Grief sucks: An encore performance

Image: Screenshot from ScienceAlert.com

The planet hunters found an earth-like exoplanet orbiting the star 40 Eridani A, which is written into some of the original Star Trek novels (Suck it, J. J. Abrams) as the star orbited by the planet Vulcan. And after posting the link several places, I realized that I can’t come home and tell Dad, who I watched the show with first, nearly 50 years ago.

#griefisabitch

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Gratitude

I ran into one of Dad’s doctors today. They’re hard to catch since as hospitalists they don’t see patients for office visits. He got on the elevator I was using. We both looked at each other as though we’d seen each other before. Then I read his name on his coat and realized that he’d seen Dad in those final weeks. I thanked him for what he did for Dad. I called the case managers who had worked with Dad. Hopefully I can cross paths with the other three doctors and the nurses. Leaving messages is fine if that’s all you’re able to do. It’s nice to be able to thank someone in person.

A year of living intuitively

Actually, probably for life. It’s how the proverbial ‘year of living dangerously’ applies to me right now.

2018 has become quite the year of change, and it probably began on 16 Dec. 2017 when my SUV caught fire. I lost my Dad in early June of this year, and I’m still adjusting to that. This new approach to living is probably related to the changes his death has spurred.

I use several terms from psychology here. What I have to say is based a little on things I’ve read, and mostly on my observations.

I guess you could say that I grew up with an underdeveloped intuitive sense. The subject never came up during my elementary and Jr. High years. By the time high school arrived I was on the late 1970s version of STEM-track courses…algebra, geometry, 2nd year algebra, trigonometry, and pre-calculus. My schooling was one of right and wrong answers, black and white, checkmarks and exes. While life at home didn’t constantly reinforce this emphasis on exactness, it didn’t encourage fuzzy perspectives enough to balance the binary-ness.

My first experience with non-binary ‘thinking’ in an education setting was physics class at UT Austin. Physics was really bad about that, with a score of 23 being a B, and there were always two or three kids on the front row who scored in the upper 90s on tests. The whole experience was kinda surreal. I really don’t remember being graded on a curve in high school, and certainly not before that. A couple of my teachers might have mentioned it in grade school but memory doesn’t serve.

As a child I’d hear the words womens’ intuition but never mens’. At the same time I’d hear about men and boys and gut instinct or going with their gut in making decisions.

It’s the same thing.

It’s a tool. It’s necessary for your survival as a human, along with your intellect, your feelings, and emotions.

Women seem to have a better and certainly less aggressive way of operating in it. I think it has to do with the way most girls are raised. When I was four or five and in nursery school I was taught two jingles. Girls are made up of sugar and spice, and everything nice, and boys are made up of frogs and snails, and puppy dog tails. It’s a cute picture when you’re approaching kindergarten. Growing up girls carry the sweetness they had as children into womanhood. Boys are taught to suppress the sweetness and embrace anger and aggression as they move into manhood. This is not healthy.

For my entire adult life I’ve had trouble seeing the grey. I’ve been pretty judgmental, and that’s not limited to my time in Christianity, although I have found western religion to be rather enabling in that regard. I’ve viewed the world as black and white, while seeing greys in the mirror. That’s messed up. And it’s something I am trying to change.

Then what does it mean, living intuitively? It’s taking a more right-brained approach to how I view the world. There are blacks and whites, but they’re dots next to one another on paper. They’re pixels on a screen. And if you back away a little you can see the grey. On top of that if you stare at the grey for long enough the colors start to manifest. It means doing things that aren’t always well thought out. It’s switching directions in the middle of something…sometimes several times before completion. It’s sudden changes of plans. It’s stopping to help a stranger instead of heading to wherever you thought you were headed during your lunch break. It’s often chaotic. It’s random. It doesn’t always make sense. It’s letting the heart lead.

For someone who found comfort in the concrete, a spacewalk, even tethered, is kinda scary. I sometimes feel an urge to retreat to the familiar…to plan it all out. But what’s familiar is decreasingly useful. I’m sure I’ll second-guess my intuitive direction, and I’ll probably screw something up and have to get out the mop. It’s okay. I give myself permission to make a mess. It’s a life-long learning process and not something with a cap and gown at the end.

My father

Dad passed away on Monday, 4 June, 2018 at the age of 82. I mentioned going through people asking if I was ‘okay’ while he was still in the hospital. I’m still trying to figure out what that word means. I am working to help the dust settle and get his things and estate managed. I have a job to maintain and my mom to help out, so my life hasn’t simplified much now two months out. I’ll have a larger write-up about him soon.

No. I am not okay.

My father has been in the hospital for over a month, with a week in the middle, in a nursing facility for rehab. Most of the time he has been bedridden. It really doesn’t look good, and I have no idea how long he has.

Every time I post an update somewhere, people ask if I’m okay. I appreciate the concern but I don’t like being asked that because I don’t have a simple answer. I don’t like that question because I feel like I can’t answer honestly in an off-the-cuff fashion like the way people say “fine.”

It’s complicated. And most people who ask you how you’re doing in social settings are looking for a one or two word answer. They’re not expecting a full buffer-dump of details about all of the crap you’re dealing with.

Right now I am extremely tired. I’m stressed out more than I have been in my entire life. I’m trying to maintain a job, make sure there’s food in the house, get my mom to her appointments when she has them, check on my dad, and make some very unpleasant and difficult decisions on his behalf. I’m also trying to take care of myself, pay my bills, and get out and spend time with friends and in nature, and get as much rest as I can. I am probably dealing with a certain amount of depression and anxiety. I’m seeing someone monthly to talk that out. But none of this will begin to resolve itself until my dad is better.

I know everyone has their hearts in the right place when they ask, but when I see the question “Are you okay?” my first reaction is to roll my eyes.

I’ll be okay, just not right now.

But it has always felt like I was there…

It was 1967. I was 4. For a couple of years I had been going to a daycare place a couple of streets over from my grandparents’ house. I never liked being there. The owner and her daughter were mean and would spank us or threaten to spank us over the most trivial things. One Thursday the owner read some story to us about a farm. Then she had us line up single-file and she asked us where cows were found. The thing is, if you didn’t give her the answer she wanted you got your hand swatted with a 12″ ruler.

Every kid was saying the wrong thing. There was even a girl ahead of me who said, “in the country where the farms are,” and she got swatted. I had seen a few Tarzan movies and probably had looked at one or more of the comic books. So when my turn came up I said, “In the jungle.” She hit my hand several times with that ruler, and it stayed sore the rest of that day. When she was done with her interrogation of the last child in the line she told us that a cow is found on a farm. I may or may not have seen African buffalo in the movies, but the female of the species is referred to as a ‘cow.’

After I got back home I told my aunt that my hand hurt. It was red but not swollen, as far as I can remember. She asked what happened and I told her that the woman read us a story and hit us if we answered a question wrong. My aunt told my mom and grandmother, and they had to talk my mom down from going and confronting the woman. And I started going to a different facility after that.

I have a memory of  my aunt coming to me and telling me that they were taking me to this woman’s home to watch me for a while, while the adults all went and did something. I remember being there for several hours. I did not trust the woman, and I was scared of her. Three or four hours seems like an eternity to a 4-year-old. It was so long that I started crying. And eventually my aunt came back to get me.

Recently I told my mother about that day from 50 years ago, and I asked her if she remembered what everyone was out doing that necessitated leaving me with that woman after what had happened. She said that they hated that woman for what she did and that none of them would have ever taken me to her home to babysit me. She suggested it was either a dream or something my mind cobbled together due to trauma. I have bits of memories from dreams over the years. This has always felt like it actually happened. There wasn’t anything ‘off’ about the surroundings like you’d have in a dream. kind of the way you can tell the CG effects in a movie from actual scenery outside.

I’m going to take my mom at her word, that they wouldn’t have put me through being babysat by that woman. I may have in fact dreamt it but it didn’t fade like most of the other dreams I’ve had, and it’s always felt so real.

Raindance

One night a shaman stood in a field, barefoot. The ground was riddled with cracks. He scratched at the dirt a couple of times with the toes of his right foot. A scorpion crawled up from between the cracks in the soil and the shaman grinned as it scurried across his feet. He squatted and placed his left palm in its path. Lifting it, he watched the scorpion’s pincers wave in the air as it sat in his hand, the starlight glinted slightly off its black exoskeleton. He let it go and stood again. The eight stars of Orion’s bow moved into view overhead. He closed his eyes again, and slowed his breathing. His diaphragm expanded as his breathing deepened. The aroma of the air entering his nostrils became heavy, dusty, the scent of an approaching storm. Eyes still closed, he could hear, or thought he could hear, the first drops of water descending through the air, traveling down from thick, dark clouds. They were large drops and they stung a little when they hit his forehead. Lightning danced from cloud to cloud and back. Seconds later its report reached his ears. The rain hit the ground around him like a high-pitched, but muted drumroll. He felt dirt, still dry, fly up from a raindrop and land on his foot. The drops came faster, and he began to feel the dirt moisten. Then mud began to squish up between his toes. There was a second thunderclap, and silence. The shaman opened his eyes. The red star Betelgeuse, which makes up Orion’s right shoulder, was now directly overhead. He began to walk across the dry earth and plant stubble.

Roughly a day later, a half-foot of rain fell on the area.

Most of us don’t have that depth of connection with the water element. Our world is concrete, paved. We spend a chunk of our lives riding, commuting. We schedule things around the weather. Rain is many times an inconvenience. While it’s irrigating fields and our yards it’s making the roads slick. It serves both as a blessing and a danger. We’re not standing on raw land feeling mud squish between our toes. We’re not even standing in our backyards feeling that. We’re driving or riding home in it, probably at night…a thousand things on our minds. In one part of our thoughts we are happy to not have to water our lawns and gardens for a bit. In another part of our thoughts we know we’re going to have to get out in this slop shortly and slosh our way to the door. It’s a borderline love-hate and there’s no escaping it if we continue our urban, rat-racy lives.

I still complain about the rain. I don’t like driving in it, day or night. And living in mild drought areas, when I complain someone is always there to remind me that we ‘need’ the rain. And we do. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over wishing that I didn’t have to get out in it. Maybe the key to that is pausing the rat-race itself. I think what I’ll start doing is to stop and stand in the rain for a couple of minutes before I open my umbrella. I’d rather be on that open field, but until that becomes my reality it’ll have to remain the stuff of vacations. I need to feel the connection to the water, to be happy when it comes, even if the circumstances aren’t what I’d prefer.