix that issue and give his kidneys a rest. His breathing was labored and his oxygen levels were low which resulted in a ventilator. Somehow he ended up with a tracheotomy so the ventilator goes right into his neck. This means he can’t speak, eat or drink. To compensate he has a gastric feeding tube.  He is now in bed almost all the time except for an hour or two that he spends sitting up in a chair and machines are performing all his bodily functions. It’s astounding how his condition has snowballed. He walked into that hospital under his own steam and now he has to deal with all this and a dozen other indignities I prefer not to share with the internet.

Dad is a big man. Always has been. As a young, healthy adult he was six foot one and two hundred thirty pounds; his fighting weight. He liked to drink, loved a good meal and smoked like a chimney. He stopped drinking forty years ago. Stopped smoking thirty-five years ago. He and good food, however, have a life-long love affair. Not surprisingly he packed on the pounds and was eventually diagnosed with type2 diabetes. He’s been battling that since the late 80s.

When I was a little kid he was kind of scary. He was a US Marine once upon a time and studied to be an Irish Christian Brother for a while. He’s big and loud and honestly he’s complete crap with little kids. He never got the knack of dealing with them which sucks if you were one of his kids. By the time we each reached an age where he knew how to interact with us we were all done trying to deal with him. He did have his moments though.

I have a lot of fond memories mixed in with some misery. When I was in kindergarten he taught me how to play cards. By third grade we were playing chess together. He helped me study for the Richmond County Spelling Bee and thought it was funny that I was a Catholic School student and got eliminated for misspelling ‘religious’. I forgot the second ’i’.  In high school I would stay up late discussing philosophy with him. He loves Thomas Aquinas. He introduced me to the work of Thomas Merton. He loves baroque music and specifically Bach and gave me an appreciation of it. The night after his original surgery I was in my parent’s home keeping Mom company. I went down into his office to get her some batteries. His space is the same sort of organized chaos that I have in my art studio here in my home. I realized that he and I have a lot more in common than I would have wanted to admit when I was younger. The house is filled with books. There is a stack next to his chair just like the stack next to my bed. There is usually a New York Times crossword puzzle on top of his book pile and he usually finishes it. I prefer other puzzles. We both love a good mystery and get a sense of satisfaction when exercising “our little grey cells.” He’s an introvert and so am I. We both experience and observe things at the same time. If you aren’t an introvert it’s hard to explain that. If you are an introvert you know exactly what I mean. To think of his agile mind trapped in his deteriorating body is almost too horrible to contemplate. I think it would drive me insane to be in his position right now.

The Hospice Unit is in the same hospital on a different floor. You wouldn’t believe it if you were there. The energy is completely different. It even smells different. The nurses were great in how they talked to my mom. The compassion was palpable. The head of the unit was explaining the philosophy of hospice care and how they take care of the whole patient and that his comfort is the priority. While she was talking I was wondering why that wasn’t part of the regular hospital care. Why does each system of Dad’s body have its own doctor? The heart surgeon is really pleased with the progress his heart has made. The rest of Dad has fallen apart but the heart surgery was a success. His kidneys failed so he needed to be treated by a kidney specialist. His breathing was inadequate so he needed a respiratory specialist. He has wounds now that aren’t healing properly so an infection control/wound care guy is now part of the team. But they don’t seem to really be a team. They are each acting separately on different parts of Dad as if those parts were not connected to each other and to the man who’s been using them all for seventy-three years. The hospice director went on about palliative care and I wondered if that is even paid lip service in the rest of the hospital. If that had been the philosophy of care from the beginning how would Dad be faring now?

I am amazed at what modern medicine can do but I’m not convinced it should be done in all cases. Looking back over the last three months we are all pretty much in agreement that the original surgery was a bad idea. The doctors aren’t saying that. Only one of them will even hint at it. At the time, not having the surgery wasn’t even really discussed as an option.  Apparently the phrase “I’m sorry, there is nothing we can do for you.” is gone from the practice of modern medicine. I’ve met most of his doctors and they seem like decent people. No one set out to cause pain and suffering but that is the end result. It would have been better for Dad if his pulmonary artery ruptured in the comfort of his own home than in the operating room that first day. It would have sucked for a minute or two instead of slow torture over months. It would have broken Mom’s heart all at once instead of chipping away at it while she helplessly watched her husband die by degrees.

On Wednesday he told my mother that he was tired of it all, his body is wearing out and he wants to go home to God. To watch them together now is to see what marriage is all about. They celebrated their forty-eighth wedding anniversary in September in his hospital room. Over the years I have watched them snap at each other, kiss each other, yell, curse and walk away from each other. I’ve also seen them be there for each other like she is there for him now. They really are devoted to each other. The hospice director asked Mom when she thought they’d be ready to move Dad into the unit. Mom burst into tears. She knows this is the right thing for him. It’s what he wants and so she wants it for him. She doesn’t want him to suffer anymore. She said “We’ve been together for fifty years. It’s like you’re asking me when do I want to be cut in half.”

While Mom and I were upstairs the nurses put my dad back in his bed. I came back to his room to find my husband telling him all about what our kids have been up to. Dennis tells a very good story and Dad was smiling. We all have to wash our hands and wear rubber gloves in Dad’s hospital room but I could still feel how cold and swollen his hands were when I held them. It’s comforting and unnerving at the same time to see how at peace he is with his decision to stop treatment. He has lost so much weight he’s back down to his ‘fighting weight’. His muscle tone is all but gone. He looks old and frail and nothing like the scary guy I remember from childhood. I kissed him good-bye and brushed back his hair. He told me he loved me. I have no idea how I held it together but I did. I smiled at him and he smiled at me. I left that room knowing full well that I may never see him again. I was fine until we were driving home. Dennis had the radio scan for a station and it landed on classical music. I heard Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” and I started bawling. In spite of everything and as long as I live, he will be my daddy and I’ll be his little girl. It’s just not right that my cat had a nicer death than my dad.

This is my dad and me in 1966. He’s about twenty-six years old and I’m a chubby seven or eight months old. I nearly lost this photo when our water heater blew. I’m so glad the important parts are still there.

May 042012
 

One week ago, right about now, I was in a Master Class taught by James Wells. He took us through “The Sharing Process” using deliberately chosen tarot cards to define situations in our lives. He lead us through holding space for each other while we each expressed our challenges and gratitude with the issue we defined. Taking turns and being present with love while the other spoke with honesty was a deep and wonderful way to start this amazing conference.

James went on from there walking us through the stages of grief once again using tarot. We chose from our decks the Major Arcana that we thought represented each stage as defined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. We mixed them back into the deck and then did a reading for ourselves based on which stage showed up first. There were more questions to ask ourselves about the situation or person we were grieving and more cards drawn and interpreted. For me, at this time, grieving a loss is not an issue. When I went through my cards “Acceptance” was the first card up. (This is why I love tarot so much. It just gets it.) Over the course of my life I have lost quite a few people. When anniversaries come around this reading will be very useful to me. I can imagine it working well with a trusted client as well.

The last part of his class was to use tarot to deal with a Curveball Experience. Sometimes awful things happen suddenly and with no warning. Getting a handle on the situation and to help yourself process it James created the Curveball layout. Again, not apropos to my life right now but the genius and gentle power of it guarantees that it will be in my repertoire should the need arise for myself or a client.

Everything about this class was strong and gentle, just like James himself. His ideas and processes are very loving and brave. Digging deep into yourself in the quest for understanding yourself, your feelings and the best way to process it all is scary work sometimes. James didn’t flinch from this. He lost his beloved father just the past January and yet held space for all of us to do this work.

This class was a truly singular experience that will stay with me for a very long time. Thank you, Sir James.

Jan 012012
 

“In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” ~ Brother David Steindl-Rast

1 ~ The snowstorm right after Christmas 2010 cancelled my daughter’s flight back to Georgia so I got to spend a few more days with her than I thought I would have.

2 ~ With all the snow we had at the beginning of 2011 I am grateful for our twelve year old snowthrower. It really earned its keep this year.

3 ~ I found the perfect fabric for my kitchen curtains on sale. Then I took it to Home Depot because they have this nifty computer that matches the colors you bring in with the perfect paint. I painted my kitchen and made the curtains in January, 2011 and it still thrills me every time I walk in there.

4 ~ Baby number three graduated from high school. That’s three down and two to go.

5 ~ My tarot business has grown to be more than a self-supporting hobby and I have some wonderful clients.

6 ~ I was able to go to Readers Studio a day early and spend part of that day in the Metropolitan Museum of Art with one of my favorite artists. She invited me and Karen and it was a lot of fun!

7 ~ I spent the rest of that day with four amazing women (Karen doesn’t have a blog). We had a bunch of laughs, some dinner and Debbie gave us a highly entertaining tour of the area near Columbus Circle.

8 ~ I met another of my favorite artists and her fascinating husband when they stopped by Readers Studio for the afternoon. We hung out in the hotel bar for a few hours getting acquainted. Such fun, real people.

9 ~ I bought a morning glory to plant near my mailbox with the idea that it would climb the post and be lovely. There was so much rain alternating with hot sun that that one scrawny plant turned into this:

How cool is that? There is a mailbox and a planter under there somewhere.

10 ~ I worked the Great American Weekend with two good friends and even though half of the fair got rained out we had a wonderful time. It was actually quite nice to sit in our booth in the pouring rain and just talk.

11 ~ Hurricane Irene actually saved me money. We have a big weeping willow in our yard. There was a large limb that died this spring and was going to cost us several hundred dollars to remove. Before we had the money together Irene came through and knocked it off the rest of the tree.

12 ~ My husband successfully removed a few squirrels who had made a home in the roof of our enclosed porch before they caused too much damage.

13 ~ The stuff that the contractor used to repair the exterior of the enclosed porch is squirrel proof.

14 ~ The Gaian Tarot came out in a mass-produced version.

15 ~ My husband and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary and we still really dig each other. To paraphrase him, breaking us up now would be like trying to separate conjoined twins. Sweet sentiment in an odd, quirky kind of way. Sort of sums us up nicely.

16 ~ I’m grateful for Netflix. I know they raised their prices but they are still less expensive than going to the movies which is something I cannot do in my pajamas. I can, however, hang out with my husband, in our pajamas and watch all of the new Battlestar Galactica streaming from Netflix.

17 ~ Baby number four got into the technical school she’s been talking about since she was twelve and it is everything she hoped it would be.

18 ~ Baby number one came home for a week during the summer and it was nice to have all my girls together for a few days.

19 ~ We had the first ever psychic fair held in our town and it went pretty well. We’ll be doing that again.

20 ~ This was the first time in twenty-two years that I didn’t have to go trick-or-treating with my kids. Not only that but the older girls took care of answering the door for the neighbors’ kids and I was able to sort of take the evening off.

21 ~ I’m grateful to and for my youngest brother. He got my son a job and let my boy live with him rent-free for a few months so he could save up to rent a place of his own.

22 ~ I’m grateful for modern medicine. My sister-in-law was hospitalized for weeks with a resistant staph infection that nearly killed her a few months ago and now she is almost 100% recovered.

23 ~ I won the Steampunk Tarot. I still can’t believe it. Barbara Moore had two copies printed up at a local print shop. She kept one, raffled off the other and I won it.

24 ~ My husband and I have gotten into a meditation routine. We used to go to an Om meditation once a month. It wasn’t held over the summer and scheduling conflicts have kept us away too many times. For months now we have been Oming on our own every Sunday. I feel it when we miss a day.

25 ~ 2011 was not the most stressful year of my life. It wasn’t even close but it was troublesome. It showed me how much better I can handle things now than I did in the past. I’m very grateful for the experiences that tested me, pissed me off, scared me and that I’m still here and doing fine.

Dec 302011
 

I don’t know how this year has been for you. The general consensus among my friends, family and clients is that 2011 cannot end soon enough.

I live in the Hudson Valley and we here are no strangers to snowstorms and blizzards but we usually only get one or two big ones a season. Starting after Christmas last year we were hit with at least half a dozen. We skipped right over Spring into a very hot, wet Summer which ended with Hurricane Irene followed a week later by Tropical Storm Lee. That one-two punch destroyed roads, bridges, powerlines, large portions of a few towns up here and many of the local farms. Somewhere in there we had a 5.8 earthquake that by our standards was unheard of but California would consider a minor annoyance. An F2 tornado touched down in our town destroying one house and dozens of big old trees in a one mile swath. Tornadoes like that almost never happen. The hot weather continued into October tricking the trees into forgetting it was Autumn so they still had all their leaves when we had eighteen inches of snow fall on them. All that afternoon and into the night we could hear boughs and limbs breaking and crashing to the ground. By Halloween most of the folks in town were a bit frazzled. There were even a few jokes about keeping an eye out for plagues of frogs and locusts. Folks are bracing themselves for what this Winter might bring.

It’s not just the weather that is rattling everyone. The economy hasn’t bounced back as hoped. There are many vacant shops in town and quite a few people are still out of work. It’s difficult not to get caught up in the low-grade anxiety that seems to be everywhere. Each person who has wished me a Merry Christmas or a Happy Holiday has added that they can’t wait for this year to be over. I completely understand.

I don’t do New Year’s Eve parties. It’s just not my thing. I spend New Year’s Eve cleaning my house, catching up on my laundry and generally making sure I don’t bring unfinished business from one year into the next. Another thing I do, that seems to be a common practice for many, is to take an inventory of the outgoing year. Some people do this in a very involved way but I’m partial to Chris Guillebeau‘s practice. He simply asks what worked and what didn’t.  Truthfully I don’t even write this down. It’s more of a mental exercise for me and I go through it for a few weeks leading up to New Year’s Eve.

While I was thinking about this and how best to get out from under the anxiety it occurred to me you may want to join in. January is usually a down month for people. Business is slow. The weather is harsh. The excitement of the holidays is gone and there is the inevitable crash that comes afterward. Instead of New Year’s resolutions I prefer to come up with ideas to explore in the coming year. There is much less pressure with this approach and much more joy. What better way to start this off than to make January be about joy.

This will be simple and we can do it together. Little things every day or so to shift our focus. Rethinking exercises to bring us back to joy and squash the anxiety. Are you in?

Great! On January 1st I will post the 25 things I am grateful for from 2011. I invite you to do the same either here in the comments, on my Facebook Page or on your own blog (please link back here so everyone knows what’s going on). In keeping with the theme of Joyful January  I will be using the Joie de Vivre Tarot as my deck of the month. Here’s to making it a very happy new year.

Jul 092011
 

I like everything about the Farmers’ Market. The produce, naturally, and the variety of vendors but mostly I like the actual farmers. I’ve been going to this market for years now and have become friendly with quite a few vendors. It’s easy when we all live in the same community. That’s the nicest thing about this market: these farmers are my neighbors. When I first started going to this market it was just a unique shopping experience. Now I spend an hour or more there catching up with Doris and Diana. Doris is a riot. She keeps a space in her booth for the vegetables that get deformed in bizarre ways. They are perfectly edible just weird looking. Some of them are nearly pornographic. Those she shows only to certain customers. Diana has the best potatoes and our youngest children are in school together.  Maddy and her husband, Joe, the bread vendors, ask after my husband and have him on their prayer list. He’s in the Reserves and they put him on their list when he deployed a few years ago. They keep him there just in case.

Quite a few towns in this county have a market and they are on different days of the week. This comes in handy on the days I miss my favorite market http://www.goshennychamber.com/wordpress/ but I try not to miss it. (Sorry, the link dohickey isn’t cooperating with me so I put the whole URL in)

Farming is a lot of work and it’s hard work. Everytime I go to the market I marvel at how inexpensive the food is considering the effort to produce it.  No one gets rich being a farmer but there is something alluring about the energy on a farm and it carries over into the market. Being at Doris’ farm, standing in the Black Dirt (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Dirt_Region) and seeing acres of vegetables sprouting and growing touches something primal. To be the ones working with that soil to coax those vegetables out takes a certain kind of personality. I’m eternally grateful for these people. Without them I’d have nothing to eat.

When we first moved here twelve years ago, I planted a vegetable garden. I was quite proud of myself. It wasn’t very big but I had lettuce, zucchini, tomatoes, sunflowers and they were growing beautifully. In one day a groundhog and a handful of deer ate the whole thing. Ever since any garden I plant has been a battle between myself and the wildlife who think I’ve put out a buffet. I’m not giving up on it but until then I’ll be gladly exchanging my money for Doris’, Diana’s, Maddy’s and Joe’s goods.

This is what I think of whenever I pull the Six of Earth from the Gaian Tarot.