On the Road Again

My husband and I are driving a Penske truck filled with furniture from our last apartment In the Bronx, NY to Texas. We’ve made this trip before.

Last time, we drove the opposite way with the same furniture from my parents’ home just after we were married 8 years ago, just after my Dad died, a year after my brother died and two years after my mother did.

I was so grateful for that furniture at the time. Newly married, making a home with someone for the first time, I was thrilled to have really nice things to bring to our shared space, a new apartment we’d chosen together.

Having lived in a tiny studio apartment in the West Village of NYC for 18 years prior to this big change, I had no furniture to speak of. My husband had some nice things to bring from his place, but not enough. We were stretching our budgets to get our apartment. New furniture was not in the plan. So my parents was a blessing.

It was amazing how perfectly the furniture all worked together. We chose rich colors for the walls off of the colors in the rugs, and somehow, it all had an eclectic warmth that just felt right. So “us,” somehow. The us we were becoming.

For the first years of our marriage, in those years after those huge losses in which I grieved and lived as best I could, that furniture surrounded me and held me and filled the empty gaping hole their deaths left.

I cherished it all. I had my father’s bronzed baby cowboy boots as book ends. A china cabinet held bluebirds, brown ware and silver pieces from my mother’s collections. We ate off of plates and used pans brought up from their kitchen. Put drinks on coasters from their den.

Our bedroom furniture was from my parents first house. The first expensive rug they bought, a now-worn but still lovely Oriental, sat under their gorgeous dark wood dining table and chairs.

But somewhere along year 6, something began to shift in me, and now, 18 months later, after a Konmari wave that washed away my clutter, a new apartment search, offer, and purchase, a renovation, putting an apartment on the market, a sale, a closing, a move, and a settling in, here I am. Day two of a three day journey to take much of that furniture to a new home.

My cousin, who my parents loved, who has a lovely wife and two young kids and a house, is happily taking the furniture off my hands. Whatever he did not take, others in NY needed and wanted.

Tomorrow we reach Austin, where the pieces will be put in their new home.

And I will let go. Of the grieving time. Of the me that has lived these 8 years in the after-shock, doing my best.

I feel such a mix of sadness and relief and excitement. Sadness because I still wish they were here instead of their things. Relief because something is done that I seem to have needed to do. Some job I unconsciously took on will soon be complete. And excitement is for this next part, whatever it will be.

Today I crave space. I want to be surrounded by things that resonate the me I am today. Our new home in no way resembles our last. And I love it with its new colors and furniture, and kickass river views.

I kept one chair out of it all. And reupholstered it. It looks wonderful there, surrounded by our new pieces, our new rugs.

At the end of the first day’s drive, we were treated to a blazing orange sky. Since my mother passed, I am convinced that beautiful sunsets are her way of letting me know she is there, loving me. It was clear that she, my Dad and brother, approve of this trip.

My parents and brother are still with me. But now they fill my heart space. I carry them wherever I go.

https://guestdailyposts.wordpress.com/guest-pingbacks/

Beach Day

First the shock, then I screamed

Sharp stings across my calves

Filled my chest with angry hurt

Blue water, friendly one moment,

Betraying my trust the next

You swept me up in your Goliath arms

Held my beating heart against yours

Pulled me to the safe crevices I knew as Daddy

I squeezed my eyes tight in fury

You asked to see where the hurt was

Rubbed and kissed it, swore at the fish

I think that’s the last happy memory I have of us

Wish I could go back in time

Into the crawlspace of your chest

And be just your daughter again

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: sting

A Critical Juncture

I am a recovering perfectionist.

In “A Skin Horse Awakening”, I wrote about my perfectionism, and what I believe the genesis of this “ism” to have been in my life. (Or perhaps I should say “who.”) I don’t believe I was born with the affliction of perfectionism.

Let me walk this back. Perfectionism is bandied about a great deal these days. People jokingly refer to themselves as a perfectionist, and we all think things like “Oh, they work really hard to get things right,” or maybe that they are a bit anal (as in detail-oriented,) maybe a little bit OCD.

According to Wikipedia, Perfectionism, in psychology, is a personality trait characterized by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting high performance standards, accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations.[1][2] It is best conceptualized as a multidimensional characteristic, as psychologists agree that there are many positive and negative aspects.[3] In its maladaptive form, perfectionism drives people to attempt to achieve an unattainable ideal while their adaptive perfectionism can sometimes motivate them to reach their goals. In the end, they derive pleasure from doing so. When perfectionists do not reach their goals, they often fall into depression.

When I say that I don’t believe that I was born a perfectionist or with a perfectionist gene, I am saying that I learned to be hyper-self-critical. I guess maybe perhaps you could argue that my being extremely sensitive is genetic, and therefore in a way that part of my perfectionism is genetic, as in I am extremely hard on myself and yet I am very sensitive to feeling like I am being criticized…maybe that being “so sensitive” is genetic?

If such a thing even exists. I can never know another’s internal experience, what life feels like for them through their nervous and other systems. I can only know my own.

So really, how can anyone, from my family (“You’re too sensitive!” “You are so sensitive.” “Don’t be so sensitive!”) to psychologists/people we label experts at such things be able to say that someone is “highly sensitive” or whatever? What do they mean? Are they really saying we are very emotional? More emotional? What does that even mean?

(I think perhaps it means that they are uncomfortable with our amount of feeling so they label us as “highly sensitive.” A label to explain away their discomfort.)

And if someone doesn’t “feel life”the way I or someone else labeled sensitive does, are they “insensitive” or unfeeling? Just because they do not seem to experience life the way I do, they are less sensitive? You see what I mean? (It is somewhat crazy-making for me, actually.)

Anyhoo. Perfectionism. Not genetic, in my humble opinion.

I learned to be hyper-critical of myself and to expect extremely high standards of performance from myself. I learned to care deeply and to depend greatly on what I thought others’ were thinking of me. To value other’s evaluation of me above all else, especially my own.

This relationship to myself and the world and myself in the world was learned. I learned it from a master, my father. I am not sure where he learned it. I am quite sure he suffered as much from it as I have. I am also sure that he had great regret later in life around the price of his untreated perfectionism on his relationships with himself, the world and the people he loved.

I am so grateful that I am in recovery around this. I do not have to suffer at my own hands anymore, or cause undue suffering in my loved ones out of my perfectionism.

One of the most tremendous sources of help around this for me has been the work of Brene Brown. You may have heard of her TED Talk on Vulnerability. If you have never watched it, I highly recommend it. Seriously, stop reading this and go watch it! Then come back ; )

She has been on my mind the past few days as she posted on Facebook from Houston, where she was volunteering her clinical services, making a plea for donations of clean, new underwear for those recovering from the hurricane. First things first, please take a view.

Here are three ways to give NEW (still in package) underwear. Please keep in mind that we need a variety of sizes for men, women, boys, and girls, including XXL.

1. https://www.amazon.com/…/2O89ZX93O…/ref=nav_wishlist_lists_1

2. Collect new, packaged underwear and mail it to the address below. It’s our local Hillel and they are collecting for us. This is a really great neighborhood or school project. If you’re purchasing, we recommend Hanes or Fruit of the Loom. UFE doesn’t process or give out anything but underwear!

Undies for Everyone
1700 Bissonnet St.
Houston, TX 77005

3. Give cash and Undies for Everyone will purchase wholesale: https://secure.lglforms.com/form_e…/s/uFpr61ITEItxPeN4Lo9zpA

Brene is an amazing woman. I could write blog after blog about her and how she inspires me. It has been through her work that I have had true shifts around my perfectionism.  I mean, I could understand before that I was one, but then what? What do I do to help myself out of it? Through it? She defines perfectionism a bit differently, and that difference has made all the difference in my being able to make shifts and heal. She defines it so:

Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: “If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.”

She writes further:

Perfectionism is defeating and self-destructive simply because there is no such thing as perfect. Perfection is an unattainable goal. Additionally, perfectionism is more about perception – we want to be perceived as perfect. Again, this is unattainable – there is no way to control perception, regardless of how much time and energy we spend trying.

Perfectionism is addictive because when we invariably do experience shame, judgment, and blame, we often believe it’s because we weren’t perfect enough so rather than questioning the faulty logic of perfectionism, we become even more entrenched in our quest to live, look, and do everything just right.

Feeling shamed, judged, and blamed (and the fear of these feelings) are realities of the human experience. Perfectionism actually increases the odds that we’ll experience these painful emotions and often leads to self-blame: ‘It’s my fault. I’m feeling this way because I’m not good enough.’

To overcome perfectionism we need to be able to acknowledge our vulnerabilities to the universal experiences of shame, judgment, and blame; develop shame resilience; and practice self-compassion.

When we become more loving and compassionate with ourselves and we begin to practice shame resilience, we can embrace our imperfections. It is in the process of embracing our imperfections that we find our truest gifts and strengthen our most meaningful connections.” B. Brown (2009).

Wow. I mean, just yes. And yeah, this is a daily practice. It is a struggle one day, a breeze for the next three days, and then the shit hits my internal proverbial fan and it feels like I am at day -4. And then I feel free of it again. But Wow and Yes. And I’ll take that over interminable suffering in the depths of the hell of my own mind being run by unchecked and uninformed perfectionism.

If you know of what I speak, I recommend her work and any of her books.

It is a lifelong process, but it is truly gratifying to find true relief.

Oh, what a journey it is, this coming to life. This learning to relax into all of the things I used to hate so about myself. To even begin to embrace and yes, even find love for all my parts. Especially the ones most imperfect.

To pull my own self down off the self-built marble column I had constructed so long ago into the real world where I can be with others, be a fully-fleshed human being among human beings. To smash the statue-like full body persona I had so carefully made and let the flawed imperfectly beautiful person I am start to live and breathe and love.

 

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: critical

True Grit

My Dad and I had a very complicated relationship.

There were years we barely spoke, by my choice.

Our relationship was damaged in my early childhood, and afterwards, it was always in one phase or another of dysfunction.

I reached a point in my adulthood where I decided that it was best for my health to remove myself from the dynamic. And I thought that would pretty much be it for the remainder of my life, and I was OK with that decision.

Until, that is, my mother’s cancer.

Life is funny that way. You can think that a part of your life is beyond repair, and then lo and behold, Life brings you the only exact set of circumstances under which you would ever come together again.

In 2005, my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. She underwent radiation therapy (two rounds) and then chemotherapies (2.) I traveled down to Texas to visit often to be with her, me tersely tolerating my father, and he giving me a wide berth out of hurt respect of my former choice. (I also always took my then-boyfriend with me as buffer.)

Then in 2006, after the family gathering at Christmas, which was more uncomfortable than usual, my parents called to tell me that they had been informed by my mother’s oncologist that no more could be done for her. (I will never forget the agony of that call.)

Just like that, all bets were off.

It had been decided that she would be having home hospice care to make her as comfortable as possible. As happens in such situations, we were still hopeful that she could live for some time. No one can predict how things will really go, you tell yourself.

I started going to Houston weekly to be with her. My father and I, out of necessity and shared concern, began to interact more and more, all having to do with her and her health needs.

We found our way to something new, something beyond the pain of the past, for her sake. And later, after the inevitable happened, for ours.

In the weeks following my mother’s death, my father was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. Now, my father had been a strapping, big and tall and healthy man his entire life. Never much more than allergies. But I think the stress of losing his beloved sweetheart of 54 years created the perfect storm in his system, and the cancer that might have lain dormant for years just took over the weakened man.

In the midst of undergoing tremendous grief (he’d also lost his father the year before,) my father had to make decisions regarding his own illness, which was acute and generally swift-moving. The standard treatment available was quite harsh. He decided to go an alternative route in order to potentially benefit others by entering into an clinical trial at MD Anderson Hospital to receive experimental drugs instead of the standard approach, which was tough to survive in and of itself.

So I continued my visits. My remaining brother lived in Houston, so he became the primary caregiver, which I was grateful for. But I went down as often as possible and our new relationship began to grow into a new chapter, slowly, carefully.

And in the year following, when one of my two brothers also died, unexpectedly, again, all bets were off.

I watched this man who was so complicated for me, who had hurt me in such far-reaching ways, suffer the loss of his lifelong love and his son. These losses broke him apart. He went through pain that I would not have wished on my worst enemy.

(And he was my worst enemy.)

Somewhere there in the midst of it all, after a lifetime of seeing no way to ever being able to forgive this man, I suddenly was able to see that he was worthy of my forgiveness. That I had been given forgiveness in my life, and that he, too, should be given that as well. That he was not beyond forgiveness, in some separate category unlike anyone else on the planet.

I guess I was finally able to see him just as a flawed man, finally, and not as the monster I had experienced and protected my heart from for all those years. (Perhaps justifiably, one might argue. But things had changed. And those changes had allowed for a shift of my perception. And that shift allowed yet a new phase of our new relationship.)

In the remaining time of his life, we found our way to a loving father-daughter relationship.

How did this miracle happen?

I think for me, part of it was seeing the sacrifice and the bravery with which he committed himself to surviving his cancer for those of us who remained and loved him.

I know that in his heart he was grief-stricken and lost without my mother and would have loved nothing better than to close his eyes and just let go, to die and be with her. But he fought on, for us.

And after my brother died, that grief was multiplied by 30, and yet still he fought on, for my remaining brother and I. My then-boyfriend-turned-fiance after my mother died, and in the midst of it all we were planning a wedding: a wedding my mother and my father had always wanted for me. He was fighting to walk me down the aisle. And to carry her memory on for his two young grandchildren.

He withstood grueling chemo treatments and daily hospital trips where he sat for hours going through the process required of his treatment. Hours spent sitting and waiting and getting tests and giving blood and getting chemo. Medications at home. The affect the treatment had on his body and spirit. His diminishing physical strength.

This big and tall, towering Texas man became a thin wisp of his former self, eventually walking with a cane.

And through it all, he never once complained.

Three months before my wedding date, he got a virus caught during one of the daily hospital visits. I went home on my usual trip but this time visited him in the hospital, where he had to be in a protected environment.

There, I could see that he was truly exhausted. Spiritually. Emotionally.

That the true grit that had been getting him through, that amazing reserve within that he had been tapping into for so long for our sake, was nearing empty. He had been fighting to give me these last acts of fatherhood, this time of repair, this time of untainted love. I knew this and I was so very grateful for it all. I knew that this time had been a supreme gift that would change the quality of my remaining time on the planet for the better. That my whole relationship to life had shifted for the better.

And so I gave him the last gift I could give him as a daughter. I gave him my permission to let go of the fight.

There are times when life provides you with an open door, and if you are paying attention, you see it and you walk through, somehow knowing that it is what you should do.

When a moment arose in the conversation that invited such a thing to say, I took it.

I told him we loved him and were thankful for everything he had been doing. For how hard he had been fighting for us, to be there for the wedding and for the kids. But that I would never want him to stay on if he truly no longer wanted to. That he had done it all, he had fathered through like a warrior, but that if, at any point, he was ready, that we would want him to let go. That we would be OK. That I would be OK. That he and I were OK.

It was just a few sentences. He knew and I knew what we were saying to each other. He said he wasn’t at that point quite yet but he could understand a time of coming to that point.

When it was time to leave, I told him I loved him, and meant it. I thanked him for being my father, and I meant that too. And I thanked him for fighting so hard to be there for me.

He passed away the next week, after returning home, having come through the virus. My brother found him laying alongside the bed, as if he’d gotten up in the night and collapsed.

I hope he felt at peace when the moment came. Perhaps he was walking towards the sound of my mother’s voice. I like to think so.

My love for him is complicted, yes. But it is true. As true as the grit that he was made of.

2009-07-24-15-22-58-e1499812592237.jpg Dad and I at the civil ceremony of my marriage, 8 mo before he died.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: grit

 

 

Miracle of Miracles

Some might call my cat Miracle a “fraidy cat.”

I say she just has sensitive hearing and has a very vivid imagination.

When there is any kind of pitched alarm (door buzzer, oven timer, etc) she scampers away to the nearest place of safety and won’t come out again until she is good and ready.

Ceiling fans really create stress for her. The shadows made from their fins taunt her. I think she imagines a great flying creature is overhead, ready to swoop down for the kill at any moment.

Her movements walking through the room with one in it are strategically designed to avoid being directly beneath the “creature’s” view.

She hugs the edges of the room, and if she has to go beneath her enemy for some reason (the doorman buzzed and she has to get to the back bedroom to safety!) she runs low to the ground looking up as she passes as if a pterodactyl  is overhead and death is imminent. Kitty armageddon!

I feel for her. I relate to moving through the world in fight or flight mode. I, too, have sensitive hearing and a very vivid imagination. I, too, can make monsters out of harmless things and people.

Miracle was given her name by the Wichita Falls, TX vet who saved her life. She’d been found, near death, having been abused by someone. He named her Miracle because it was a miracle she had survived.

Her back leg is still a bit wonky from whatever cruelty was inflicted on her as a baby. And she hates being handled.

She is a fierce survivor.

My brother John adopted her immediately upon meeting her, despite already having two cats. They bonded deeply: she would perch on his broad shoulders when he was at his computer, and sleep on his vast chest when he slept.

When my brother died suddenly, she and his other two cats were left for a day and a half alone in his apartment after the EMT took him away.

As my father, other brother and I packed up John’s apartment, Miracle  was the only one who would come out from her hiding places now and then. When we were done after a few days and it was time to leave, I had to go in and capture all of the cats. John’s vet was taking the 2 older ones. We were driving Miracle across Texas to Houston.

Turns out a fourth cat was hiding under the bed with the other two. He was a stray John had sometimes fed on his porch. Somehow he got in, probably during the EMT situation.

This cat did not look well. I left him until last and then went ahead and gathered him up to take him to the vet too.

(We later found out that that cat was indeed very sick. The other two older cats were infected. Somehow, Miracle survived that too. It was such a relief that she’d escaped that. My brother would have been heartbroken at that whole sad situation.)

We drove Miracle down the 8 or so hours to Houston. I had offered her a home, but my cancer-fighting father insisted that he take care of her at his house there.

(My father, who had NEVER liked cats. He’d somehow fallen in love and then married a woman who had a huge heart and an enormous love of all animals. We always had cats and dogs growing up, much to his chagrin. He had begrudgingly tolerated them over the years.

Once, he suggested my mom just feed them all dry food, I guess he hated the smell of canned food. My mother asked him would he like to eat ceareal for dinner the rest of their marriage. That put that to rest.

But having lost his father, then his sweetheart of 54 years and now his son in a short period of time, I think his heart was so stretched out by grief that he was willing and able. And perhaps it was a last act of fatherhood he could give to John, to look after his favorite cat.)

Miracle and my Dad got along surprisingly well. I will never forget visiting and actually seeing him let her get on his lap! He said she was alright company. He just wished two things: that she’d not throw up or lick his arm. Otherwise, she was ok.

They were together about 7 months until my Dad died. Again, the EMT came, this time to take my Dad away. But luckily, my other brother was the one who found him, so he was there to help Miracle through the commotion this time.

Now, the plan was for me to bring her up to NYC to live with me. She was on her own for about a month in my Dad’s house until I could fly down. My brother visited her daily, but she grew very  lonely.

I was getting married and moving all at the same time and needed to wait for a calm time to bring her up where I could help her integrate.

But she was getting restless alone, so it became clear we had to do something.

Fortunately, and quite miraculously, at my father’s memorial service, his first secretary happened to offer an interim place for her to stay. Turned out she fostered animals and was well set up to take in a cat shortterm. So Miracle was moved to her place, where she had an area in a finished basement. She was played with, and safe.

I finally got down as soon as I could after the move and flew her back home. Anyone who has traveled on a plane with a cat knows it is very  stressful on them. She did pretty well, considering.

I carefully went about the process of adding her to my household, which already held two cats: a brother and sister who had been the apples of my eye and ruled my roost for 15 years.

Though I implemented all the plans I read about how to do this, it did not go well. The other two were not welcoming, and sort of forced Miracle into living in one room of the apartment. Suddenly there were war zones, and each cat had their own territory.

My visions of three cats piled together sleeping on the couch were dashed.

It wasn’t what I had hoped, but Miracle seemed happy enough in her zone, which was my husband and my shared office. She had her own litter box and food area.

And so we became a three cat household.

It turns out that this Miracle cat, who I thought I was saving by bringing her to my home, would end   up saving mine.

Within a month after bringing her up, my beloved boy cat Pookie was diagnosed with an agressive bone cancer. He passed away within three months.

It was devastating. Shortly thereafter, his sister Sabrina was diagnosed with cancer. After a long illness, she too passed away the next year.

So for the first year and a half with us, Miracle was not only the third cat on the totem pole, but she was also sort of the backburner cat to the ill cats in terms of attention.

The day I lost Sabrina was extremely hard. For whatever reason, her loss held all the other major losses in it: my mother, brother, father and Pookie.

Thank God for Miracle.

If I’d had to come home to an empty-of-cats home, it would have been even more impossibly sad than it already was.

But fortunately, I came home to a little furry loved one who needed my attention. And boy, did I need her.

Today, Miracle has reign of the full apartment, as well as our full attention. It has taken time for her to expand her territory into formerly enemy regions. And though I think a part of her will always be looking over her shoulder, she seems to be fully owning being top cat, and flourishing under our undying love.

Yes, she is sensitive to sounds and she thinks ceiling fans are flying predators. But it has been several years without the EMT at the door, and we are pretty much now living in her apartment instead of her living in ours.

Just as it should be.

Inspired by The Daily Post daily Word Prompt: scamper

Broken In

I saw you in that moment

The real you, the sick part, unmasked.

And I knew,

Knew of your weakness

And of your fear.

Our family dog, cringing as you raised your hand to hit her,

Cowered beneath your height.

And my heart broke then and there

For what I saw in her eyes

For not being able to stop you

For the man I no longer saw in you.

None of us would ever be the same.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Prompt: cringe

Bottleneck Love

When hate clogs the flow

Love is hard to find

It’s elusive for good reason

Don’t forget that it’s blind

Reach for bottles and bags

Try to wipe it all out

But that’s the big cosmic joke

You can’t get the love out.

 

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: bottle

For my father: Keys Alexander Curry. May you rest in peace and know that love does indeed conquer all.