Image: ©h.a.keene 2020
It’s been six months since I’ve posted, and I’ve been reluctant to dive back in because I haven’t known how regularly I’d be able to post. The process of getting our house ready to sell with repairs and what-not, drastically downsizing, deciding on the small number of things to keep, then donating/selling/giving away 90% of our possessions, actually putting our house on the market, then packing, and moving 500 miles into a small apartment in a retirement community dug me into an exhaustion hole so deep that it took me two months of sleeping almost non-stop before I felt half way human again.
But here we are, my husband and I, relocated, happy, and mostly sorted. Although there are still a sizable number of boxes on the balcony yet to be unpacked, and some disorder within the apartment that we are trying to contend with. I do still have some intense periods of grief over the people and places I left behind, but as I make new friends and put down some fledgling roots here, the intensity of the grief lessens. And our lives here are so much easier. We no longer have the responsibility of the upkeep of a house, and are no longer completely responsible for all grocery shopping and meal preparation. We are 5 minutes away from our medical care, rather than the hour of driving required each way in Los Angeles traffic, and we are now living in a geographically compact city in which most things that we need are within walking distance.
Add to that the fact that the air is significantly cleaner, and the weather noticeably cooler, and I find that I am incredibly grateful that I am no longer living in the smoggy intense heat in which I had to walk the dog before 8am and after 8pm in order not to make the two of us ill.
And here in Northern California, the fall rains have already arrived. We had a glorious weekend of two storms sweeping in with a much needed steady rain that was able to soak into the earth. I covered the boxes on the balcony with tarps, and then opened the sliding glass doors in the living room and bedroom (our only two rooms) so I could more fully take in the wonder of water falling into our drought parched earth.
How have all of you been these past six months?
I know I haven’t been posting at all regularly, but I still can’t seem to get my pain levels consistently under control. I’ll have a few good-ish days and then, wham! The pain levels go up again. I can function and do what I need to do, which is what keeps me from going into the ER. I reserve that trip for times I truly can’t function. But the pain leaves me with little energy or interest in doing anything extra. I usually love to write, but there seems to be a lot going on that requires planning and decisions, added to tons of medical appointments. We’ve been back from the wonderful visit with one of our daughters, son-in-law, small grandson and very new granddaughter for 11 days, and for the first 8 days I commuted back and forth to Kaiser for five of those days. I say commuted because I have to allow at least an hour of commute time each way. Sometimes the one way trip takes 30 minutes. Sometimes it takes 2 hours. What can I say? It’s LA. The trip all depends on the time of day, whether there’s been an accident, or there’s road work going on with a lane closed, or sometimes, I don’t know……….. the traffic simply seems to bunch up and then mysteriously clear. The physicists have a name for this phenomenon. I just call it unpleasantness. Luckily, for most of my appointments I need a driver, so I at least have a friend to talk to along the way.
The picture of the tree above looks a lot like part of me feels: caught in a seemingly endless snarl of traffic that is likely to be pretty similar today, tomorrow and the next day as I trace my way back and forth and back and forth to doctor’s appointments and hospital procedures. It also looks like the snarl of pain in my head that makes it difficult to see the green grass and pretty berries among the twisted tree roots. The roots are, after all, just trying to get a hold of a patch of earth that will support and nourish the tree as it tries to grow and even flourish, caught as it is between a sidewalk and a road, without enough real room to spread out. Add to that the fact that it’s watered only on the surface by timed sprinklers, rather than fed long, nourishing drinks of water that would encourage the roots to grow down, rather than sideways. It is doing the best it can, the tree. As are we all.
Photo taken in Pasadena, California, 08/06/2015.
I was engaged in the mundane task of washing beans for soup, when I noticed that light and water had transformed the task.
My body’s progress toward healing and infusion recovery is slow but steady. It’s complicated by the fact that I’m still not sleeping well at night. Don’t know whether it’s the heat or just that I’m unsettled. At any rate, one of my solutions when I don’t feel well is to look for beauty. We had to go out for groceries this afternoon, and I saw these flowers along the way. Capturing them on film definitely lifted my spirits.
I’m still doing not much other than sleeping, which is exactly what my body needs. I can’t always sleep when I most need to because my sleep cycle is one more part of my body that doesn’t always function quite the way it should. So I am extremely grateful that Wednesday/Thursday’s infusions have balanced that out a little and has enabled me to get some much needed rest. Such is the miracle of adequate gamma globulin levels that the bottom of my left foot is already completely healed, and my right foot is doing it’s best to heal as well. This right foot is a little trickier because every time I walk on it the split opens up again, so it’s going to take a little longer. But with the infusion of gamma globulin, I know it will indeed heal with time.
The weather is a little cooler today, which is a welcome relief. The sinking sun this time of day is shining through leaves and flowers, transforming their ordinary beauty into incandescent light. All will be well.
I woke up this morning and discovered that the irises I bought yesterday had opened. Already the day had started out a little more hopefully than yesterday. I’m here on the infusion unit, my head still hurts like crazy, and my immune system still isn’t happy, but I get to go home to beautiful irises.
Sometimes we have to transplant hope. To physically move it into the dark corners of our lives when we cannot see anything but destruction. Sometimes the destruction is within us: our medical disease, our prejudices, our failure to act to right a wrong. Sometimes it is out there in the world: discrimination, hatred, violence. But as human beings, we need to hope. If we don’t hope, we are immobilized by exhaustion and fear, and our necessary vision and creativity desert us. That’s when we need to remember that sometimes it takes effort to summon hope. It takes some digging, some watering, and then some care and attention in order to see it thrive. It’s easier when hope simply springs up unbidden and is there when you need it. But other times we have to go searching for it and then physically transplant it. It may at first look out of place amidst the destruction. But that is where it is most desperately needed.
It’s hard, loss. It just is. I’m still a little weepy from encountering the about-to-be-fifth-grade student in the produce section of the market on Monday. When I allow myself to think about it, tears start to form. I could just push the feelings down and ignore them, but I have learned that if I do that, it just makes things harder later. Strong feelings that are suppressed don’t just go away. They lurk in the darkness, gathering strength, so that when they do surface, it takes far more resources to deal with them than it would have originally. I spent my childhood having to bury emotional reactions, so I count myself fortunate that I now can allow myself to feel appropriate grief and mourn a loss.
But that doesn’t mean that it is easy. And I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter whether the rest of the world judges something to be a major or minor loss. Only the person experiencing it can know how much a given loss affects them.
For me the sight of this 10 year old did not just trigger the feelings of the loss of my fifth grade classroom after my immune system collapsed. It triggered the feelings of loss over my life as I knew it. The loss of my independence to be able to go where I wanted to go and do what I wanted to do. The loss of being able to plan an outing and knowing that I had a 99% chance of actually following through on the plans. The loss of feeling that I was making a positive difference in the world each day, and the loss of the sense of pride that I was able to do a meaningful job and contribute to the financial health of the household.
After my immune system collapsed, I wasn’t sure of who I was any more because I couldn’t teach, or work in any capacity. For several years I couldn’t go to medical appointments or the grocery store without help. I couldn’t even depend on my body to do what it is hard wired to do: stay alive. Even catching a common cold could, and sometimes did, lead to an intractable infection that would take months to resolve, and even longer to fully recover from.
When that happened, I knew that the only thing I could do was to put one foot in front of the other, each hour, each day, each week. If I survived, great. If I didn’t…. well, it would be regrettable, but not unexpected. I was too sick to do, or accomplish anything. I couldn’t read the newspaper or a book. I couldn’t make any plans for the future beyond the next few minutes. I no longer knew my place in the world, and had no idea how I would put my life back together, or if that would even be possible.
This was my life after my immune system collapsed. There was a Before, and then there is an After. My health has improved markedly in the years since then, and I have slowly been inching toward a more normal life. I have now taken a wonderful trip to France, and many days I find that I can write, or I might have the energy to walk around with my camera around my neck taking photographs of beautiful things. But I never know. The past several days my body has just sort of shut down and I’ve had to clear everything off my schedule except medical appointments. I’ve had to rest a lot, and can not even be sure if I will have the energy for using the tickets my husband and I have for a play tonight. We can exchange them if necessary, but still….
There was a Before, and there is an After. And seeing the 10 year old in the produce section reminded my heart of the Before. I am deeply grateful that I so passionately loved the last years of my career, and it is good that I am able to cry over the loss. But that doesn’t mean that it is easy.