Many Thanks

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Thanksgiving is a weird holiday. When I was a kid it was a favorite. I loved the gathering of family with no expectation of gifts. I loved the giant potluck.  And I loved the idea that we were celebrating the blending of cultures. As I got older and realized what really happened to the natives on this land, it put quite the damper on the festivities. You know there is no Native American out there who says “Well, it was hard at first, but things really worked out in the end. We are so glad you came.”  No, that’s not what I’m getting these days. But hey, I am ready to be proven wrong. Please introduce new data that says we saved them from a terrible existence of heathy foods, responsible farming, guiltless sex and shameless nudity on warm summer days.

IMG_1697.jpgI don’t understand how it can be wrong to stop feeling loyalty to an institution, company or nation that has repeatedly proven that it does not share your values. Why would anyone brag about blind loyalty? 

I also don’t understand how anyone would remain in a place that doesn’t suit the lifestyle that they want.  Sure, there is honor in fighting for what you think is best, but you also have to be smart about the battles. It’s a big country and world; move around a bit.

What makes one person who left their 1st country to make a better life for themselves in the US get called hero and another who did the same is labeled a thief and a potential terrorist? What’s the difference between the two? A piece of paper? The amount of money they make?

Why do we fault people for adapting, progressing and surviving?

Darkness - Months In

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I wrote what you see below in September of 2016, five months into dealing with my nieces death and my battle with breast cancer. Though, no conclusions were drawn at that time, no happy ending in sight, I feel it might be important to share for those who may have similar feelings. 

I have developed quite the knack for re-booting my life. If you are keeping score in this sort of thing, I feel obliged to tell you that my record of address changes, career moves and general twists of fate is longer than my mental list of reasons that Donald Trump should not be elected president. I'm a damned reluctant expert on starting over. 

But this time, this time it's harder. This time I feel something brewing that I can't quite put a finger on. 

I think it's the fact that I have been shit kicked into cold reality in these last five months with the death of my niece and my mastectomy. I have been forced to see things through a different lens. Forced. And this brutal truth has changed me. Again.

I've had some rough changes before. April 19, 1995 and Sept 11, 2001 come to mind. I bet many of you reading this can relate to that. 9/11drew a dark line down the middle of our lives. There's a Before and an After; those two sides of our lives being drastically different. It's rough.

Now I have another dark line running over the timeline of my life, one that feels more like a wound, a slice. It's the Before 2016 and the After 2016. 2016 isn't over. I'm not even on the other side. 

I'm not even on the other side of this. I don't think there is "another side" to get to. 

Crisis, for me, has always had a beginning, middle and end. Or, if not an end, then a great deal of reasoning on my part as to how I will emerge from the ground, stronger, smarter. I find peace. It may take a while, but I find a way to live with the change that occurred, mostly believing that some mystery has been solved and that I am better for it. But here's the thing about McKenzie taking her own life: I will never solve this. I can never make it better - not for my sister and her family, not for myself. I have found the first thing in my life that no one and nothing can fix.

It's like learning to breathe with a collapsed lung. Like trying to walk without legs. And while I know I am loved, I am prayed for and I can even find ways to laugh again, I am acutely aware of this trauma, this loss and my guilt surrounding it. See, she will never come back. And I can't wrap my head around that no matter how I try.

I have this friend whose husband died a few years ago. She writes about her loss on Facebook and she holds nothing back. I imagine it is too much for some of our friends to read. It's heartbreaking. But I read what she says and I feel grateful that she is honest. Her honesty lets me know that I am not losing my mind, or if I am, I am not alone.

Shortly after Kenzie died I wrote about my struggles with depression, particularly in my youth. What I didn't know at the time was that her suicide flipped a switch in me, from light to dark. I would find myself awake at night, my thoughts spiraling out of control, shaking my head "no', trying to rid my mind of images of her and fighting off sadness like I was fighting for my own life. I was never a drug user, but I must say that in those nights, I was reminded of stories I have heard about people being sober for years, but then they take one hit of something and it all comes back to them - the memory of the high and the crash. The body reacts. That's what I have felt happening to me. I had forgotten some of what I used to feel. But now. I know. It's clear. My body remembers that feeling of hopelessness and I have felt like a victim of my own memories. 

I so much want her to be home, you see. That will never change. I want her prom photos that will never be taken, the football homecoming corsage that will not be worn, the videos of her cheering that my sister will now not send. I dreamt of visiting her at university, the tears that would roll on her graduation from UCLA.  Worse still, I want those years after high school and college when I was sure we would have been closer as she grew into an adult and came to see all of us in a new light. She would have looked back and known that the time of darkness could be merely a season. We would have the shared knowledge that time brings to people like us who see it all but live anyway.

All I Wanna Do

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It's unbelievable to me that when I wasn't working I could hardly find a thing to say to anyone. And now, the fuller my calendar is, all I want do is write.

And music... music is just so damn good lately.

Wildflowers-field-sunset.jpgThis morning I was downloading some music of artists that I discovered at the BottleRock Festival this past weekend. There are, apparently, a lot of bands called something like "The Wild" or Wild. Skipping thru songs, trying to find the band I heard, I come across There's A Darkness (But There's Also A Light). NOT the band I saw, but the lyrics pop up and I read.

I used to kill myself to feel like I was alive, 

But since I lost you friend, I learned it was a lie… 

All those walls we build so tall and wide, 

It’s a coward’s way to be alive. 

Well… the last few years I’ve been going out of my mind, 

trying to grow up but not feel old at the same time… 

I hid the pain that lived inside… 

I was hopeless; you gave me a reason to fight. 

I always wake up on the road, 

singing songs about going home. 

I’m a hypocrite and a ghost, 

I haunt the cities between the coasts, 

so I know that the ones that we love never really leave, 

so I’ll see you in the rearview… smiling from the backseat. 

We’re for the ones who scream love…loud at the night. 

There’s a darkness, but there’s also a light. 

All these memories get jumbled, 

like some book that I read… 

as a kid and could imagine a thousand ways for it to end, 

but I know you can’t shed dead skin without shedding a few tears, 

so all those times I wanna disappear, I know you’ll be right here. 

…and to the wolves I’ll scream love… in your name like a flame. 

You taught me to never be ashamed.

I read and I begin to cry, nearly wailing, as I am struck by one memory of McKenzie in the backseat of a car talking to me about, I'm not even sure what. But she is smiling, after having been a bit annoyed with someone or something. I have talked to her and told her a story and she is smiling. I am thinking to myself, "She's going to be OK. I will be her sounding board. I will be for her what I needed when I was in her shoes. She will know she's not alone."  

That memory of a hope that I once had makes me admit to myself that I so desperately miss it - the hope. I will say it - As long as someone is alive, we can hope that all will be ok. But when they are gone... the potential, the plans, all the possibility - it's all gone too. I go back to what I have said before. The hardest thing for me in all this, is not that McKenzie hurt the way she did; what I find so debilitating is that I cannot fix this. Ever.

August turned 11 in March. She is beginning her walk into puberty and I see her emotions rise and fall like a tide. I am on this walk with her, though she may not realize it yet. She is standing at the start of it all and she is recognizing that there is a Darkness. And I am there, saying, Yes, but there is also a light.  I am no longer a holiday gawker at the Darkness. I am a seasoned, scarred warrior. I am familiar with the terror of the unknown beyond what I would ever wish upon the worst of men, though, to her, I am just her mom. 

Moms and Dads, aunts and uncles, let's teach these kids that there is no reason to be ashamed of the Darkness. Let's walk with them and leave behind that false rule that they must go alone. Let's tell them our secrets, lay out our mistakes and let's smile and shrug and say, "Parts of my life really sucked. But here is how I got through it. Here is how I get to the next day when a night is so dark and I am so scared that I can barely speak." Let's let them wake us in the middle of the night, let's show them how to embrace time off to care for emotions. The world is full of disappointment and hard knocks for our kids, be their safe place. Get into the details of their lives and show them how to fight their way to the light. Be the light.

Not Today

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Some day. A day far into the future that I cannot see in my mind, 

I will think of you in a nostalgic way; 

the way a loved one should be remembered.

I'll tell your story without the feeling of a raw injury 

being scraped

Without the threat of ruin and finality 

that traps me, 

desperate and short of oxygen.

Not today.

Today I gasp for air 

just because your image entered my mind.

A song begins on the radio, 

like a match burning down

Without warning, I am screaming to you;

Thinking that if I can scream loud enough, 

with enough demand, 

you will hear me

As if I could save you.

I reach back into your 15 years 

the way a drowning animal reaches for the shore 

of raging waters that carry him away.

I claw out for the memories, so few, 

the bits of me that were you 

as panic rises up and the music plays.

Ragged and hoarse from the loneliness that has escaped my lungs, 

I lay my head down.

Silence is where you once were, 

where you should now be. 


No one mentions this denied request that remains 

no matter the cries, no matter the pain.

Nothing rises up from this. 

No birth of joy. 

No newness. 

No hope. 

I look out from this debilitating "less" and I force myself to move. 

One foot, 

one conversation, 

one act of defiance directed at your absence. 

I await Someday. 

And I live. I live.

I began to create the blog entry below on November 15. 2015. I never published it, probably because I could not think of how to close it. I had reached no conclusion.  This morning, after reading an article posted by a friend whom I loved very much which stated that liberals do not love or hug their children as much as conservatives and that liberals do not have good intentions - I happened to come upon this unfinished entry again.

I struggle to find common ground. This morning, I watched Donald Trump give his speech at CPAC while I had my morning coffee and then I clicked on that article my friend posted, knowing he is a conservative Christian, and thinking that, because he taught me the compassion of Jesus, that I would find common ground there. I was optimistic. I may not be a Christian now, but I believe in compassion. I believe Jesus taught equality and love and the golden rule. So it was a surprise, what I read. It really hurt to be described in such an incorrect, demeaning way. I'm sure conservative Christians know what I am talking about because I was a Christian for 17 years or so.

I don't know how to respond to this except to say that labeling liberals as people who don't take care of their children or conservatives as racists isn't going to get us to come together as a country. It's not going to help me understand where a conservative is coming from, especially when I am trying by reading what they post on social media.

I'm trying to find the balance between speaking up for the values that I believe make life worth living for all people and respecting those who disagree with me. It feels impossible some days, with no conclusion in sight, to press on.

November, 2015
Yesterday I posted on Facebook some articles that were meant to remind people about and support the necessity for compassion toward refugees of war torn countries, regardless of the fact that there is the possibility of evil lurking among a small percentage of the people we are trying to help. The response to my posts was huge, and not in the way that warms my heart. I have friends who disagree with me and they were pretty angry about it. One friend, in particular was offended that I likened the fact that the majority of Americans did not want to take in Jewish refugees as they fled anti-Semitism just before WWII. That was different, he says. Jews were not terrorists. 

So much to say on that. So many, many angles to argue. But I didn't. I said almost nothing. Not because I'm weak. Not because I thought he made a valid point. (I didn't). Not because I'm so wonderfully polite. (I'm often not). I didn't argue with him or my other friend, because it was futile.  I felt pretty sad yesterday, less because of what happened in Paris, and more so because I could see this divide between myself and a significant group of people I call Friends. And that, to me, looks like a successful outcome for terrorists. Divide and conquer. 

Of course it has been suggested to me that I Un-Friend people who so vehemently express their opposing opinions on my feed. I'm not going to lie and say I didn't consider it. Sometimes I think "What's the use? You obviously think I'm stupid or naive. It doesn't look like you respect me." Who needs that opposition in their life? 

This issue of accepting or not accepting Syrian refugees into the US reminds me of a few things that I have experienced similar to this in the past, albeit on a smaller, simpler scale. 

Several years ago, when a hurricane was about to rip through our township in NJ, we were living next door to a house that looked like it was literally about to fall apart. In that house was a family that I disliked. The grandfather was a stereotypical drunk who stunk and yelled and, frankly, seemed slightly dangerous. The granddaughter, whom we had spoke to only a couple of times, seemed "not all there". She had two boys, aged 10 and 8 who were definite products of this strange environment. The youngest boy was a pathological liar and a thief. I had no proof of what went on in that house, but I was sure it wasn't good. I didn't trust any of these people, didn't want my kids near them. As the hurricane got closer, here's what I thought: Are they going to be OK? What if the house rips apart? What if they need to be rescued? Would I be OK with me or my husband risking our lives for them? What if they come knock on our door?

Yeah, I thought of my family first. And then I uncomfortably realized I had no choice but to help that family through that, or any other life threatening crisis if they needed me.  We would rush to their house and dig them out in the middle of a hurricane. We would take them in. We would feed them. Because they are human beings. Yes, I would never leave the grandfather alone with one of my kids. Yep, I'd keep an eye on everyone. Yep, I'd be uneasy. I'd worry. But I'd do it because I couldn't NOT do it and live with myself later.

My other story takes place in May 1995, just after the Federal Building bombing in OKC. I am not sure where I was, but I remember watching on TV as Garth Brooks performed "The Change" at a children's benefit concert in OKC. I am not a country music fan and had never heard the song until that moment. It was an angle I hadn't really thought about. Would this horrific event that killed people I knew, in my home, the place where I grew up, change me? Would I go the route of zero tolerance? Would it all be so black and white? How did I feel about terrorism now? I was thinking it through and I didn't know the answer.

I thought of that song again yesterday while reading posts on Facebook about the refugees, the problems we face because of Paris, the changing attitudes, the fear that seemed to wrap around everyone, manifesting itself as anger, sometimes hatred. I couldn't remember the words, so I looked it up. 

"One hand reaches out 

And pulls a lost soul from harm

While a thousand more go unspoken for

And they say, 

"What good have you done by saving just this one"

It's like whispering a prayer 

In the fury of a storm

And I hear them saying, 

"You'll never change things

And no matter what you do 

It's still the same thing"

But it's not the world that I am changing

I do this so, this world will know

That it will not change me

This heart still believes

That love and mercy still exist

While all the hatreds rage

And so many say

"That love is all but pointless,

In madness such as this

"It's like trying to stop a fire 

With the moisture from a kiss"

In Summary

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I'm Still Here.

I acknowledge it weekly, at least. Sometimes there are several days that pass where I whisper it to myself like a pep talk. I think it out loud when I have had a good cry, for the millionth time. I think it when I look in the mirror at what I swear are rapidly appearing wrinkles. I think it when I try on clothes and feel the scar on my new breast with my opposite hand because I still have no feeling in the place where my real breast used to be. I think it every time I am reminded that my niece, McKenzie is missing out on something. Hell, I even said it while watching the news, stumped and worried about what lies ahead after January 20th. 

It's been a shit year (my worst so far!). I have faced my greatest physical challenge as well as my greatest loss of family and all that pain and trauma placed unbelievable stress on my marriage and kids. We were broken and though we work to piece together our lives, we quietly accept that we can never go back to the Before days.   

I marvel sometimes that I am still here.

I Woke Up Like This

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I have avoided writing anything about this presidential election because it's been a shitshow of anger and illogical outbursts and I didn't want to get caught in the crossfire.

I feel bad for my Republican friends, especially because you guys had so little to choose from right from the start. I don't know what's going on with your party, but I know that for so many of you, it's a rough ride and you would like nothing more than to forget the whole thing. 

As for my Democrat friends, well, it's been crazy, right? For the longest time I think we were coming to terms with the fact that the Obamas are leaving the White House. I'm not sure we are Ok with that yet, but we can no longer live in denial. I, personally, was impressed with Bernie Sanders and truly believe he would make a great President. But then we got Hillary Clinton. I didn't know how I felt about that. I didn't enjoy Bill Clinton's leadership and I wasn't sure I could handle this whole thing of two people from the same family getting elected AGAIN. So, I've been a political minimalist this time, taking in the news in small doses for about a month. I've ignored the bait of dramatic social media posts. I've been thinking quietly.


I had my 2nd post op check up today since my mastectomy nine days ago. This time with the plastic surgeon. For those wondering, everything is on track and both my doctors are very happy with my progress thus far. I did have to stop taking the narcotic painkillers very early on due to some more than inconvenient side effects, so I am attempting to manage my pain with ibuprofen and acetaminophen. Right now that's a bit like throwing rocks at a seagull while eating a bag of popcorn on the beach. It just keeps coming back and my patience is thin. It's exhausting.